Over the past few weeks, I’ve posted blogs on involuntary human body functions, the yawn and the sneeze. Here’s another one: the laugh.
Like the yawn and the sneeze, defining laughter is at best difficult. According to the web site Bitesize, laughter is a total-body, physiological response to humor. “Similar to aerobic exercise, a hearty laugh involves contraction and relaxation of facial, chest, abdominal and skeletal muscles, easing muscle tension and spasms that create chronic pain.” Scientists don’t agree on what organs are involved in laughter, but some believe that the frontal lobe at the very front of the brain, which determines our emotional responses, plays a part, along with the limbic system. And laughter is contagious. That’s why laughter tracks are placed in TV sitcoms—so that we’ll chuckle along with the unseen audience.
All that begs the question: what is humor and how do we respond to it? Scientists still struggle to explain exactly what makes people laugh. According to Scientific American, “People laugh at the juxtaposition of incompatible concepts and at defiance of their expectations—that is, at the incongruity between expectations and reality. According to a variant of the theory known as resolution of incongruity, laughter results when a person discovers an unexpected solution to an apparent incongruity, such as when an individual grasps a double meaning in a statement and thus sees the statement in a completely new light.”
If you find all that unsatisfying, you’re not alone. I conclude that laughter and what causes it are at best poorly understood. I’m inclined to include humor and its result, laughter, among the incorporeal functions that we understand least and depend on most. Thinking is the most prominent of these. It involves the use of the brain, but the brain doesn’t think; the mind does. And the mind, like thinking, has no material form. It’s intangible, immaterial.
Once again, I’m struck with how little we know or understand about the phenomenal human race. Fortunately, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a good and hearty laugh.