HUMOR REFERENCE GUIDE:
A COMPREHENSIVE CLASSIFICATION AND ANALYSIS
Joel Chandler Harris, wrote in his stories, Uncle Remus (1972:53-56), "When Uncle Remus mentioned something about Brer Rabbit's laughing-place, he pictured it in his mind as a sure-enough place that the four-footed creatures had found necessary for their comfort and convenience.
The little boy referred to Brer Rabbit's laughing-place and talked about it in much the same way that he would have talked about Atlanta.
Uncle Remus said, 'What you want is a laughing-place, where you can go and tickle yourself and laugh whether you want to laugh or not. Where-abouts is this here place?'
'It is right here where you are,' said the little boy."
Let me introduce myself.
I'm the thoughts people have sometimes
have when they read. I will also assist where I can.
Wittgenstein once said that a serious and good philosophical work could be
written that would consist entirely of jokes(Malcolm 1958: 29).
CHAPTER I. Introduction
A. A Casual Introductory Analysis of Humor
We often think it humorous or ironic that academic analyses of humor are so contradictorily serious. So rather than begin with humorless seriousness, this account begins with serious humorousness. Humor is a funny thing. And it happens in strange places. When we laugh we are looking into a world of where all kinds of unbelievable and unusual things happen. In such a world, if you could see it, you would find that from the scientific and critical philosophical perspective most of the average persons common and most cherished beliefs are the furthest from the truth, or in a word, are disguised jokes. In opposition to the common belief: emotions are irrational bodily feelings, they are rather seen to be thoughts; most people claim to be rational , but it is not a basic part of any school curriculum and philosophy which teaches it is almost nonexistent. The average person wants to be happy, but has never studied emotions and again it is virtually never taught in the schools at any level. Their personalities consist of roughly 75% negative emotions. In short, the average person is irrational, enculturated, and emotionally dysfunctional. They think there are such things as ideas, whereas it would come as news to them that, what philosophers have know for a long time, that ideas, as such, do not exist. They speak of time and ethics, but have not been educated in these subjects and have no idea that such terms are basically meaningless terms. Rather, it has been shown that time does not as such exist or "pass", and ethical terms are empty open-context terms. (See authors books and articles in bibliography.) Furthermore, despite the advances of science, nearly everyone is fatally superstitious. People are seen to have tragicomic priorities and give billions to the church, and nothing but objections to medical research which could genuinely preserve and save lives. They then grieve wonder why their close relatives are unhealthy or die at a young age. Additionally, they eat and drink almost only what is bad for them, while at the same time wishing to live forever. They believe in war which is a fatal tragicomedy; are vindictive and seek the cruelest punishment if a disturbed person kills a family member or are devastated if their cat dies, but nevertheless supported the slaughter of over a million people in the Gulf war, a war which violated virtually all of the Just War requirements. The unusual world of humor?-Yes, you guessed it, it is our own irrational, tragicomical world.
In such a world, birds fly underwater, straws are sipped through soda, and cookies make people. And the funny thing about this world is that it is a real world-a real place which we ourselves can see and create. All one needs to do is to go to the laughing-place. Let's go.
To find out where it is, is to find out what humor is and how we create it. Humor will be seen to be the least important thing in the world and the most important thing in the world. Knowing how humor works and how to create it is one of those ideas which can change one's life. We will never be the same again. And we wouldn't want to be. How does humor work? Where do we find it? First of all, it is not nowhere. And it doesn't just happen by itself. Listen to Uncle Remus: "You can't laugh when you try to laugh-ha-ha-ha-haha! Here was a little fowl not much bigger than a jay-bird laughing herself blind when there wasn't a thing in the round world for to laugh at." (Harris 1972:60)
At first for clarity a very simple account will be given. The theories and details will come later. It also contradicts a number of theoretical accounts which will be given at the end of the book. We do not just laugh. We laugh about something. Humor is not just a feeling inside of us. It is not like a pain. It is not even like a happy pain. Humor is something we think about that makes us laugh. It must involve thought. If there is no thought, there is no humor. Nothing is in itself funny. If there were no people in the world, nothing would be funny. It is we who make things serious or humorous. We have found ourselves out. We are the ones guilty of making fun. Our punishment is to see how we do it. Here is how. Humor is a thought which causes good bodily feelings and laughter. Humor is not only thought, not only laughter, but both. First comes the thought, then the feeling. What kind of thoughts produce humor? Only certain kinds can do that.
"'What are tarts made of?' 'Pepper mostly,' said the cook." (Alice in Wonderland) (Carroll 1960:106) The tarts sound good don't they?-if one is a sneeze. We do not make tarts out of pepper. It is not quite the thing to do. This is what makes it humorous to say that the tarts are made of pepper. Whenever we make a mistake, err, or deviate somehow, we may create humor. In short, to make humor, just make mistakes. And now we may build the house of humor so as to have a clear view of our laughing-place: Humor is the thought that there is a mistake, and this then produces laughter and good feelings.
