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iouswuoibev

Humor: why do we find something funny?

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Comedy is illogic. It is the art of contradictory identification. Its purpose is to allow us to enjoy the undercutting, intellectually or physically, of what we regard as wrong, bad, bizarre, inane, stupid, silly and irrational. When you have decided what is right, good, expected, sensible, serious and rational, you free your mind to assert and recognise its antithesis. Your sense of humour is, in fact, your sense of right and wrong. Humour is your value judgements.

There is an objective sense of humour. This is why people who don't share the same sense of humour often can't help feeling dislike for each other. What a man laughs at, is a reflection of his humour, irrespective of what his consciously held or verbally professed beliefs are. This is also why nearly all of us laugh at some jokes: we live in the same reality, and are almost inevitably going to arrive at some identical identifications regardless of background.

Something is only funny in regard to someone's sense of right and wrong. When someone says "you're not funny" or "you have no sense of humour", they're implicitly stating: "There is something wrong with your value judgements."

In order for comedy to work, it has to be asserted. To assert, means to state as true. Self-assertiveness is the quality of stating onesself as true (dwell on that!). A man can assert through his speech, through body language, bodily functions, noises, and through all forms of art.

The rational man should enjoy the disachievement of non-values, and [comedy] is the means to this joy. It is a reaffirmation of his existence and an end in itself.

This is the core principle underlying comedy. People who reject it are, by the only reason I can foresee, trying to reconcile rational and irrational values together, and thus they must think that laughing at certain goods is possible or that laughing at certain evils is impossible. Comedy gives man the power to detect his irrationalities if he dares to look.

I initially felt unsympathetic towards Rand when I first read that laughing at onesself is "spitting in one's own face". It made logical sense to me, but I felt opposed to it. This is because I had repressed my sense of my right to my own life. All second-handedness begins by deciding not to assert onesself. If you have felt the same way, then perhaps you have been doing the same thing.

I will post more on that last paragraph later under a new topic. For now I will leave you with this: If you think of something that you consider funny, it is vital for your psychological health that you say it.

Edited by iouswuoibev

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If you think of something that you consider funny, it is vital for your psychological health that you say it.

Wonderfully, there's a natural emotional reaction to humor: laughter.

In Atlas Shrugged, Francisco d'Anconia stated "show me what a man finds sexually attractive, and I'll tell you everything you need to know about him." I suspect one could derive some similarly insightful conclusions about what others laugh at.

But is there an "objective sense of humor"? Perhaps it's a lot like music - a person's value-judgements are reflected by their reactions to different kinds of humor, but not all men will find the same joke or gag funny. Or, several men may find a joke funny, but for different reasons, and to different degrees. Luckily, there's more of a conceptual vocabulary for humor than there is for music, so on some level humor can be quantified ... but, is it funny? For me, Dennis Miller's rants from 6, 7 years ago were humorous, but I don't remember laughing that much.

And not all comedy is destructive, or meant to draw a laugh at the expense of others. Sometimes it's silly absurdity (Monty Python catapulting farm animals over a castle wall), joyful surprise (the scene in The Incredibles when Dash realizes he's running on water), clever word play & puns (the "Mess o' Potamia" banner shown during "The Daily Show" reports on the Middle East), a well-timed sight gag (the Stonehenge sculpture in Spinal Tap); sometimes it's just great delivery (Jay Mohr's dead-on impression of Christopher Walken), etc.

Of course, the examples I provided are simply my choices ... you might find every one of them banal.

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If you want to know who I find hilarious, it is Robin Williams. On Sunday I saw him on Inside The Actors Studio (with James Lipton). I think it was two hours and it was non-stop laughter, where even a woman in the audience seemed that she would have to be taken out on a stretcher because she was laughing so much.

But one skit Williams performed was about his teenage son. The son angelically asks his father to borrow his car. The father says no. Immediately the boy's "hyde" part comes out and he goes on a tantrum in the style of a gangster rapper, with bodily behaviour, swearing, lip action. Just imagine Williams doing this. So the father's response is a very eloquent version of the hip-hop style. Basically Williams says that he and his wife want to go for a ride and they are going to have sex. But Williams mimicks hiphopsters so so so well--able to express the hip hop language better than the son. You gotta see it.

That's just one example. The boy is the object of laughter, as is hip-hop culture, adolescence, etc. That Williams is going to have sex with his wife is not the funny thing, though it is funny, but it is a foil to the superficiality of the teenage boy. A big part of the laughter I'm sure is to see Williams, an old man, perform the hip hop language so well.

