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TitleThermodynamics in Thomas Pynchon's Entropy
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concentric circles from the figure of Meatball, to the very small systems of Callisto’s and

Mulligan’s apartments, to the system of the city and the nation finally leading us to the largest

system, the weather which encompasses all.

Another application of entropy theory which Pynchon introduces is in information theory or

communication theory. In information theory, entropy is the measure of the amount of

information that is missing before reception and is sometimes referred to as Shannon entropy.

The entropy of the message system was a measure of the average amount of information in a

message. For the case of equal probabilities where each message is equally probable, the

Shannon entropy is just the number of yes/no questions needed to determine the content of the

message.
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This sort of entropy is not only approached through the conversation of Saul and

Meatball about Saul’s argument with his wife but also it is gradually developed though the

increasing break-down of communication in Meatball’s apartment which is restated with

Aubade who is constantly trying to maintain an appropriate signal to noise ratio. Even as Saul

and Meatball discuss the argument Saul and his wife Miriam have had Meatball’s own speech

reflects the increasing amount of noise in communication, his messages are cluttered with

useless words. Krinkle retells the story of Dave’s accident to one of the coeds but

misconstrues parts of the story, gives her misinformation to which she sympathetically

answers signaling that she believes the false story. The Duke di Angelis quarter tries to play

music without instruments, Paco plays in G sharp while the rest are in E flat, these details

alert us to the ever-increasing decline of interpersonal communication and reinforcing the

theme of communication entropy.

The entropy of culture and ideas is the most powerful conclusion Pynchon draws. Just like in

thermodynamics or in any other system, American culture and culture in general is rapidly

approaching a point of heat-death, a standstill where all information signals are equated and

the exchange of ideas is no longer possible.

Towards the end, just like the stretto of a fugue, the various entropies overlap and collide into

one panoptic structure which reaffirms the central theme. As Callisto revisits his past in

search for knowledge to corroborate his current fears, he is shocked to find evidence in his old

college lectures and experiences which, through his current perspective, confirm his fears.

The past serves as authentication for the present. The breakdown of communication, the


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ROGER BALIAN, Entropy: A Protean Concept, Poincare Seminar, vol.2, 2003, 10

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_theory

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