This structure is almost complete, but the place needs some landscaping and yard work. Let's assume that we have had our tea and tarts and will now clean around a bit. That's a less painful way of saying, "Now, let's do some work." Humor takes place when we think that a mistake has been made. To be critical, we must see if this is true. Take an example. Suppose a student mistakenly writes on the board: 2+2 = 5. This can cause us to laugh. But not this alone, because it may cause the teacher to become angry. Why does one laugh rather than become angry at the mistake? The teacher is thinking, "That is the wrong answer and it is bad." But the pupils who laugh are thinking something like, "That is the wrong answer, but it is all right. It doesn't hurt anyone."
Thus, we must add to our theory: Humor is produced by the thought that there is a mistake, but one which is not bad or harmful. This then produces laughter and good feelings. Once the mistake is seen to be harmful, it is no longer humorous. For example, we laugh if someone slips on a banana peel, but stop laughing if a leg is broken. Thus, for something to be humorous, we must not take the mistake seriously, or as being bad. If we are too serious (a negative emotion), we will not laugh at a joke. To be too serious is to say, "This is bad or fearful." There are also many other negative thoughts which may block humor. Shakespeare asked, "Do you know the difference between a bitter fool and a sweet fool?" (King Lear i.4.151) The mistakes of life create tragicomedy which if accepted create humor and insight, but if not accepted create tragedy.
People can take themselves too seriously also. Humor requires that we accept. It is sometimes important for one to be able to laugh at oneself in order to accept oneself. To accept is to say, "It's all right," or "We just have to accept reality." In summary, humor involves the thought that something is a mistake which is OK.
Because acceptance is necessary for humor, it is said by some that humor must involve playfulness, a mirthful attitude, and even love. Thackery said that humor involves a mix of wit and love. Carlyle wrote, The essence of humor is sensibility; warm, tender, fellow-feeling with all forms of existence." (C. N. Douglas 1915:980) That is, its essence is love. It can be, but all that is minimally needed is to accept the fault or deviation. Any other synonym for "acceptance" would also be possible, e.g. humor involves sympathy, optimism, a positive outlook, generosity in thinking,, easy going nature, flexible thinking, humanistic attitude, responsiveness, compassion, kindliness, interest, understanding, magnanimity, charity, liberation, freedom, considerateness. We may similarly say that humor involves forgiveness. We can now laugh at our lovely weeds.
Is it the essence of the artistic way of looking at things, that it looks at the world with a happy eye. (Wittgenstein Notebooks 1961:86)
That cleans up our garden a little so that it is a bit more pleasant and agreeable. Now, let's be critical again. What kind of mistakes produce humor? There are as many kinds of humor as there are kinds of mistakes. We've worked hard. Let's go and rest in our laughing-place for awhile. We will have some soup. And for fun we will have a fly in it. This will reveal the different kinds of funny things that can happen in a laughing-place. We have even labeled the different kinds of humor, just as we name the flowers in our garden. We may pick a few that we like best.
CAVEAT! WARNING! CAUTION! AUGURY!
The examples of humor given here and throughout the book are not necessarily the preferences of the management, well, author in this case. No one person, even a book reviewer!, could possibly appreciate every bit of humor presented here. Tastes differ, and elitism in either humor or aesthetics is never a pretty sight. I will say this-a magazine paid me $100 for one of these fly in soup jokes. You may try to see if
you can tell which joke it was.
Mmm, fly soup. Not bad at all.
B. Types of Humor: Fly in Soup Jokes BY TYPE
A person eating his soup says to the waiter: "Waiter, there is a fly in my soup!" The following are humorous replies by the waiter. We may observe how these jokes reveal the quality of one's behavior and thinking. The replies could all have been given from only a single point of view, e.g. that of a physician, lawyer, businessperson, deconstructionist, gallows humorist, existentialist, feminist, religious person, therapist, soldier, etc.
Accident Humor. The fly falls into the soup with a splash.
Allegory Humor. 1. Ah, yes. Life has little value anymore. 2. Ah, what a sense of drama you have to be able to render our whole life by means of the one simple, concise presentation of a dead fly in one's soup!
Ambiguity Humor (Double meanings of words, Pun) 1. Just a moment, I'll unzip it. 2. Which would you prefer to keep? 3. I guess it could not fly so-up. 4. It must have just "dropped in." 5. And there is a crab in our restaurant. 6. How did you find your soup? I just removed the flies and there it was. 7. That's rare. Prefer it well done? 8. (Entomologist) "Hey, what is this Musca domestica doing in my soup? That is obvious. It is an Insecta Diptera taking a dip.
Analogy Humor. 1.Yes, one always looks for perfection. A musician plays one sour note in a three-hour concert and her career is over. 2. That's the story of my life.
Behavioral Humor. The waiter pulled out the fly and said, "No, there isn't." (Also reversal)
Caricature. 1. The person is drawn with eyes bulging out looking at the little fly. (Also exaggeration)
Circular Humor. 1. It must have gotten stuck. 2. Ah yes, too much soup will do it every time. 3. Yes, but if you just paid attention to eating your soup you would not have noticed it. (Also blatant vice)
Conceit Humor (Relate things which are very different.) I know, we were out of elephants.
