After reading the excerpts by Descartes, Spencer and Freud I couldn't help but notice that all three look at laughter and humor as a sort of "thing" our body forces us to do, almost as if we don't really have much of a choice. This is so interesting to me because I feel like during class we look at laughter and humor so seriously in the sense that we are studying it so closely. While these men are studying laughter very closely, they are also making the assumption that its simply what our body is telling us to do, so we do it. We don't consciously say to ourselves when we hear a joke "Okay let me go over that in my head, okay blah blah, okay yeah that definitely was funny!" and let out a laugh. No... we just kinda.. do it. For instance, take what Descartes says in Article 124.. "Laughter consists in the fact that the blood, which proceeds from the right orifice in the heart by the arterial vein, inflating the lungs suddenly..." I don't even have to go on! He is describing laughter and what it consists of as all bodily movements that we have no control over! We don't decide whether or not we want our lungs to inflate every time they do (I would hope we would want them to do so though, or else, we wouldn't be alive!). Descartes is making a bold statement that our body laughs not necessarily our minds.
To go along with the notion that our body does the laughing, look at Spencer. Spencer outlines the meaning behind the "hydraulic theory" in which "nervous energy builds up within our bodies and requires release through muscular movement" (99). He talks of the three "channels along which nerve centers in a state of tension may discharge themselves" (102). Excitement is passed from channel to channel, and if one channel is "closed" or not accepting excitement, then the other channels must take the excitement in. The result of this is muscular contractions. To Spencer, "laughter is a form of muscular excitement". This theory is such a technical one that it makes us look at laughter in a completely different light, almost as if we hardly control it at all and that our bodies and muscular movements are the building blocks to our laughter.
So I have to ask, do we have a choice whether we laugh or not? I believe Freud says we do, but not so directly as we may like. Just as Spencer, Freud also saw laughter as "an outlet for psychic or nervous energy". However, while laughter is a very physical process, we as people have the choice to the types of attitudes we have, and Freud says we can adopt a humorous attitude and we can also observe those with the humorous attitudes. Both put one in a position to ultimately laugh or find humor. Still, humor is a very deep principle to grasp as it is very physical in the sense that it provides pleasure and is a liberating element for the person. While there is so much more to go along with these three authors, I felt it necessary to point out the physical aspect of laughter and how we may not always have as much of a say in our reactions as it may seem.
In the hopes of relating my personal experiences to these readings, I feel it necessary to point out a section of Spencer's excerpt. Spencer writes, "If any one wishes to check intellectual excitement, he cannot choose a more efficient method than running till he is exhausted" (103). This quotation made me want to talk to Spencer right as I was reading it because I just believe he is so completely right. I am a runner and there is nothing more therapeutic for me than being able to run as fast as I possibly can. As Spencer says, "under great irritation we get relief by walking rapidly" or in my case by running rapidly. While this doesn't relate too much to me laughing in life, it goes along with the fact that your body can release amazing amounts of energy through activity, just as Spencer is trying to prove. For me, bad energy is excreted forever once I go out and run. It's almost as if I sweat it out with every step. I have to agree with Spencer when he says that running until you cannot run anymore is the true and most effective way to release that energy and to MOVE ON! If you are having a bad day, and you are sitting and sulking in your room with all of this negative energy just clogging everything up inside you GO OUT AND RUN! YOU'RE BODY NEEDS TO RELEASE THAT ENERGY just as it needs to release it when you hear a hilarious joke and just need to laugh. Our bodies are amazing things, so let them do what they do best.