Somewhere there must be a hierarchy of humor set forth in a study that explores how what we find funny changes as we grow older.  The study would explore the humor of those who have delayed maturation–the autistic, for example–comparing it to what normal finds funny.  Uncovering jokes recorded over time, the study might look for patterns in what makes us laugh over the long haul during recorded history.  The study could research what aboriginals find funny and if there are patterns that cross continents in terms of tribal culture.

Let’s take funny seriously for a moment.

There are certain features of being human, though not always exclusive to our species, which deeply inform what exactly we might be.  I’m suspecting that humor and metaphor–often so closely related as to be indistinguishable–may reveal our origins and our evolution.

I think it has a lot to do with sensitivity to the anguish of being split.

Watching and listening to ontogeny, or growth of a child to adulthood, observing the autistic, studying evolution and examining my own consciousness, I would conclude that contemporary self-consciousness or split consciousness is pretty new.  Julian Jaynes suggests it emerged with recorded history.  Feiffer offers 50,000 years ago or so.  Others argue that a hundred thousand or more years ago, a modern form of thinking or language use was starting to be used.

Humor probably begins with the fall.  I don’t mean the Biblical fall, though that may also be true, but the slapstick tumble.  Though before that there was hide and seek.  Word play is a favorite early fun.  Though I’m not sure I would suggest that fun and humor are the same things.  Squirrels have fun, but I don’t think they have a sense of humor.  I may be wrong.  I’ve observed squirrel mischief that borders on demented.

Funny is often accompanied by insight.  A joke can manifest the insight with the punch line.  An amusing story can make something about life more clear.  Like these essays, there is a coming home again with something picked up along the way.  There is integration with an implication that there’s been a split.

I suspect that humor emerged with split consciousness, revealing an awareness of the separation and a deep desire for return, which leads to a paradox.

The older I grow, the more play I see in the world and how the world is made, transforms and unfolds.  That which is, is having fun.  Unlike the squirrels’ experience, this fun seems integrally connected to humor.  Still, it’s not humor characterized by an experience only of feeling split.  It seems a humor defined by an experience of split/not split/split/not split both at once.  It’s as if the moment of the punch line, the end of the story, is fully, constantly engaged.

Is the split that we need humor to transcend not really a split at all?

That would be amusing.


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