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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/158

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154
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

work of Th. Nast[1] during the brazen days of the Tweed Ring. Martin[2] observes that the parody, was first introduced during the performance of Greek tragedies to relieve the audience from the intense mental strain. In the severe atmosphere of the king's court the court fool was an important adjunct. In reality his was the freest personality of the group, the king not excepted. A most striking example of this in literature is that of King Lear and his fool.

These considerations indicate an intimate kinship between the humor process and the sense of freedom. The real relation becomes apparent when the nature of the stimulus is taken into account. It has already been shown that the humor stimulus violates and breaks up the order and mechanism about us. It appears as the only objective fact in our experience that dares to defy the social order with impunity, that can violate ruthlessly, without pain and without apology, the human contrivances about us, and thereby not only remind us that freedom is an abiding reality, but that we may escape, temporarily at least, from the uniformities and mechanisms of life. We are rather chary of an over-scientific game, one in which luck and spontaneity are entirely supplanted by principles and rigid regulations. Speaking of a game or a contest as a "dead sure thing" is an implication that spontaneity and life are inoperative. Any instrument, therefore, that reveals freedom to us through the veil of mechanism and the social order will produce pleasure. Play, art and the humor stimulus are such instruments; play is largely for the young, art for the trained and educated, but the humor stimulus is for every one. The second differentium of the humor process, therefore, is the sense of freedom.

The failure to see that the sense of freedom is a constituent part of humor is doubtless responsible for the "superiority" (and its opposite statement "degradation") theory. The sense of power is pleasurable, but not humorous, for the reasons that (1) the sense of power contains an element of practical relationship and (2) the humor stimulus does not make us aware of power. Incongruity, descending or otherwise, all disorders of time and space relations in our actions, customs and language, deceived expectation, all disorders of mechanized living movements are only humorous when they excite the sense of freedom. Incongruities are not inherently humorous. They may become excitants of humor by revealing freedom behind human uniformities. It would appear then that the multiplicity of humor theories may be resolved into the freedom theory. The theories hitherto advanced have been more a classification of humorous stimuli than an explanation of humor as a mental process.

A cross section of our adult mental life shows three interrelated aspects: (1) an aspect composed of hereditary factors (unlearned reactions), (2) a well-defined aspect of acquired factors or mechanisms

  1. "Nast, Th., His Period and His Pictures," The Macmillan Company, 1904.
  2. "Martin, A. S., "Parody," p. 1.