Has anyone else seen this? I guess that since it is such a good skit, Williams has done it before. But I would be amazed if most of the material during that Actor's Studio show was improved AND original.

Jose Gainza.

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In Atlas Shrugged, Francisco d'Anconia stated "show me what a man finds sexually attractive, and I'll tell you everything you need to know about him." I suspect one could derive some similarly insightful conclusions about what others laugh at.

Yes you can.

But is there an "objective sense of humor"?

Yes, but your laughter is an effect of your humour. You must not moralise about it. You must not think you have to all laugh at the same things. I think there are some things we all should be able to laugh at, and that the things we can't should only be things that rest on optional values. The things I laugh at have changed over time and I can identify that this is because my value judgements have changed.

And not all comedy is destructive,
All comedy involves destruction of something conceptual. Maybe you don't see destruction because you are looking for something mean and hurtful. Remember that destruction can be a good thing, both morally, and in the resultant emotional quality. You need to tie the two facts together: that if you laugh, some mental fabrication was smashed. The smashing was, according to your humour, a good thing, and the laughter tells you that it was a good thing in the form of a positive emotion. It says: "Yes, this is how I see existence, by showing what it isn't."

or meant to draw a laugh at the expense of others. Sometimes it's silly absurdity (Monty Python catapulting farm animals over a castle wall),

You don't see anything destroyed in this? How about the context? You get a certain grasp of the situation and then something comes along and blasts it. The whole film is a setup - you've got the knights of camelot; just when your mind starts to accept them again, something appears and trips them over.

You know how your mind can tune out sounds you've been hearing for a long time so that you no longer notice them? Or how you cease to feel the chair you're sitting on if you sit very still for a while? It's the same with assuming context. The longer it is there the less you think of its presence, but the more intensely you will notice if it suddenly vanishes. Imagine if, in the Monty Python movie, nothing silly ever happened to the knights and it was just a regular adventure, and then at the end they suddenly got arrested just like in the original ending. You'd probably be so engrossed in what you thought the movie was about that you'll feel betrayed, but when you reflect on it afterwards as an abstraction, you'll be able to laugh at it. This highlights a fact I didn't point out in my first post: whether you find something funny can depend on how abstractly you focus on the details. (This is why I titled my post a cursory explanation; it is the bare skeleton of my theory and ommits finer details.)

joyful surprise (the scene in The Incredibles when Dash realizes he's running on water),

Wiping out the assumed context. The apparent threat of the water is defied.

Bear in mind that when you hold a magnifying glass to the details of a joke it ceases to be funny. Thus it is difficult to confirm my theory by measuring your reaction to jokes while holding the theory in mind. I arrived at my conclusions by seeking the reoccuring pattern, and this is what I found.

Edited by iouswuoibev

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I just want to add for the record (though integrated Oists will already know better) that when I say "Something is only funny in regard to someone's sense of right and wrong" I don't mean it in a social, conventionally moral sense, but about everything. I'm thinking of Galt's speech here, but I can't remember the words of the passage exactly (something about the question "Right or wrong" applying to everything?)

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Wonderfully, there's a natural emotional reaction to humor: laughter.

I have long thought that laughing is a substitute for crying. That is, we laugh when we are upset by something, but not upset enough to actually cry. :lol::(

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I have long thought that laughing is a substitute for crying. That is, we laugh when we are upset by something, but not upset enough to actually cry. :lol::(

I find that a very odd view. Can you give any reason to it?

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But different people can find different things funny, even though what they are 'destroying' is the same. For instance, some people dont like slapstick comedy, regardless of the subject material. The British sense of humour is slightly different from the American, and some people just arent going to find things like Monty Python/Brasseye/Black Adder (or equivalently, Married With Children, Friends, Seinfeld) funny because they dont like that style of comedy.

Similarly, I can find clever parody funny if its well done, even if its attacking something which I value. Lewis Black is hilarious for instance, even though a lot of what he says is anti-capitalist. Ditto with Bill Hicks, and George Carlin. Clever racist jokes can be funny even though I dont agree with racism. And so on. Again, theres a cultural factors involved here; British people are more willing to laugh about 'serious' things than Americans - for instance, a lot of people here were making jokes about the London bombings last year the day after they happened, and this would never have happened in (mainstream) America after (eg) 9/11. "Keep a stiff upper lip" and all that. I dont think this is entirely objective.

