Saturday, May 7, 2011

Plato and a Platypus

I picked up a little book entitled, Understanding Philosophy through Jokes, and while I may not be the best joke teller, I do thoroughly enjoy a good laugh. Here's one that cracked me up...

  A man stumbles into a deep well and plummets a hundred feet before grasping a spindly root, stopping his fall. His grip grows weaker and weaker, and in his desperation he cries out, "Is there anybody up there?" 
  He looks up, and all he can see is a circle in the sky. Suddenly, the clouds part and a beam of bright light shines down on him. A deep voice thunders, "I, the Lord, am here. Let go of the root, and I will save you." 
  The man thinks for a moment and then yells, "Is there anybody else up there?" 

This - is why I'm studying laughter.  

I suppose I may not find the 'meaning of it all' as I had originally intended to do by studying philosophy, but now that I know any answer I could formulate with my human mind is limited by my own subjectivity, why bother? I mean, seriously.

What's neat about jokes is that you can see what makes other people laugh. Wherever laughter emanates, there's no doubt a social element associated with it. Of course, socially speaking, the things that nearly send me on the ground rolling in laughter barely cause most people to raise an eyebrow. Humor, like the meaning of life, is no doubt, subjective. 

Early on, I felt compelled to have meaning and was a bit serious, okay, a bit too serious. But hey, Aristotle said that everything had a telos, seriousness just happened to be mine. Reading Kafka, Cicero, the Vedas, anything I discovered on the subject of human or cosmic nature, was like a little kid listening in on his or her parents' conversation. I was transfixed. It was as if Plato had just published his Republic and it was breaking news! I couldn't put the book down. Given this inclination, the subject of laughter some years ago would have sounded absurd, or even worse - shallow. 

But how can happiness be shallow? Isn't that the goal? If I'm happy, am I enlightened? If I'm enlightened, can I just kick back and entertain myself and others with jokes that make people laugh? I can also spend a little time thinking about the origin of laughter. Of course they say that death is in the details. That's okay by me 'cause there's a lot of jokes about death that send me reeling!

Like Cicero said, An indecency decently put is the thing we laugh at the hardest. 

Spinoza, on the other hand, referred to laughter as "merely pleasure" in his Ethics. What did that guy know, anyhow? They say the only thing he laughed at was two spiders fighting to the death. lol (And people think my humor's a bit off?) As Saul Steinberg observed, "Trying to define humor is one of the definitions of humor." 

Whether it's a classical ("Who was that lady I saw you with last night?" "That was no lady, that was my wife"), perennial ("How's your wife?" "Compared to what?"), or political ("Such as Ronald Reagan's definition of liberalism: If it moves, tax it. It it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it."), there seems to be, in the essence of humor, something for everyone - and I like that.

Whether jokes liberate laughter from inhibitions about forbidden thoughts and feelings or merely release deeply rooted feelings of superiority or inferiority, it's still a kind of intellectual pleasure that, while eliciting violent and sometimes spasmodic reactions, seems to have evolved to help us detect errors in our reasoning. And if you're read any of my other posts, you'll see, my faulty reasoning has led me to believe that the longer the sentence - the better! lol

Maybe the difference between essential and accidental knowledge has less to do with how a thing 'is' and how it wants to 'be'. 

For now, I want to be studying laughter... mostly because I like to laugh.

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