Friday, January 29, 2016

The Birth of Reality

The tech world is buzzing over VR, virtual reality; that immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality, replicating an environment that stimulates the sensation that one is present in a real or imagined place, allowing the user to interact with that world. In some cases, sensory experiences, such as sight, tough, hearing, and smell can be artificially created. 

But where is this reality? ... not just the chosen landscape, not just the "option" one chooses of visiting a foreign city or futuristic looking world; but where, exactly, is the location upon which all other realities are built? 

Through which door do we enter? 

Reality was one inhabited by a merry and innocent people, mostly shepherds and tillers of the earth. They were republicans, primitive and simple souls; they talked over their affairs under trees, and the nearest approach they had to a personal ruler was a sort of priest or white witch who said their prayers for them. They worshipped the sun, not idolatrously, but as the golden crown of their creator whom they saw almost as plainly as the sun. 

Legend has it that the priest was told by his people to build a great tower, pointing to the sky in salutation of the sun god. He pondered long and heavily before he picked his materials. He resolved to use nothing that was not almost as clear and exquisite as sunshine itself, nothing that was not washed as white as the rain can wash the heavens, nothing that did not sparkle as spotlessly as that crown of the god. 

He would have nothing grotesque or obscure; he would not have even anything emphatic or anything mysterious. He would have all the arches "as light as laughter and as candid as logic."  He built the temple in three concentric courts, each one cooler and more exquisite than the one before. For the outer wall was a hedge of white lilies, ranked so thick that a green stalk was hardly to be seen; and the wall within that was of crystal, which smashed the sun into a million stars. 

The wall within that - which was the tower itself - was a ring of pure water, forced up in an everlasting fountain. Upon the very tip and crest of that foaming spire was one big and blazing diamond, which the water tossed up eternally and caught again as if it were a ball. 

About this time, the island was caught in a swarm of pirates, and the shepherds had to turn themselves into rude warriors and seamen. After years of horror and humiliation, the shepherd-soldiers began to triumph because they did not fear defeat. Finally, the pirate invasion rolled back into the empty seas and the land was delivered. 

But for some reason, after this period of fighting, men began to talk quite differently about the temple and the sun. Some said the temple must not be touched, because it was "classical" and "perfect". But others answered: "In that, it differs from the sun, that shines on the evil and the good and on mud and monsters everywhere. The temple is of the noon; it is made of white marble clouds and sapphire sky. But the sun is not always of the noon. The sun dies daily; every night he is immersed in fire." 

The priest had taught and fought all through the war, and his hair had grown white. Reasoning along new lines, the priest put down the following observations: "The sun, the symbol of our father, gives life to all those earthly things that are full of displeasure and also full of energy. All the exaggerations are right, if they exaggerate the right things. Let us point to the heaven with tusks and horns and fins and trunks and tails, so long as they all point to heaven. 

The awkward praise God as much as do the beautiful. The frog's eyes stand out of his head because he is staring at heaven. The giraffe's neck is long because he is stretching towards heaven. The donkey has ears to hear - let him hear the music of heaven." 

And under the new inspiration the people of Reality planned a gorgeous cathedral in the Gothic manner, with all the animals of the earth crawling over it, and all possible awkward things making up one common beauty, because they all appealed to the god. 

The columns of the temple were carved like the necks of giraffes; the dome was like an homely tortoise; and the highest pinnacle was a monkey standing on his head with his tail pointing at the sun. And yet the whole was beautiful, because it was lifted up in one living and spiritual gesture as one lifts their hands in praise of life and glory and love. 

But this great plan was never properly completed. The people had brought up on great wagons the heavy tortoise roof and the huge necks of stone, and all the thousand and one oddities that made up that unity, the owls and the crocodiles and the kangaroos, which hideous by themselves might have been magnificent if reared in one definite proportion and dedicated to the sun. 

For this was Gothic, this was romantic, this was spiritual art. And that symbol which was to crown it all, the ape upside down, was really human for humans are upside apes, bipeddling their way to the heavens. 

But the rich, who had grown riotous in the long peace, obstructed the erection, and in some squabble a stone struck the priest on the head and he lost his memory. He saw piled in front of him frogs and elephants, monkeys and giraffes, toadstools and sharks, all the awkward things of the universe which he had collected to do honor to God. 

