Screams and laughter as a source of energy in Monsters, Inc.


The only thing more monstrous in society portrayed in Monsters Inc. than the characters themselves, are the terrifying power generation strategies employed by the incumbent power company. Children all over the world are terrified in their beds in order to create reserves of consumable energy by harvesting their cries. Things get worse when Mike and Sully (Billy Crystal and Joh Goodman respectively) uncover a plot by company CEO Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn), kidnap children by locking them in a scream extractor to forcibly empty them. of their energy. .

Things get better when we discover that laughter is a a lot better source of energy than screaming. There are still ethical questions about the generation of electricity and income through unpaid child labor, but we will leave them for now in favor of the much more pressing question, which we are pondering now, 20 years later. Monsters Inc. created …

What would really be the most powerful source of energy, laughter or screaming?


In order to determine which of the two sources, howling with laughter, would be the most energy efficient, we need to determine precisely how the energy is generated and captured. The first possibility – although probably the least likely – is that the monsters capture the brain activity present when a child is afraid or when he feels joy.

Brains generate energy through electrical impulses sent along your neurons. In fact, your brain generates about 20 watts of energy when you’re awake, enough to power a small light bulb. So, using this activity to power a city is not outside the realm of the possible, even if it would be inefficient.

Now that we know there is usable energy in the brain, the harvesters of Monsters Inc. would need a way to capture it wirelessly from a distance. This part of the process is less clear. Wireless charging devices do exist, and you probably own one or know someone who does, but they often require you to work at very short distances. Still, suppose scientists in the monster world figured out how to overcome this challenge. The human brain generates electricity, and monsters know how to harvest it.

With that in mind, is there a reason why one type of brain activity should be preferred over another? Probably not.

Several studies have been carried out to determine which regions of the brain are active during different emotional states. On any given day, you use pretty much every part of your brain, and most of those areas are active at some point. Experiencing an emotion can cause increased blood flow to particular regions of the brain associated with that emotion, suggesting increased brain activity in those regions, but different activity does not necessarily equate to more activity.

Functional MRI scans and PET scans have isolated areas that are active when individuals experience particular emotions. Happiness, which is the basic emotion most closely associated with laughter, involves the right frontal cortex, precuneus, left amygdala, and left insula. Fear activates the bilateral amygdala, hypothalamus, and parts of the left frontal cortex.

The difference here is not necessarily in the amount of activity, but in the types of activity and the active regions. It may be that for the monsters some types of activities are better than others, but the monsters do not publish any articles, so this is still the domain of speculation.


The other option, and the one that makes the most sense from what we’re seeing onscreen, is for the monsters to capture the sound waves and convert them into electricity. Assuming that’s the case, it makes sense that they would have a preference for screaming, at least at first glance.

Cries are cries of alarm. They are usually loud, creating powerful sound waves meant to be heard from a distance. If you convert human-generated sound into energy, screaming has a certain meaning.

Sound is, of course, made up of waves passing through a medium. Basically, these are just vibrations and these vibrations could be converted into electricity with the help of the right generator. In fact, research is underway to recover energy from environmental noise.

Liew Hui Fang, et al. published an article in the journal Energy Procedia, exploring the possibility of converting environmental noise into usable energy. Their results show different levels of energy production depending on sound level, measured in decibels, as well as frequency.

In each case, higher decibels resulted in higher energy production. In terms of frequency, power output peaked at around 70Hz before plummeting. This seems to suggest that loud, high-pitched sounds are ideal for generating electricity.

The screams can be quite loud, up to 100 decibels, and anyone who has heard a child screaming for fear or for lack of a snack knows that they are very common. This makes screams good candidates for energy capture. Laughter, on the other hand, is generally quieter (with the exception of this type in the movie theater) and less frequent. The only thing laughter has going for it is that it can last longer than screaming.

The unfortunate result for the people of Monstropolis and children around the world is that screaming is most likely preferable to laughter in the power generation department. The good news is that using sound for energy capture is inefficient regardless of the source.

According to MIT, sound energy generates about 1/100 of a watt per square meter. Solar energy generates 68,000 times more on the same surface. They could install solar panels and take children out of the equation altogether.

Certainly, a society capable of teleportation by gate could build renewable energy sources. If not, did they try to rub Sully against the carpet and touch a doorknob?


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