Part I of this article advanced a new theory of humor,
the Enlightenment Theory, while contrasting it with other main theories,
including the Incongruity, Repression/Relief/Release, and Superiority
Theories. The Enlightenment Theory does
not contradict these other theories but rather subsumes them. As argued, each of the other theories cannot
account for all the aspects of humor explained by the Enlightenment
Theory. Part II shows how the Enlightenment
Theory meets challenging issues in humor theory where other theories falter,
including failed humor, motivation for humor, tickling, laughing gas, and
sadistic humor. Also mentioned are the
Enlightenment Theory's application to literary and musical humor and the
relationship of wit to humor.
failed humor, humor aesthetics, humor philosophy, humor theory, incongruity
theory, laughing gas mirth, literary humor, malicious humor, musical humor,
relief theory, superiority theory, tickling humor, humor wit, Zen humor
In Part I we summarized the
main humor theories that are current and showed how a proposed Enlightenment
Theory was more comprehensive. We
premised the argument on a broad definition of humor, namely, "any communications, acts,
circumstances, or their consequences that elicit mirth," a
definition virtually tantamount to "anything that causes mirth." The purpose of such a broad definition is
twofold: First, it lends simplicity and, second, it extends the
gauntlet of challenges to the Enlightenment Theory and extant theories because humor
theory must not only address cerebral and artistic humor such as wit and jokes
but also the least cerebral causes of mirth, including physical pranks, tickling,
and laughing gas. So perhaps one way to
prove the Enlightenment Theory's virtues is to show how it applies to many
kinds of humor. Thus, this Part II presents
brief sketches showing how the Enlightenment Theory accommodates challenges met
or unmet by the other main theories.
2. Failed humor
For example, what about the jest that doesn't
elicit mirth? Such failed humor
challenges the Enlightenment Theory but also confirms it. As mentioned in Part I, Section 5, cognition,
particularly understanding the real or fictional world of the wit or joke, must
precede laughter, so intended humor fails if there is no or too much cognition.
“A jest’s prosperity lies in the ear/Of
him that hears it, never in the tongue/Of him that makes it.” (Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act V, Scene II) Anyone who doesn't get the joke is obviously
not enlightened by it, but neither is someone who groans in disappointment
because the joke is too corny or obvious, as in: Question: "What kind of
tea is hard to swallow?" Answer: "Reality." The first such person fails to perceive the
incongruity or its significance, while the second person understands the humor
but gets no revelation from it. Often
the difference between humor that makes millions laugh and that which merely
evokes a few smiles is its effectiveness at achieving enlightenment.
The botched joke is also failed humor. Assuming the amateur poorly telling a joke
uses the same words as the professional comedian, why should the amateur
achieve stares while the professional arouses laughs? The prime difference is joke-telling artistry:
the timing, nuances, tone of voice,
gestures, etc., and the Enlightenment Theory explains why artistry makes a
difference. Just as the insightful,
clever, and artful philosopher, Zen master, or Yoga guru provokes enlightenment
in students, in contrast to teachers using rote techniques, the artful humorist
is more likely to make listeners laugh. Moreover,
as explained below in relation to wit, artistry itself can be enlightening.
Though the Enlightenment
Theory explains failed humor resulting from lack of cognition, obviousness,
poor joke telling, and the like, the other theories don't fare as well. For instance, the Superiority Theory offers
no reason why a joke that creates a feeling of superiority might fail to cause
laughter. Many verbal incongruities will
not cause laughs, but why? Jesus'
chiasmus, “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20:16) is not
funny, while Johnson’s and Lincoln’s book reviews are. Similarly, many verbal thrusts that help the
speaker evade social repression will not cause laughter, but why? And why does a poorly told joke yield blank
stares though it boasts mockery and incongruity and vents repressed desires?
Why something isn't funny is just as revealing as why something else is.
3. Motivation for creating humor
Another advantage of the
Enlightenment Theory is that it can explain motivation for jokes and pranks,
while some other theories cannot.
