A few weeks ago I almost made this post, but held off. I had finished the book Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein, and there was a most profound point made about laughter. So the basic gist of the novel is that a human that was born on Mars (and hence knows nothing of human culture) comes to Earth. The book provides an amazing critique on biases, prejudices, and practices of humans from an outside perspective. One of the things that Martians do not do is laugh. So the main character had to determine what laughter was and why it happened from a perspective outside of our own.
Some quotes on the Martian’s findings:
* I grok people. I am people… so now I can say it in people talk. I’ve found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts so much… because it’s the only thing that’ll make it stop hurting.
* I had thought — I had been told — that a ‘funny’ thing is a thing of a goodness. It isn’t. Not ever is it funny to the person it happens to. Like that sheriff without his pants. The goodness is in the laughing itself. I grok it is a bravery . . . and a sharing… against pain and sorrow and defeat.
(Oh, so “grok” means something vaguely similar to “understand”). I thought this rather profound and moving at the time, but I thought I was just being influenced by the story and not so much the philosophy. So I held off on the post. Tonight I saw a conversation between Mike Meyers and Deepak Chopra, and almost precisely this point was the topic of discussion.
Chopra said that laughter is the soul’s way of showing that we recognize our mortality. So whenever something happens that makes us realize we are going to die, we laugh. I feel like this is almost precisely what Heinlein was trying to get across. I just find it remarkable that I never thought of this or encountered this myself, but apparently it is common knowledge to everyone else. Has anyone else encountered this somewhere? I’m fascinated by it, and would love to get more viewpoints.