Monthly Archives: March 2009
What makes something funny? Some years ago I picked up an anthology of pieces (they weren’t quite formal essays), by humorist S. J. Perelman. In the introduction the editor begins to answer the question but leaves off writing to attend to a laughing fit so severe he had to lie down on a couch with a cold wet cloth on his forehead.
Then there is the question of taste and political correctness. I’ll just pose the question: Why are so many jokes that many or most of us would laugh at in poor taste or politically incorrect? One person’s joke is another’s person’s “teachable moment.”
Some humorous writing or telling is good for the moment, while some pieces, episodes, images, scenes have something that triggers the humor center in generation after generation â€” certain lines and scenes in Shakespeare, for example, or Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels come to mind. I’m sure you can think of your own.
Here is a list of philosophical humor links selected from an even more comprehensive list at http://consc.net/phil-humor.html Some of them are sure to get you laughing or thinking about laughing (can you think and laugh at the same time?).
- Philosophical kisses
- Non-philosopher’s guide to philosophical terms
- Philosophical warning labels
- Philosophy light-bulb jokes
- A Descartes joke
- Understanding philosophy through jokes
- Brain in a vat at the wheel of a runaway trolley
- The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook
- Husserl parody
- The Postmodernism Generator
- Realists Anonymous
- Tractatus Fuselagico-Umbilicus
- Witteringswine’s Philosophical Tribulations
- A fragment of a lost Platonic dialogue
- Tech support, Nietzsche style
- History of Greek philosophy
- Transcendental Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding
- A rant about Kant
- Philosophy Comics
- Principia Comica
- Philosophy Cartoons
- Lump of Clay
- Berkeley on Locke on the material world
- Kant attack ad
- History of Western Philosophy in 90 seconds
- Monty Python’s International Philosophy sketch
- Analytic philosophy as reflected in the works of Monty Python
- I also dated Zarathustra
- Self-referential story
- Everything is equally interesting
- Socrates’ Argument Clinic
- New logical particles
- Tractatus Logico-Randomus
- Zombies on the web
- Introductory philosophy quiz
- How to be a philosopher
- Philosophy Action Figures
- The Metaphysics Lecture
- Philosopher Jokes
- Mathematical Jokes
- Mathematical Humor
- Physics Humor
- Psychology Humor Page
- Science Humor
- Self-Reference Jokes
- Twinkies Project
A number of years ago the philosopher Thomas Nagel proposed a question in an essay titled eponymously with the question itself â€” What is it like to be a bat? In this essay Nagel analyzes certain reductionist theories of mind while exploring the various ways in which it can be said that we can in some sense “know” what it is like to be someone or something other than ourselves.
This questionâ€”What is it like to be a bat?â€”and the eponymous essay in which it was first proposed have been touchstones ever since for anyone interested in the philosophy of mind, the mind/body problem, and the meaning, reality, or nature of consciousness and subjectivity.
The entire, fascinating subject can be handled less philosophically, more personally, colloquial-like. Imagine we are sharing a leisurely Sunday morning brunch at your favorite restaurant. I bring up Nagel’s essay in a light-hearted way and note the following:
- Changing just one letter, I ask: What is it like to be a Bob?
- Changing two words, I ask: What is it like be you?
- Changing even more words: What is it like to be something that can ask such questions?
- And so on.
The form of the question is simple; its contents, infinite.
If we ever meet, and you happen to ask me what it was like to laugh out loud (really hard and long) after writing the above, I would begin my answer by recounting an episode in the editor’s introduction to an anthology ofÂ essays by the humorist S. J. Perelman. The editor excuses himself mid-introduction, just after rhetorically posing the question: What is humor? Upon returning to finish writing the introduction, the editor informs us that beginning to think of an answer sent him into a laughing fit so severe that he had to lie down on a couch with a cold wash cloth draping his forehead.
The editor never does answer the question, instead he cleverly suggests that the Perelman essays to follow will present an answer to the question of what humor is â€” what makes something funny â€” much better than any answer he might attempt in the expository prose of his introduction.
Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright, — , Virtue (1-4)
The bridle of the earth and sky:
The dew shall weep thy fall tonight;
For thou must die.