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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