Edited by Hal

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But different people can find different things funny, even though what they are 'destroying' is the same. For instance, some people dont like slapstick comedy, regardless of the subject material. The British sense of humour is slightly different from the American, and some people just arent going to find things like Monty Python/Brasseye/Black Adder (or equivalently, Married With Children, Friends, Seinfeld) funny because they dont like that style of comedy.

The thing being destroyed is in your mind. If you don't see things in a certain way then it won't be funny. This is an issue of value judgements, but probably ones we've made so long ago and are so automatic that it would take a great deal of introspection to figure out what they are.

As an example, America is more (overall) psychologically egoistic than Britain is. Consequentially British people observe social standards more unthinkingly than Americans do. Consequentially, a gag such as a man dressed as a snail crawing across the street at a crossing holding up the traffic is more funny for a British person, because they observe it as undercutting not just someone's rational desire to go wherever they happen to be going, but also undercutting "society as a whole", that mysterious force they've never been able to reckon with.

That's one possibility, anyway.

Similarly, I can find clever parody funny if its well done, even if its attacking something which I value. Lewis Black is hilarious for instance, even though a lot of what he says is anti-capitalist. Ditto with Bill Hicks, and George Carlin. Clever racist jokes can be funny even though I dont agree with racism.
This is to do with your level and target of focus. Read my previous post. Racism as a whole is not funny, but if you zoom into the details of it you can lose sight of and "feel for" that abstraction.

Again, theres a cultural factors involved here;

Which means value judgements are involved.

British people are more willing to laugh about 'serious' things than Americans
Because they don't take them as seriously as they think they do, or because they take them seriously without wanting to. You may take an evil abusive guard in a POW camp very "seriously", but will still laugh your head of if he gets his comeupance (particularly by something you habitually regard as impotent, like having his testicals bitten off by a sheep).

for instance, a lot of people here were making jokes about the London bombings last year the day after they happened, and this would never have happened in (mainstream) America after (eg) 9/11. "Keep a stiff upper lip" and all that. I dont think this is entirely objective.

Why? Do you understand the word objective?

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I think this fills in what was missing from my first post.

Comedy involves the introduction of something ridiculous into the context of what someone is focusing on. Something is ridiculous in regard to both context and humour - it is what they regard, in respect to context, as absolutely beneath contempt and not worth giving thought to (silly is a synonym for ridiculous). There has to be a logical but unexpected connection perceived between the ridiculous thing and the context. This draws the person's mental focus in a direction that was, ideally, completely unexpected, yet is logically "bridged". Your mind crosses this bridge and what you accepted something as being suddenly becomes phony. This is the "destruction" that has occured.

The reason "with respect to context" is important is because you don't always keep a certain context in mind. You may laugh at something involuntarily and then regret it when the full context comes back into focus. Things like how much importance you place on certain ideas, or what concretes you most strongly associate with an idea, all play an influence on this (I'll let you think of examples).

I regret using the word "destruction" now; it is too strong a word. Comedy destroys by making something ridiculous by means of something ridiculous via logic. But its purpose is to affirm.

And as a last point, my opening sentence was wishy-washy rather than clever. Ignore it.

Please let me know if you think I'm still missing something.

EDIT:

Actually, ignore me, comedy IS illogic. Most emphatically. I can explain it now, I just forgot why I said it.

Comedy is the undercutting of an accepted value judgement by making it appear ridiculous by means of another obviously ridiculous thing that is illogically connected to the first. (Take that as the definition).

That is, it is connected by an abuse of logic. There is an "illogical connection".

Anyone agree?

Edited by iouswuoibev

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Another influencing factor is your method of esteeming; that is, how you (habitually or otherwise) pay tribute to something in regarding it as valued or sacrosanct. Not whether you value it, but how you go about valuing it in your manner of thinking. Do you associate a concept with images? Then you won't enjoy comedy that destroys that image. However, if you don't think in that way and don't observe the connection, you can still enjoy the destruction of something that is logically associated with something you value or even regard sacred (though maybe later on you'll notice it and regret it then).

This idea has opened a whole door of new insight for me.

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Its purpose is to allow us to enjoy the undercutting, intellectually or physically, of what we regard as wrong, bad, bizarre, inane, stupid, silly and irrational.

