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Thread: Laughter

  1. #1 Laughter 
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    Is it possible to consider laughter as a social signal that is used to recognise the hierarchical lower ranking of someone?

    Certainly, most jokes seem to signify this. In almost every joke you hear, there is very often an act of stupidity or sentence. We know perfectly well that we would never do so, yet we love to laugh at the stupidity of the person.

    Also, what about laughing when there is no joke involved? For example, in a humiliating situation. Certainly, this would fit my theory. People often laugh at a humiliated person; this is especially apparent in a social setting involving children, as adults at least are not given to extremes of emotion.

    However, this begets the question why funny people are often thought as popular. Certainly, nobody would befriend someone who they considered were beneath them.

    I personally believe this is because of the consequences of being thought of as being of lower rank. People befriend funny people because of their perceived lower rank. My explanation is based in the fact that humans, before evolution, were tribal. In such a case, an alpha male would dominate over lower males, and I am now assuming that humans ultimately left the tribe to form their own tribe. However, in order to do so, you would first require some followers, and these followers must, naturally, be lower than you.

    So a possible explanation is that for the subconscious mind, people befriend funny people in the hope that the person will follow them in making a new tribe.

    Does this theory seem plausible?


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  3. #2  
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    People who laugh at humiliated people are stupid.
    Humiliated people often laugh at the situation because of a reflex.. even if they
    don't want to.

    I think social rank has a bit more to it than funny/not funny people.


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  4. #3  
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    People who laugh at humiliated people are stupid.
    I agree with you on that. I have a special hatred for people who attempt to humiliate people. However, I don't mean to offend people by taking them as an example. I was merely showing a situation where modern theories of laughter are thrown out of the window.

    From a scientific viewpoint, let's simply go along with it for now.

    Humiliated people often laugh at the situation because of a reflex.. even if they
    don't want to.
    I'll have to scratch my head a bit because I don't think I've encountered such a situation. However, I'll take your word for it.

    I think social rank has a bit more to it than funny/not funny people.
    Quite right. I was thinking about the isolated example of a funny person and what it means from the viewpoint of my theory. I'll agree that the mechanics of social rank are more complex than I have given them due.
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    It's an interesting idea Liongold, but as you yourself started describing, the contexts of laughter can be so wide and varying that I'm inclined to think that the story is rather more complicated. I think that it is probably part of a general mechanism for social bonding.

    Also, your description of the basic human condition may not be correct - I say may be, because we don't really know exactly what the social system of early Homo was like for the last several million years of prehistory. However, if you are to base your vision of early human life on existing hunter-gatherers, I can tell you that there is often no clear hierarchy of individuals in these societies. True hunter-gatherers are nomadic, and when you have to carry everything you own from place to place, you don't own very much, nor can you hoard wealth of any kind, so wealth is not a measure of status in these groups. Better hunters get treated better, men who share more often have better reputations, but attempts to characterize clear status divisions by researchers has never yielded any particularly clear results.
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  6. #5  
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    Thank you, paralith. I was examining laughter in the context of pre-sentience among humans, before the evolution of intelligence. In such a case, wouldn't it be alright to say that man, being a social animal, lived in tribes, and as such might have followed my possible version?

    What is your opinion on this?
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    Sadly, the further back you go, the less sure we are of the type of social system involved. Many people assume it is similar to modern chimps as a matter of convenience, but we have no evidence solid to support that assumption.

    But, if it was similar to that of modern chimps, males most certainly form strict hierarchies and strategic alliances, but they do not splinter off the form new groups. Chimps are male philopatric, meaning that the males stay in the group they were born in and do not leave. Females migrate at puberty, but female chimps are not very social in the wild. For the most part each sticks to her own small patch with her dependent offspring within the larger territory defended by the males. Interestingly, though, fully baring the teeth and screaming is an expression of frightened protest.

    Bonobos are similar to chimps except females are the dominant sex - they form alliances, but when migration occurs at puberty they still do it on their own, not in groups. But it's hard to be sure with bonobos because there is such a paucity of research.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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    Ok. Thank you, paralith. That takes care of one assumption I made.
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  9. #8  
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    By my observation most laughter occurs not around jokes or anything supposed to be funny, but rather after banal statements, somewhat unconsciously. Like: "The gas tank's almost empty, heh heh." or "I'll have the cream of asparagus ha ha ha."
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  10. #9 Re: Laughter 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Liongold
    Is it possible to consider laughter as a social signal that is used to recognise the hierarchical lower ranking of someone?

    Certainly, most jokes seem to signify this. In almost every joke you hear, there is very often an act of stupidity or sentence. We know perfectly well that we would never do so, yet we love to laugh at the stupidity of the person.

    Also, what about laughing when there is no joke involved? For example, in a humiliating situation. Certainly, this would fit my theory. People often laugh at a humiliated person; this is especially apparent in a social setting involving children, as adults at least are not given to extremes of emotion.

    However, this begets the question why funny people are often thought as popular. Certainly, nobody would befriend someone who they considered were beneath them.

    I personally believe this is because of the consequences of being thought of as being of lower rank. People befriend funny people because of their perceived lower rank. My explanation is based in the fact that humans, before evolution, were tribal. In such a case, an alpha male would dominate over lower males, and I am now assuming that humans ultimately left the tribe to form their own tribe. However, in order to do so, you would first require some followers, and these followers must, naturally, be lower than you.