Connotation Humor (Deal with minor or associated qualities instead of the usual main ones.) 1. I know, it gives you a nice buzz, doesn't it? 2. Don't eat it. It may make you as suicidal as the fly. 3. Now you know why we call it "Airplane soup." (Also metaphor humor)
Context Deviation Humor. 1. Do you want dinner for two, then? 2. Serves it right. (Also pun) 3. There have been other martyrs. 4. It should have been behind bars. (e.g. bar fly. Also pun) 5. Then, don't pay for one of them. 6. I'll call their owners. 7. Sorry, the cook forgot to swat the soup. 8. But, it's fresh. 8. You may try reading, Skip Morris Fly Fishing Made Simple, or Ted Leeson's The Fly Tier's Benchside Reference. 9. My, how time flies.
Contradiction Humor. 1. There is no way a fly could get into this soup (as another fly drops into the soup). 2. Yes, it is a paradox. There is and there is not a fly in the soup.
Denial. 1. Oh, yes, a waiter is one who takes invisible flies out of perfectly good soup. 2. I get paid not to see things like that. 3. To fisherperson: Well, I don't see any fish jumping.
Defense Mechanism Humor. 1. Who do you think you are, coming in here, telling me there is a fly in the soup? 2. That's no fly, that's an excited piece of pepper. (Also denial) 3. Pure soup does not exist.
Deviation from Desire. 1. I thought you might like it that way. 2. Tell me, how does it taste? 3. How would you like it to be cooked? 4. Have you tried the filter funnel?
Deviation from Expectation. 1. Anti-Humor Humor: Well, if there is fly in your soup then you should, ah, ah, well just do something. 2. "Ah, yes, surprise is the genius of cooking."
Deviation from the Familiar. 1. Would you like a frog to go with it? 2. Well, how do you eat soup at home?
Deviation from the Ideal. 1. It's the best we could do sir. 2. You should have seen it before it was served.
Deviation from Language: Then just call it "floup." (Also nonsense) Japanese speaker: "Waita, there is a fry in my soup." Waiter: "Yes, it is vely plitty. But don't dlink it. Would you like some flied lice?"
Rhyme. I must apologize and although I do not wish to eulogize it is always a surprise to find that flies so easily vaporize.
Deviation from the Practical. 1. Wait, I'll get a flyswatter. 2. If I were you I would try flyinsoup.com.
Deviation from Purpose. Would you like a fork?
Deviation from Rule. Wasn't that on the menu?
Deviation from Tradition. We always serve them that way. (Also Blatant vice)
Deviation from the Usual. Help it out, then.
Escape or Release Humor. 1. I ask you, what is soup without anything in it? (Also context deviation) 2. Believe me, I have seen worse. 3. Sometimes I just have to laugh at what customers bring in here with them. 3. Thank goodness, I thought it might be a mouse again. 4. Sure, there is. You put it there. Couldn't have been me. Perhaps someone else served you.
Exaggeration Humor. 1. First the fly drinks soup, who knows what it will devour next? 2. I wonder what the meaning of it all could be? 3. Have you read Krankl on the use of humor when facing death? 4. Well, this is one for Ripley's Believe it or Not."
Expand Metaphor Humor. 1. Just a minute, we'll screen it. 2. Treating the situation metaphorically as if computer troubleshooting: Maybe the soup is incompatible with the bowl. Perhaps you should upgrade your soup. Maybe it is the way you are eating the soup. Perhaps you are not eating it right. 3. At least it is not a Spanish fly.
Hypocrisy Humor. We are a four star hotel. That is all you will find in your soup. It is just a little black star.
Impossible Humor. And on the other hand, there isn't a fly in your soup.
Insight Humor. It was a busy fly-a lesson for us all-another stress related casualty.
Ignorance Humor. 1. Couldn't be, I sprayed it first. 2. It's all I could find. 3. What would you prefer it to be in, sir? 4. Ah, but clearly the menu stated, "Musca domestica soup."
Irony. 1. I'm glad you told me. Thank you. 2. (False flattery) Ah, yes. It is by remarkable coincidence that I just happened to have finished Ved Mehta's book, Fly and the Fly-Bottle: Encounter with British Intellectuals. You would not happen to be a British Intellectual would you?
Cosmic Irony. Life is indeed cruel. It's dead. And it's what it liked most-soup.
Irrelevance. 1. Do you think it can float? 2. Have you tried reading William Golding's Lord of the Flies? 3. I would recommend Charles Simic's new 2000 book, Fly in the Soup: Memoirs. 4. The housefly hums in the middle octave key of F.
Blatant Lie. 1. Waiter obviously sees the fly but says, "I see nothing. There is absolutely no fly in your soup." 2. I love it when customers are so candid.
Take Things Too Literally. 1. Just a minute, I'll get some flypaper. 2. It's our cook. She couldn't hurt a fly.
False Appeal to Pity. 1. Ah, but one must pause to remark on how pleasant it must have been to depart the world in this way. (Also blatant vice) 2. Just look at that cute little thing with those sad, brown eyes. How could it do any harm? 3. Yes, but if we fire the cook she will only be able to work in some fly infested hole in the wall. (Also circular) 4. Some people are really fortunate. I don't even have a soup to have a fly in it.
