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YMIAFT Chapter 2 Part 3

Making up your mind

“As soon as you have made a thought, laugh at it.”

~ Lao Tsu

Not all thoughts are processed the same way. A pin prick will stimulate nerves that send signals through largely predetermined pathways in your brain that are hard wired. This kind of rigidly structured process has advantages, because if someone was trying to stab you, it's good to have an automatic response that makes you jump out of the way as soon as possible. If you had to stop and ponder the implications of a knife attack, you would almost certainly end up bleeding more than you could survive before the right decisions got made. Other thoughts, like comparing which mobile phone service plan is ripping you off the least, don't have set parts of the brain with predetermined functions. Which is also advantageous, in that it would be impossible for our brains to have an automated response to every possible scenario in the universe that is not yet known. Our brain's ability to carefully consider the implications of an infinite variety of input makes us very flexible and adaptable. Having both forms of thought, rigidly automatic and flexibly processed, is a great advantage in that we can usually apply the most appropriate type to the situations they're suited for. Where things get tricky, though, is that there isn't always a hard boundary between the two.

The presumption of a lot humour research is that humour must fall into the first category of brain response, the type with at least some part dedicated to listening for some particular input, because a sincere laugh response seems to be involuntary, which is similar to other automated responses. However, as described in detail in the previous chapter, potential humour is neither as consistently identifiable as other stimuli, nor has any one particular route for receiving humorous input in the brain been identified using brain scanners. Which indicates that maybe humour is more like the adaptable and holistic type of brain activity. That doesn't seem quite right either, though, because most types of complex thinking don't usually have a specific response similar to laughter, just as there is no single response for loving someone.

Maybe, then, it's a little of both. As mentioned, humour sits in the middle of a gradient of response systems, between pin pricks and the feeling of love, in that it has a specific response but no one specific stimulus. It's conceivable that this dual nature of humour, being general in input but specific in output, could be reflected in how the brain physically processes potential humour.

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