The Superiority Theory
explains humorous ridicule because both humorist and listener may glory in
their superiority over the hapless object of the jest, even if, as Hobbes
notes, the object may be the humorist’s former self, as with self-deprecating
the Superiority Theory explains motivation for practical jokes that humiliate
others, but this theory hardly explains why someone would make a silly face or
funny noise since the creator of humor, assumedly craving superiority, is
certainly not motivated to look foolish.
(With a silly face or funny noise it is even hard to argue that the humor
deprecates one’s former self.) Moreover,
whenever the humor is innocuous and devoid of ridicule or other trace of
superiority, the Superiority Theory does not persuasively explain motivation.
Likewise, the Repression
Theory explains the motive for creating humor that relieves tension whenever
one needs to “break the ice.” The joke
teller, like someone starting a speech, is motivated to relieve his own tension
and relax the audience. Also, the
Repression Theory explains the motive for malicious humor as a means of
expressing feelings that are otherwise socially unacceptable. But under the Repression Theory, what is the
motive for humor when the situation is quite relaxed without ice to break or
repressed desire to vent? In discussing
wit, Freud posits that “[T]he motive for the production of harmless wit is
usually the ambitious impulse to display one’s spirit or to 'show off.'” Of
course, even this motive still doesn't explain why harmless wit can evoke
The Incongruity Theory,
though explaining why some things are funny, seemingly does not explain
motivation for humor. That is, why
create or reveal a literary or behavioral incongruity?
Enlightenment Theory, however, explains motivation for generating humor,
whether resulting in ridicule, relief of tension, or expression of repressed
desire. This Theory posits that the
humorist is motivated to enlighten others by the social rewards he or she
receives as the bearer of enlightenment, the bringer of light. This notion clearly applies to paid
professional comedians, but it also applies to unpaid humorists whose
cleverness or crudity is rewarded with popularity.
Yet this notion of reward
goes deeper than the ordinary social rewards for creating humor. According to Enlightenment doctrines, the goal
of everyone’s life is enlightenment and the enlightenment of others, which
parallels the religious zealot’s aim of saving himself and saving others. As the Buddha said, “The greatest gift is to
give people your enlightenment, to share it.” The joke teller achieves this goal via humor
and is rewarded for his or her humor, as acknowledged by the laughter evoked.
Victims of humor
The Enlightenment Theory
explains the humorist’s motive for creating humor, but can it also explain the
reactions of humor’s victims, the butts of verbal and practical jokes? Here the Superiority Theory initially seems
superior. Laughter is enjoyed by the
jester and his audience who revel in their
superiority over the victim, but under the Superiority Theory the victim has
little reason to laugh. This explanation
seems persuasive, yet the Superiority Theory does not explain the occasional
victim who does laugh. If such a victim
revels in the incident, it is not because he or she feels “superior” to
another; logically, one can't feel superior to oneself. Though Hobbes applies Superiority to laughter
at one’s own former infirmities, this exception does not save the Superiority
Theory, at least Hobbes' version, in relation to the laughing victim ridiculed
because of current infirmities.
A rudimentary Incongruity
Theory does not explain why a victim won't laugh at a joke whose incongruity
makes others laugh, for a ripe incongruity should make everyone laugh. The Repression Theory accounts for the joke
that makes a victim laugh by relieving
his or her anxiety and for the objectionable joke that makes the victim cringe
by enhancing anxiety.
However, the Enlightenment
Theory also has its challenges in relation to victims. Why doesn't a joke that
makes everyone laugh except the victim not also enlighten the victim and make him
or her laugh, too?
