Copyleft : Bernard CHAMPION

1 Éléments d'Anthropologie du Droit
Avant-propos : Philippe LABURTHE-TOLRA Doyen honoraire à la Sorbonne
Préface :
Norbert ROULAND Membre de l'Institut Universitaire de France

présentation avant-propos préface introduction plan
index analytique références table illustrations
1- Le souverain juge
2- “Pourquoi le sang de la circoncision...”
3- Dessin du dessein
4- “Authentique ! sans papier !”
5- L’“Âme du Mil”
6- “Il faut se battre pour la constitution...”
7- Rire et démocratie
8- Sur l’innovation
9- La “culture des analgésiques” et l’individualisme
10- Du “mariage arrangé” à l’“amour-passion”
11- Du mythe au roman, de la Patrie à la Filisterie
12 - La chimie du rire : 3
13- Quelques données sur la prohibition de l’inceste
14- Morale et handicap
15- Le juge, de quel droit ?
16- Droit au sol et mythes d'autochtonie
17- Habiter, cohabiter : sur l’exemplarité
18- Le territoire de la langue : les deux natures
19- Enquête sur la forme humaine : 1
20- Enquête sur la forme humaine : 2
21- Enquête sur la forme humaine : 3
22- Quelques exercices de Travaux Pratiques
présentation : unité de l’homme et diversité des cultures

version française:

IV - 12.3 Laughter compared to emotional states caused by a surprise

“The opposite of the laughter is not the seriousness, it is the reality”
(G.W.H. Hegel)

Laughter is the result of a non-analytical global perception of a gelogene situation: One laughs before even knowing the reason why. (This perception is supposed to concern the “right brain”: vide infra, chapter 18 – or at least a short channel).
Laughter constitutes a reflex response to a rupture (It activates the neurological circuits which can function independently from the self-willed brain: in comparison with a calculated response, a reflex has the double advantage of both speed and autonomy.
Laughter is an emotional response to a surprise. (This response is preceded by the communication set between the personality area, located in the frontal cortex and the “emotional” brain, in other words the hypothalamus.)

Taking these three basic facts into consideration justifies
an elementary approach to laughter.

• Starting with the most elementary knowledge, we can note that laughter is the most violent and the most ordinary of the emotional disturbances.

“Chacun void bien, développe Joubert (op. cit. p. 42) que pour le Ris, soudain le visage est ému, la bouche s'élargit, les yeux étincellent et pleurent, les joues rougissent, la poitrine est secousse, la vois antrerompue ; et quand il se déborde continué long-tams, les veines du cou s'anflent, les bras tramblent, et les jambes trepignent, le ventre se retire et sant grand douleur ; on roussit, on sue, on pisse, on fiante à force de rire et quelquefois on en evanouït.”
• All the more enormous and irrepressible in an inappropriate context, as cited by Bernard de Clairvaux: :
“Ce moine qui a rempli son cœur de pensées vaines et bouffonnes et dont le vent de la vanité ne peut, en raison de la discipline du silence, se répandre pleinement, est secoué d’éclats de rire jaillissant par les détroits de sa gorge. De honte, il cache souvent son visage, serre les dents, mais malgré lui, il rit, et contraint, pouffe de rire. Et quand de ses poings il obstrue sa bouche, on l’entend éternuer par les narines.” (“Tractatus de gradibus humilitatis et superbiae”, Patrologie latine, t. 182, col. 964)
• or Cervantès :
“Don Quichotte se mit aussitôt à regarder Sancho et vit qu'il avait les joues enflées et en apparence tout prêt d’éclater de rire ; et comme Sancho vit que son maître avait commencé, il lâcha la bonde de telle façon qu'il fut contraint de se serrer les flancs avec ses deux poings pour ne pas crever. Il se calma par quatre fois et autant de fois recommença sa risée, avec la même impétuosité que la première [...]” (Don Quichotte)

An autonomous nervous system controls the expression of emotions, ensuring also the automatic regulation of numerous bodily functions. By its operations it puts two antagonistic sub-systems in play: the symphatic and the parasymphatic, the “accelerator” and the “brake”. (The autonomous nervous system is thus essentially a subject of instability and imbalance.) The first essentially controls the system of action. It specially aims at mobilizing the body in a dangerous situation. It increases the production of adrenaline, accelerates the cardiac rhythm, weakens the digestive peristalsis and reduces the peptic secretions. It makes hair stand on end. (The sympathicotonic has enlarged pupils and a dry mouth; he is over-excited with high blood-pressure and suffers from stomach ulcers….). On the contrary, the second has a function of sedation and relaxation.

Let us consider the classic example of the chain reaction in the body when facing a sudden physical threat. From a signal guard, an alert (an electrical nerve impulse) is launched in the emotional area. The hypothalamus sends a chemical message to the hypophysis which then increases its production of corticotrope. Carried by the blood, the hormone in question stimulates the surrenal secretion. The adaptation is immediate and spectacular. The system of aggression-defense is put “under pressure”. The implicated organs are irrigated first and foremost. Breathing becomes stronger and deeper. The heart starts to beat more quickly and more powerfully. The muscles tighten up. The vessels irrigating the digestive system and the skin contract, the person grows pale and his digestion stops. In the case of an injury, the bleeding is moderate, the inflammation limited, the coagulation quickens and the pain stays weak. After a violent motorbike fall, a man recounts that whilst he was standing up and taking off his jacket, he realized that his arm had been ripped off without experiencing local pain proportional to such a trauma. The liver releases its sugar reserves to feed the muscles. Sweating increases in order to facilitate better ventilation. This is necessary to assure the general homothermia during this greater combustion of energy.

This example was not chosen by accident, as the same circumstances provoking laughter also cause surprise – which is resolved not by aggression or by escape, but by an enjoyable violent feeling shaking the body of the disconcerted. As a response to the “danger” message, laughter is reflex and organic. It is inherent in tense situations, conflicts that can suddenly be smoothened over with a laugh, all the more healing or sincere since we came within a hair’s breadth of a drama. This alternative corresponds to the two solutions of the same problem, and possibly to the two responses of the same neuropsychological information. But laughter stays a (subjective) emotion before becoming an (objective) action. Even though the psychological and the sociological analysis can show evidence of the aggressive function of laughter – we will come back to that- it is this humorous aspect, rather this endocrine related aspect we should first take into account. Laughter seems thus like a sudden solution to a harmless crisis (to remind us of Aristotle’s definition). It is the continuation of an alert which is not a false one, but with which it copes and finally puts a stop to, not by external and objective means but rather by internal and subjective ones, by the means of “reassurance”, of endocrine reassurance.

