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Can You Survive off of Fear?

The Science of Fear and Can Pennywise Survive on It...

Pennywise from the movie IT (2017)

A quick flashback to 2017 and a lot of you will remember the movie IT. I loved the movie due to the new interpretation of Pennywise. Now personally, I am a man of science and I like to rip things apart. As obvious by the title, I was really bugged by the fact that Pennywise doesn’t kill/eat Beverly, but he puts her in a hypnotised state instead. After digging a little deeper, (literally just me watching the film again) I realised that Pennywise only eats “scared” children. He has even gone as far as saying that “frightened flesh tastes better.” Now, this really got me curious, since a monster like him shouldn’t really give a damn whether the child he’s after is scared or not. It should be that he needs energy to survive, hence he feeds on innocent little children. But this clearly isn’t the case because he doesn’t just eat Beverly. So I asked myself the question, what’s so special about someone who is frightened and if Pennywise can survive on “fear?”

Now, I started by looking at his diet. This was pretty easy as it is very clear that he feeds on children. A pretty solid reason for this may be that children are far easier to scare than adults. I mean, I would love to see a version of this where Pennywise is hunting down a 32-year-old man. But that would probably end up like a version of SAW, yeaaa - no thanks. Now, the science can get complex very quickly, so to simplify it, I had to make two key assumptions. Firstly, we need to assume that Pennywise eats for the same reasons humans do. Therefore, this means that the reason Pennywise eats is for his body to respire and produce energy in order for his cells to function. Secondly, we need to assume that flesh and bones are not the sources of this energy. If we don’t make this assumption, it makes zero sense why Pennywise would keep the girl alive. Hence, it is to do with fear as Pennywise couldn’t smell fear in her and hence he didn’t kill her. Now with the assumptions out of the way, we can finally dig into the science and the biology of Pennywise.

We first need to find out what fear actually is and what happens in your body when you are scared. Well, this is easier said than done. Turns out, fear is one of our bodies defence mechanisms. Our bodies have been hardwired into reacting a certain way when we are scared. Fear is quite simply our body's reaction to the unknown or the potential threat of danger or even death. You can almost say that there are two types of fear. This is more commonly known as the fight or flight response. It’s quite straightforward, when scared, people will react by either running away or fighting whatever is scaring them. As you can imagine, this varies from person to person, but we are talking about children here, not adults. Hence I feel it is okay to assume that no five-year-old will be trying to go toe-to-toe with Pennywise.

At this point in my research, I was pretty happy, all I had to do was to see what happens in the “flight response” and we can draw conclusions from there. But it turns out that there isn’t much of a difference, if any, between the two states. Turns out, when someone is scared, your brain processes the situation and a part of your brain called the hypothalamus triggers one of the two responses. As soon as the hypothalamus decides on what to do, a few things happen in our body. Numerous chemicals are released in your body for various reasons, and now one of these chemicals may be key to why Pennywise eats children who are terrified.

Now time for a quick flashback to high school biology, sorry. You may recall that in our nervous system, there are different types of neurons. What they are isn’t important for this but we need to remember a key fact about them. For example, when your brain tells you to move your arm, the signal will go through these neutrons. Emphasis on that fact that it’s plural, there are multiple of these neurons connected and we need to recall the fact that there is a gap between them. In order to send the signal across, your body releases a chemical called glutamate. Now, when scared, the human body tends to release a lot of this chemicals in order to execute anything your brain tells you to do ASAP. This makes sure that this person is on high alert, and hence you will find more of this chemical in someone who is scared than someone who isn’t. It turns out that this chemical is a really good conductor of electricity. Now, my initial thought was that I was thinking of this the wrong way, what if humans aren’t the source of his powers? What if it is electricity? We actually don’t see Pennywise feed on electricity but it seems plausible. After all, he is an alien from another dimension. But this answer wasn’t satisfying until I dug a little deeper and found a more reasonable answer.

Turns out that your body also releases a lot of glucose, which makes sense as your cells are going to need that energy in order to run away from an alien clown that can shape-shift. Another chemical released is one that’s called epinephrine. This chemically is more famous by its other name—adrenaline. This is what's responsible for your heart to pump at a million miles per hour and ensures that the glucose is getting to your cells quick enough for you to run. As you could probably figure out by now, glucose could be the key here, it is exactly what your body uses to function and it could be what Pennywise needs to survive. It could be plausible that Pennywise can’t create his own glucose and hence he needs to eat meat full of it. And it would make sense why he hypnotised Beverly, he doesn’t want to waste energy on someone who isn’t going to give the glucose he needs.

One final note, it turns out that the average person has 100 milligrams per decilitre of blood sugar. This is approximately 0.001 kilograms per litre. The average person has around 5.1 litres of blood meaning that we should have around 0.0051 kilograms of sugar. Assuming that this number goes up to around 0.01 kilograms when a person is scared, Pennywise would need to devour a couple of children a day in order to stay alive, that’s assuming that he has biology similar to a human, which he clearly does not. But hey, he’s an alien, I could have left it at that from the start.

Thank you so much for reading, if you have read everything to this point, you have probably found this somewhat interesting. Therefore why not leave a tip? It will let me know you like stories like this and help me make more.

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