    So a possible explanation is that for the subconscious mind, people befriend funny people in the hope that the person will follow them in making a new tribe.

    Does this theory seem plausible?
    Most people laugh at the ridiculous by actual experience. In a shop, you tend to create that effect to get laughs. It is often not whether anyone believes what they see. But rather that they cannot believe what they see that makes them laugh.

    In other words if a really honest guy is seen looking around like a scared rat, taking someone's tools. The guy who's tools he is taking will probably laugh. If though the company rat is caught sneaking them off, the same guy gets angry.

    So the fun is laughing at the unbelievable.

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    I just thought of a funny example. There is a shear in the shop where I work. And a guy operating the shear. Will go behind the shear and bend over to the drop table, to get the metal that dropped off, from the cut.

    Sometimes another guy knowing where I, or a couple guys in the shop are standing, will line up in a way that makes it look like, he is having sex from behind, with the guy bending over the drop table. Because they are far enough away, from us, that we lose the depth of the reality.

    Of course you almost keel over in laughter every time you see this. It is just too ridiculous. To be happening. Add in some feminine screams, and I get tears in my eyes. Then you see the guy behind the shear figure out why we are all laughing, and he starts to laugh, or gets annoyed, and it is just too funny.



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  12. #11  
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    we don't really know exactly what the social system of early Homo was like for the last several million years of prehistory.
    Although we know all to well the history of the late Flaming Homo.


    laughter
    It is thought that laughter was used by early humans who would bare their teeth at new aquaintances in anticipation of an aggresive action but would grin and laugh if the percieved danger was found not to be an actual danger. It supposedly aided a lot in social compatability. Laughter is linked with the activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which produces endorphins after a rewarding activity.
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  13. #12  
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    Are humans the only animals who laugh (as part of a mirthful activity instead of something else)?

    I've seen video of trained chimps doing something that looks like laughter to me. Is this mirth or just a trained thing they have to learn?

    I've seen dogs bark when a person is laughing. Do the dogs recognize the laugh for what it is or do they just abstract it to humans vocalizing without words when they're happy? Or is there even a difference?

    I would assume laughter developed before language. Laughter was probably a way to relieve tension in social situations before language. Most human emotions tend to be pretty over-the-top (crying is pretty uniquely human, too) so maybe there was a need in early human groups for the emotions of another person to be identified remotely.
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  14. #13  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Liongold
    I was examining laughter in the context of pre-sentience among humans, before the evolution of intelligence.
    Quote Originally Posted by Paralith
    a general mechanism for social bonding
    Quote Originally Posted by gottspieler
    Laughter is linked with the activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which produces endorphins after a rewarding activity.
    Quote Originally Posted by Numsgil
    I would assume laughter developed before language.
    Not often one can synthesize four poster's statements into one hypothesis, but maybe this works:

    Laughter developed in parallel with spoken language & consciousness, as external proof and internal reward for having a cognition. In other words the proto-laugh meant, "I got it." We see modern laughter occupies one end of an interjective spectrum, with "uh" near disregard, "uh huh" more sympathetic, and so forth up to full bore "ah ha ha haha" laughter. These signals all do more than acknowledge a speaker has spoken. They signal, even alone, that one has had a thought/made a connection. In context of listening, the thought supposedly is just what the speaker meant to stimulate. Assuming this ability to receive cognitions from others was advantageous, the brain would reward itself each time that happened (that's a hint :wink: ).


    To really grasp the awesomeness of my hypothesis, see how normal language and normal consciousness are roughly synonymous, and suppose that early humans were not equally proficient in this development. Some individuals would have had a relative "gift" for speech/consciousness. The rest would listen, and like passive vessels respond with (rewarding) proto-laughter as they acquired cognitions. Gradually we all grew equally capable of independent thought, so with two-way communication the proto-laugh just means "I thought something." Often it even means "I thought something unspeakable." or "My thoughts differ." But to those who lack independent thought of course "I thought something" must mean they got the message and pretty well means "aye aye".

    A similar development came later: the prophet voice. That's the voice of super-consciousness, or "super-ego", morality, above-I, etc. The shaman could put beliefs into passive minds. The "word of God in their foreheads", so to speak. We're still unequal in it, and the voice seems to have passed its heyday as now when people use it out of traditional context they seem ridiculous. Read religion forum for many examples of people slipping into prophet voice. I'm unsure why the prophet voice loathes laughter or even an "uh huh" response. Apparently that indicates it's being taken on the wrong level.

    Jesse Jackson reads Green Eggs and Ham

    Buddhists reject prophet voice, and hold that the natural reaction to enlightenment is laughter. Go figure.
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  15. #14 Laughter=pain 
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    My opinion: Laughter is frequently connected to situation where there would be pain or embarrassment (mental pain) if the situation were to truly occur, but not on a critical or tragic level. The target could be the teller or another party. This will show in cases where something is funny after a period of time, but wouldnt be immediately after the incident. I suspect the root of this lies in laughter being a release valve for emotional pain, but only from a safe distance and not at the moment of fear.
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    What does that say about the Monty Python team?
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