But he forgot why he had collected them. He could not remember the design or the object. He piled them all wildly into one heap fifty feet high; and when he had done it all the rich and influential went into a passion of applause and cried, "This is real art! This is Reality! This is life as we know it, things as they really are!" 

... and this is how reality was born. 

Thank you G.K. Chesterton, for your Introductory: On Gargoyles", in Alarms and Discursions, London, 1910; for without you, we would not know the origin of Reality.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Snow White vs Cinderella

Snow White



While many in the kingdom consider Snow White the fairest in the land, she was a bit jaded after the Queen's huntsman was tasked with taking out her heart, whereas Cinderella coped with the loss of her father and injustice by growing closer to her (animal) friends.

True, Cinderella is a bit forgetful, leaving behind that glass slipper and all, but it was really just because she was in a state of joyous bliss on the inside, and less concerned with the details of everyday life on the outside, and subconsciously one might argue that she was a bit playful, allowing her slipper to fall upon the palace steps in the event there might actually be a true Royal prince amid a multitude of courtiers. 

The crowing difference between Cinderella and Snow is that Snow needed a Prince to awaken her with true love's kiss, whereas Cinderella was already fully awake and welcoming should chivalry actually come knocking.

Undeniably Snow White's adolescence included some very difficult years, factors that interacted and interfered with healthy adolescent growth. In particular the Evil Queen's plot to steal her beauty, happiness, and her very life. All of these factors, including the loss of her beloved mother and then father, are manifestations of the environmental difficulties she endured.

She was also segregated from her friends and forced to live away from the rest of society. The crucial importance of communion and access to multiple kinds of relationships are vital to healthy development. The Queen's forcing Snow to flee for her life resulted in Snow's development being obstructed and negatively impacted.

The great pressure to find refuge in an unforgiving forest imposed different demands on Snow. These demands have competing expectations, all urging Snow, as an adolescent, to present "normative" behavior, such as cooking and cleaning for the 7 dwarfs who took offered her shelter.

While awe struck by her beauty and kindness, they had not the capacity to recognize her unique expression of individuality. Without regard to the authentic unfolding and true realization of her uniqueness, the dwarfs left her unattended and at the mercy of the Queen's pathological determination.

Snow, like most adolescents, was judged based on an overt, external, observable factor: her beauty. This simplified and overt focus negated her authentic inner life. With her beauty emphasized, her life in turn became focused on performance and competition - to the detriment of wise and healthy emotional development of all aspect's of a youth's capacities and potential. Over importance on any one externally observed factor, be it beauty or grades on a report card, exacerbates the imaginings of self-importance or, conversely, feelings of deep inadequacy and depression.

The Evil Queen's step-parenting skills were not unlike those of the vicarious parenting exhibited by "Soccer moms" and "Helicopter parents" who become over-identified and over-involved in their offsprings' activities, thus hindering authentic development. Had the Evil Queen instead invested some of the kingdom's wealth into showing Snow White the magnificence of the kingdom she was to inherit, had taken her around the kingdom and introduced her to her subjects, had she encouraged involvement in cross-age activities and cross-cultural interactions, surely Snow's development and deep sense of engagement with others and the world would have flourished.

With little or no access to environments that encourage authenticity, Snow felt safe in the hamlet of her newly beloved friends, the 7 dwarfs. She was indeed lucky that she came upon them, and that they took her in. It is rare to find venues where one feels safe, where one might revel one's truest self, heartfelt desires, and deepest fears, where deep engagement with others is accepted and encouraged, and where passions can be expressed.

Feeling safe and cared for, Snow expressed her gratitude by helping the dwarfs, by cooking and cleaning and caring for them in a way that they never expected. When her work was done, she expressed her own longings to integrate her sensations and cognitions with the many animals who flocked to be near her natural loveliness.

The Evil Queen's preoccupation had little room for flexibility or regard for unique individuation, including her own, which was entirely predicated upon one factor of her obsession with Snow replacing her own allure. By ignoring both her and Snow's unicity, she necessitated a struggle that robbed Snow of her unfolding vitality. She also eradicated within herself of the very vitality she sought to preserve.

Rather than seek out the most advantageous circumstances for her step-daughter, the Evil Queen altered Snow's inner world, an initial world of beauty and many unique factors that necessitated balance and harmony, in particular were she to someday pass along those attributes to the inhabitants of the kingdom she inherited.

