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A thermodynamic reading of the crying of lot 49 by thomas py

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A thermodynamic reading of the crying of lot 49 by thomas py

A Thermodynamic Reading of The Crying of Lot 49

Exploring thermodynamic entropy and information theory clarifies the ambiguous relationship between Oedipa Maas, Maxwell's Demon and the Tristero System in The Crying of Lot 49. Through a convoluted, chaotic adventure leading to disorder, Oedipa searches for the truth about Tristero, hoping it will save her from her tower of imprisonment (Pynchon, 11). Pynchon dangles this elusive message over Oedipa's head until she discovers Tristero's meaning. However, interference from thermodynamic entropy and the entropy of information theory prevent the message from being transmitted from the transmitter to the receiver.

Thermodynamics deals with the changes that occur in a system if energy distribution is unbalanced.

"Thermodynamics can be regarded as governing the direction of all physical changes taking place in the universe. With time, the energy within a system will inevitably tend to become distributed in the most probable pattern, which consists of all the individual particles of the system engaging in random, disordered motion" (OED).

Thermodynamic entropy is the measure of this disorganization in the universe. In a closed, isolated system, the total quantity of energy remains the same, but irreversible transformations within this system cause a loss in the grade of the energy. In The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa Maas realizes ?her confinement" is similar to the closed system in which entropy thrives (Pynchon, 11). If she does not open her system, her energy will degrade until she is an embodiment of random disorder.

?At some point she went into the bathroom, tried to find her image in the mirror and couldn't. She had a moment of nearly pure terror.? (Pynchon, 29). An image is created in a mirror when radiation falls upon an object of varying density, causing light to scatter, which composes the reflection. If there were no differences in density, and only random motion, there would be no image to project. Pynchon foreshadows Oedipa's fate through the degradation of thermodynamic entropy.

Mechanical energy is an example of high-grade energy and heat is an example of low-grade energy. Thus, as entropy increases, negentropy degrades into heat, which is "a form of energy arising from randomly moving molecules" (OED). When a closed system possesses an unstable distribution of densities and gas molecules cluster in different areas, there is a lower probability and higher potential to do mechanical work. The loss of heat in entropy expresses the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy functions at the stagnant maximum of thermodynamic entropy, when energy or ideas cannot be transferred because the universe is at normal human body temperature.

Oedipa suffers this loss of heat to some degree, because her embodiment of thermodynamic entropy is an obstacle to her understanding of the message. "As if, on some other frequency, or out of the eye of some whirlwind rotating too slow for her heated skin even to feel the centrifugal coolness of, words were being spoken" (Pynchon, 14). The rate of oscillation or vibration at which that these words are being spoken is unintelligible to Oedipa, coming at her like a "confused, tumultuous process "of the exchange of heat from a hot to cold system in exchange for usable energy (OED). Thus, Oedipa is incapable of receiving the information whirling around her. She is trapped within the thermodynamic entropy of her system.

Information theory is the mathematical theory of communication used to determine speed and quantity of information transmission. It statistically computes redundant information necessary to counteract any distortion or loss that may occur during transmission from one information source to another. Aside from the semantics of information, Claude Shannon asserts that the message is selected from a set of possible messages. A system with certain physical or conceptual entities must be designed to operate for each possible selection; not just the one chosen, because this is unknown at the time of design. If the number of messages in the set is finite, this number is a measure of the information produced when one message is chosen from the set with all choices being equally likely (Shannon, 3).

Shannon believes information is a mathematically defined quantity representing the degree of choice exercised in forming one message or symbol sequence out of all possible messages and that entropy is a "measure of the rate of transfer of information within that message" (OED). Oedipa identifies the Tristero System as the system that will "end her encapsulation in her tower" of thermodynamic entropy (Pynchon, 31). She has a set of possible messages to choose from as to the identity of The Tristero. The Tristero System is operative for each possible selection with each option being equally likely.

Statistically, the entropy of information theory measures the probability of a system arriving in its present state. Thus, the higher the entropy, the higher the probability. It is necessary to discuss the semantics of communication and the element of uncertainty present in both theories, because the second law of thermodynamics is statistical in nature and pertains to probability. A certain amount of macroscopic values about a system can be measured, such as composition, volume, pressure, and temperature. Previously, information has implied knowledge rather than meaning. Thus, any additional piece of information increases the negentropy, quality, or meaning of information in a message, because our knowledge is more complete (Brillouin, 11).

However, there are factors working against this gain in negentropy. Over time, an unstable structure naturally decays towards a more probable and stable structure of less negentropy, so the additional information gradually loses value, and negentropy is constantly spent in the quest for more information (Brillouin, 11). Oedipa expends her mechanical energy traveling in California, trying to gather information about the unstable Tristero System. This system has been degrading since the 18th century, and the information Oedipa gathers has already lost its value compared to how much energy she spent in finding it.

As Klapp asserts, "matter and energy degrade into more probable, less informative states. The larger the amount of information processed or diffused, the more likely the information will degrade toward meaningless noise, information overload, or sterile uniformity" (Klapp, 2-3). ...

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