4.8—Chapter Summary: The Pecking Order—Laughing at or laughing with?
The course of Western philosophy split in two directions early in the twentieth century. One school of thought leans towards the historic traditions of rationalism: the metaphysical bent of teachings from the likes of ancient Parmenides through Spinoza, with major contributions from Kant, and Hegel, that became known as continental philosophy. This is opposed to analytic philosophy characterized, to some degree, by the prominence of the English language—although it pays homage to the likes of Aristotle as well as empiricists like John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume, and even Ludwig Wittgenstein.
The analytic way of thinking was bolstered by the formal language of logic: that which is neither mental nor physical, but that puts a handle on reality by converting thought and discourse into elementary propositions that are subject to verification, examination, manipulation and measurement by means of truth tables. Similarly, the Laf-Graf recognizes practical humor, which, despite the “old school” appearance of its control panel, is tightly packed with the irreducible beauty of binary logic and digital technology. The field of philosophy has evolved into computer science (and practical humor) via the analytic camp.
Continental philosophy, on the other hand, nurtures the moral and spiritual, if somewhat categorical, aspects of knowledge and reason, and being largely dependent on human consciousness to distinguish reality from appearance, manifests in the form of an intuitive triad of subject, object, and perceptual medium in which they swim. The celebrated “thing in itself” notion means that for a person (the subject) to truly “know” another object, one would have to become one with it—to be it. Such transcendentalism is more akin to poetic humor. Imagine becoming one with a tree, or fire hydrant, as the big dog of practical humor comes sniffing around. Not to worry: poetic humor packs the wallop of a water cannon. If practical humor is superficial, at least it is “graspable.” In the Laf-Graf view of humor, practical means surface; poetic means substance. The most potent humor contains equal amounts of both (11.3c).
Flow chart vs. taxonomy
Humor is more of a recipe than a formula: a savory dish spiced with life to suit individual tastes, versus the organic synthesis of, say, Bakelite plastic. It’s more like a game of horseshoes where a near miss can be a good thing, as opposed to a combination lock where close doesn’t count. The taste of fine wine is subject to “breathing,” temperature, palette cleansing, etc. Humor is also a precarious admixture of content and context. The taxonomy—a family tree—for humor would be vast, diffuse, and futile because, ultimately, every word becomes a self-contained category. Therefore no clear-cut taxonomy exists for humor, only an individual flow-chart for each given specimen. The Laf-Graf control panel serves to map this pathway by systematically locating those aspects that conform to the Peterson incongruity-superiority model, thereby arriving at a standard schematic—the Laugh Graphic. But even though the instrument can glean the data and forge it into a scientific format, it is the skillful operator that elevates humor analysis to an art form (and suspiciously akin to religion).
For example, stereotype can be a subset of the category of exaggeration—or vice versa: We could say that women like chocolate raspberry cheesecake served by a tall dark waiters in candle lit bistros such as La Gateau du Boeuf. Men like beer intravenously fed by horny nurses at Saint Hooters Hospital. In those scenarios, the stereotypes are subordinate to exaggeration. Conversely, stereotypes can be the primary category (Jewish humor could be its own genus) with exaggeration playing a supportive role. Garrison Keillor talks frequently about Norwegian bachelor farmers. This highly specific stereotype is principle to whatever characteristics are attributed to the typical member of this group; perhaps they grow casseroles, or their farm tractors are powered by coffee. I’m not sure; it’s an esoteric community. Suffice to say that blondes may prefer gentlemen, just as easily as gentlemen may prefer blondes. But then there’s the category of dumb blondes, which further complicates any formal taxonomy.
Likewise, the metaphor is subordinate to both literal and figurative humor: on an aspirin bottle, it’s the childproof cap as secure as a bank vault to someone with a splitting headache (as seen in Mr. Boffo by Joe Martin), or it can simply be the result of a typo in a newspaper ad citing a retailer store’s “refund/sexchange” policy.
Taxonomy of humor would repeat each subsequent category in both the poetic and the practical branches. Each branch would then split and reiterate again for internal and external humor, and likewise for literal and figurative species. Each subset would repeat the full contingency of subcategories ad infinitum. The Laf-Graf instead simply offers a logical progression for the analysis of humor in regards to its content and context, and strings these characteristics together in a path from the event to its comprehension by the observer.
This chapter closes with three thoughts on metaphysics:
1) Numbers don’t lie 2) “A priori” means not learning from experience (whereas humor means not learning from mistakes) 3) Going to the art museum is like going to church—only more fun.
5.1a—Intellect: Sharp as a tack, turns on a dime
Visceral arousal of an emotional experience turns a feeling into an action, but the brain’s cognitive faculties make that feeling sentient: the faculties of reason and memory—the intellect. This includes one’s beliefs, whether they are true or false. A man believes what he wants to believe. The rational mind is nonetheless influenced by desire, hope, imagination, and intentionality—the “aboutness” of a thought. To appreciate humor, one must have the deductive “smarts” to figure out puns and riddles, and be at least acquainted with the given subject matter of a joke and anecdote. Experts in a given field exhibit more laughs per circumstance than lay people in the same environment. Normally bright, but uninformed, people on the other hand, can feel like real dim bulbs if they answer a “knock-knock” joke only to find nobody’s home. The Laf-Graf identifies and isolates both the premise and the alternate “cones of familiarity” as defined in Section 4.0. They are always the same size and shape, but they vary in density according to one’s intimacy and general knowledge about the subject matter of a joke’s premise, as well as the I.Q. to connect the dots.
10.3—Output Meter: Humor-level indicator
A laboratory study published in Humor (International Journal of Humor Research—a publication recommended for regular doses of standard mean deviations) cites a specially equipped test audience that was told jokes and instructed to push a button if they thought something was funny.
Excuse me, but wouldn’t laughter be a better indication? The experimenters could’ve saved money on all the buzzers, buttons and batteries. I laughed at the very notion of artificial laughter, which set off the Laf-Graf, reminding me that this is the mechanically encrusted nature of the Laf-Graf itself. So as Roseanne Roseannadanna would say: “Never mind.”
The output range of the Model #1300 can be calibrated to one’s personal threshold of pain and pleasure, but generally runs the gambit from crying to laughing in the following progression:
bawl, sob, whimper, snivel, frown, groan, grin, smile, giggle, chuckle, guffaw.
The output algorithm states: If, between values of 0 and 1, a = disposition; b = favorability of resolution, s = surprise factor (suddenness), and x = threat; then the Laf-Graf output meter returns the laughter intensity: s (a · b / x) = 0 to 1 (cry to laugh). Or as Immanuel Kant would say, “a s