Asynchronous growth is uneven across many aspects, intensifying feelings of discomfort and alienation. Snow was forced to operate in a broader sphere of influence; more actively engaged in terms of both input and impact. These experiences intensified feelings of responsibility (exhibited in her cooking, cleaning, and caring for the 7 dwarfs) and removed the focus from her own healthy development of ego.

Some destabilizing factors are common to all teens but are intensified for those who inherit legacies due to the intense desire and compelling drive of jealous onlookers intent upon integrating those experiences for themselves. For Snow, there was no cohesion between herself and the rest of society and culture, and very little integration with self with subject matters. All young persons, fairy princesses and all need to see the connection between subject matter and the world in which they live.

Snow possessed an ability to learn quickly, a heightened facility for memory (remembering 7 new names), and more rapid capacity to process, integrate, and connect ideas and information (she had never before been exposed to domestic chores). These capacities indicate she had a great facility for discernment, differentiation, intuitive knowing, and penetration into meanings of events and experiences. These differences enabled her to interact with nature and animals, and to create conditions in the hamlet that engaged and deeply touched the hearts of her new friends.

To reiterate, all of these environmental differences affected Snow's inner world, and influenced profoundly her development. In the absence of loving, emotionally intelligence, inspiring parents, her environment went from terrible to barely "good enough" as the dwarfs' new caretaker. Interfering with a healthy and naturally unfolding maturation invariably results in teenage angst, and when unmonitored, the innocent partaking of forbidden fruit.

Next, Cinderella ...

Cinderella or La Petite Pantoufle de verre, is a European folk tale, a myth of unjust oppression. The name "Cinderella" has come to symbolize one whose attributes were unrecognized, or one who unexpectedly achieves recognition or success after a period of obscurity and neglect.

When we think of Cinderella, we think of the persecuted heroine. This theme dates back to the 7th century BCE, in the story of Rhodopis, the Greek slave girl who ends up marrying the king of Egypt.

"Cenerentola" comes from the word "cenere" - tchenere (ash - cinder). The name comes from the fact that servants were usually soiled with ash at the time, because of their cleaning and because of their sitting near fires to keep warm given they lived in cold basements. Cenerentola by Basile (1634) features a wicked stepmother and evil stepsisters, magical transformations, a missing slipper, and a hunt by a monarch for the owner of the slipper.

Charles Perrault in 1697 popularized the tale with his pumpkin, fairy godmother, and glass slipper additions, whereas the tale by the German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 19th century is a more sinister version of the story, and indeed grim.

In all the stories there are identifying elements that inspire inner awakening, an outward journey, and intensity at a time of identity crisis and conflict - both internal processes during adolescence, when an individual acquires personal identity and seeks a place in the larger world outside the family or, in this case, outside the boundaries of poverty imposed by the evil stepmother and stepsisters.

Cinderella, like Snow, is an adolescent. She is at a stage in the human lifecycle commonly associated with turmoil and change. A time typically associated with adolescence, though it can occurs during other times in life when strong emotions such as passion, ecstasy, confusion, creative inspiration, improvising, or even entering into a state of flow occur. Adolescence is a disintegrative state, which is not necessarily dysfunctional.

Temporary states during times of transition, when a person's sense of self in the world changes, is also a time of great potential and great expectancy. For Cinderella, the time right before meeting the Royal Prince was largely accompanied by her relationship with her animal friends. Despite her circumstances, her inner world inspired an opportunity for personal growth.

The adolescent stage is when great gains in cognitive capacity occur. Substantive shifts in social and emotional functioning and growth in moral realization characterize this time. It is a time when an autonomous being emerges.

Cinderella could have fussed and complained about how she was being treated by her stepmother, but instead she directed her attention to caring for her little animal friends. She allowed herself to be enchanted by their natural gifts and moved by their plights. She diligently tended to their needs and in return they brought her joy and whatever material offerings they could offer.

Onlookers would notice the bare and untidy space where Cinderella spent her personal time, but Cinderella noticed every blossom, and was grateful for it ~ for it was she who was overflowing with beauty.

