Why haven't they found a way to concentrate sound waves the way lasers do with light?
Illustration by Slug Signorino
This is surely kismet, Jim. Most physicists whom one approaches on this question go on about light and sound being fundamentally different phenomena, and say that “stimulated emission of radiation” — the essence of lasers — has no counterpart in the world of audio. However, shortly after your letter arrived, I received a note from Stephen Wilson, Ph.D., of Applied Intelligent Systems in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which holds out some hope. Steve takes issue with the discussion in my book, The Straight Dope: A Compendium of Human Knowledge, on whether, if all one billion Chinese yelled at the top of their lungs at once, we could hear them in the U.S. (See “If all Chinese jumped at once, would cataclysm result?“) I thought the question too dumb to be worth answering, but Steve offers the following conjecture:
“Through a cooperative research effort between enthusiastic physicists such as myself and skilled choir directors, we may be able to take the top 10 percent of the best singers in our population and teach them such perfect harmony that we can create a gigantic biohumanoid coherent acoustic laser! [My emphasis, his exclamation point.] If they can sing low enough, about thirteen octaves below middle ‘C,’ we can use the wave guide effect of the captured atmosphere, and I think we could get over 60 thousand miles out of them. Think of the weapons possibilities.”
I think he’s kidding, but you never know with these Michiganders.
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.