“Laughter…is the repeated rapid expulsion of air from the lungs caused by a sudden flow of blood into the lungs from the heart, with the attendant movements of the diaphragm and muscles of the chest and face.”
In search of the root of laughter, Descartes, Freud and Spencer chose to explore an aspect of laughter with which any philosopher or scientist would naturally choose to begin: the physiological. In these excerpts on laughter, the three philosophers and scientists examine the function of laughter in the body and unravel the circumstances in which laughter is necessary, while also exploring the external factors that actually evoke laughter. This physiological approach is incredibly unique in comparison to articles we have previously read. Instead of focusing on the emotive and mental processes involved with laughter, these authors begin their investigation with physical laughter itself, attempting to understand it by applying its features to the three theories of laughter.
If one were to combine the physical arguments of these three philosophers, the most accurate theory to which they would apply is the Theory of Relief. Often in a humorous situation, the listener is nervous or anxiously awaiting the end of the story, unaware of what is to come. When the story takes an unexpected turn toward a humorous end and the listener finds himself both surprised and deceived, his body is relieved and physically demonstrates this relief by the “sudden” (or ‘surprising’) flow of blood into the heart, which enacts other muscles in the body to release the built up nervous pressure through the phenomenon of laughter.
To me, this argument makes the most sense in relation to the innate root of laughter. When a baby laughs, she does not feel superior to another object, nor is she aware of any incongruities. Contrarily, her body is naturally geared to laugh when it is surprised by a new or surprising situation. Her laughter is simply a safe form of relief for the tension built up by confusion in her body.
The arguments of Freud, Spencer and Descartes do not explain all forms and reasons for laughter, but they do make a strong case for the physiological reason; the innate reason that is our foundation for laughter from infancy: relief, pleasure and relaxation.