Crying Of Lot 49Exploring thermodynamic entropy and information theory clarifies the ambiguousrelationship between Oedipa Maas, Maxwell’s Demon and the Tristero System in TheCrying of Lot 49. Through a convoluted, chaotic adventure leading to disorder,Oedipa searches for the truth about Tristero, hoping it will save her from hertower of imprisonment (Pynchon, 11). Pynchon dangles this elusive message overOedipa’s head until she discovers Tristero’s meaning. However, interference fromthermodynamic entropy and the entropy of information theory prevent the messagefrom being transmitted from the transmitter to the receiver. Thermodynamicsdeals with the changes that occur in a system if energy distribution isunbalanced. “Thermodynamics can be regarded as governing the direction ofall physical changes taking place in the universe. With time, the energy withina system will inevitably tend to become distributed in the most probablepattern, which consists of all the individual particles of the system engagingin random, disordered motion” (OED). Thermodynamic entropy is the measureof this disorganization in the universe. In a closed, isolated system, the totalquantity of energy remains the same, but irreversible transformations withinthis 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 inwhich entropy thrives (Pynchon, 11). If she does not open her system, her energywill degrade until she is an embodiment of random disorder. “At some point shewent 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 ina mirror when radiation falls upon an object of varying density, causing lightto scatter, which composes the reflection. If there were no differences indensity, and only random motion, there would be no image to project. Pynchonforeshadows Oedipa’s fate through the degradation of thermodynamic entropy.
Mechanical energy is an example of high-grade energy and heat is an example oflow-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 andgas molecules cluster in different areas, there is a lower probability andhigher potential to do mechanical work. The loss of heat in entropy expressesthe second law of thermodynamics. Entropy functions at the stagnant maximum ofthermodynamic entropy, when energy or ideas cannot be transferred because theuniverse is at normal human body temperature. Oedipa suffers this loss of heatto some degree, because her embodiment of thermodynamic entropy is an obstacleto her understanding of the message. “As if, on some other frequency, orout of the eye of some whirlwind rotating too slow for her heated skin even tofeel the centrifugal coolness of, words were being spoken” (Pynchon, 14).
The rate of oscillation or vibration at which that these words are being spokenis unintelligible to Oedipa, coming at her like a “confused, tumultuousprocess “of the exchange of heat from a hot to cold system in exchange forusable energy (OED). Thus, Oedipa is incapable of receiving the informationwhirling around her. She is trapped within the thermodynamic entropy of hersystem. Information theory is the mathematical theory of communication used todetermine speed and quantity of information transmission. It statisticallycomputes redundant information necessary to counteract any distortion or lossthat may occur during transmission from one information source to another. Asidefrom the semantics of information, Claude Shannon asserts that the message isselected from a set of possible messages. A system with certain physical orconceptual entities must be designed to operate for each possible selection; notjust the one chosen, because this is unknown at the time of design. If thenumber of messages in the set is finite, this number is a measure of theinformation produced when one message is chosen from the set with all choicesbeing equally likely (Shannon, 3). Shannon believes information is amathematically defined quantity representing the degree of choice exercised informing one message or symbol sequence out of all possible messages and thatentropy is a “measure of the rate of transfer of information within thatmessage” (OED). Oedipa identifies the Tristero System as the system thatwill “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 TheTristero. The Tristero System is operative for each possible selection with eachoption being equally