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Pynchon, Maxwell’s Demon and a Devil’s Advocate for Bryant and Bhaskar

by on February 21, 2013

Well, it seems that Bryant is about to satisfy my gripes about the absence of entropy from these discussions in chapter 5, so this response will be something of a “to be continued.”  As I am now approaching these texts with a greater degree of emphasis on possible papers to come following Monday’s class, I am often struck by how many correlations I am seeing between questions raised by Thomas Pynchon in the 1960’s and 1970’s and those of the more recent Speculative Realism and OOO texts.  While Gravity’s Rainbow is always first and foremost on my mind, there is a rather memorable portion of all-too frequently read The Crying of Lot 49 (I say this because Pynchon himself has referred to the work as a “failed novel”, that being said, I have a W.A.S.T.E. tattoo and I like it anyway, even though I tend to agree that that it lacks the depth of his other works) compliments Bryant’s discussion of Bhaskar quite well.

Specifically, I am thinking of the notion of generative mechanisms and “conjunctions of events presented in sensation” (Bryant 47).  To briefly jump back to entropy, if all activity/work requires the expenditure of energy, then there is a pesky little notion often discussed in scientific observation that asks what observation removes from the system, essentially arguing that closed systems are impossibilities in experimentation.  If an open system is to be understood as “systems where the powers of objects are either not acting or are rather disguised or hidden by virtue of the intervention of other causes” (48), how does the act of observance not constitute “the intervention of other causes”?  If “the intelligibility of our experimental activity is premised on the possibility of a world without humans where objects reside in the world unrealized and unwitnessed” (48) then the premise of our experimental activity is immediately violated in every experimental setting.  While I do not advocate this position (in fact, I would have to say that Bhaskar’s/Bryant logic seemed perfectly rational to me, as I do believe in the validity of the sciences…. to a certain degree), and while I understand that I am taking up an Empiricist argument which I just cannot bring myself to endorse, can it not be said that this position also belittles the “hidden powers of objects”?  Specifically, does it not make ontological assumptions about the eyes as an object?

So, the larger question I am posing in proxy to Pynchon, what energy does sensation expend within a given environment.  Yes, yes, it is the energy system of the body that handles such anatomical observations, but if an object must expend energy to exist/expend energy to be/expends energy by possessing Real or Sensual qualities and thus would logically follow expends energy in order to project those qualities, then observing a closed system just can’t be done.  In the same sense, if viewing always removes energy/constitutes work, then no observable event could ever violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy always increases).

On this topic, Pynchon offers us his version of this argument surrounding the “Nefastis Machine” and Maxwell’s Demon where:

“‘The demon could sit in a box among air molecules that were moving at all different random speeds, and sort out the fast molecules from the slow ones.  Concentrate enough of them in one place and you have a region of high temperature.  You can then use difference in temperature between this hot region of the box and any cooler region, to drive a heat engine.  Since the demon only sat and sorted, you wouldn’t have put any real work into the system.’…‘Sorting isn’t work?’…‘It’s mental work…but not work in the thermodynamic sense”  (Pynchon 68).

The text goes on to say that only a sensitive could give the demon orders to begin it’s sorting so that the system could remain closed, but this raises similar questions (at least in my mind) to those raised by Bryant and Bhaskar.  Just something I thought might be interesting to consider, and I am looking very forward to reading chapter 5 next week.

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