Spencer’s first discussion of ‘reflex action’ is very informative. I did not get his where he was going with the bodily motions pertaining to laughter, but like Kant he is on to something. Laughter, he thinks is partly based on something that happens to us philologically. His example of a child being tickled and the child being unable to control it is a very good example. I questioned it myself when I read it: Is it our mind or body that reacts first when we laugh? His further explanation of the muscular movements, that are also involuntary illustrates this also. Even with extreme traumas to the body we cannot control our emotions as he says, “ contortion of the face or movement of the limbs.” It is impossible to prevent these motions from not occurring, and that is the same bodily response that laughter produces. It is not possible for us to stop or start any sensation when we begin laughing. In addition, he explains how the heart rate increases when these things happen, causing a quickening of the pulse. All of this is based on the body.
Decartes’s point about us being pushed into laughter when something happy occurs in front of us, and not when we are sad is a very interesting point. We do not have the same reaction to sad things as we do to happy, and I think it’s interesting how he puts that. Like Spencer he discusses the body reaction when we laugh, specifically the lungs and the heart. When we laugh we breathe differently, thus oxygen gets to our lungs faster because we are breathing much harder. The blood gets to our heart so that we don’t, in his words “pass out”. Like Spencer he is intrigued about the biology of laughing. I personally don’t think we as human beings think about this when we laugh. It is far too technical of a thing. Most of my pre-med friends, whom I discussed this with never thought about it either. I feel it is something worth discussing because we do go through bodily changes when we laugh.
Freud is brilliant. His example of the criminal going to the gallows shows how the criminal himself is using his own situation as an object of humor. He connects this by talking about the way writers make characters humorous, whether real or imaginary. We as the audience are affected by this humor, and find it funny. My own example of this is when I read the joke about the criminal being killed on Monday, and I did laugh out loud. Freud’s comment of the humorist and the hearer is true today. We as people imagine a different scenario when in fact, the teller (humorist) meant to convey something totally different. We laugh, and sometimes it is the not the reaction that the teller had in mind. I agree with Freud in the observation that the listener might be a “copy” of the humorist, or attempting to put themselves in his or her shoes. It is a reaction based on the listener entirely, and not an object of the humorist himself.