It is banal to state that laughter develops the opposite effects to those of fear. Let us have a look in any case. In a library a person (vide supra) stands up from his chair, gets his feet caught in the chair next to him, and nearly breaks his neck. The silly astonishment can be read on his face, and then, almost at once, he bursts out laughing: relaxing. He escaped “by the skin of his teeth”. If we observed a slow motion film of his gestures when bursting out laughing, the images would possibly reveal a face of a frightened man, or at least astonished and stupefied, maybe discovering the way the ancient Greeks expressed the “no”: “ananeuô”. (Lysistrata: 126; the fake Persian ambassador, the “Acharniens” : 113 s. gave themselves away by their Greek manner of saying “no”, a manner that can still be observed today – Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1976: 35 – for the French translation of Der Vorprogrammierte Mensch) by raising an eyebrow, throwing the head back and raising the chin, verifying the exclamation that can sometimes be heard at the sight of a comical appearance: “No! It’s not true!” In order to re-establish the equilibrium, at once this sudden mobilization immediately turns out to be efficient: laughter.

Similar to the biological alert, whose scenario and plan we have just been reminded of, laughter, as the violent shaking of the aggressed or disconcerted person which similarly prevents him from shaking the assailant or the interlocutor, distinguishes itself by the increasing consumption of neuroregulating substances, in other words the hormones launching the alarm. This noisy and brutal relief can be seen as a destruction of the useless sustenances: firing blank rounds on a fantasy of relief or on a victory without a combat. Whereas the alarming stress is mainly expressed by the increase of the respiratory volume, multiplying the energy combustion, in this case it is exhalation that controls the respiratory process: An abrupt and violent expulsion of the inhaled air produces the vocalisations “ah ah ah”, which amounts to laughter. Laughter is said to circulate a good mood in the body, chasing out the waste from the vital combustion and re-establishing an equilibrium by absorbing the toxins of stress. Whereas an alarm accelerates cardiac rhythm, provoking vascular and muscular contractions, this respiratory spasm as laughter relaxes the muscles (most notably the masticators – masseters – and sometimes the sphincters), dilates the blood vessels and soothes the heart.

When comparing laughter to emotional states caused by surprise, we necessarily have to take into account the specific function of the amygdala, the almond-formed cerebral lobule situated next to the hippocampus, which is specialized in the ability to feel and to discern emotions such as fear. (A surgical stimulus of the amygdala creates a confusing feeling of immediate danger and fear ; the victims of cerebral vascular accidents that affect this structure do not recognize the facial emotions of fear). The amygdala, that seems to be in charge of the “vital questions” (danger, nourishment, reproduction, primary intraspecific communication) is connected to other cerebral structures : the hippocampus, the sensory thalamus, the hypothalamus, the septum, the cerebral trunk, the sensory cortex and the prefrontal cortex.

The different operative ways of this “wiring” reveal the amygdala’s role of directing the vital urgencies. Information from an external stimulus can reach the amygdala by two different ways: either by the short and quick yet hazy way, coming directly from the sensory thalamus, or by a longer one, which is slower but more precise and detailed, passing by the cortex. The evolutionary advantage of the shorter way is obviously based on caution, in order to prepare the body to face a danger before any analysis (thalamic, then cortical) of the stimulus in question.

But this homeostatic description (alleviation of a panic attack by laughter) overlooks an important point. Laughter not only responds to the relief of evasion, to the (finally) happy exit from trouble, to the elimination reflex, to the fading danger or to the strengthening substances. Darwin (1877:214) emphasizes the correlation between fear and laughter: after quoting Spencer (1863:114) in relation to the release (relaxation) of laughter, he reports of an observation during the siege of Paris: “when the German soldiers had been deeply overwhelmed by the very perilous situation from where they just got away, they all were particularly inclined to break into noisy bursts of laughter for the most insignificant jokes”. We could say it is the fear that makes us laugh. After. Even if the mobilisation provoked by fear had the tendency to get released on the most trivial pretext (objectively hardly funny), the field of laughable is specific, even in this case. Like some clumsiness for example. This vain and playful jubilation (cette “liesse vaine et follatre”)(Joubert:87) is a return to the normal which seizes a disorder to get to know and reassert the order again. Comfort and reinsurance. Laughter has an easing effect without a doubt, but it will be useful to mention how this mechanism originates from the danger impulse. One of the remarkable characteristics of these warning hormones synthesized by the alerted brain is to release the production of endorphins, the natural morphines which react against pain. This discharge of cerebral opium has an effect on the subject we are concerned with. There exists a well-known feature of anaesthesia which allows us to establish a relationship between the physiology and the psychology of laughter.

Continuous physical effort results in over-activity of neurons with noradrenalin. The body adapts by producing endogenous opioids (endorphins, enkephalins and dynorphin, molecules that regulate the vital functions such as the perceptions of pain, of hunger, of thirst, of the immune system) which attach to the three types of receptors which are widely distributed in the brain : fatigue gives way to the euphoric feeling.
A double succession can explain the relationship between inhibition and euphoria. Activation of these receptors provoke the opening of the sodium channels (lowering the threshold of excitability of neurones) and reduce the production of GABA, the molecule which modulates (and moderates) the transmission of dopamine.
The body, by ”throwing in the towel,” by “giving vigilance free rein” and by neutralising the adaptive regulation of anaesthesia, increases (in a similar way to endorphins and the cerebral opïodes) the production of dopamine and consequently the feeling of pleasure.