Add: While nonetheless accepting it within a given situation! It's the decimation of something you allowed into your head that you did not care to have in there. It's actually a psychological maneuver (that I can not put a name to - devil's advocate is a sub-category of it) that allows this to happen. It is not second-handed behaviour to do it (though it can be the precursor to it) because you can unwittingly allow an idea into your head while nonetheless disagreeing with it and be able to reassert the rational over your mind afterwards (this faculty has enormous practical value).

How about contextual acceptance?

EDIT:

Where I say "something you allowed into your head that you did not care to have in there." gives rise to another concept: contextual valuing. If someone wants me to explain that let me know.

One more thing for now: I think the idea of changing focus is pivotal to comedy. I am not sure if I am using it [EDIT: focus] the way Rand defined the word, but when I use it, I regard it as perfectly analogous with visual focus.

Can someone tell me how Rand uses the word "focus" please?

Edited by iouswuoibev

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Comedy involves the introduction of something ridiculous into the context of what someone is focusing on.

Not necessarily. Humor involves a contrast between what you expect given the situation and what actually happens. This often involves ridicule, but not always. (I'm taking comedy in a broad sense as simply meaning humorous art and humor in art, which seems to me how you mean it. If not, what is your definition of comedy?) For instance, if you have a scene with two characters who have different "understandings" of the circumstances and have a conversation that is thoroughly coherent from either's point of view but which each of them takes completely differently, that can be quite funny, especially if their ideas of what is going on are quite divergent. If one of the characters has a foolish understanding, then of course it works to ridicule that character. If both misunderstandings are natural given the earlier circumstances of the comedy, then it's a real stretch to say there's something ridiculous there.

Something is ridiculous in regard to both context and humour - it is what they regard, in respect to context, as absolutely beneath contempt and not worth giving thought to (silly is a synonym for ridiculous). There has to be a logical but unexpected connection perceived between the ridiculous thing and the context. This draws the person's mental focus in a direction that was, ideally, completely unexpected, yet is logically "bridged". Your mind crosses this bridge and what you accepted something as being suddenly becomes phony. This is the "destruction" that has occured.

You're prejudging things by saying it's an unexpected connection between the ridiculous thing and the context. First, even on your own terms, it could be the context that's shown to be ridiculous by a piece of humor. Second, not all humor and not all comedy involves the ridiculous.

I regret using the word "destruction" now; it is too strong a word.

Yes, I agree.

Actually, ignore me, comedy IS illogic. Most emphatically. I can explain it now, I just forgot why I said it.

Comedy is the undercutting of an accepted value judgement by making it appear ridiculous by means of another obviously ridiculous thing that is illogically connected to the first. (Take that as the definition).

That is, it is connected by an abuse of logic. There is an "illogical connection".

What about ridiculous things that are logically connected? Anyway, that's only a subset of all comedy. Certainly comedy can be used to undercut values or judgements (whether your own or those you infer for the characters, which I think is an important distinction you have touched on too lightly), and it's essential to pay attention to that when it happens. However, I've known far too many people whose response to humor is to assume that there must be something undercutting or malicious in every joke, and as a result they misinterpret comedy, sometimes grotesquely.

Edited by Adrian Hester

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Not necessarily. Humor involves a contrast between what you expect given the situation and what actually happens.

You weren't paying attention to my definition of ridiculousness. Now I can't be convinced you were paying attention to the rest either, so I won't read on.

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You weren't paying attention to my definition of ridiculousness. Now I can't be convinced you were paying attention to the rest either, so I won't read on.

You mean this? "Something is ridiculous in regard to both context and humour - it is what they regard, in respect to context, as absolutely beneath contempt and not worth giving thought to (silly is a synonym for ridiculous)." I paid it quite a bit of attention and told why I disagreed with it in that very same paragraph, which for some reason you didn't consider worth reading down to. So let's get down to brass tacks here--are you actually interested in a discussion or just in an uninterrupted stream of applause?

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I think you're right to begin with the epistemological roots of humor.

Comedy is illogic. It is the art of contradictory identification.
I suspect there's more to be said of humor from an epistemological / psycho-epistemological perspective.

Isn't it funny that people sometimes use the phrase "that's funny" when they mean "that's interesting"? I suspect a common psycho-epistemological root. To say something is interesting to you is to say that it has cognitive significance to you.

One way in which an observation can be "interesting" is by being unexpected. I think that's where the expression "that's funny" comes from. However, that does not imply humor.

One way it rises to being humorous, is if one realizes that the "blip in the cognitive field" does not have to be taken seriously.