False cause. Just shows how careful one must be when eating hot soup. (Also Analogy)
Change Topic to Avoid Subject. 1. Nice weather we are having. 2. Such things elevate us and take us away from the small, insignificant things of life, dont you think?
False Assumption. 1. The soup is good too. 2. We don't charge extra. 3. We washed it first.
Doesn't Follow. The fly wasn't here before you came in. (Also False Cause)
Refuse to Discuss. Sorry, I'm not allowed to chat with the customers.
Relativism. Well, life is absurd anyway, isn't it?
Attack the Person Rather than the Subject. 1. Well, you come in here dressed like that and dare to complain about the soup! 2. My, you are observant. It is amazing what you can see when you keep your eyes open. (Also circular) 3. Perhaps you just do not know how to eat. Shall I give you some tips? 4. Really? You might try reading Jonathan London's Froggy Eats Out? 5. Well, if you eat it you will have more brains in your stomach than in your head.
Miss the Main Point. 1. Then go light on the pepper. 2. I have to wait on the people first. 3. Oh, are you a vegetarian? 4. But, it had a long, happy life. 5. Yes, they are not good swimmers. 6. I am a waiter not a lifeguard. 7. Glad you enjoyed it.
Use of Anger Instead of Reason. Waiter becomes angry with customer and says, "It would have been all right if you hadn't noticed it." (Also circular)
Metaphor Humor. 1. It must have committed insecticide. (Also a pun, blatant vice, substitution and irrelevance humor.) 2. Life is flies crawling in our soup. 3. It's a small, dark mistake swimming in our soup.
Mimicry. Oh, me, oh, my, whatever will I do? There is a monster in my soup.
Misclassification Humor. 1. No, that is a spider. 2. Oh, I thought you ordered Shoo fly pie. 3. The cook is famous for his raisin cookies, but I think he has gone too far this time.
Name Calling Humor. 1. Mr. Perfection, that's who you are. 2. The villain! (Said about the fly.)
Obvious Humor. I know what to do-separate them.
Paradox Humor. 1. The fly is and is not in your soup. 2. To religious customer: You believe in things which do not exist. Now it is time for you to unbelieve in things which do.
Perceptual Humor. 1. Show a picture of soup having been eaten, and a small wet fly in the bottom of the bowl. The waiter is delicately removing the fly with tweezers. 2. Waiter fishes for fly with a string noose and says, "Just a minute, I'll get it for you."
Personification. 1. It likes soup. 2. Sorry, I thought you were a Venus-Flytrap. 3. I just can't stand careless flies. 4. It's just its way of having fun. 5. It's not a fly, it's a hungry raisin.
Pretense Humor. Waiter turns lights low and says, "I don't see any fly, do you?"
Rationalization Humor. 1. There's a fly that knows good soup. 2. What a wonderful way to go.
Reduce to Absurdity Humor. 1. I certainly hope it can swim. 2. Oh, dear, the frog must have missed it. (Also blatant vice.) 3. Just a moment, I will call our kitchen entomologist. 4. To religious customer: What kind of God is it who would do such a thing? 5. I understand, madam. Would you like me to bring you a really tiny spoon for it?
Reversal Humor. 1. No, I'd say the soup was around the fly. 2. Don't apologize to me. 3. It's a real fly, all right, but I'm not sure about the soup. 4. Are you sure the soup isn't in the fly? 5. Not so loud, everyone will want one. (Also blatant vice.) 6. Better than having soup in your fly. (Also blatant vice.) 7. Yes, and we believe you put it there. 8. Don't eat it until I call the manager!
Riddle. Q. Why did the fly drown in the soup? A. Because it couldn't breathe.
Ridicule. 1. Well, you are a complainer, aren't you? 2. I suppose you prefer butterflies? 3. Well, a fly-eater. I've heard of them, but I've never actually seen one. 4. What are you doing gawking into your soup, anyway?
Satire. 1. Customer: "Waiter, do you raise these flies yourself or they imported?" 2. That is our soup tester. I would not take another spoonful.
Self-Deprecation. Sorry, sir. Wrong bowl. That's my soup.
Simile or False Analogy. 1. And people all over the world are starving. 2. You are in luck. That is certainly better than the earlier form of soft, worm-like, pale maggots. In cooking, timing is everything. 3. At least it is not a fly in the ointment.
Sinking (Treat important as unimportant and trivial as valuable.) It's an angel in disguise. (Also Satire)
Stereotype Humor. 1. Probably a female fly. Yet another example of a patriarchial, male-dominated society. 2. Shall I find you a torpedo, Admiral? 3. (To politician) "Don't worry, its in the minority."
Substitution Humor. 1. Waiter returns with a clean fly. 2. Look, a fly. What a terrible waiter, what a terrible restaurant, what a terrible world. 3. Dont worry, you wont get mad fly disease. (Also irrelevance and blatant vice.) 4. Couldnt be, the cook used all of them in the raisin bread.