The word “hilarious” first appeared in the dictionary in 1905 to characterize a chemical component, nitrous oxide. We can find the following citation in “Littré” (s.v. Hilarious), an extract from Pelouze and Frémy’s the Abrégé de Chimie: “Nitrous oxide is abnormal to respiration; once introduced in the respiratory organs, it produces a sort of drunkenness, which gave it its name, laughing gas”. Laughing gas became a fairground attraction. On the other and less amusing side, nitrous oxide revealed analgesic qualities which gave rise to modern surgery: general anaesthesia relies on this particular gas. MEOPA is nowadays used in paediatrics (N
2 O2).

What is the relationship between “killing the pain” and “laughter”? The hypothesis developed here precisely consists of supposing that this functional proximity of anaesthesia and laughter, “chemically proven” by the effects of the nitrous oxide, could lead us to understand laughter. In fact, whether the reason be purely material (laughing gas, alcohol, cerebral intoxication : sardic laughter for example ; cerebral atrophy or degeneration of neuro-transmitting chemistry: gelastic epilepsy, Pick’s disease… where the person is incapable of taking anything seriously ; tickling) or purely intellectual (a sudden rupture of the gnostic continuity), laughter could be analysed as a reflex of suspending the communication between the “realistic brain” and the “emotional brain”, allowing to sustain and to bring forth the denial of surprise (without a danger) which consists of:

- the contradiction (“What’s the matter Polos? Are you laughing? Is this another form of refutation, only to laugh when someone says something, rather than to point out the mistake?” –Platon, Gorgias, 443 e) ;
- the absurdity or the unlikelihood : to laugh about nonsense
- the discordance or the incongruity : a mister in a tail coat wearing a hat is also in… underpants.
- the difference, it is the so-called “ethnic joke”
- the hype
raesthesia-surprise of tickling
Laughter sanctions the bad adaptation or the insufficiency of a response to a given situation, at once correcting it (if it is me who provides an insufficient response, I laugh at myself, but more often it is the other who makes us laugh…), at least subjectively. There is something magical about laughter which cancels out or which allows us to adapt to the contradiction and to the annoyance. This magic is neurochemical.

To be awake in a so-called state of vigilance, to have a sufficient response and to be adapted supposes the activity of the sense organs. These allow us to direct ourselves in the environment and notably to avoid painful sensations. Anaesthesia numbs our ability to feel, producing a euphoric feeling along the lines of the process summarized above, when the diverse molecules which lower the threshold of excitability of neurones increase dopamine production and the feeling of well-being.

This "model", a neuro-chemical process could give us the lead in understanding the different forms of laughter. These forms manifest the diverse modalities of insensibility, in other words, disconnection with the reality. The word “insensitivity” naturally has a physical meaning, but also a moral one. It denotes indifference, coldness, harshness and qualifies the refusal of natural empathy, which the presence of other people usually evokes. It is up to man to make us laugh, not things. When objects and animals provoke laughter, it is because they are anthropomorphs. In reality this remark defines the stake of laughter and enables us to see how laughter constitutes the most cursory manner of marking the error – as well as distinguishing oneself from the error. Errare humanum to err is human…, we say (as we also say about laughter) and we often laugh at our own mistakes (when they stay minor, for example when I put my right foot in the left shoe). In fact, it is error that specifies man. As denaturised animals, we have lost our instinctive capacities. We have to be “taught”, to correct the mistake: …perseverare diabolicum. If the truth can and has to be told, laughter, as the enjoyable sanction of error, could be analysed as a means and as a characteristic of learning (vide infra). The pleasure to laugh about something, confirms the things I see in their impossibility (or in what I do) and allows me to cancel out the error, the absurdity or the difference. This error, awkwardness, blunder, inappropriate response… does not affect the truth, my truth. In reality, when I laugh, this error affects me only on an emotional level (instead of a rational one): laughter is this magic slate which erases the incongruity of a jolt in the diaphragm (the ah! ah! ah! sounds of the spasmodic shrugging of the shoulders and of endocrine release).

Demonstration leaflet for laughing gas,
1844, New-England, twenty-five
an inhalation.
Prospectus pour une démonstration de gaz hilarant,
1844, Nouvelle-Angleterre, vint-cinq cents l’inhalation.
(La publicité qui suit ne correspond pas strictement au texte qui a été traduit infra, émanant d’une autre source bibliographique : Moody, 1978.
Le dessin qui agrémente cette réclame, repris de la caricature reproduite infra, est quelque peu contradictoire avec son contenu.)

“Une grande démonstration des effets produits par l’inhalation de Protoxyde d’Azote, ou Gaz Hilarant ! sera donnée à l’Union Hall ce (Mardi) Soir, 10 décembre 1844.
Trente gallons de gaz seront préparés et administrés à ceux qui, dans l’auditoire, désireront en inhaler.
Pour commencer le spectacle, le Gaz sera inhalé par douze jeunes gens qui se sont portés volontaires.
Huit costauds ont été engagés et se tiendront au premier rang afin d’éviter que, sous l’influence du gaz, personne ne se blesse ou blesse quelqu’un d’autre. L’adoption de cette mesure vise uniquement à écarter toute appréhension de danger. Il est probable que personne ne cherchera à se battre.
Le Gaz agit sur ceux qui l’inhalent en fonction du trait dominant de leur caractère. Il les fait soir Rire, Danser, Parler ou se Battre, et ainsi de suite. Ils semblent conserver assez de lucidité pour ne pas dire ou faire des choses qu’ils auraient l’occasion de regretter.
N.B. Le Gaz ne sera administré qu’à des hommes d’une parfaite honorabilité. Ceci afin que le spectacle reste, à tous égards, dans les limites du bon ton. ”

This drawing without caption from Cork (taken from Zeitgenossen karikieren Zeitgenossen, Rhurfestspeile Recklinghausen 1972:208) could illustrate the “chemistry of laughter”.
However, unlike the benzene molecule depicted by the cartoonist, which brings about the spatial symbolisation of laughter by symmetry – permitting outbursts of laughter – the exact representation (N2O instead of C6H6) is less photogenic.

