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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, July 19, 2014 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“What has made laughter such an intriguing and compelling object of investigation for more than 2,000 years is also what makes it such a tricky and sometimes intractable one. Among the most difficult questions is whether laughter is a unitary phenomenon. Should we even be looking for a single theory, one that can put under the same explanatory umbrella the laughter produced by a hearty tickling and by a good joke, let alone the often rather subdued laughter that regularly punctuates and reinforces human conversation? Scrupulous caution suggests that those are significantly different signals, with different causes and effects. Yet in all kinds of ways, laughter does feel very similar across its different manifestations. Besides, it is often impossible to draw clear boundaries among its various types. When someone is being tickled, it is common for observers, who are not themselves being tickled, to laugh. Same laughter, or different?

“Even more crucial is the question of whether laughter is a natural or a cultural phenomenon — or, perhaps better, whether laughter directly challenges the simplicity of that binary division. As the anthropologist Mary Douglas summed it up, 'Laughter is a unique bodily eruption which is always taken to be a communication.' Unlike sneezing or farting, laughter is taken to mean something. Its ambiguity, between nature and culture, has a tremendous impact on our attempts to understand how laughter in general operates in human society and, more specifically, how far it is under our conscious control.”

— From “What's So Funny?” at chronicle.com

A quiz

What percentage of people with Type 2 diabetes are obese?

Wisdom of the ages

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Current wisdom

“My problem with Common Core is I don't want people outside Wisconsin telling us what our standards should be.” — Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, expressing disapproval of national education standards.

Quiz answer

About 90 percent.

Snob words

(i>tumultuary (too-MUHL-choo-er-ee), adj. — confused; disorderly, as in: “The meeting was so tumultuary that the editorial writer didn't try to follow it.”

Today in history

On this date in 1927, Ty Cobb got his 4,000th hit; terrible person, great athlete.

Now you know

Globally, 15 million children under 5 die each year because of diseases caused by drinking water, says RandomHistory.com.