Trick or Deceit. Fooled you, that's a plastic fly.
Understatement Humor. Shall I recommend something else for you, then.
Useless Humor. We have more if you wish.
Value Deviation Humor (Improper, wrong, or immoral statements or behavior. Deviation from what we value. 1. Don't worry, it's dead. 2. Waiter takes a spoon, eats the fly slowly, and says, "Mmm, not bad at all."
Forbidden Value Term Humor. It is nasty stuff isn't it? Well, I'll be bugged!
Blatant Vice Humor. 1. Yes, sir. I'll get our soup fly remover at once. 2. Be quiet and eat it, or I'll dump it on your head. 3. I put it there, and I would do it again. 4. And it will be interesting to see what you will turn into after you have eaten the soup. 5. Those flies will eat anything. (Also irrelevance, double meaning, deviation from main point.) 6. Then it must be pudding, the soup has cockroaches in it. 7. It's our policy: One fly per person.
Well, we have had our soup now. Are you satisfied? Learning about each of the above types of humor helps us to begin to understand humor better and sets the stage for the more extensive analysis to follow. Each type of humor illustrates a technique for creating humor. We now know some of the names of our enchanting flowers. The next step is to learn how to cultivate and grow them to make a beautiful garden.
Return to Table of Contents
C. Ways To Create Humor:
We now know that humor is created by deviating from the: believed, correct, desired, expected, familiar, honest, ideal, intelligible, known, possible, probable, proper, real, reasonable, rules, useful, usual, and so on.
Humor is largely based on things we cannot understand, on contradiction, on nonsense, on meaninglessness, on illusion, on things being what they are not, and not being what they are. It is as if things which happen are so strange that we cannot even understand them, and so we react by laughing. We expect one thing to happen and the unexpected happens instead. We water our flowers and they turn into birds. But we told you about that world.
Here are some techniques for creating humor. First create some of the types of jokes just given during the soup-break. The types must be discussed further. But, as a start, we may try creating metaphors. A basic form is, "A is B," such as, "You (A) are a fish out of water (B). We may combine any two unlike things to create both humor and metaphor. Some examples are: Logic is male. Women are homologous males. Space is a box with no top, bottom, or sides. Fish are the fruit of the sea. A straight line is a flattened circle. Jealousy is chemical. But there are forms of metaphor other than "A is B." We can have ArB where "r" is some relation: A causes B, A on B, A and B, A in B, A with B, A of B, A or B, A to B, and so on. That is, we can replace "is" in "A is B," with any verb or other relation word. We can say: Worlds grow on trees. Once below a time. Algebra of emotions; '"Tis deepest winter in Lord Timon's purse." (Shakespeare Timon of Athens 3.4.14) Or, we can just describe a word with an adjective or adverb: Sticky world. An inappropriate man. Sincere snow. Dog-dayed night. In creating this type of humor, all we need to do is to combine unlike things. This is exactly what poets and comedians do. The combination, or metaphor seems at first to be nonsense, but upon reflection we may find that there may be some sense in which it is true. If we say, "You are a green weed," it is false. But, on the other hand, if we are new at a job we are still a bit "green," a young plant. "You are a green weed." Metaphors are humorous because what appears to be nonsense turns out to make sense. Our weeds turn into flowers, our humor into insight.
The types of metaphor are also the types of humor. Each type of humor already given is also a type of metaphor. For example, virtually all deviations are metaphors. Both metaphor and humor can be attempts to try to find connections where none seem to exist. Both seem to be mistakes or puzzles. Now we know what kinds of things to make our flowers full-bodied. We feed them figures. In this way, we can make our garden grow into anything we wish. Here are some examples of metaphor humor: Young children are all metaphors. Pure mathematical research is creating a coat with three sleeves. Fur-lined cup. The German word for "cotton" Baumwolle means "tree wool." Oil is the life blood of Arabia. Sleep is a vacation from life. Saliva is the Cadillac of the digestive system. Electricity is soda bubbling through small straws.
The techniques for creating humor are different for each type presented. Some of the ways to create humor are by: metaphor; making harmless mistakes; exaggerating; pretending to be what we are not; deviating; making false statements; taking the wrong meaning of a word or sentence which has several meanings; saying the reverse of what we mean; mimicking or imitating someone; false analogy; treating or regarding people as animals, things, or ideas; treating things or ideas as animals or people; illusions, or hypocrisy; giving unexpected, or surprise solutions; relating the valuable to the valueless or trivial (called "sinking"); underestimating or understating things; saying irrelevant things; saying or doing things which do not make sense (create nonsense); being especially honest when it is not expected; misclassifying; combining things of different types; calling (false) names; asserting what is obvious; tricking; deceiving; performing a practical joke; being illogical; being irrational; acting or speaking differently than other people do.
Now, look at what we have-a garden of mistakes. But it's just what everyone needs. We need to know the kinds of humor we make, in order to know the kinds of mistakes we can and do make. We often say things that we think are true, but which are in fact false. Our task, then, is to show that much of what we think is true, is really nonsense. It is for this reason that the philosopher, Wittgenstein (1968:133, #464) said, "My aim is to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense." This is teaching through humor.