Sometimes the victim does
laugh, if very susceptible to humor, that is, if open to enlightenment,
especially when the joke is not too humiliating, as when Socrates cheerfully
stood during the performance of Aristophanes' “The Clouds,” which satirized
him. Occasionally even the victim of a practical joke will laugh at the time or
But victims are more often
annoyed or angered. As discussed above
in relation to failed humor, the victim may not laugh because he or she is
already well aware of the incongruity, or conversely because he or she doesn't
understand the jest, a result not usually applicable to practical jokes, which
victims typically understand. No one
soaked or tripped can miss the attempt at humor.
the shock at being soaked or tripped might completely neutralize any feeling of
enlightenment, as would humiliation from verbal ridicule. After all, semantically and spiritually,
enlightenment is an opposite of humiliation, one connoting elevation and the
other debasement. The
humiliated victim is not enlightened in the sense of being relieved of the
emotional burdens of Earthly existence; instead, the opposite is true. Such victim
is often debased and reduced to false “ego” consciousness because he more
keenly feels his own separateness and isolation, the opposite of wholeness and unity that characterize
Because of our broad
definition of humor, mainly based on acts and circumstances eliciting mirth,
tickling clearly falls within the definition.
After all, if humor includes not only the cerebral machinations of jokes
and wit but also slapstick and physical pranks, tickling occupies the same realm
as physically induced mirth. In fact, tickling's
mock attack often involves more artistry than the rudimentary physical prank or
funny face. As Arthur Koestler observed, "The harmless game of tickling . . . has
been the stumbling block which made the theorists of the comic give up, or
their theories break down." However, the Enlightenment theory comprehends
the hysterics caused by tickling, a laughter caused without mockery; the
Repression and Incongruity Theories also help comprehend tickling.
A common assumption is that
the touching associated with tickling evokes a primitive, automatic laughing
response, perhaps genetically programmed.
But that notion is usually false since the same light touching by a
snake or spider would cause most people to recoil in horror, especially when
caught by surprise. The fun arises when
the tickled person discovers that the touching is by a benign creature such as
a friend, relative, or pet animal.
We see this from our own experience, since almost everyone has tickled somebody
who is asleep, perhaps with a feather or blade of grass. When the tickled person has not fully
awakened, the response is typically one of annoyance, as if reacting to a
buzzing insect, and only when that person becomes fully aware of the benign
cause might he or she start laughing.
Laughter in response to tickling, therefore, confirms the notion that
cognition precedes laughter.
Hence the incongruity behind
the laughs is that between the benign cause and the hardwired instinctual
reaction to a strange or threatening creature.
The Repression Theory then supplies the energic release for the
laughter, whereby the tickled person jumps the chasm between revulsion and
The Enlightenment approach
to tickling notes the incongruity and displacement of energy from annoyance to
amusement, yet it also posits that the tickled person is being enlightened,
that is, reminded that the universe is not always a hostile place inhabited by pests
and predators but a joyful one whose current threat is lurking pranksters.
6. Laughing gas
Because smiles and laughs
can arise without humor, for example, in the form of feigned or nervous laughter,
many theorists have separated humor from its physical reactions and assigned
different origins to each. Some
theorists have even ascribed different origins to smiles and laughs.
However, what about laughter
not feigned nor induced by artistically created humor, such as mirthful laughs
evoked by laughing gas, drugs, and medications?
A common assumption is that substance-induced mirth is not a species of
humor but merely physically induced laughter.
But humor theory is hardly about laughter. Rather it is about "mirth,"
especially since not all laughter is the result of humor, for instance, nervous
or courtesy laughter, and since laughter is only one of several expressions of
mirth, including smirks, smiles, and chuckles. So laughing gas laughs are induced by humor
because under our humor definition (Part I, Section 2) administering or
ingesting such substances are "acts eliciting mirth." Moreover, like tickling, substance-induced mirth
is a shipwreck shoal for humor theories, though arguably Enlightenment has the
The Superiority Theory does
not explain all such laughter since no one is necessarily mocked or ridiculed,
and the Incongruity Theory is not necessarily helpful since often no obvious
incongruity confronts the intoxicated individual, except perhaps in feeling
that the world is not the serious place it’s said to be. The Repression Theory
might sometimes apply since the ingested substance may arguably release tension
and anxiety in the form of laughter. But
the Enlightenment Theory offers an explanation, namely, that the substance-induced
“high” replicates a state of enlightenment in which anxiety is banished and the
person is restored to that original lightness of being enjoyed in a world
without contradictions. As Sir Humphry
Davy, English chemist and laughing gas pioneer, wrote in 1800, laughing gas produced
giddiness, intense pleasure, and "sublime emotions connected with highly
vivid ideas" in an atmosphere where he was "occupied only by ideal
existence." This is similar to the enlightenment felt by
someone high on drugs who laughs at how everyone around
him or her is awkward, uptight, mechanical, and “straight,” when the world is
really “groovy,” “smooth,” “loose,” and “cool.”