Obviously there is a moral here. Instead of focusing on what she did not have, Cinderella delighted in the little bit of sunshine that entered her world. She was grateful for water, and the combination that allowed a small flourishing to unfold. Those who create beauty in imperfect environments are healthy perfectionists.

Theirs is a potent force that can immobilize or energize, depending on where one focuses attention. Feeling incapable of meeting expectations can cause paralysis and underachievement, whereas a passionate drive can lead to extraordinary creative achievement - an ecstatic struggle to transcend beyond life's boundaries and limits.

Cinderella is an abstract thinker. It takes an abstract mind to cherish a vision that does not exist in the concrete world - to yearn for what ought to be and for what could become; basically, to grasp the meaning of perfection, which is an abstract concept.

Abstract thinking is Cinderella's sine qua non, her facility with abstraction is the quality that differentiates her from her stepmother and stepsisters, who manifest the concept of perfectionism as challenging. They are unable to cope with failure, and find themselves avoiding actions that might lead to it.

Surrounding Cinderella are her two evil stepsisters and her evil stepmother. They are concerned only with themselves. They live in service of egocentrism, they are tyrannical perfectionists. They do not see their own imperfections; instead, they focus on the flaws of others. They use Cinderella for their own self-aggrandizement.

The stepmother expects her daughters to achieve social status, to behave well in public, and to get married to a prince or duke - all to reflect well on her. The needs of her daughters or of anyone else do not concern her and are never taken into account.

All three fall trap to setting up unrealistic standards for themselves and others, they focus on flaws, resulting in blame, lack of trust, and feelings of hostility toward others. When Cinderella's stepsisters fail to meet their mother's high expectations, they too are at the mercy of their mother's emotional disapproval and guilt. They lose privileges and are sometimes punished.

The stepsisters try to live up to their mother's expectations, internalizing her values and imposing them on themselves. But they cannot achieve this level of perfection; thus, they focus on their own imperfections, which results in magnifying their flaws and overlooking their strengths, distorting their own existence. Self-deprecation is a debilitating form of perfectionism.

Cinderella exhibits a healthier form of perfectionism. Instead of feeling inferior to her stepmother and stepsisters or feeling inadequate to meet their demanding expectations, she becomes aware of her own potential and as a result only feels inferior to the higher version of herself.

Gaining a glimpse of the possibilities in oneself for integrity, empathy, wisdom, and harmony is a powerful incentive for growth. The longing to become one's best self propels Cinderella to search out the blind spots, see the truth about herself, and transform her own unhappiness.

Before Cinderella ran down the palace steps, she had already taken the road to becoming her highest self, which is a far more arduous journey.

Imagine, if you will, two layers of reality. Within the layer that most see, there is Cinderella, persecuted by her stepmother and stepsisters, victim of their evilness. Then there are Cinderella's animal friends, her fairy godmother and the Royal Prince, rescuers of Cinderella.

In the story of Cinderella there are obvious winners and losers. Life is high drama in fairy tales and mythological stories. At a more evolved layer within these stories there are no polarities; there is only oneness.

Within the human psyche, there are pulls from both of these realities. For the stepmother and stepsisters, the pull is toward the lower reality is very strong; there is little, if any, awareness that a higher reality exists or is possible.

For Cinderella the pull toward the higher reality is very powerful and actively directs her personality. She may be physically bound by her struggle, and for some time incapable of reaching outside it, but this disjunct does not have to cause a great vertical tension.

Instead she can sing and dream of what will be and what might become, knowing that even if she does not reach this state, at least she can dream of it.

Even though Cinderella's life is uncomfortable, it is the inner forces present in her inner world that enable her to express this difficulty through hope and inspiration, through kindness and generosity, through lighthearted humor and her ability to abstractly envision a beautiful other reality.

Her ability to transform her inner world is ultimately what attracted the forces from which her fairy godmother arrived. It was Cinderella's upward perspective that attracted a higher magical flourishing.

The presence of her fairy godmother and the Prince can be easily misunderstood as Cinderella being the victim and they the saviors, but in reality, it is Cinderella who was her own savior, who created beautiful potential all around her, and who ultimately attracted magic toward her.

Cinderella attracts the necessary magic needed to transform her high ideals into reality. Her capacity for self-reflection, for acceptance of others and of self, enable her to regulate her thoughts, control her baser desires, and easily access compassion and understanding of the plight of others.

