Descartes argued that laughter could only accompany “moderate joys.” He argued that it was physiologically impossible for someone to laugh when they experience the greatest joys because joy causes blood to flow to the lungs, and the lungs require more blood in order to laugh. I wonder about the biological validity of these statements, particularly the idea that blood floods the lungs during the greatest joys, unless of course Descartes restricts the greatest joys to be only sexual climax, in which case he’s quite accurate – typically people don’t laugh during orgasm. This, however, seems more Freudian than Cartesian. I wonder about the validity of this theory particularly because in October of 2008 I experienced one of the greatest joys of my life, and I laughed. I laughed hard.
After the final out of the 2008 World Series, a picture was taken of me. This is that picture:
For a second, I closed my eyes and let it sink in. Someone thought it wise to capture the moment, and despite many jokes about my orgasmic expression, my baseballophilia, my "phetish", I'm glad they did. The Phillies had won the World Series. The city with a 25-year championship drought finally had a champion. The team that had won just one championship since its inception in 1883 (People, that’s 125 years), had won their second. After 18 years of saying, “There’s always next season,” four times a year for each of the major sports (72 seasons for those who are counting), I could finally say, “We did it.”
Then I just started laughing uncontrollably. I laughed until I cried. I laughed while I cried. I laughed after I cried. I laughed while on the phone celebrating with Grandpop and Dad back home. I laughed while I ran around outside whooping and screaming on Notre Dame’s soccer fields.
Perhaps Freud had a better handle on this kind of thing than Descartes did. Perhaps I was releasing 19 years of built up surplus psychic energy. Regardless, if I am sure of one thing, it is that I was joyous that night.
Maybe the laughter did have some sort of wonder tied up in it. After all, this was the city so desperate for a championship that we erected a statue for a fictional boxer that lost (Rocky Balboa). We made plans to have a victory parade for a horse if he won the Triple Crown, which he didn’t. We draped the statue of William Penn on top of City Hall in Flyers and Sixers jerseys in a sort of attempt to overcome the “Curse of Billy Penn” predicated on the idea that Philly teams stopped winning because the city legalized the construction of buildings taller than City Hall in the ‘80s. After the years of frustration and all of the absurdities that came with them, it might come as a bit of a shock when the losingest team in the history of professional sports, the first team in any sport to reach 10,000 losses, the Philadelphia Phillies won a championship. Despite the wonder, at the heart of all the insane laughter, was joy.
If Descartes is right, and we can’t laugh during great joy because of blood saturating the lungs from that joy, leaving no room for the blood needed to produce laughter, then I must be the pulmonary incarnation of the Grinch.
My lungs grew five sizes that day.