Enlightenment proves its
worth particularly in relation to laughing gas for which Superiority is not
apparent, Repression is weak, and even Incongruity struggles. Assuming nitrous oxide produces laughs from
the same brain region stimulated by jokes, while engendering euphoria,
"sublime emotions," and "vivid ideas," then only
Enlightenment clearly applies to this inartistic, direct cause of mirth.
7. Wit and cleverness
A commonsense notion, often
true, is that wittier or cleverer jests are funnier, but wit is only one tool
amongst many to elicit humor. A
scatological jest with little wit more likely elicits a belly laugh than a
clever parlor joke, and some humor boasts no cleverness or human agency but
merely the deus ex machina which
generates slips, falls, and other mishaps.
So what are wit’s virtues?
The first is aesthetic. Unlike the crude sexual or scatological joke,
or the mechanical slip and fall, the clever pun, quip, or chiasmus is a work of
artistry, sometimes sophisticated, as is the wit in Oscar Wilde’s plays. As comedy writers attest, creating a good
joke involves careful word selection, the right order of expression, perfect
timing, perfect nuance in telling, and, in a comedy routine, the right placement
in relation to earlier jokes. The same
is true of wit. Creating
a witty jest is like writing poetry, and jokes intersect verse in formats like
the limerick. Furthermore, ingenious
incongruities are objects of aesthetic appreciation.
Second, cleverness can
manifest the most pungent incongruities, those that happenstance and other
sources of humor can rarely reveal.
Cleverness can be used to artfully juxtapose people, things, and
situations as could never be realized except in the imagination. The techniques
of wit construction, such as reversal, condensation, displacement, and brevity,
are all the soul of verbal humor. “I'd rather have a bottle in front of me
than a frontal lobotomy.” (Dorothy
But it’s not merely cleverness that draws
laughs. Though wit inspires admiration,
laughs are mostly generated by the artfully contrived incongruities and the
enlightenment revealed by such incongruities.
As with the Churchill quip on reincarnating as his wife’s second husband
(Part I, Section 3), we admire the spontaneity and cleverness of the response
that inter alia compliments her and
their marriage, but we also laugh at the enlightening aspect of his wit, that
true contentment arises from enjoying what we already have. This quip also
avoided an answer that might have offended his wife or named someone controversial or inappropriate.
Wit has another way of
achieving enlightenment: Wit, itself,
can foment laughter when we are enlightened by the artful expression of even an
ordinary thought. For instance, while
meaning to express, “Alcohol has given me much pleasure without seriously damaging
my health,” Churchill said, “I have
taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” This chiasmus is amusing while the underlying
thought is boring. Artfully combining
incongruous thoughts may be amusing because artfulness itself is often enlightening. As expressed by Falstaff, “I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men.” (Henry IV, Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2) That artfulness is enlightening helps explain
amusement from rhymes, limericks, chiasmi, and alliteration whenever
incongruities are accentuated by the aesthetic order imposed by the device. Such
humor is also achieved by contrasting the aesthetic order with disparate
Also, wit’s spontaneity and
temporality enhances the effect, for incongruity delayed is incongruity
diminished, which is also true for other forms of humor. For instance, Oscar Wilde boasted he could spontaneously talk on "any
subject," so a listener suggested Queen Victoria, to which Wilde instantly
replied, “The Queen is not a subject.”
The converse of wit is the
naïveté of unintentional humor from children, the examination of which also
supports the Enlightenment Theory.