It is her higher perspectives that enable her to have a clearer vision of the meaning of life's experiences. Cinderella's inner perfectionism is whole and pure. She sees and appreciates the inherent perfection in all of life.

In an outer world dictated by her evil stepmother and evil stepsisters, Cinderella is directed by by the highest guiding principles. She is a shinning example of human potential, and her story a wise, exemplar tale of how one can achieve autonomy from the lower layers of reality fraught with confusion and great difficulty by living in service to all humanity, not in service to the ego.

Cinderella finds "true love" because she embodies it. This is the transcendent potential for humanity - the greatest gift we can give ourselves.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Worst-Case First Date Survival Handbook

I am a First Date Survival Evasion Resistance Escape Instructor. I have developed, written, attended, and taught first-date evasion courses around the world to more than 5 students - a civilian, an ex-CIA agent, an elite Navy SEAL's ex-wife, a politician's mother-in-law, and my next door neighbor. I have more than 10 years of first-date survival training experience, from Euro Disney to Madagascar, from the Suburban wilderness to the jungles of Hollywood, and beyond. 

Whatever the situation, whether you're out for coffee, lunch, dinner, or a random activity, "survive" means: 

To outwit, to remain focused or mildly amused; 
to go on to date again

The Rules of First-Date Survival

Rule 1: Be Prepared

Mentally, physically, and equipment-wise. First dates are an extremely harsh and unforgiving environment, and yet the Inuit people (Eskimos, to you and me) not only survive first dates, they have them at the top of the world. If you think dressing for first-dates is tough, trying looking your best in the Arctic. 

My recommendation is to be prepared for a little improvisation. 

Presuming you're not huddled up inside your igloo drinking tea to warm up prior to your first-date outing, go easy on the before coffee or tea, otherwise you'll end up excusing yourself every ten minutes or so, just to be able to endure the conversation. 

Of course, if you find yourself enduring the conversation, drink up. Order a second drink and explain to your date that you're really thirsty. 

Rule 2: Be Creative 

One date in the jungles of Hollywood, and you'll soon learn that just to survive you must be skillfully prepared and highly creative. In this jungle, everyone has heard and seen everything. To these experienced first-date daters, shrimp and a few slices of green mango are nothing compared to a skillfully prepared bamboo cooking tube you fill with scallops and exotic plants you gathered while trekking the Himalayas. Top off dinner with leaves from the taro plant, add water and place the bamboo cooking tube on an open grill, and you've got a good first-date conversation starter. 

After your first-date jungle feast, you might settle into the darkness of a tea-candle lit balcony where your projector is set to play old 80s Night Tracks and MTV music videos, streamed from YouTube. There's nothing like pitch darkness, being far from Hipster civilization, and sparkling apple cider to end a first-date on a high note. In anticipation of a second date, the more progressively-minded might send his date home with a coupon for a ballroom dance lesson, in the hopes that she will invite him along as her dance partner. 

Rule 3: Go Easy on the Vino

We all make first-date mistakes. Overcoming them is another form of first-date survival. If once before you found yourself feeling distressed, disinterested and "stuck" and frustrated about it so you decided to order a 2nd or 3rd glass of wine to pass the time, don't fret, you're not alone. 

The most important thing is to remain calm. To have a first-date survival plan. And your plan should consider the following essential elements: food, sparklers, water, and a brick, just in case your phone battery goes low and you need reinforcements to get out of your situation - or in case you can't drive home and need to call a friend or an uber. 

Should such an evening transpire, simply excuse yourself, explaining that you have to go home and change your air filters. Given the importance of changing residential air filters each and every month, your date should be very understanding, and if they have 1/2 a head on their shoulders, will take your excuse as their cue to swing by Home Depot to pick up a few filters of their own.

In reality, no one wants to breathe stale air, in particular air laden with last month's incense particles. 

First-Date Survival Motto:

"Go on to date again"

So, it's simple really. Just repeat our first-date survival motto over and over to yourself and before you know it, you'll be on date #2, either with this person or someone entirely different, and with a whole new set of rules to master. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Surprising Fate of Rubber Bands

In a Toy Story 3-esque like experience, my teenage son, daughter and I decided it was time to sort through the boxes of childhood toys we still had stored in our garage. Doing so, we came across an assortment of objects that got thrown into those boxes: one of my Montblanc pens (which, incidentally, I'm really happy to have back), hard-as-a-rock, potentially vitrified candy, free milkshake coupons for making honor roll, a sock, and an assortment of melted rubber bands. 

