The Nature of Humour

Recently, a post I submitted here pondered why we human beings laugh at all. So I decided to go delving further around the internet today on this topic, looking to see what experts had to say on the nature of humour.

This was the first Google result.

"This file introduces the bioepistemic interpretation of the phenomenon of humor, its evolutionary origin as an incongruity-based selective mechanism for rank evolution and its proposed modern function as an IFF system. (An IFF system interrogates individuals to assess whether they are a member of one's own social group, that is a friend, or whether they are a member of some other social group, and therefore somebody who may be a foe, a member of a group that operates in competition with one's own. IFF systems effectively create a boundary around a social group. They make the social group into an object (defined in social space) and thus make it possible to select one such group over another ..."

Oh, boy. That's got them rolling in the aisles, for certain.

The next article looked initially promising ...

"Very early the word "humour" was being used to designate any one of the four chief fluids of the body, blood, phlegm, choler and melancholia, the relative proportions of which determined a person's physical and mental qualities and disposition ..."

... until I opened it. Rib-tickling.

This next one just kind of sneaked in there when I wasn't looking:-

"It is an initial premise of this research that technology may be understood as ‘a way of dealing with the world’, and that perhaps humour can similarly be understood as ‘a way of dealing with the world’. If this is the case then one can, whilst remaining aware of the specious dangers of the fallacy of the excluded middle, begin to explore the nature of humour and its potential to be defined as a technology."

You can just hear them crying out for mercy there. And this next one just floors them:-

"Reflection on the topic of humour lead me to realize that humour is a powerful survival adaptation for living in third density. It creates a sort of buffer between all the negative concepts floating around and our sorely out of tune minds. By making jokes and and parodising the things which we fear most we can create a sort of emotional space between them and us, allowing us to internalize something that might otherwise cause us to become more distorted and trapped in the met of karma."

Before too long, though, I caught sight of the footsteps of a giant in the field and stopped to read the trail ...

"What's so funny?

"Freud developed detailed theories concerning the nature of humour and why some things are funnier than others. One way to put his theories in perspective is to look at tragic situations about which jokes have been created. Why would people make jokes about such events?

"According to Freud, sexual and aggressive themes underlie much of what people consider humourous. Additionally, hostile humour is funnier when directed towards someone we dislike. Hostile humour can reduce tension, especially that caused by tragic or unnerving events.

Tendentious jokes - those about such things as hostility and sex - can provide insight into the unconscious of the joke teller as well as the respondent.

"Aggressive jokes allow aggressive desires and feelings to be held in check, in a socially appropriate manner. These sorts of jokes are not only acceptable in society, but may even be encouraged. It's a great way to introduce uncomfortable topics in conversation, for instance. This is known as catharsis.

"Thus, telling jokes about scary or sad events can be a way to reduce and relieve stress caused by the event."

And if you have been following things so far, and your eyes have refused to glaze over already, you might actually have caught a corner of the puzzle here. Let's read on, to see if further clues come to light ...

"Of course, jokes are funnier when directed towards someone we don't like. Studies show that men find humour about women funnier than that about men, and vice-versa."

And why is that?

But wait. Reading on, a big piece of the puzzle comes into view -

"An interesting note: it may seem that hostile humour told to an already hostile person may make things worse. Actually it reduces hostility in that person and is received better than by a relaxed person."

And why, pray tell, is that so?

"Tension is a big part of humour. The more tension involved, the funnier it is. Thus, more sensitive people are more likely to find something funnier than a calm, tensionless person. A person told a rat in a box might bite will find it funnier if it's actually a toy rat in a box than a person told the rat is harmless."

And at this point, if you haven't even raised a smile at that image, go back and see what the writer did. Because you've not only read the major piece of the puzzle: it has begun to make all of the other above dry academic pieces begin to fall into place.

What makes something funny? Let's summarise.


Aggression, released harmlessly to defuse more physical aggression and curb hostility.

Defining a third-person (usually remote, but always mutually socially acceptable) scapegoat of some form or other.

Socially-acceptable exploration of sexual themes - the interrupted dirty limerick, for instance, where the last word of a line, always a profanity, is interrupted by some external event.

Survival adaptation and armour, creating a social buffer: a social fire break.

A technology: like many other human discoveries, a tool. In this case, a social one.

A body fluid. The less spoken-about, the better: which organ do you think produces this stuff?

An IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) system and marker. Possibly a shibboleth. If one laughs, friend: if one comes at one with a large knife, screaming imprecations, possibly foe.

An intriguing hypothesis - but do the writings support this?

"There are other IFF systems to be found in other social species but the important and unique property of humor is that it makes this selection on the basis of the individual's socially inherited knowledge rather than their genetically encoded knowledge ... humor does not operate via genetic data ... it is able to interrogate group allegiance for much larger groups than could any previous IFF system that operated from genetically encoded knowledge alone. Humor can even interrogate the group membership of previously unknown individuals."

"When the English language was reaching the time of its full consolidation the word "humour" had come to be applied even more directly to a mental state, and for Ben Jonson and Shakespeare a humour could be a "ruling passion" ..."

"... the role of humour in the human species, not taking a view of it as solely a phenomenon of human culture, but exploring the idea that humour may be a technological response to situations, and might be better understood in conversations of technology, e.g. investigations of Paleolithic artifacts, or contemporary cyberculture ..."

"Of course humour is just as powerful for those seeking to serve themselves . . . are you laughing with me or at me ..."

"... humour cannot be equated with fun. Humour is fun, but so is hard work that is rewarding ... humour means something different from jokes, mirth, or laughter. In practice, we use the word humour as an umbrella term to cover the things that are essential to the humour; some sort of a trigger (stimulus) that comes to be seen as humorous, and the reaction of the observer who deems it so (response) ..."

"All in all, laughter serves an important psychological function, keeping us in a healthy mental state."

This consolidates the above fragmentary assertions into a single unit. The pieces all fit together.

Humour is a social tool, developed to create an emotional and social buffer to protect fragile mental and social stability, which it does by generating a form of social inclusiveness that binds people together through a common mutual response that defuses hostilities and aggression through controlled release of pent-up tensions and apprehensions caused by the fears of the unknown qualities the other person possesses.

And it's a body fluid generated by the -

No comments:

Post a Comment

"And if we have unearned luck, now to scape the serpent's tongue, we will make amends ere long. Else the Puck a liar call ..."

So speak.