You may have heard of an 18th-century philosopher, Immanual Kant. And you may have an image of philosophy as somewhat of a useless mental pursuit confined to boring, sober thinkers in the sterile ivory towers of academia. Philosophers sit around and ponder the imponderable, such as “Why are we here?” and “What is time?” and never really come up with any useful answers. Or do they?
Mr. Kant came up with some answers regarding life’s seemingly insurmountable problems. His “philosophy” says that humans have three ways to counterbalance the misfortunes of life; they are hope, sleep – and laughter.
Since his pronouncement, medical science has been revealing more and more that humor plays a very important part in our lives – helping us to overcome the obstacles of day-to-day existence, helping us make friends, and even helping us alleviate physical pain.
Another philosopher you surely know, the ancient Greek Aristotle, wrote that laughter is “a bodily exercise precious to health.” Spoken and written centuries before our medical labs started finding the benefits of humor and laughter, the wise old Greek already had a handle on the truth.
Perhaps you have a friend whom you regard as a little too flippant, a little too light in the loafers. Underneath that persona you’ll probably find an individual who is healthier and less stressed. Someone requiring less painkillers after surgery, someone less likely to need the surgery in the first place. You may have heard of “tears of a clown” but the opposite is usually true – it’s not a cover-up. It’s a healthy approach to life.
Folks who have had that section of their brain seriously damaged, due to injury or disease, have trouble grasping or responding emotionally to humor.
Scientists have mapped out an area of the brain that seems to be responsible for our appreciation of humor, the pre-frontal cortex, just above and behind our eyes. They’ve found that folks who have had that section of their brain seriously damaged, due to injury or disease, have trouble grasping or responding emotionally to humor.
Whether it’s nature or nurture, introverts and extroverts have activity in different parts of their brains as they respond to humor. Whether extroverts and introverts are made by the activity of their brains, or whether their brains respond according to their nature, is still under study.
There are “reward centers” in our brains that respond to humor in different ways depending on whether we’re extroverts or introverts. And there is a part of our brain that is essential to sorting out incongruities, it shows great activity when subjects react to humor. Of course, sorting out illogical situations is very important to enjoying humor. The more commotion in that area of the brain, the more the subject seems to be easily amused and enjoys ambiguity, the more inclined they are to be healthy, physically and mentally.
As scientists wander more deeply into the labyrinth of the brain; they’ll probably reveal that humor is another Darwinian survival tool, at least partially responsible for our success and survival as a species. Thank you, Mr. Kant and Mr. Aristotle, for philosophically pointing us in the right direction – chuckling our way along life’s byways.
Photo by Ali Brohi/ Moazzam Brohi