My son and I had a rather lengthy dialogue on precisely what had turned these pristine rubber bands into a sticky mess, which had then solidified, ultimatelybecoming as brittle as a poorly cast ceramic vase. 

As I ran through high school chemistry lessons searching for a clever answer, my son decided to elucidate me: 

"Natural rubber," he began, "is made of polyisoprene chains that slip past each other when the material is stretched. When raw, the substance is too sticky and soft to be of much use, so it is toughened with the addition of chemicals, like sulphur, which creates cross-links between the chains, making the rubber stiffer and less sticky. According to all the "How It's Made" episodes this kid has watched growing up, this process is called vulcanization

"Over time," he continued, ultraviolet light and oxygen in the air react with the rubber, creating reactive radicals that snip the polyisoprene chains into shorter segments. This returns the rubber to something like its original state - soft and sticky. Meanwhile, these radicals can also form new, short cross-links between chains. This hardens the rubber and eventually it turns brittle (see above photo). Any vulcanization agents left behind, far less cunning than ninjas, (he chuckled over his clever aside) contribute to the process." 


But wait! He wasn't quite done ...

"Whether a rubber band goes stick or hard depends on the relative rates of these processes, and these rates in turn depend on the rubber's quality (additives, fillers, dyes) and how it is stored. Heat and light speed up the reactions, and the presence of strong oxidizers such as ozone creates even more radicals. The fate of all rubber bands depends on the temperature in the room, and on whether you have a desk by a window or near a machine such as a copier that creates ozone." 


Elucidating, he offered this final bit, "Polymer chemistry of rubber is pretty messy, so it is actually difficult to answer precisely. If we put some rubber bands in the refrigerator, the chemical reactions would be slower, if we put them on top of the desk with the light shinning in on them, it will speed up. The reaction rate is about double if an 18°F  rise in temperature. Of course, we can't forget quality. Designer rubber bands have a different chemistry than inexpensive office brands. There are so many factors, including whether or not the rubber band was stretched out in a rubber band gun, that really, I just can't say precisely why these particular rubber bands melted." 

In slight awe, all I could say was, 

Want some pizza? 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Laughing Matter

I joined social media (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr...) to get a better understanding of what other people find funny. Since April 2011 I have since shared thousands of jokes, written countless articles, some purposely absurd, many off topic, others reflective - all with the general intent to explore how information is processed, categorized (as funny or otherwise), and ultimately, how it is utilized by us humans and the algorithms we create. 

Little Miss Fia
Mimics smiles to communicate when she is happy


Cicero best summed up comedy: 

"An indecency decently put 
is the thing we laugh at hardest." 

This is not humor.
(note the cranky, erudite tone)

Throughout history comedy has utilized sarcasm, rudeness, vulgarity, insecurities and other such tactics to elicit laughter, which most often arises from social awkwardness and shame. 

Comedy dates back to Greek, Arabic, and other Levantine erotic tales and foolstories. Scholars of dirty jokes have traced comedy back to folklore, along with myths, proverbs, legends, nursery rhymes, riddles, and superstitions. The subjects explored under the guise of comedy include intercourse, scatology, racism, obscenities, blasphemous jokes, and distasteful, offensive, or otherwise disgusting concepts. 

Although these so-called "jokes" are easily recognizable, comedy should not be confused with humor. Comedy is that which accompanies the rise and fall of civilizations. Its climax being the moment when an individual is made to feel uncomfortable, which does not always coincide with the punchline. 

It is no wonder why Freud is the subject of much comedic material. For a scholar who purported too few words as a definition of a joke, he left the world with plenty of words to fuel one-liners so long as there are individuals attracted to aberrations in social behavior. 

In the Athens of Demosthenes, there was a comedians' club called the Group of Sixty, which met in the Temple of Heracles to trade wisecracks. It is said that Philip of Macedon paid handsomely to have their jokes written down; but the volume, if it ever existed, has been lost. 

