Maxwell’s Demon

“A limit was always there to be brought to. It was so easy to grow up under that dispensation. All was just as wholesome as could be. Edges were hardly ever glimpsed, much less flirted at or with. Destruction, oh, and demons–yes, including Maxwell’s–were there, deep in the woods, with other beasts vaulting among the earthworks of your safety…” (Pynchon, 242)

Up until this point in the novel, Slothrop has observed that he is merely a puppet in some grand Master’s game of control; he doesn’t know exactly what “game” he is playing, which engenders a very strong feeling of paranoia. We see this reference to “Maxwell’s Demon” in Slothrop’s first “Proverbs for Paranoids” during which, we read about one of Carroll Eventyr’s episodes. If you recall, Eventyr is a medium at the White House Visitation; he is responsible for maintaining a connection with the dead, so that see through to their conscience, and basically read their thoughts. At this time Eventyr is connected to the mind of Roland Feldspath, an expert on the control systems and guidance equations necessary for the maintenance of the rockets; it was also his job to supply feedback on Slothrop’s progress, which was becoming more and more precarious by the day. Enter Maxwell’s Demon.

Maxwell’s Demon was a science experiment devised by physicist James Clerk Maxwell in 1867. The main purpose of this experiment was to provide evidence of a contradictory nature against the second law of thermodynamics. This law states that any system will always tend towards a state of equilibrium, resulting in a state of entropy that always remains stable. (Entropy is a measure of the amount of potential energy a given system has, based on the temperature levels; it is otherwise known as a “measure of disorder”.)

The Demon in Maxwell’s experiment was an imaginary entity, or energy source, which could disrupt this entire system of equilibrium very easily in a specific system. If a system was divided into two equal halves, with a door connecting the two sides, theoretically, all the demon has to do is to observe the speed of each molecule, determining which ones were the fastest (meaning the ones that had more energy). Once it decided on which molecules were faster, it could just open the door at any opportune moment, allowing the faster molecule to pass through to the other side. The demon could repeat this process, over and over, until it had all of the higher energy molecules isolated to one side of the system. This would create an increased state of entropy, which contradicts the second law. In other words, against the laws of nature and science, the demon has assumed control over the system, and bent it to its own will.

Pynchon brings up Maxwell’s demon here, to draw a parallel between Slothrop’s situation in the casino and the system of equations necessary to maintain a control over the rockets. Slothrop is a representation of the laws of nature that Maxwell’s Demon is assuming control over. He has been placed into some twisted game of “Who is in Control?” He is aware of this fact, and yet there is nothing that he can to about it, so he submits himself as a pawn to the higher hand. This results in an increase of paranoia on Slothrop’s part, until he can no longer play their game and goes underground. This is evidence of a system in which Slothrop was placed in a situation that was subject to the second law of thermodynamics, and was able to maintain a certain level of equilibrium. Then Maxwell’s Demon came in, and took over the whole system, and assuming control; equilibrium was lost, and Slothrop ran for it.

The rockets are representations of the laws of science; they are subject to certain equations which limit its power and reduce its energy. It has been reeled in, and forced to act in a way that is contradictory to the will of the demon, which places the rocket beyond the demon’s control. But it is always there, lurking in the shadows of these equations, waiting to assume its role of Master.

Eventyr is just an observer of the game, through Feldspath’s conscience; he sees the games They are playing with Slothrop. Everything is about control; who will rule over them all? Maxwell’s Demon.


Works Cited:

Maxwell’s Demon:’s_demon

The second law of thermodynamics:


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One Response to Maxwell’s Demon

  1. The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) also quite famously engages with Maxwell’s Demon and entropy.

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