In the bootleg edition, Pynchon went even further. Meatball Mulligan restores order and momentum to his lease-breaking party, which had reached its third day and was running down. However, this popular sense that entropy and force are opposites, that entropy suggests something negative and passive, while force is positive or active, is technically not correct. As Pynchon notes in his Slow Learner introduction, the idea of entropy was first developed by the 19th century physicist Rudolf Clausius, who built on earlier ideas of the French engineer Sadi Carnot. Carnot and Clausius were both trying to understand how heat energy is transformed into useful work, such as when steam drives a piston in an engine.
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In the bootleg edition, Pynchon went even further. Meatball Mulligan restores order and momentum to his lease-breaking party, which had reached its third day and was running down. However, this popular sense that entropy and force are opposites, that entropy suggests something negative and passive, while force is positive or active, is technically not correct. As Pynchon notes in his Slow Learner introduction, the idea of entropy was first developed by the 19th century physicist Rudolf Clausius, who built on earlier ideas of the French engineer Sadi Carnot.
Carnot and Clausius were both trying to understand how heat energy is transformed into useful work, such as when steam drives a piston in an engine. Clausius defined entropy as a measure of the capacity of heat energy to be usefully transformed into work.
More broadly, this classical definition of entropy is about irreversibility. Heat spontaneously flows from something hot to something cold; as it does so, heat can do useful work, like power a steam engine. But the reverse is never true — your forgotten, lukewarm cup of coffee never absorbs the ambient heat of air to become hot again.
Enter statistical mechanics — a branch of physics developed in the late 19th century by three physicists that Pynchon repeatedly refers to in his work, Boltzmann, Gibbs, and Maxwell. The goal of these physicists as they developed statistical mechanics was to explain the macroscopic phenomena of the world in terms of the microscopic jostling of atoms.
Rather than working with the bulk thermodynamic properties that Clausius was concerned with, like heat and temperature, statistical mechanics explains things in terms of the velocity and mass of individual atoms. From this comes the well-known idea of entropy as a measure of disorder. Why does your coffee cup cool down to room temperature? Clausius would say that this happens because heat irreversibly flows from a hot object a cooler one. Boltzmann, however, would explain it as the inevitable result of atoms moving from a less probable, more ordered state, to a more probable, disordered one.
A hot cup of coffee in a cool room is in one sense a more ordered state: higher energy, rapidly moving molecules are confined to the small volume of the coffee cup, while lower energy air molecules are bouncing around in the much larger volume outside the cup.
Over time, as these molecules bounce around, the whole system reaches a much more probable state in which the energy of all molecules in the coffee, cup, and room air is much more equally distributed.
Callisto had this in mind when he spoke about the so-called heat death of the universe, that time when coffee cups and everything else in the universe have equilibrated to a lifeless, uniform state:. It was not, however, until Gibbs and Boltzmann brought to this principle the methods of statistical mechanics that the horrible significance of it all dawned on him: only then did he realize that the isolated system — galaxy, engine, human being, culture, whatever — must evolve spontaneously toward the Condition of the More Probable.
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Thomas Pynchon, Entropy
Entropy is a quantity, or a measurement, of the heat in a system that is no longer available for mechanical work. It is a concept within the second law of thermodynamics, a law which states that everything moves from order to disorder while entropy inevitably increases. Pynchon places two opposing worldviews within the context of entropy to illustrate that they are both subject to the laws of nature, and thus, equally meaningless. He hosts several types: intellects, naval officers, a distraught neighbor, and a silent jazz band, each of whom function as synecdoches to represent dissimilar, yet comparable, belief systems. With chaotic and endless buzzing, the tone is one of high energy and disorder. Drugs and alcohol are consumed in perpetuity, and no attention is given to outside conditions. One may interpret this as a hedonistic lifestyle of any sort.
Thomas Pynchon, Newton’s Second Law and Entropy
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