Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/148

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I. Introduction

NO stimulus, perhaps, more mercifully and effectually breaks the surface tension of consciousness, thereby conditioning the mind for a stronger forward movement, than that of humor. It is the one universal dispensary for human kind: a medicine for the poor, a tonic for the rich, a recreation for the fatigued and a beneficent check to the strenuous. It acts as a shield to the reformer, as an entering wedge to the recluse and as a decoy for barter and trade. A German writer observes that it is a parachute to the balloon of life. To change the figure, it is a switch on the highway of life to prevent human collisions. Zenophon reckons that the man who makes an audience laugh has done a lesser service than the one who moves it to tears. But the comedian Philippos, when Socrates asked him of what he was proud, declared, "I believe that I ought to be as proud of my right to the gift of arousing laughter, as Kallipides, the tragedian, of his art in causing tears."[1]

Darwin points out that the causes of laughter are legion and exceedingly complex.[2] Humor may often be a cause, in which case it is the mental aspect of a psychophysical fact. The mental aspect, only, forms the subject matter of this paper. It offers problems for investigation similar to any other concrete mental fact. I propose to show that the character of its stimuli, the conditions of its origin in the race and in the individual, its nature and function as a mental process, are discoverable, describable and susceptible of explanation.[3]


II. The Nature of the Stimulus

(a) Non-humorous Stimuli

The immensity of space, the infinitude of time, the motion of the heavenly bodies and all cosmic rhythms are void of humor. The same thing is apparent of all physical, chemical and mathematical laws, and likewise of all macroscopic things of earth such as the waters, the tidal movements, the cataracts, the mountains, the forests, the deserts and

  1. Nick, Fr., "Narrenfeste," Bd. I., Zeit. 2, 1861.
  2. Darwin, Chas., "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals," p. 198.
  3. The physiological conditions of laughter have been treated at length by Ewald Hecker and Herbert Spencer; the latter's contribution still remains the classic on this subject.