We laugh when a child reciting the Lord’s Prayer says, “Our Father which art in
heaven, Harold be thy name.” An Einstein
anecdote also amuses: His parents were
worried because Albert was a late talker.
At last at supper one night he broke his silence, saying, "The soup
is too hot," to which his relieved parents asked why he hadn't spoken
before. Albert replied, "Because up
to now everything was in order." Such children’s remarks promote enlightenment
because they show fresh, undistorted, or unexpected precocious views of the
world. We don't laugh because the
child’s remark releases anxiety or expresses a repressed desire, nor are we
merely reveling in our own superiority.
We laugh because of the enlightening incongruities expressed in
children’s remarks, incongruities between children’s fresh, naïve perceptions
and our more jaded ones. Similarly, a
child does not laugh at a funny face because of superiority or anxiety release
but rather revels in new expression of an old reality.
8. Literary and musical humor
Humor in literary formats—not
just jokes or quips but humorous descriptions, incidents, attitudes,
situations, and the like—in a novel or short story, should enlighten just like
everyday humor. The element of “incongruity” also remains in literary
humor. However, though the analysis of
“enlightenment” and “incongruity” does not change in relation to literary
humor, the Repression and Superiority Theories struggle to explain such
humor. The Repression Theory stumbles
because funny events depicted in the literary work generally do not relieve
anxiety or the writer’s or readers' repressed desires, though its advocates may
tenuously argue that the reader may identify with the fictional characters'
motives and situations. The Superiority Theory flounders because, when literary
humor does not rely on ridicule or depiction of weaknesses, there are nobody
else’s infirmities to revel in.
Similarly, musical humor,
for example, in Haydn’s Farewell Symphony
or the fourth movement of his The
Joke Quartet, a Victor Borge performance, or a funny musical portrait, is
hard to explain via Repression or Superiority unless the depiction involves
ridicule. Yet, again, the incongruity
and enlightenment are apparent: They
come from the composer’s uncanny, almost synesthetic ability to paint a
portrait or make a statement using only musical sounds.
9. Sadistic laughter
Another thorny problem for
humor theory is sadistic laughter, though malice is often an ingredient of
humor. Plato elucidates the mixture of
pleasure and pain that lies in the malice of amusement (Philebus 50a), and Aristotle describes jokes as a “kind of abuse.” (Nicomachaen Ethics IV, 8) Though a joke or prank with a victim may still
satisfy the requirements of the Incongruity, Repression, Superiority, and
Enlightenment Theories, what about the malevolent laugh, smile, or smirk of an
evil person who has captured his or her prey?
Here superiority clearly reigns, and there is a macabre enlightenment,
though no obvious incongruity or repression prevails. But delve further and all the elements are
there. Relief from repression or anxiety
comes from the realization of triumph, often after strenuous struggle, even one
conducted via cunning, not force. The smile may also represent expression of a
repressed desire. The incongruity is the
victim once strong but now humbled, like someone who gets a pie in the face. And the enlightenment is the realization that
in a universe where every human is relatively small, short-lived, and insignificant,
one can still also be godlike, even in small triumphs, and that any creature
once strong can be humbled.
Jokes, verbal and practical,
are often cruel, based on sadistic, sexist, and racist concepts, but cruelty
doesn't interfere with Enlightenment. Indeed,
cruelty in the form of mockery or malicious prank is sometimes a key to
enlightenment because enlightenment, which depends on incongruity and the
meeting of contradictions, transcends good and evil, is beyond judgment of
right and wrong, and unifies both the “perfect world” and the world of
all, in the realm of enlightenment, where every imaginable act, circumstance,
or consequence is possible, there is no permanent death or suffering but rather
an endless cycle of being and non-being in which life and death are part of one
10. Pain and laughter
physical pain, can be a path to enlightenment.
As the Buddha said, "I teach suffering, its origin, cessation and
path. That's all I teach." So under the Enlightenment Theory, shouldn't
pain be compatible with laughter, even though laughter isn't a typical reaction
to someone else's pain? A common
assumption is that pain negates humor because we don't often laugh when someone
in view is seriously hurt, albeit in funny circumstances. However, we don't withhold laughter because enlightenment
is antithetic to pain or because pain negates humor but because our concern for
the injured or our reaction to blood and gore submerges mirth, or because it is
socially inappropriate to laugh.
