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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/159

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NATURE, ORIGIN AND FUNCTION OF HUMOR

(learned reactions), composed of what the individual does for himself and what is done for him, and (3) an ill-defined aspect that permeates the other two and in addition occupies a separate existence of its own made up of unmechanized and elementary mental factors. The second aspect will be recognized as intelligence. Professor Boyce[1] calls it "docility." It might be termed mechanized mind in that it represents mind reduced to law and habit. Getting on in the world is dependent to a degree on a certain quantum of mechanized mind. Common speech employs such terms as habit, adjustment, education to designate such an equipment. Several processes are involved in its making, such as imitation, learning by "trial and error," by tradition and by "understanding." Of these ways, those that make the most of voluntary attention are the quickest in results and the most extravagant with mental energy; here it is that mental tension reaches its highest pitch. Relief comes in a variety of well-known ways, humor perhaps being the most unique of the lot, from the fact that it accomplishes its purpose with the least expenditure of mental energy and at a time, too, when the individual can ill afford to make sacrifices in the interest of recreation. Considering then the nature of humor as a mental process, and the nature of its stimulus, together with the conditions under which it appears, it seems highly probable that it emerged as a distinctive process from states of inattentive-freedom immediately preceded by states of necessary-attention.

 

IV. The Functions of Humor

The psychical function of humor is to delicately cut the surface tension of consciousness and disarrange its structure to the end that it may begin again from a-new and strengthened base. It permits our mental forces to reform under cover, as it were, while the battle is still on. Then, too, it clarifies the field and reveals the strategic points, or, to change the figure, it pulls off the mask and exposes the real man. In fact, humor is an instrument to aid in the approach to the realities of life-—not metaphysical, but real, realities!

The physiological function is common knowledge. Its influence on adipose tissue has passed into a proverb, and Kant cherished the belief that laughter had a beneficent effect upon our entire vegetative life. Hecker advocated that it relieved the angemia of the brain induced by the tickle.

Its biological function in my judgment is far more unique in mental economy than its nature as a process. I have already referred to the unmechanized aspect of mind, a matter more readily believed than easily proved. To adduce adequate evidence of its existence and of the extent of its magnitude and importance over the mechanized and hereditary portions of mind would lead us too far afield. For a better

  1. Royce, Josiah, "Outlines of Psychology," p. 38.