A carrier parallel to the fairground attraction

The first surgical operation under anaesthesia was done on animal, in 1824, by inhaling carbonic gas. Nitrous oxide (N2O) obtained by the combustion of ammonium nitrate was abstracted in 1772 by the philosopher Joseph Priestley, pastor, theologian and chemist who, being a butt for the persecution by the authorities for his socinianist beliefs and by the common people for the fiendish odours that his retorts spread around his house, emigrated to New-England. The anaesthetic and the inebriating qualities of this gas were noted in 1799 by Davy ; the first clinical application was carried out by the American dentist Wells in 1846 (who was a guinea pig for his own experiments, his reason gave away).

A nitrous oxide gas holder of the Buffalo dental manufacturing
Le gazomètre à protoxyde d'azote de la Buffalo dental manufacturing C°

-Decomposition of nitrous oxide by heat: NH4NO3 = N2O + H2O.
- Decomposition of the
equimolar mixture of sodium sulphate and sodium nitrate in 240°
- Reducing nitric acid or nitrates

Nitrous oxide has recently hit the news in a criminal case: the death of Mrs Nicole B. “on the operating table” after anaesthesia in the Poitiers Hospital, on the 10th October 1984. How could a young patient without any previous cardiac history, nor other contra-indication to anaesthesia, not have been brought round after a narcosis whose first phase passed without complication? On the contrary, how could she suddenly have shown signs of cyanosis when she had been (it was believed) administrated higher and higher doses of oxygen and when her lungs were regularly ventilated? It is (very likely) that a criminal hand could have inverted the pipes that respectively lead the oxygen and the nitrous oxide to the respirators and which were marked by different-coloured rings. It thus seems that the anaesthetist responsible for the resuscitation suffocated his patient by giving him high doses of nitrous oxide believing it to be oxygen.

Le Monde du 16 février 1988
(in the cartoon: I assure you, inverting the pipes does not change a thing!
François Mitterrand, Marianne, Raymond Barre, Jacques Chirac)

Anaesthetic inebriation, the sensory brain’s disconnection with the emotional brain, would thus not only draw attention to the material and exogenous cause of laughter, but would equally reveal its function. (Moreover, in a way that it would not be necessary to presume the existence of a specific laughter-hormone, as the professor of medicine at the University of François Rabelais de Tours did, which he called “rabelaisine”, as if this was a simple consequence of an adaptive and circumstantial disjonction with the primary aim of preparing the body to cope with pain). In this positive perspective, we could understand laughter, the “repressed energy which suddenly frees itself” according to the definition of Raymond Devos, which relaxes vital tension (and in ordinary manner symbolizes the action of “relaxation”), not only as a homeostatic correction resulting form a natural absorption of the cerebral analgesics produced in a dangerous situation, but, starting from its effects, in its objective function of adapting to reality. The expulsive spasm, the explosion which characterizes laughter – Novalis noted the analogy of laughter and electric sparks – how it burns the toxins of stress and re-establishes the neuro-vegetative equilibrium by the parasympathetic – as sedative, temporising, antalgic, anaesthetic – correction, to the detriment of sympathetic which is in charge of action.

The original signification of laughter is revealed in its paradoxical but necessary function of adapting to reality and in its role in learning, as suggested by ontogenesis and phylogenesis. The play of laughter an adult undertakes with a small child is clearly a function of his ability to respond, of the maturation of his neurosensory and expressive equipment. First of all, allowing the child to find his corporal entity
(“la petite bête qui monte…”), this interaction becomes more complex from the sixth month onwards by social games where the somatic limits and roles are tested, notably when playing “hide and seek”, emblematic of expectation and of expected surprise and the disappearance and reappearance of the face (cooey!). Systematic observation of the first signs of laughter in a small child (Sroufe and Wunsch 1972; Stroufe and Waters, 1976) from the 12th week on, reveals that laughter sanctions the control over unusual situations, the successful exploration of new things and cognitive reassurance – in a secure and familiar environment with people to whom he is close, or known figures and in a relaxing and playful atmosphere. On the contrary, actually a situation which ends in laughter in this secure context, provokes the tears of the small child if it lasts too long or if the surprise is too powerful. Laughter rewards the mastered fear.

In evolutionary terms, laughter is associated with play in relation to discovery and learning. It is precisely in this environment where ethology managed to establish the likely origin of laughter in primates (Van Hoof, 1972 and 1978). In the animal kingdom playing obviously seems to be a privilege of the young. In the relationship between a mother and her child or between the young ones, the primates regularly use mimics, that we anthropomorphistically would qualify as "grins", which (in Huxley's terms) look like a ritualisation indicating the playful intentions of the proposed interaction to the congener. If the euphoria of laughter, like that of play, equals insensitivity to the reality as it has been described, the signs of this insensitivity – showing the teeth: vide infra – could reveal this point. Such exchange of signs, following the "provocation for laughter" is generally practised by man. At a stop, the young driver of a "bush-taxi" pinches his mate's mango as he was just about to take a bite. By laughing loudly and baring his teeth
he communicates to his friend the playful character of this snatch. To not be put offside or to be blamed for lacking a sense of humour, his friend has no other choice but to laugh in turn. The analytical brain of mammals is also characterized by the open programmes of learning as well as by a rather long neoteinia. It is by imitation and play that a young one assimilates the techniques of nourishment, hunting, defence... and confronts life without a risk (at the sole risk of being corrected by words, by adults watching over his childish games and by the hard law of the reality). Action games generate modifications in the synaptic organisation of the cerebellum and in the distribution of muscular fibres (Byers and Walker, 1995). Chimpanzees, who have been deprived of playing (especially with objects, that is to say non-functional manipulations) turn out to be less competent in handling tools (Byrne, 1995).