Now, remember that the "fly in the soup" jokes were for fun during a rest period. We may also use humor to do work, to gain knowledge, to find out how we think, and to critique thinking. We find Shakespeare saying, "What your wisdom could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light" (Much Ado About Nothing 5.01.233) and "Jesters do often prove prophets." (King Lear 5.03.71) We can learn a lot in our laughing-place. It is now time to weed our garden. Let's take the topic of "mind" and see what humor can tell us about it. But look out! If we follow this carefully we may find that we will "lose our minds." Would one want that to happen? It might happen anyway. For this is humor all right, but as will be seen, it is no joke. As with other critical philosophy, we will never be able to think as we did before.
D. Humor used to give us Knowledge and Insight: An analysis of mind
. An analysis of "mind" is given to illustrate. Here is the question. It already seems like a riddle or game to play: Do we have minds? The answer was perhaps easy. The reader may have already said, "Of course I do!" or "Sure, I'm not a fool, you know," or even, "What kind of an odd question is that?" Few have ever been asked that question before.
Already, humor is created because we ask a strange question. This is deviation-from-the-usual humor. If one thinks the answer is obvious, then it is asking the obvious, or "obvious humor." Here is the next "obvious" question: How do we know we have a mind? What is the answer? In one story the servant described the weather, but by mistake he had put his head inside the cupboard, instead of out of the window. In describing the weather he then said, "Soot black and smells of cheese." This is mistake humor. It is not the usual way we describe weather. Is mind like that? Do we stick our heads in to see the mind? Is the mind a sooty, dark, place? Is it like sticking one's head in a closet? Is it like sticking one's head out of a window to observe the weather of the mind? Does the mind smell like cheese? These questions are based on "simile or false analogy humor." A simile is where one says, "X is like Y." "Mind is like cheese," is a simile joke. Mind is like the moon in poetry.
So far, we have reduced the idea of mind to absurdity. This is "reduction to absurdity humor." "Weather" is a metaphor in "weather of the mind." Well, now we have played around a bit. Let's get serious. How do we know we have a mind? What is the mind like? Is it a thing? Do we ever see it? Do we ever touch it? Does it feel like jello? Is it a thin fluid? Ah, but perhaps we can smell it? Do you smell your mind when it rains? "No, that's my hair I smell." It is category-mistake humor when I mistake my hair for my mind. But if we can't see, feel, smell, or touch the mind, how do we know we have one? Suppose we say, "But I've always been told I have a mind." No good. That is illogical, indoctrination, or false authority humor. Just because someone tells us we have a mind, does not mean that we do. An "authority" may next tell us we have an invisible elf in our heads. Would we believe that too? It is not enough to have even nearly all of the contemporary literature telling us something, as it does in the case of mind. We have to know the arguments ourselves. How do we, in fact, know that there is such a thing as a mind? It would be a joke for one to say we have a mind because: "That's what I was taught to say," or "My friends think I have a mind, and that's good enough for me."
But, no matter how common or familiar the idea of mind is, we still do not have evidence that we have a mind. We can't see, smell, taste, or touch mind. But we want so much for the harmless-seeming, little word "mind" to name a thing of some kind, that we say, "It must name some invisible thing inside our heads." "It's there, you just can't see it." This won't do. Let's just use reduce-to-absurdity humor on this. If mind is invisible, how do we know it is? Can we see that it is invisible? This is contradiction humor. We can't see what is invisible. If we could see invisible ghosts it would not be proof, because they are invisible. Now, if mind is invisible where is it? Invisible things do not have visible boundaries. Is the mind in the head, or the shoulder? It's invisible so we don't know. Perhaps the mind follows a few feet behind us as we walk? Is the mind in our feet? Is it in our pockets? "Reach in your pocket and let me have a look at your mind." "Sorry, I put it in my lunch box." "Oh, I lost my mind." "Maybe your mind is in with your peanut butter sandwiches." "Be careful you don't eat it." "I wonder what it tastes like?" We do not hear conversations like this, but we should!
We have begun to reduce the idea of mind to absurdity. If mind were spiritual, or like an invisible ghost, we would not know if it is "in" our head, or "in" the wastebasket. But if it has no boundaries, mind can't be in a head, in a wastebasket, or in anything at all, though even academic books typically speak of the mind as being in our heads. And some metaphysical philosophers are still mentalists today. It has no place, and so cannot be "in" anything. We can't even throw it away. We cannot ask, "Where is it?" It is "category-mistake humor" to ask, "Where?" when where does not apply. And if mind has no place, then it makes no sense to say that we "have" or "possess" one. We are not possessed. It doesn't make sense to say, "I have a mind, but I don't have it anywhere." That is a misuse of language, and leads to humor.
