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.


2 thoughts on “Laughter

  1. Howdy,

    Remember Mork and Mindy? Robin Williams first TV gig. He was a Martian that just couldn’t understand these weird humans. I checked out the Chopra Meyers clip.

    Laughter can certainly be a result of anxiety and even the fear of death, but i think it comes from a much deeper, but similar source. I think humor is fundamental to the System.

    I’ve got a piece going that gets deeper into this, but let me hit the highlights:

    The system doesn’t fear death, but it is deeply concerned with uncertainty. The primary function of LifeOS, and even the Universe for that matter, may be said to be the resolution of uncertainty. As the Universe progresses through time, the distant future becomes less and less uncertain as it gets closer to the present. Like the weather forecasts, the present continuously resolves the uncertainty of the future.

    Essentially the system is as blind to reality as you and i. It must depend on agents to furnish observations that are to be stored in memory. This is a record of certainties, with the most recent being the most reliable for predicting the future and the more distant past, less so. The patterns created by past certainties are projected into the future as expectations, a sort of hypothethesis or theory of what to expect. Based on this information, the system asks questions and proposes actions in a line of inquiry similar to our “line of thinking”.

    This is very serious business to the system. Survival depends on being able to adjust to change. First to identfy the diff that makes a diff, and then to modify behaviors to match.

    Wthin all of this there has to be a rating system that gives weight to certain lines of thinking over others. As more information is gathered that rating has to fluctuate. Seems to me that emotion is part of that rating system. There is an emotional level flag attached to events to rate their survival importance. When a line of inquiry that has been highly rated as serious, and then some new information pops up that drops the rating to zero, the system giggles. This marks this line of inquiry as frivilous, not important for survival.

    We are systems that mirror the systems above and below us. Our basic patterns of behavior are the same. We are agents in the system, dependent on system protocols. We work for the system whether we recognize it or not.

    Anyway, i think the system would get a kick out of this one… 🙂

    “I want you to know, when it comes to believing in god- I really tried. I really really tried. I tried to believe that there is a god who created each one of us in his own image and likeness, loves us very much and keeps a close eye on things. I really tried to believe that, but I gotta tell you, the longer you live, the more you look around, the more you realize…something is FUCKED-UP. Something is WRONG here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is NOT good work. If this is the best god can do, I am NOT impressed. Results like these do not belong on the resume of a supreme being. This is the kind of shit you’d expect from an office temp with a bad attitude. And just between you and me, in any decently run universe, this guy would have been out on his all-powerful-ass a long time ago.”

    –George Carlin

    Maybe the whole thing is really just a joke, huh?


  2. Yeah. That sort of reminds me of the Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy attitude.

    “In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.” -Douglas Adams

    “There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.” -Adams

    Then of course you need Lenny Bruce’s take on laughter: “The only honest art form is laughter, comedy. You can’t fake it… try to fake three laughs in an hour – ha ha ha ha ha – they’ll take you away, man. You can’t.”

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