Reality is learned by a playful state of mind, a free try of “empty” situations, “for a laugh”, as a training. It’s “just for a laugh”, it’s not “for real”. The spectacle of an inadequate response which makes us laugh, takes us back to our childhood when we knew (nearly) nothing, to this green paradise of childishness, being immersed in an innocence that prepares us to face reality. With this surplus of liveliness, like a kid caping and taking his four hooves off the ground at the same time or a puppy tearing his master’s slippers in rags, a child is indefatigable and incorrigible : a child has to be rebuffed with a little bite or a flick, so that he learns and leaves you alone. He whines a little and starts again five minutes later. According to a Japanese proverb it is as hopeless to hinder children from climbing than to hinder smoke from rising. The natural feature of childish play, associated with a carefree attitude and the joy of living, amazes us even more when we see children play in the streets of Third World
towns, who seem to have… every reason to worry. An original brotherhood can be found in the spirit of play and laughter. Children are programmed to learn and therefore to make mistakes and this probably explains why they have to be “blinded”, protected of the error and insensitive to it. All things being equal. It is indeed obvious to say that a child cries more than an adult, but it is less so to state that he also laughs and plays more. Between the two heuristic rails enabling us to discover the world, an innocent cyclothymia of unwound parts and large sorrows, the world of a child is nothing but play, protected by an adult who comforts and looks after. A carefree and irresponsible state of mind, unawareness and “exhilaration” as well as insensitiveness; all these features of play and childish curiosity are needed to overcome the apprehension of the unknown – to discover. Playing teaches us to handle situations, of which we can make light afterwards. We must repeat, engrave the right response. But in order to do it, one should not beat about the bush. To learn, it is better to stay “in the bubble of the childhood”, away from the reality which obliges and imposes vigilance and seriousness. (The pleasure of laughter, the “euphoria” as noted by Freud in Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewussten, “the mood of our childhood”.) By play and laughter, as the incitement and the first step towards learning, we can observe the change from the passive to the active position: what amuses a little child is, in its turn, activated by him. Moreover, the comedy of a clown is especially aimed at children. A clown is an adult, who does everything wrong and against common sense making children laugh as they themselves know what common sense is. In the dialogue that is usually established between the artist and his public, it is the children who teach this ludicrous and likeable adult who plays the role of a child of the children.

The Tickle Song

There's a terrible big green monster
And he's looking right at me---
a hairy big, scary big, monster I wish I didn't see.

He's getting so much closer,
It's looking pretty bad.
I know...
I'll tickle his nose.
I'll tickle his toes.
I hope it doesn't make him made.

We'll tickle, tickle, tickle, tickle,
Tickle, tickle, tickle, tickle,
Tickle his hairy green face.

We'll tickle, tickle, tickle, tickle,
Tickle, tickle, tickle, tickle,
Tickle him every place.

We'll tickle his foot.
We'll tickle his knees.
We'll tickle where he hears.
We'll tickle where he sees.

Then the monster laughed:
"Ha, ha, hoo, hoo--
You guys tickled me.
Now I'm gonna tickle you.

Tickle, tickle, tickle, tickle, tickle. tickle.html.

Primatology also leads us to consider the interaction between a mother and her child in this activity which has laughter as a result, and tickling (as an object). The question of tickling forms a most serious discussion, doctrinally opened by Stagyrite (Parties des animaux, 673 b 7-10; Problèmes, section XXXV) (for modern times, see: Joubert, 1579, in continuation with the Aristotelian discussions on the function of the diaphragm in laughter; Darwin, 1872 (1877) ; Hecker, 1873 ; Weiskrantz, 1971 ; Blakemore, 1998 ; Pankseppe, 2003), when he draws an account of the observation according to which an expected tickle is less effective than a tickle by surprise. In any case, one does not tickle himself.

The brain (the cerebellum) actually cancels out the proprioceptives sensations (produced by the person’s own body: “nobody is a stranger to himself”, Joubert explains – op. cit. p. 204) and a sudden emergence of an expected tickle is tempered by this representation. At least two people are needed to tickle (each other). The tickling could be reciprocal, “agnostic”, but in this interaction there is often a dissymmetry presumably indicating its pedagogical impact. The exhilaration of play (the parents who warn: it will end badly, someone will get in a sulk, we are going to see some tears..) shared by children is even more fervent in the case of tickling. Tickling provoked by adults (who actually are also rebuffed: “stop fooling around or it will end in tears” … A federal law in Virginia forbids tickling little girls), who in turn have been provoked by children, make children give themselves up until suffocation. They run away from the teasing adult to let themselves to be caught (catch me if i want to…) concealing the zones which have been offered to stimulation, calling for this unbearable, desired and rejected sensation. The specific pleasure of tickling is similarly a sign of composure and the loss of it and enables us one to distinguish the self from the non-self to experience the impossible fusion (Je t'aime, moi non plus; I love you, I don’t love you anymore) in the test of bodily exchange.

Whereas the tactile sensitivity of the skin’s surface is under control can be dealt with wisely (trop gratter cuit, trop flatter nuit), the contact of the gelogene zones seems to provoke a high sensitivity of the most vulnerable parts of the body, if not the reflex reactions in the strictest meaning of the term – the gelogene zones are usually unattainable. The tickled person appears tourmented and tickling can be used as a form of torture as shown by different sado-masochistic practices. (The following images are from the Internet, where many sites are dedicated to the practise in question: The definite source for tickling fiction and art, proclaims one of them…) ecomics/vu.html

This hyperaesthesia, seen as a flaw in the breastplate of our composure, is an access road to intimacy – when sole bodily contact, heteroception, like the intrusion of a stranger in our proximity, arouses escape
and withdrawal.

It is when the body is defenceless, in supination, that these reserved zones are accessible. Educative or sensual, the tickling of a parent or a partner…”these climbing little spiders”…, “for the hand of a tickler is suspended, once touching, once withdrawn” (in the "hollow parts" of the body) (Joubert, op.cit. p. 198), which suddenly interfere in intimacy with multiple arms and swarming fingers like an Indian
god (or the monster represented above), a set-up of abandon, provoking both a convulsive loosening of composure and its renewal, constituting a playful steneotypy in experiencing the limits, both of the body and of what we can bear. “It is true that this voluptuous pleasure is disagreeable [this feeling of disturbing pleasure] because the very delicate parts can not stand strange strokes, however light and tender they might be.” (ibid. p.201-202) In the negative way of saying yes (the Greek way of lifting the eyebrows for a “no”; could be the root – I.-E *smey-, Greek meidos, latin mirus – which gave the Greek word for “being astounded”, “to gape”, then (smi)le), the tickled utters “yes” meaning “no” , when the person laughing pronounces “no” meaning “yes”.