Nevertheless, once there is
psychosocial distance between us and the injured person, laughter emerges. As an example, we laugh at animated cartoon
characters who are crushed or burnt, especially since they usually recover. More
relevant, while viewing painful but hilarious accidents on a TV comedy show the
audience is freed from the social obligation to show concern for suffering, and
the laughs are exuberant. Also,
insensitive people indulging in schadenfreude can still laugh in the midst of
others' suffering. As Bergson commented,
“Humor demands something like a momentary anaesthesia of the heart.”
(“Tragedy is a joke we haven't yet figured out.” (Garrison Keillor))
Though Incongruity (see Part
I, Section 3) and Superiority help explain laughter at others' pratfalls and
injuries, the Enlightenment Theory acknowledges the role of suffering in
achieving enlightenment and the mirth engendered by an unpredictable universe
that allows bizarre circumstances, twisted fates, hubris, and cocksure carelessness
to cause painful injuries.
11. Humorous environment
Though humor can emerge from
adversity and anxiety, it thrives most where expected, in an atmosphere of wit
or frivolity. What is offensive or unnoticed in ordinary life may draw laughs
at a comedy club or lighthearted gathering. At a comedy venue with no holds barred, all
social opposites—young and old, black and white, male and female, gay and
straight—are fair game.
The Superiority Theory does
not explain this phenomenon since the same remarks in different venues should
elicit the same glory at someone else’s infirmity. Why should the same incongruity fuel laughs
at a party but fall dead at work? Correspondingly,
under the Repression Theory, expressing a repressed desire or alleviating
anxiety at work should usually achieve more laughter, more release, than at a party,
but it typically doesn't.
Yet the Enlightenment Theory
implies that humor flourishes where nourished.
Just as enlightenment is best achieved under the guidance of a
philosopher, priest, rabbi, guru, master, or sage at a school, monastery,
ashram, or other place dedicated to enlightenment, enlightenment from humor is
best accomplished in an atmosphere where mirth already prevails. If higher logic is the touchstone of humor,
where that logic rules, humor should also thrive. Student: "Master, how many years of study with
you to attain enlightenment?" Zen Master: "Ten." Student: "Suppose I study twice as
hard?" Zen Master: "Then
That humor thrives where
cultivated comports with the facts that play and criticism are frequent
ingredients of intentional humor and that humor abounds where play and
criticism are encouraged. Though play is
not an aspect of accidental or unintentional humor, it is essential for
Similarly, criticism in the Bergsonian sense of social correction is an aspect
of most humor other than harmless wit.
Moreover, both play and critical thought are aspects of enlightenment,
for enlightenment is best attained where the established reality is challenged
but in a playful atmosphere. The
philosophical or spiritual master is often a stern social critic but also one
who may rather frisk with sinners than sit with sages. (Matt. 9:10-13, 11:19)
We have proposed that
humor’s aim is enlightenment and have defined enlightenment in relation to
certain doctrines that are neither obscure nor arbitrary. They are preeminent
doctrines of philosophical and spiritual traditions established thousands of
years ago that are complemented by modern science, particularly quantum physics. This
concept of enlightenment has its reflection in Western philosophy in the
writings of Plato (The Republic),
Hegel (Phenomenology of Mind), and
others. Is it therefore strange that
humor’s purpose is enlightenment, the end all of striving?
The Enlightenment Theory has
numerous advantages. It acknowledges or
complements other theories. It explains
phenomena that some other theories cannot, such as the full range of physical
reactions to humor. And it doesn't fail
where other theories falter, for example, the Superiority Theory in relation to
"harmless wit" and even the Incongruity Theory which struggles with
laughing gas. Additionally, it doesn't
divorce laughter, wit, and humor; rather, it unites all kinds of humor, including
mockery and harmless wit, and humor created artistically or accidentally, intentionally
The Enlightenment Theory is
the common, connecting aspect of the other humor theories, including release of
repression and anxiety, juxtaposition of incongruous concepts, superiority,
play, and social criticism, since all these purposes serve enlightenment. This
theory may dispel the oft-expressed pessimism about finding a comprehensive
humor theory because, arguably, Enlightenment is, in Kuhnian terms, a higher
level theory subsuming lower level ones without substantially changing them.