To sum up my preliminary (cursory?) thought on this: I think there is value in understanding the working of humor from an Ethic-neutral perspective, i.e. by abstracting away the particular Ethics of the person who is laughing.

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You mean this? "Something is ridiculous in regard to both context and humour - it is what they regard, in respect to context, as absolutely beneath contempt and not worth giving thought to (silly is a synonym for ridiculous)." I paid it quite a bit of attention and told why I disagreed with it in that very same paragraph, which for some reason you didn't consider worth reading down to.
I read your paragraph. I don't see how you drew the conclusion that ridiculous does not cover the examples you gave. Ridiculousness is an emotional quality in respect to context.

So let's get down to brass tacks here--are you actually interested in a discussion or just in an uninterrupted stream of applause?
Pardon?

Isn't it funny that people sometimes use the phrase "that's funny" when they mean "that's interesting"? I suspect a common psycho-epistemological root. To say something is interesting to you is to say that it has cognitive significance to you.
Did you notice you started with "Isn't it funny"..? :P

To sum up my preliminary (cursory?) thought on this: I think there is value in understanding the working of humor from an Ethic-neutral perspective, i.e. by abstracting away the particular Ethics of the person who is laughing.
That's a good idea.

(Edit: Added names of members to quote blocks - softwareNerd)

Edited by softwareNerd

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I read your paragraph. I don't see how you drew the conclusion that ridiculous does not cover the examples you gave. Ridiculousness is an emotional quality in respect to context.

"For instance, if you have a scene with two characters who have different 'understandings' of the circumstances and have a conversation that is thoroughly coherent from either's point of view but which each of them takes completely differently, that can be quite funny, especially if their ideas of what is going on are quite divergent." What is ridiculous in that? What in that is "absolutely beneath contempt and not worth giving thought to"?

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"For instance, if you have a scene with two characters who have different 'understandings' of the circumstances and have a conversation that is thoroughly coherent from either's point of view but which each of them takes completely differently, that can be quite funny, especially if their ideas of what is going on are quite divergent." What is ridiculous in that? What in that is "absolutely beneath contempt and not worth giving thought to"?

You need to stretch the definition. It is to do with focus rather than regarding something as ridiculous universally. This is why I keep saying it is contextual. Your focus keeps moving in and out from one context to the other (which you have to contextually accept) and from each POV the other conversation appears ridiculous.

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You need to stretch the definition. It is to do with focus rather than regarding something as ridiculous universally. This is why I keep saying it is contextual. Your focus keeps moving in and out from one context to the other (which you have to contextually accept) and from each POV the other conversation appears ridiculous.

That's not the situation I was describing. I was referring to a scene in which two characters have different understandings of the circumstances and have a conversation that is fully coherent for each of them but which each understands entirely differently.

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That's not the situation I was describing. I was referring to a scene in which two characters have different understandings of the circumstances and have a conversation that is fully coherent for each of them but which each understands entirely differently.

And what's the problem?

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:confused::)

Now that's ^ ^funny.

I found those two icons, in conjuction with what JRS said, to be hilarious. It's probably just me, but the contrast between those two expressions, when juxtaposed, is funny as hell. (I guess because I understand what it means to hide one's deepest emotion by laughter)

Since jrs didn't substantiate his view point, I'll take a shot at it. There's a famous quote that goes something like: "there are some things in life so serious you can only laugh at them." I think that quote expresses the heart of what jrs was saying. Often times a comedian will point out something so ludicrous, so debasedly immoral, that you must laugh at how pathetic it is.

This might be a poor illustrative example of the above, but say you were to go out hunting, and before crossing into hunting territory, a sign said: WARNING: Dick Chenney is hunting.

At first I would laugh at this, but upon reflection, I might not find it so funny because I am laughing at the fact that a man was shot due to Chenney's negligence.

`````````````````````````

Also, someone mentioned about laughing at jokes that were anti-capitalism. I am able to laugh at those jokes too, but only because I know the commedian, within the context of his knowledge, merely misunderstands capitalism and hasn't given it the thought it deserves.

(I had a radical leftist professor in college who'd make anti-greed marks. I'd laugh at them only because I knew her sense of life was equivalent to mine---and in most cases, I'd say her explicit views contradicted the moral essence of her character. Thus I'd laugh at the majority of her jokes. Originally, however, I didn't, because I didn't know her well enough to understand the context in which she spoke.)

p.s. Schefflera's post was a great use of irony! Irony is always funny! =P

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