But the ambiguous nature of tickling should not hide its social character. The fact that we can’t tickle ourselves (whereas we can laugh alone) underlines the communicative function of both the tickles and the irritations, that provoke laughter, as well as the vocalizations characterizing it.
And it is specifically, in the chinks of the armour, in the gelogenous zones that the individual is vulnerable and the group is composed. When the mother primate answers the demand of its little one to tickle him, she not only teaches him his individual limits, she also, in a shared game, puts his relational ability to the test. If Autism -as a counter-example-seems to express a lack of appetite for society (indicating an inability to read facial emotions-in facie legitur homo-and, according to recent observation, the neurological inability to be able to distinguish human speech amongst the world's buzzing: the human voice carries, in effect, non-verbal information, which constitutes a sort of signature or "auditory face" of the transmitter whose interpretation mobilises specific cortical regions, the length of the superior temporal fissure- which, in the case in point, remain inactive) then, on the contrary, the tickling game shows an appetite for exchange, a prerequisite and necessary for communication, which bodes favourably well for socialisation. On this evolutional substratum, the different forms of laughter could be included in the continuity of such a function. Laughter is the primary faculty of cohesion. Tickling means leaving our own limits behind and entering the private space of another, it – problematically – denotes to be with, if the (consenting) victim enters the game. If we extrapolate back to the group the dual practices of tickling, its ambivalence disappears and thus proves to be its social function. Private tickling (sensual or sadistic, or for learning purposes) in all likelihood explooits a device of reward when forming the group, in the spirit of the preparation of social predators before a hunt: pushes, yaps, bites.., codified frolics that prepare the members of the pack for sticking together as one. The public reconstruction of social bonds, as can be observed at the Arrivals point in an airport: hugs and kisses, embraces, pats on the back...laughing, noisy manifestations and congratulations of homecomings make use of such physical exchanges which get progressively less intense when the group is reformed and each person pulls themselves together again. There is scarcely any group composition that doesn't call on these bodily exchanges. (Student) rag processions, teams (sports or professional-cf gymnastics within Japanese factories), brigades, circles, troups, gangs, cliques, communities, crowds... are formed and quiver in unison in routs, fairs, rave-ups, assemblies, rackets, meetings, concerts, matches...panmictic gatherings where the transports and the cries (hollers, clamours...) express the feelings and impulsions of the ochlos, the collective animal.

Obligé – pédagogique – dans l'apprentissage des tout-petits (exemples infra), insupportable quand on est adulte.

Fingerplays Booklet - Tickles and Lovies

"Rhymes, poems, fingerplays, tickles, movement games – besides being fun, also enhance your child’s:
• memory skills
• vocabulary
• imagination
• humor
• spatial awareness
• motor coordination
• relaxation
• and so much more
Games, rhymes, wiggles and tickles have inspired laughter and joy in infants, toddlers, and young children for generations, strengthening the bonds between children and the loved ones in their lives."

Hurry Scurry Little Mouse
Hurry scurry little mouse
Starts down at your toes. (touch child’s toes)
Hurry scurry little mouse
Past your knees he goes. (touch child’s knees)
Hurry scurry little mouse
Past where your tummy is. (touch child’s tummy)
Hurry scurry little mouse
Gives you a mousy kiss. (give child loud kiss)

These are Baby’s Fingers (touch child’s fingers)
These are baby’s fingers, (touch child’s toes)
These are baby’s toes,
This is baby’s belly button, (touch child’s tummy)
Round and round it goes! (tickle child’s tummy)

Round and Round the Garden (make a circle in child’s palm)
Round and round the garden
Goes the teddy bear (fingers walk up child’s arm)
One step, two steps, (tickle child under arm)
Tickle you under there

Round and round the haystack (make a circle in child’s other hand)
Goes the little mouse
One step, two steps (fingers walk up child’s arm)
Into his little house (tickle child under arm)

These interactions are identically expressed in this non-contact form of tickling that group laughter represents. Laughter that has no other aim than to show (to the members of the group and to the company- and to oneself) that we are indeed "in step" on the "same wavelength" etc., a test of complicity. Whilst the philosophical tradition focuses on the cognitive laugh, Provine and Fisher (1989) particularly emphasize laughters connecting role between the members of one particular group, which expresses nothing but consent: the pleasure of being in a gang. It means to be with. Laughing together means, here, that we are members of the same club. (This is so true that the 'laughter clubs', which use "laughing for laughter's sake" or the "yoga of laughter", have no other aim, and exist, for at least the duration of the session, by this sole cement.) It is also realized by setting up a group that requires an elective porosity of the individuals forming it, the contact established by tickling (along the ambiguity associated with touching) and immersion in the hilarity of laughter, this hilarious haze that seems to float around the people who laugh. The pleasure of contact revealed by the dialectics of tickling (yes and no; disagreeable pleasure) could compose “a model” for understanding the formation and the running of this great organism, composite and temporary, that the group represents. Les réunions, conseils, séminaires professionnels... font ainsi apparaître une administration du rire conforme à la hiérarchie du groupe concerné. Ce sont les “chefs” qui font rire, et beaucoup plus rarement les subordonnés. Quand il y a un boute-en-train dans le groupe, ses sorties sont canalisées et avalisées par le “chef”. Celui-ci, qui mesure sa position à la qualité de la rétroaction qu’il engendre, aux retours de sa parole ainsi qu’aux rires en écho suscités par ses bons mots, ne peut se permettre de voir le groupe se reconstituer sur des bases qui lui échappent. Le rire (l’auteur du bon mot) polarise, en effet, et prend en otage, tel l’électro-aimant de l’IRM le spin des noyaux d’hydrogène qui se tournent vers lui comme un seul, tous les membres du groupe – et les éventuels électrons libres...

Tickling works mechanically and in ambiguous ways, but circumstantial laughter operates semantically and unreservedly: easing the atmosphere, “breaking the ice”, uniting individuals… And its manifestations can also be just as mechanical: vocalizations, slaps on the back, giving a high-five to the one with whom we share a funny joke.
/toutes formes de contact à rapprocher du rituel de mise en condition et des sténotypies cités. Le rire sémantique se déploie alors dans le registre du contact et de la connivence. C’est de la société en partage et en acte, un frotti-frotta corporel, émotionnel, intellectuel... Investissant le circuit récréatif et roboratif de la formation des groupes / To laugh represents the act of sharing others company. It is a noisy critic of difference (against) at the same time as a showy approval of identity (with). In relation to error, laughter produces a subjective (endocrine) correction at the same time as on objective one (defensive : the people laughing withdraw into a group; offensive: to laugh means baring our teeth – infra:12.8).