On the Roman side, Plautus refers to jestbooks in a couple of his plays, while Suetonius tells us that Melissus, a favorite professor of the emperor Augustus, compiled no fewer than 150 joke anthologies. Despite this, only a single jokebook survives from ancient times: the Philogelos, or "Laughter-Lover," a collection in Greek that was probably put together in the fourth or fifth century A.D. 

It contains 264 items, several of which appear twice, in slightly different form.  Hierocles and Philagrius, its two attributed authors, probably forgot to compare notes. There is scholarly speculation that the Hierocles in question is actually the fifth-century Alexandrian philosopher of that name who was once publicly flogged in Constantinople for paganism, which, as one classicist has observed, "might have given him a taste for mordant wit." 

Mordent wit is not the same as vulgarity, though it does sometimes dip into the galley of stock characters such as the drunk, the miser, the braggart, the attention-starved man or woman, and those difficult to be around individuals with hygiene issues. 

Higher forms of mordent wit involves absent-minded professors and egg heads, similar to today's Hipsters (or as the French call them, bobos, short for "bourgeois bohemians"). 

One might argue that it is biased to associate scholars and professors and the more affluent members of society as representing "higher" forms of wit, but this distinction is made not for socio-economic reasons, but instead for the types life experiences socio-economic privilege brings. 


This blog was originally titled, "Sophy 'softly' Laughing" .. because humor is subtle. It is that nearly indistinguishable element that causes us to laugh with others, and to acknowledge our idiosyncrasies, without scorn, judgment, or bias. 

Humor is akin to the smile of mind you experience when you watch a toddler stumble about as they take those adorable first steps. It is not their stumbling or falling that makes us smile - no one in their right mind wishes harm upon another - it is the recognition of our humanity in another that makes us smile. It is a smile of mind that reminds us we are all human, or more broadly put, that we all coexist in the experience we call existence. 

Scholarly Research
on Humor

Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) was a secretary to eight popes over a half a century. During the time known as the Western Schism, he traveled throughout Europe in search of lost works of ancient literature. From the dungeons of remote medieval monasteries he rescued precious manuscripts. Had he not laboriously deciphered and copied these rotting manuscripts, they would have been lost into oblivion. Thanks to him we have Lucretius's De Rerum Natura and Quintilian's Instituto Oratoria, as well as many of the orations of Cicero, the architectural writings of Vitruvius, and Apicius's works on cooking. 

Not only was he one of the greatest book-hunters in history, but according to what he left behind, he wielded a wicked pen, satirizing the vices of the clergy (which he shared) and lambasting rival scholars in his Ciceronian Latin. 

In his inventiveness he invented the roman font. As chancellor of the Republic of Florence after his retirement from Curia, he became that city's biographer. Yet, for all his professional accomplishments, Poggio ended up being best know for his book of jokes. 

The Liber Facetiarum, usually called simply the Facetiae, was the first volume of its kind to be published in Europe. In this collection of 273 items - jests, bon mots, puns, and humorous anecdotes - the expansive Arab-Italian novella can be seen turning into the swift facezia

Several of the jests have been traced to tales told by Procen├žal bards in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. But much of it came out of a joke club in the Vatican called the Bugiale - the "fib factory." Here papal scribes would gather at the end of a tedious day spent drafting bulls, dispensations, and encyclicals to shoot the breeze and tell scandalous stories. 

Admittedly many of the jokes were about rigorous (intimate) exercise and poked fun at the morals of churchmen, but not a word of condemnation was publicly expressed by the Vatican. Perhaps because it was in Latin, and thus "savored" or kept into context by the clerical class without corrupting the morals of the masses (who were illiterate and/or could not read Latin). 

The Facetiae would easily make the modest blush. Is it an example of scholarly exploration into all those things that make us uniquely human or is it an aberration shared across socio-economic classes, an inherent aspect - even if only one aspect - of our humanity we'd rather hide? The answer to this question is up to the Reader to consider.

Poggio is an example of a scholar exposing human aberrations to a very small, erudite audience. While much of what he shared was in jest, his audience, the educated rarely just laughed. It is not surprising that one of his reasons for sharing humor was to highlight less than ethical behavior in a quest for deeper understanding - in the name of scholarly exploration.  

Ancient jests have been shared over and over again. They have been the source of letting go of tension (release theory of humor), they have been the source of social chagrin, that which more cultured people shun, and many other things, including the material for Beatrice, the razor-tongued comedienne of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. 