It is Incongruity, more than
Repression and Superiority, that points the way to Enlightenment. Incongruity in humor, a necessary condition
for all or almost all humor, may sometimes provide more conceptual distance, a
greater leap of the imagination, than that of metaphor and metonym, and thus
humor may vault over existential boundaries and discontinuities. The absurd logic and juxtapositions of humor, the wild and zany “bisociations,”
are precisely the means of transcending ordinary thought in much the same
manner as Zen Koans.
Unlike the Enlightenment
Theory, the Incongruity, Repression, and Superiority Theories lack transcendent
qualities and limit the true importance of humor. Only when examined aesthetically and evaluated
transcendently does humor reveal its vital secrets and existential importance.
This unifying Enlightenment
Theory is consistent with the source of all jokes, The Cosmic Joke in which God
(or The Universe) created mankind in black and white, male and female, young
and old, left and right, Jew and Gentile, gay and straight, with all their
foibles and eccentricities, having first let man and woman live in paradise
before tasting fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Laughter
likely prevailed in that joyful paradise, that enlightened existence beyond
good and evil, only to be suppressed once the world was divided into
opposites. As Adam may have grumbled to
God, “My wife and I were happy for 200 years—then we met.”
Peter H. Karlen
Peter Karlen is a former US
and UK law school teacher, former intellectual property lawyer, and author of
numerous publications on art, literary, and entertainment law and aesthetics.
The author thanks the Contemporary Aesthetics reviewers whose
time, effort, and critiques made this article better. "We ought never to do wrong when people
are looking." (Mark Twain)
Published on March 29, 2014.
 Thomas Hobbes, Human Nature (1650), chap. IX, sec. 13.
 Compare the Solomon
“humility theory” of humor in Robert Solomon, “Are the Three Stooges
Funny? Soitanly!,” in Aesthetics in Perspective, ed. Kathleen
Higgins (New York: Harcourt Brace &
Co., 1996), pp. 604-10.
 Freud, “Wit and its
Relation to the Unconscious,” p. 730.
 See, e.g., Christie
Davies, “Humor Theory and the Fear of Being Laughed At,” HUMOR: International Journal of Humor Research, 22, 1-2 (2009),
49-62. Much has been written about “gelotophobia" (fear of being
laughed at) but not much about "gelatophobia."
 Arthur Koestler, The Act
of Creation, (London: Pan Books Ltd,
1975), p. 79.
 Compare Robert R.
Provine, “Laughing, Tickling, and the Evolution of Speech and Self,” Current Directions in Psychological Science,
13, 6 (2004), 215-18. Darwin viewed
tickling's convulsions and laughter as reflex actions to an unexpected
touching, at least to the extent the precise point to be touched must not be
known. Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and
Animals (New York: D. Appleton &
Co., 1873), pp. 201-202. As Darwin
noted, “a young child, if tickled by a strange man, would scream from
fear.” Ibid., p. 201. See also Koestler, The Act of Creation, pp. 79-81.
 Freud, “Wit and its
Relation to the Unconscious,” in The
Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud, A. A. Brill, trans. (New York: Random House, 1938), pp. 734-35 on “Laughter
as a Discharge.”
 See, e.g., P.G.
Devereux and Kathi L. Heffner, “Psychophysiological Approaches to the Study of
Laughter: Towards an Integration with Positive Psychology,” in Oxford Handbook of Methods in Positive
Psychology, eds. Anthony D. Ong and Manfred H. M. van Dulmen (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 2007), pp. 233-49; ref. on p.
