Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Nefastis Machine

Koteks looked to both sides, then rolled his chair closer. “You know the Nefastis Machine?” Oedipa only widened her eyes. “ Well this was invented by John Nefastis, who’s up in Berkeley now. John’s somebody who still invents thisgs. Here. I have a copy of the patent.” From a drawer he produced a Xeroxed wad of papers, show a box with a sketch of a bearded Victorian on its outside, and Coming out of the top pistons attached to a crankshaft and flywheel.

“Who’s that guy with the beard?” asked Oedipa. James Clerk Maxwell, explained, Koteks, a famous Scotch scientist who had once postulated a tiny intelligence, known as Maxwell’s Demon. 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. Fast molecules have more energy then slow ones. Concentrate enough of them in one place and you have a region of high temperature. You can then use the 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 they system. So you would be violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics, getting something for nothing, causing perpetual motion.

-Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

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