The English took what Poggio started and turned the humorous tale into the joke. In the seventeenth century twenty-eight of Hierocles' Philogelos jokes were appended into an edition of his Commentary on the Golden Words of Pythagoras. The jokes soon circulated in print form throughout all of Europe. 

Thanks to the popularity of these jokes, English humor got shorter and punchier. The most popular generation of jokebooks flourishing in the Georgian era were published in Joe Miller's Jests. The book went through so many editions that a "Joe Miller" eventually became associated with "a stale joke." 

Stale or not, these jokes endured, in one form or another. What has remained is the question,

What makes something funny? 

Laughing, literally ...

Men and women change their names for many different reasons. Entertainers change their names all the time, and married women take the names of their husbands. When Facebook shortened my name from Sophy Laughing to Soph Laugh, I kept it.

I legally changed my last name to Laughing to explore first-hand the reactions of others upon hearing the name Laughing. This highlights my pre-existing hypothesis that when people hear positive words they feel more positive. For me the word "laughing" conjures up images of happy, smiling people. 

Colleagues I have known for years react differently. Some applaud me, claiming I am a maverick, and an "out of the box" thinker, some commend me on my bravery, stating what I have done is at great risk to my professional career, and others, well, they either say nothing or tell me that they "don't get it".

Since when did the world get so serious about something as made up as a name?

My LAUGHING EXPERIMENTwhile initially a philosophical exploration into humor (aesthetics), is now as much an exploration of how personal identity changes by virtue of a name change as it is how people identify with positive word association.

Personal Identity
Socially Accepted Name Changes

Personal identity, in philosophical circles, is discussed under the protean term self, with self meaning 'person'. But self is sometimes associated with the immaterial, with spirit, or under the subject of consciousness ... Descartes' ghost in the machine

Outside of philosophy, Who am I?  is one of the most important questions people ask themselves, and others.  We associate identity in relation to gender, socio-economic class, careers, hobbies, interests, beliefs, preferences, and even coffee drinking habits. 

People discuss self identity every day. It is the singularly most discussed philosophical topic in the world, and dates back to ancient times. Every generation discusses their likes and dislikes, which further associates (or disassociates) them from others. Who we are is the question every investigative reporter aims to answer when they probe into the personal lives of celebrities or politicians. 

Everyone is fascinated by the subject of self identity, irrespective of whether they define it in practical or philosophical terms. Personhood and those persistent things that continue to make us 'us' are being questioned every day, and not just against personal habits, life circumstances or life choices, but against artificial intelligence. 

What does it take to classify a robot or manmade object as human? Consciousness? How does one define consciousness? How does one imbue wires and circuits with that intangible force that animates flesh and keeps it from rotting? 

In Plato's Phaedo, it is hope (and fear) that keeps people wanting to believe in existence after death, in eternal self identity.

Does biological death put an eternal end to one's existence? 

Humans do not have the opportunity to answer this question unless they have been declared 'dead' by a medical professional and brought back to life. 

But even a near death experience cannot answer the greatest philosophical question of all time: 

Is there life after death?

Perhaps not in the way in which we currently identify life or self.

Changing one's name, changing one's personal identity, is like a mini-death. 

I associate my name change as getting a two for one lifetime. Two identities for the price of one lifetime.

Philosophical Considerations

One might examine my LAUGHING EXPERIMENT as an experiment as falling under the category of Game Theory. A philosophical approach in decision making explored publicly with a multitude of economic agents, in relation to risk and uncertainty. 

One might relate my LAUGHING EXPERIMENT to epistemology, with how we know things, including ourselves - and truth. Am I the same person or am I a different person because my name is different? Is truth related to reality or perception? 

One might associate my LAUGHING EXPERIMENT with ethics, with those legal systems we have in place that ensure justice. Is an individual justified in making a name change? What would happen if everyone in society changed their name? Is it easier for an unknown person to change their name? If someone has a prominent family name would changing their name diminish their social credibility? 

I am still exploring humor and the nature of self-identity, still exploring what makes others laugh, still exploring that which I consider funny, and if you want to go so far as to make this claim, without a shadow of a doubt, still thinking I'm one of the braver Philosophical Humorists in the world - mostly because I was willing to take make legal my philosophical inquiry. 

That's my story and until I write another one, I'm sticking by it.