 Humphry Davy, Researches, Chemical and Philosophical;
Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide, or Dephlogisticated Nitrous Air, and its
Respiration (London: J. Johnson,
pp. 462, 491.
 By “wit” we mean
“the keen perception and cleverly apt expression of those connections between
ideas that awaken amusement and pleasure.” www.dictionary.com. “This
man I thought had been a Lord among wits; but I find he is only a wit among
Lords!” (Dr. Johnson on his unreliable
patron Lord Chesterfield)
 See Ted Cohen, Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters (Chicago: U. Chicago Press, 1999), which addresses how
and why jokes do or don't work.
 On aesthetic
appreciation of incongruity, see Mike W. Martin, “Humor and Aesthetic Enjoyment
of Incongruities,” British Journal of
Aesthetics, 23, 1 (1983), 74-85.
 Freud, “Wit and its
Relation to the Unconscious,”
pp. 740-42, 748-50.
 Ibid., p. 714,
offering a non-aesthetic explanation that attributes the pleasure from such
literary devices to “the discovery of the familiar.” "Candy is dandy, but liquor is
quicker." (Ogden Nash)
 See Ted Cohen
“Humor,” in The Routledge Companion to
Aesthetics (3d ed.), eds. Berys Gaut
and Dominic McIver Lopes (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 425-31, ref. on
425. “[T]he celebration of spontaneous
and quick humor, the appreciation of wit has some resemblance to the
appreciation of artistic improvisation….”
humor from children" means unwitting humor generated by young children,
mostly naïve yet sometimes precocious, but not
corny playground jokes that children love such as "Why did the belt go to
jail? Because he held up a pair of pants."
 Compare Berys Nigel
Gaut, “Just Joking: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Humor,” Philosophy and Literature, 22, 1 (1998), 51-68, explaining inter alia the moralist’s arguments that
offensive jokes aren't funny; Tanya Rodriguez, "Numbing the Heart: Racist
Jokes and the Aesthetic Effect," Contemporary
Aesthetics, 12 (2014).
 The Benthamite
terminology appearing in Jeremy Bentham, “Of Human Actions in General,” in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals
and Legislation (1780), chap. VII.
 Lambert Deckers and
Diane E. Carr, “Cartoons Varying in Low-Level Pain Ratings, Not Aggression
Ratings, Correlate Positively with Funniness Ratings,” Motivation and Emotion, 10, 3 (1986), 207-16.
 See, e.g., W. James
Potter & Ron Warren, “Humor as Camouflage of Televised Violence,” Journal of Communication, 48, 2 (1998), 40-57.
 Laughter, chap. I, sec. I.
“Invented humour deploys various external and internal conventions in
order to assure that its incongruities will not be anxiety-producing. . . . Indeed, these conventional markers . . . also
call for a kind of comic distance—an absence of empathy and moral concern for
the characters in jokes and satires—that relieves us of worries and anxieties
about what is happening to the beings that inhabit the joke worlds and other
fictional environments of invented humour.” Noël Carroll, “Humour,” in Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, ed.
Jerrold Levinson (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 2005), pp. 344-65; ref. on p. 350.
 On the Play Theory
of humor, see, e.g., Brian Boyd, “Laughter and Literature: A Play Theory of
Humor,” Philosophy and Literature,
28, 1 (2004), 1-22.
 Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of
the New Physics (New York: William Morrow, 1979); Amit Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness
Creates the Material World (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993).
 On “conceptual
distance” in metaphor and metonymy, see René Dirven, “Metonymy and Metaphor: Different
Mental Strategies of Conceptualization,” in Metaphor
and Metonymy in Comparison and Contrast, eds. René Dirven and Ralf Pörings
(Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2003), pp. 75-112; ref. on pp. 92-99.
 Compare the Adam and
Eve rendition in Raymond Smullyan, "Planet Without Laughter," in This Book Needs No Title: A Budget of Living
Paradoxes (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986), pp. 153-85; ref. on pp.
176-85. Note John Morreall, "The
Comic Vision of Life," British
Journal of Aesthetics, 54, 2 (2014), 125-40.