Exploration by laughter, conspicuous and loud, externalizing the joy in a secure environment would thus allow a child to test his body, to teach how to be with other people, mark the world with truths, to experiment with material and social causality. If laughter, as an imprint of intellectual and psychological excitation, of this intense feature of play, is a means for learning, a hint for discovering the truth, a reward and a soft overindulgence in the hard school of life, then the performance of error immediately falls again in this state of exhilaration where the truth is discovered. No! It can’t be true!! The laughter of homo sapiens is an expression of the pleasure of truth. A (positive) means to approach truth, becomes a (negative) means of its authentication. Taking pleasure in both the truth and what's false. The pleasure of laughter is the fix that rewards error recognition.

If we did not need to learn, we would not need to laugh. Controlling reality, skills or the truth does not make us laugh. They provoke tacit approval or admiration. Alexandre: - Tell me a funny story. Daddy: - Okay. It’s a guessing game. Do you know why there’s a hole at the bottom of the flower pots? Alexandre: - Hmm… For the water to run?Oh no, Alexandre, that’s true so it’s not funny... The truth is not funny. It is the one who does not understand a thing who makes us laugh. Two fellows bump into each other after a long time. – How are you getting on? I haven’t seen you for ages! – Oh really! So what are you doing then? – I’m a fakir in a circus – No kidding! What does that mean? – I lay down on a board of nails and I have to fast for forty days – And it pays well? – No, but the board and lodging are included… The success of the comic is obviously connected to the pleasure we take in making up the mistake. The show, the circus in particular, forms precisely the circle where we can re-establish our anthropological health at the expense of distortion and deformity. Laughter sanctions the decline, the Spencer’s “descending incongruity”, but never the elevation . If the clown of the Franconi circus (according to the example of Spencer), who prepares to make the same jump as the acrobat did on top of the horses, repeated, on his turn, the feat the audience had just seen (instead of suddenly stopping at the first horse after a great run-up, contenting himself with brushing down the croup on the spot where he was supposed to lean), the short and spasmodic “ah! ah!” of laughter, bursting forth from the public, would be replaced by the long admirable “Aah!” sanctioning the surpassing of the human condition.

But this self-mastery is also cultural. Ethnic jokes prove over and over again that we (the circle of people laughing) are right and that the assessment of reality by the “other” is false, so false that it makes us laugh. De more satis risi. It’s my habit, my theory of reality which is the right one. The other person is stupid: maladjusted. He ignores the “basics”, those which by learning and culture become his own.


The other ignores:

-The classification of others (and confuses for example the mechanical with the living):

How can we recognise a […] in an airport? Answer: The one feeding the planes.

- The very nature of the living:

During his trial, Bokassa was charged for the particularly bloody reports of his internment camps. He argues in his defense: When I’m warned about a death, it is sometimes too late…

- ditto (extract from an antique collection of 265 jokes and pranks entitled Philoghelos, attributed to Îierokles and Philagrios):

During the funeral of a renowned citizen of Cumes, a
stranger to the town asks the people following the procession: “Who died?” One townsman answers pointing at the hearse: “The one lying in the coffin”.

-the elementary divisions of the animal kingdom:

A (football) player,
philosophizes Thierry Roland, star commentator on TF1, could be cut down like a rabbit in full flight.

-The nature of elements:

Why don’t the (…) water-ski? Answer: Because in their country there are no lakes
on a slope.

-The signification of space:

A pilot […] lands on a runway that he had been informed was extremely dangerous because of how short it was. He manages to land, generously overlapping the grass and once the plane stops he says: “ They were right to warn me about the shortness of this damned runway, but I would never thought of it being this wide!”

-The elementary signs of civilisation:

How can we recognize a […] in a shoe shop? Answer: He is the one trying on the shoe boxes.

- On the contrary, he applies human conventions to the animal kingdom:

Here is a […] who, in the time of Cesar, is thrown to lions. When he realizes he is alone with the wildcat and there’s no way out, he starts running around the arena. The animal observes him for a moment, then starts running after him. The audience encourages the […] and alert him when the lion dangerously close: Watch out! He’s going to get you! The […] thus turns and shouts to the audience: Don’t worry! I’m one lap ahead!

- The other,
obviously, ignores polysemy:

Why do […] wear pyjamas for motorcycling? Answer: To lie down better in the bends.

- And incarnates the pique of common sense:

How many ]…] does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: Five: one to hold the bulb and four to turn the table.

A helicopter crashes into a cemetery. The police […] have already identified 300 victims…

-The other, in short, is the foolishness personified, more oafish than the matter itself:

When a […] leans against a wall, it crumbles down. Why? – Because it is always the most intelligent who gives up...

- Obviously, the chances to transmit ones genes (as the vulgate says) to this maladjusted other are nearly non-existent, as this type of story shows:

A […] is at the beach with a […]. He is surprised how lucky his neighbour is in love and asks him what is his secret in attracting so many girls. The ladies man answers: “It’s easy! I’ll tell you what to do: You take a potato and put it into your swimming trunks. You walk around the beach with it. You’ll see! It’s radical!” One week later, the two fellows meet again at the beach. “So? It’s unbelievable, isn’t it,” – “I don’t really understand, the other answers, I did as you told me to, but nothing ever happens!” The […] takes a look at the […] and asks him: “Lift yourself up so I can see…” Then he exclaims “Oh no! You idiot! Not behind! In front!

