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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/342

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

only morbid in that slender sense. The word "play" carries us forward in a slightly different direction. Jocosities of all degrees of evolution—(1) puns, (2) witticisms, and (3) humorous statements—are the "play of mind"; play in the sense in which the word has been used in the remark that the "æsthetic sentiments originate from the play impulse." A further definition of play as thus used is given in the following quotation from Spencer: "The activities we call play arc united with aesthetic activities by the trait that neither subserve, in any direct way, the processes conducive to life."[1] There would be a great intellectual advance—due, I presume, to internal evolution—when man began to value things for their beauty apart from their use, one sign of his having "got above" his mere animal self. For it showed that, over and above mind required for mere animal existence, he had some surplus mind for greater ends of life. So I contend that our race owes some respect to the first punster. For the dawn of a sense of the merely ridiculous, as in punning and the simplest jokes, shows the same thing as the dawn of aesthetic feeling—surplus mind, something over and above that required for getting food and for mere animal indulgence. All the more so if punning be that out of which wit and humor are evolved. It is not a good sign if a man be deficient in humor, unless he have compensation, as Wordsworth had, in a sense of the sublime, or in great artistic feeling, or in metaphysical subtlety. The man who has no sense of humor, who takes things to be literally as distinct as they superficially appear, does not see fundamental similarities in the midst of great superficial differences, overlooks the transitions between great contrasts. I do not mean because he has no sense of humor, but because he has not the surplus intellect which sense of humor implies. Humor, being the "play" of mind, is tracing deep, fanciful resemblances in things known to be very different. This is "playing" at generalization, and is only a caricature of the same kind of process which made Goethe declare that a skull is a modified part of a vertebral column,

Now I am about—not really digressing from what I have just said—to say something which sounds very paradoxical: that persons who are deficient in appreciation of jocosities in their degrees of evolution, are in corresponding degrees deficiently realistic in their scientific conceptions. One would infer this a priori. Every child knows that a man born blind has no idea of light; but the educated adult knows, too, that the congenitally blind have no notion of darkness. And I think that observation confirms what a priori seems likely—that pari passu with the evolution of the sentiment of jocosity (playing at unreality) is the evolution of power of realistic scientific conception—from sense of the merely ridiculous with parallel realistic conception of simple things, up to sense of humor with parallel realistic conception of complex things. But we must be on our guard not to take

  1. "Principles of Psychology," vol. ii, p. 627.