Why is it so difficult to answer the question, "Do you have a mind?" It's because we assume that we must have one. Now, what we find is: There is no mind. It is humorous to say this, because it is the opposite of what we have always been told. We do not have evidence or proof that we have a mind. Even though we have been told all of our lives that we have one, that is not evidence. We are so familiar with the idea of mind that even scientists usually wrongly assume that we have one. This false belief, then, allows us to create insight jokes about mind. Remember what Wittgenstein said earlier: "My aim is to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense." That is what we are doing here. We are trying to show that our belief in mind is disguised nonsense, and reduces to "obvious humor," that is, "insight humor."
Several philosophers have critically written about mind: Mind is "a ghost in the machine." (G. Ryle 1949:15) "The phrase 'in the mind' can and should always be dispensed with." (ibid. 40) "Mental processes just are queer" (Seelische Vorgänge sind eben merkwürdig.) Wittgenstein 1968:114, #363) The mistaken use is only the one where "mind" is treated as a thing, or entity, inside of us. It is a naming fallacy to think that all words must name things. Does "When?" name a thing? Does "running" name a thing? So we can make a name-calling, or naming fallacy joke out of this as follows: Q. What's on your mind? A. Some dust. This mistakenly treats mind as a thing. It also is "ambiguity humor," or "pun," because "on your mind" has a double meaning. The above answer took the wrong meaning. It took "on your mind" literally. This is taking things literally humor, also. There are many jokes like that, for example: "He stood on his head." "Wasn't there any other place to stand?"
One problem with "mind" is that we often do not realize we are taking the word literally, or in the wrong sense. But not all uses of the word "mind" are disguised or hidden jokes. We know what is meant by the following: "Mind the store," means, "Take care of the store." "Mind your manners," means "Behave," or "Obey good rules of behavior." "He has a good mind," means "He thinks well." These uses are all right. If "mind" refers to thinking (as self-talk or language use), and not a thing separate from thinking, then there is no problem. But it is a category-mistake joke to say, "Because I know what is meant by 'Mind the store,' I therefore have a mind." We erroneously think that because some uses of mind are acceptable, all uses of mind are acceptable. It is no good to say, "Well, I and my friends use the word "mind" all the time and we know what we mean. That is a category-mistake. It is dogmatic. Some uses of "mind" are acceptable, some are not.
People often say: "I think with my mind," or "I have ideas in my mind." These two sentences show that they think that mind is separate from thinking. They think there are two things here: 1) thinking, and 2) mind. So, by "mind," they cannot mean just "thinking." They think that mind is a thing other than thinking. And they think that mind is separate from the brain. The conclusion is that people do misuse the word "mind," and they do talk as if it were a mystical thing. Such talk is like a fairy tale, the "fairy machinery of the mind." (cf. Gilbert Ryle 1949)
To talk about mind seriously is like telling jokes or taking fairy tales seriously. If all we mean by "mind" is "thinking," then there is no mind, just thinking. We have one thing (mind) not two things (thinking and mind). To say we have no mind does not mean we do not think. One reason why some people think they have a mind is because they sometimes let "mind" mean "thinking." Because they know they think, they erroneously think they have a mind. We do not need a mind in order to think. It is not like, "I need a knife in order to spread the butter," therefore "I need a mind in order to think." That is a false analogy or simile joke. Some people do humorously and metaphorically say, "I think with my hands." We do not need mind to think with. We do not know what it is, so it not only lacks explanatory value, there could never be such a "thing" in the future.
Suppose we walk across a room first with a mind, then without one. Could we? What would it be like to do it without a mind? Would we be lighter? What would it be like to walk across a room with a mind? Is it like walking across a room with a hat? If there were no mind, it would not make any difference. The pragmatists say that mind does not do anything. In short, mind bakes no bread. We want to say, "Well, something must have caused me to think." Yes, we can say that. But what or who caused us to think? To be honest, we can admit that we do not yet know what causes us to think, or how chemical processes become thought. Thus, we cannot say that mind causes us to think. Mind is "false cause humor." One way of solving some problems is to show that the question does not make sense. (A form of reversal humor.) If we do not know what a question means, then we cannot very well answer it.
The following question is just such a meaningless question. It is a trick question, or joke riddle, which some people erroneously take to be a genuine question. The meaningless question is: Do we have a mind? It is meaningless because we do not know what the word "mind" means. Also we don't know what it would mean or be like, to have one. It is like asking: Do we have a quink? Well, do we? Now, actually, we must correct ourselves. We cannot say there is no mind, because we do not know what mind is. Bertrand Russell once suggested that we replace in our arguments, familiar and value laden terms with neutral symbols, or even new or nonsense terms (cf. substitution humor). So instead of speaking about "mind" we can speak about a "quink," we can say neither that a "quink" does, nor that it does not, exist. We can only say that they are nonsense terms, or terms which do not make sense: "Mind" is such a nonsense term, yet one we take literally, thus creating "metaphor-to-myth humor" and "taking-things-literally humor." Nevertheless, people will still believe all of their lives that they have a mind-and many other such things as well. (cf. tragicomedy)
We now know some of the insight humor arguments about mind. By means of insight humor we have a powerful critical tool which has exposed a concept which is still believed in by the majority of scholars and the average person as well. They are captivated by a paradigm. The following jokes may help us to understand these arguments better
E. Mind Jokes by Type: How to Joke Yourself Out of Your Mind:
Culture and society mould one's mind. But who wants a mouldy mind?
