Laughing with Miru

There is nothing like humor to discover the signature of a human mind.

Tell me what you find funny, and I will tell you who you are. Okay, I may not be able to fathom the trenches of your soul, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have some sense of your political leaning, your raw intelligence and your general attitude towards life.

Interesting as such musings may be when they pertain to adults, things get really fascinating when we look at the humor of children. Every stage of the development of a child corresponds to a particular sense of humor. When my daughter Miru was an infant, so she was in Jean Piaget’s sensorimotor stage, she laughed at our funny faces. I believe that this first humor doesn’t yet distinguish between love and laughter: A gesture of care is laughable. Fun equals funny.

At age two, Miru laughed at unexpected things, developing a sense of Schadenfreude. This humor was not yet depending on grammar or abstract concepts, but directly related to the behavior of others. This corresponds to Piaget’s preoperational stage, that lasts from age 2 to 7. I would like to see a subdivision of this stage, because her humor became much more refined.

She is five years old today and I’ve found out that she really likes what I call deception jokes. In a restaurant celebrating her grandfather’s birthday, I told her that I turn her water into something else, like soda, and wield an imaginary magic wand. When she tastes the water and finds out the liquid hasn’t changed, she laughs out loud, multiple times. At this age, she knows that the world doesn’t always adhere to any and all description, but the fact that descriptions can be wrong, is still funny. There is a wonderful innocence in this particular sense of humor.

I’m looking forward to her next mental leap, into Piaget’s concrete and formal operational stages, and how it translates in yet another kind of humor.

Laughing with Miru was originally published on Meandering home

Meditation on humor

Breathe in. Think of the ridiculousness of life, the absurdity of existence, mortal or otherwise, the laughable preoccupations of breathing animals, the inane schemes devised by homo sapiens to cope with all that, and finally the splendid endeavour to derive from it the source of mere funnyness. We are asking if humor is our best chance of making sense of the world.

Is humor indispensible? Let us first observe humor depends on context. A mere pun or an isolated witty remark is not yet humor. It gets funny against the background of the context, which is alwags a power relation involving an implicit or explicit prohibition of the joke. Humor is a way to free oneself for a moment from a stronger power, because our laughing is beyond its control – and the more they try to impose their control, the funnier it gets.

Famous jokes about communism (coffee without cream rather than without milk because we ran out of milk) expose the system by demonstrating it is susceptible to jokes. It is no longer impenetrable and the ironic jomes about the system are ‘more ultimate’ than the system itself. No Red Book can compete with a good round of jokes.

Smile. I wanted to write a metaphysical account of humor and how the ironic distance allows us to share something universal because it makes visible the inadequacy of the internal rules of what we observe. I decided against it, because I haven’t thought it true. And perhaps is humor the very thing we don’t need a theory of.

Meditation on humor was originally published on Meandering home