Laughter is the best medicine
Many that are asked believe that laughter is the best medicine — it makes us feel good. It is something that we can share with others over great distances, or face to face in crowded spaces.
Guillaume Benjamin Duchenne, a French Neurologist of the 1800’s era, first noted the difference between a genuine and spontaneous laugh that uses the orbicular muscle to distort facial features (furred up brow, corners of the mouth turned up, closing of eyelids), versus a facsimile attempt where these same muscle lay unconsciously dormant. Next time you’re in a casual social setting where smiles and laughter are plenty; take notice of the closing of eyes and forming of crow’s feet signalling the more genuine smile or laugh. Just so you know.
It is understood that the Duchenne laugh is one of the few signs of true enjoyment. Needless to say, there is some current controversy as to whether a Duchenne laugh can be faked or not— social scientists have had a very rough last couple of years with testing repeatability of some of their most cherished claims— “social priming” anyone?
At a grass root and practical level, comedy clubs are ideal settings to let your hair down and take in the great spectacle of humour and laughter. And Second City Theatre on Mercer street is arguably one of the best comedy venues in Toronto where humour and comedy is practiced for entertainment and hence, economic value. A truly great spot to conduct some social research over a cold beer, or two.
You can check out Second City here: http://www.secondcity.com/
But more interesting (possibly – as some feel that unearthing a mystery destroys its worth) is the attempt to look back through the evolution of laughter, its inception and development, and some of the best theories for its support.
A truly great book on the unearthing of this topic can be found at the following link:
The authors — Dennett, Hurley and Adams— convincingly argue that “laughter is a ritualized form of panting used as a signal of non-aggression during play,” a technique used by our closest friends, the chimpanzees, to avoid false alarms, and to communicate that a perceived danger has passed. On a more fundamental level, they argue that most organisms possess circuitry that seeks and identifies patterns in a local environment, producing an appropriate response to the said pattern.
But what happens when an expected regular pattern produces an irregularity?
What does happen is that the mismatch or incongruity in expectations is then followed by a sense of surprise, then some form of mental resolution of the mismatch, and that this combination forms one of the more classic and typical forms of humor.
Example: A fly walks into a bar and asks: “Is this stool taken?”
Example: How do you get a history major off your porch? Pay for the pizza.
The authors call this type of mental manipulation a form of data integrity checking, which is rewarded by the good feeling derived when laughing at a joke. Another way to look at it is that we are capable of manipulating mental representations in order to better recognize faulty inferences, and then rewarding ourselves with laughter when practiced.
Example: Yesterday, my friend’s computer beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kickboxing.
Notice that all three examples contain a light form of surprise as well as an incongruity that highlights a faulty inference, which is then recognized and resolved, with the reward being laughter.
It is acknowledged by almost everyone that it is near impossible to tickle oneself into laughter. The authors make a similar case that the physical incongruity (where, when, how) of touch is too well anticipated by the self-tickler much like the silence a comedian receives when they telegraph a punch line. Tickling oneself does not have the essential ingredients required to create some hearty mirth.
So pardon me if I always start a joke with: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”
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Author: Joe Totino