Circularity Humor (Seeming to say something new, but instead repeating oneself in different words.)
We know we have a mind because we have mental processes. (But "mental" means the same thing as "mind," and so there is no argument at all.) It is like saying "Mind is mind." "I have a mind. I should know-I have it don't I?" (This, also, is no argument, but a repetition of the question. Repetition does not advance arguments.)
Examples: Mental patients do not have minds. It seems like a contradiction, but no one has a mind, so it is true. The "unconscious mind" is defined as that which we cannot know. So how do we know we have an "unconscious" mind? "It [truth] cannot be attained by mind; It is not to be sought after through mindlessness." (Japanese haiku; Blyth 1965, I: 21)
Irony Humor (Saying the reverse of what we mean; or the opposite of what we expect, happens.)
Mindlessness. We think this is absurd, but it turns out to be the case. That is, no one has a mind and so all are mindless.
Metaphor Humor (Combine unlike terms or words from different contexts.)
Examples: Cobwebs of the mind. Dirty mind. Clean mind. Pure mind. He or she has the mind of a snail. (Here this can mean that one thinks slowly, or that one literally has a snail-mind-thing in one's head.)
Ryle (1949:18) speaks of people believing that the mind is a "ghost mysteriously ensconced in a machine," thus exposing personification and depersonalization. He speaks of "The dogma of the 'ghost' in the machine" (15).
Reduction to Absurdity Humor
How many minds do we have? Three? Ten? Some think that people need to have mind so that they will be superior to animals. If so, why not be superior to everyone else as well and have 100 minds? We would not be superior to animals anyway, because some of them can see, and smell better, and have abilities we do not have. Are there fly minds, bird minds? If we need a mind in order to cause us to think, do we need a mind to cause our mind to think? Maybe we are all part of one big mind. Is this a deep thought? The mind is blue with green spots. If I move, I must have a mind. Then, if a fly-eating plant moves, it must have a mind. What do stones think as they tumble down the hill? Do rocking chairs have minds? Do they think of rocks? "I have a mind." Treat this statement as if made by a "mental" patient. (If there is no mind one cannot be a mental patient.) Ask, "When did you first notice that you have a mind?" "Does this vision come to you often?" If we do not know that ants have minds, what makes us think humans have minds? Is your mind in your teeth? Are there teeth in your mind? He has a fat mind. Is your mind in your foot? Does your mind belong to you or is it borrowed? Toothless mind. The kind of statements a "mental" patient might make about mind look very much like the kinds of statement the average person (and even established "scholars") make about it.
Reversal Humor (Turn a situation, belief, or sentence around.)
"Only fools have minds," because there aren't any minds. You can have a thought without a mind, but you cannot have a mind with, or without, a thought.
Simile Humor (False Analogy or False Likenesses)
"My mind is made up," is not like "My bed is made up." "I lost my mind," is not like "I lost my hat." "My mind is in my head," is not like "My money is in my pocket." "I have ideas in my mind," is not like "I store boxes in my warehouse." "He is out of his mind," is not like "He is out of his house." "I read books," is not like "I read minds." "I think with my mind," is not like "I type with my fingers." "Mental process," is not like "Cooking process." "Mind is a thing," is not like "A brain is a thing." "I think with my mind," is not like "I write with my pencil." "Ideas in a mind," is not like "Eggs in a basket." This is the "container theory of mind" according to which mind is thought of as a container or bucket which holds ideas. There is no evidence for, or proof of, there being such a container. "What's on your mind?" is not like "What's on the stove?" It is as if a salesperson came around and talked everyone into wanting a mind. We each bought one. "There is no place to seek the mind; It is like the footprints of the birds in the sky." (Oriental poem)
Taking Things Literally Humor
We take false statements as if they were true, or we take metaphors literally. It is like ambiguity and pun where a word has two different meanings and we take the wrong meaning. Examples: Distorted mind. Warped mind. Disturbed mind. "I have ideas in my mind," or "I have a mind." This is now an example of a joke, but before the arguments about mind were given, it would have been a common and true statement. In fact, so captivated are some that they are irritated or angry about these jokes because the latter challenge their most basic lifelong belief systems. Humor also opens the door for the examination of one's other beliefs as well. In the end, the traditional critical arguments in the history of philosophy can be absorbed so that our whole belief system becomes fundamentally changed. We will not recognize ourselves. Nor would we want to. What we want is ideas which change our lives, and insight humor allows us to obtain them. Such radical change is often painful, but humor can ease the blow. So here we have again reduced disguised nonsense to obvious nonsense. We have shown that what we take as true or literal, is only a false simile, metaphor, or joke.
In conclusion, we have seen what can happen in the laughing-place. When we are there we can laugh so hard we even "lose our minds." And now we see that we have no common-a-garden mind. We have begun to weed our garden. Do we feel better now with what we have accomplished? Are we the same people we were before? Is mind itself just a laughing place?
Return to Table of Contents
or continue to Chapter II.