Le rire est communicatif et l’on rit ensemble d’un autre contre qui et grâce à qui se fait et se soude l’unanimité et l’unité des rieurs (soudure physique, solidarité qui s’observe, par exemple, quand un groupe d’enfants qui se moquent d’un adulte, pouffant et se détournant, l’un d’eux montrant du doigt, se forme en un cercle resserré, dos au ridicule). Rappel inversé des “communs” et de la koinè, cérémonie sociale de la réfection de l’unité sociale et de la remise en ordre des ordres, le rire est l’art de redécouvrir les fondements avec le plaisir de l’enfance. Pour filer une image primitive, on pourrait dire que, de même que les cellules du corps sont histocompatibles, les antigènes tissulaires causant le rejet du corps étranger (et du greffon), de même, le rire “immunitaire” (de protection) du chatouillement enseignerait et réaffirmerait l’unité corporelle, mais préparerait aussi (aux défauts de la contenance que sont les zones gélogènes) la constitution du super-organisme qu’est le groupe – dont le rire commun sanctionne la socio-compatibilité des membres. Je ris : j'apprends le corps ; je ris : j'apprends le groupe ; je ris : j'apprends la vérité. Chorus (silencieux) des cellules : cœnesthésie ; rire bruyant du chatouillement et de la culture : expérience des limites du corps (C'est bien moi !) et de la corporation (C'est bien vrai ! ...que c'est faux), apprentissage et réassurance des êtres sociaux que nous sommes, de la contenance et du quant à soi, de la vérité et de l’erreur. Hyperesthésie plaisante de la ratification des limites. Les zones gélogènes, en effet, ont pour siège le refuge de notre intimité et les certitudes de nos intimes convictions, ces points sur lesquels nous sommes particulièrement chatouilleux, sourcilleux (infra : 12.8), susceptibles... et dont l’agacement ou l’irritation (inoffensifs) provoquent le rire.

Laughter is communicative and we laugh together against the other, thanks to whom the unanimity and the unity of those who are laughing is created and is knitted together (physical binding and solidarity, that can be observed for example when a group of children are mocking an adult, bursting out laughing, one of them pointing a finger at him, forms a tightened circle at the back of the ridiculous). An inversed reminder of the “common” and of the koinè, a social ceremony for restoring the social unity and putting things in order again , laughter is the art of discovering the foundations with the pleasure of our childhood. To spin out a basic image we could say that in the same way as the body’s cells are histocompatible, the tissue antigens provoking the rejection of a foreign body (and of a transplant), the “immunitary” laughter (of protection) of tickling would implant and reassert a bodily unity, whereas the laughter of a group, as the super-organism, would sanction the social compatibility of its members. I laugh: I learn about the body; I laugh: I learn about the group; I laugh, I learn the truth. A (quiet) chorus of cells: coenaesthesia; noisy laughter of tickling and the culture: experience of the body’s limits (It’s surely me) and the corporate body (It’s really true!… that it’s false), learning and reassurance of the social beings that we are, of our bearing and self –regard/esteem, of the truth and the error. Pleasing hyperaesthesia of the confirmation of limits. In effect, gelogenous zones have
[at?] their centre the refuge of our most intimate privacy and the certainties of our inner convictions, those points on which we are particularly sensitive, finicky (infra: 12.8) or susceptible... and the annoyance and irritation of which provokes laughter.

As stated previously, the amygdale reacts to signals of danger and distress and copes with what we usually call “instinctive” fears, such as a snake phobia. In addition it controls the dual system – oxytocin-vasopressin – whose attributes have recently been revealed (Huber and al. 2005). It maintains security and communication. The short way (as discussed above), which is specific to the handling of surprise, equally anticipates the “vital” meaning of words. Thus an experiment carried out on epileptic patients (the treatment of some forms of epilepsy justifies the positioning of intra-cerebral electrodes and allows us to broaden our knowledge on the area behind the temporal lobe) shows that the emotional value of a word can be perceived before its meaning. Unlike an emotionally neutral word, a word connoting “danger” (like the word “poison”) displayed during 29 milliseconds in the middle of a series of signs devoid of meaning (masked priming paradigm, provokes an electrical activity in the amygdale. (Naccache and al. 2005) When it turns out that the short way was not the right one : for example a simple garden hose was mistaken for a snake, a stuffed tiger, which evokes squeals of fright and threat when entering a chimp reserve, is torn to shreds when he is revealed to be nothing but a paper-tiger, every chimp making a point to giving a donkey kick to the king of the animals, etc.: roman triumph.

So if there is a continuity between the laughter provoked by tickling and semantic laughter (an idea to which Joubert opposes in his chapter: “To find out whether it is true laughter, the one of tickling”, especially relying on “Moyse, Arab doctor” ) we should see a reflex reaction to an intrusion in laughter provoked by tickling, when this (safe) intrusion is not actually one. Tickling is only accepted from those with whom we are familiar. Even when it is consented to, it sometimes provokes an evasion reflex, as Darwin has observed with a seven day old baby. This can explain its unbearable character when its insistent and repetitive. “Now, that tickling is unpleasant and disagreeable, as and in the case of real laughter, Joubert notes, several things confirm it, but above of all it is the fact that no one likes to be tickled. (op. cit. :193; the italics are ours) He personally declares that he dreads tickling and “considers it as an insult and completely wrong” and he would “avenge for it if only it was reasonable”. It is actually “very hard, he continues, when we have to bear it for a long time: thus it’s not surprising what I’ve been told about a gentleman, who wanted to stab a member of his family for tickling him too much: but he didn’t have the strength, being so exhausted by laughter and someone took his knife.” (p.194-195) In the most ordinary way, the laughter of tickling sanctions a controlled surprise, an intrusion coming from a close one.
Hence the dialectic of tickling (no and yesyes, but no...), agreeable surprise, a denied and accepted intrusion, designing its object in the contact and setting about a synthesis of bodies, could be a model of a group synergy, an ethological substratum of the “risoliere passion” (“passion risoliere”) (Joubert : 39).

... /...

Plan du chapitre :

IV - 12.11 Introduction
IV – 12.21 Laughter and the recognition of the human form
IV - 12.31 Laughter compared to emotional states caused by a surprise
IV - 12.41 A semantic "banana skin"
IV - 12.51 Giambattista Vico’s Theory of Laughter
IV - 12.61 “We are tinkering with the incurable.” (Emil Cioran)
IV - 12.7 Laughter and recognition of the human form (part 2)
IV - 12.81 “To say, when we speak, it uncovers our teeth” (Francis Ponge)

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