Benford’s Law Begins Everything

The paragraph I chose comes in after Maxine finished a conversation with friends about beanie babies in the end of chapter 4. The book suddenly transitions from this simple topic to a serious discussion on Benford’s Law:

Though it’s been around in some form for a century and more, Benford’s Law as a fraud examiner’s tool is only beginning to surface in the literature. The idea is, somebody wants to phony up a list of numbers but gets too cute about randomizing it. They assume that the first digits, 1 through 9, are all going to be evenly distributed, so that each one will turn up 11% of the time. Eleven and change. But in fact, for most lists of numbers, the distribution of first digits is not linear but logarithmic. About 30% of the time, the first digit actually turns out to be a 1—then 17.5% it’ll be a 2, so forth, dropping off in a curve to only 4.6% when you get to” (P40).

This paragraph jump from small talk ended in chapter 4 to serious fact in the beginning of chapter 5 is startling. Pynchon included this paragraph to let the readers to understand Benford’s Law and the following suspicious activities in hashlingrz finance. It sets the stage for the rest of the novel. This gave Maxine more credibility and made her a more interesting and dynamic character. Also, Pynchon includes the paragraph to create a paradox between high finance and computer science in order to make Maxine stand out as a main character.

To begin with my argument, I want to say that as a fan of detective loves, this passage interested me in informing me new mathematical law. Although this helps show that Pynchon is polymeric, in the paragraph the usage of scientific facts is a typical method used in detective novels. It provides readers with facts that are beyond general knowledge. One of the well-known examples as we discussed in class is Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. But unlike Detective Sherlock, Maxine is a fraud investigator. She has to know Benford’s Law in order to do her work. I think Pynchon provides this paragraph of description of Benford’s Law create a professional image of Maxine. Since other characters around her have more skill with technology, so providing such detail helped to enrich Maxine’s character. Besides, the main theme of this novel is to critique the 20th century technology. This playful excerpt creates a contradiction between real world and the virtual world: her knowledge is based on real data calculation, while Eric and her children are master in the virtual world. Pynchon attempted to create a paradox of high finance and computer science to make the characters in this novel as interesting as they could be.

Pynchon used the cool Benford’s Law to open the case of hashlingrz, this show the important of data in this novel too. Maxine used a simple, but very cool tool to figure the hiding truth of hashlingrz’s book, however, the investigation becomes gradually more and more complicated and mysterious, which just show the characteristic of internet. In web’s world, to normal civilians, internet is just a simple and harmless tool, but for hackers and experienced people there are more than normal people know in the deep web.

Although this paragraph is not describing any big event going on in the novel, I still find it is important to the structure of the novel. This paragraph in the beginning of the chapter five is kind of the real start of the whole story, the story before is just bedding for Maxine’s investigating this suspicious company and discovering in the virtual world.

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2 Responses to Benford’s Law Begins Everything

  1. pittpanther22 says:

    I really like how you briefly brought up the whole Beanie Baby topic, after I ready that section of the text I paused and had a “what did I just read” moment. I am almost frustrated with this part of the chapter though, does it hold a more significant meaning? Or was Pynchon just attempting to have a lighthearted moment before he dove into a more dense topic? I feel as though part of Pynchon’s attempt was to humanize Maxine and Vyrva, and make you establish that they share these simplistic memories, despite the fact that characters (such as Maxine), are extremely complex.


  2. mightymoss9 says:

    I enjoyed how you looked at the mathematical aspects of Thomas Pynchon’s work rather than the Deep Archer aspect of the novel. You are arguing how the law helps to flesh out Maxine as a character, but could it also be taken that it Maxine more mathematical and logical? Math is a rigid and precise topic, often times seen as emotionless. Could this be applied to Maxine as well?


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