Guest post by Kindred Spirits
Planet Without Laughter by Raymond Smullyman
Smullyan, still alive and a few years shy of 100, is an very unique person, so reading his background is interesting. He was a professor of Philosophy, a mathematician, a magician, and a musician, among other things. In general, he seemed to not be religious, but leaned towards a rather Taoist philosophy of life. You can read more at the Wikipedia entry for Raymond Smullyan.
I’ve read several of his books, which were interesting, but the most memorable of his writings was a story written as a parable comparing mystical spiritual understanding with humor. Since so many people have different understandings of what “god” or “spirituality” means, conversations among people can be maddeningly abstract. In this story, he imagines a planet where different types of people approach humor in different ways:
Planet Without Laughter, by Raymond M. Smullyan:
The main philosophical problem of the Middle Period was to establish whether this mysterious thing called “Humor” really had objective existence or whether it existed only in the imagination. Those who believed it really existed were called Pro-Humorists; those who believed it did not were called skeptics or Anti-Humorists. Among the Pro-Humorists there raged bitter controversy as to whether the existence of Humor could be established by pure reason, or whether it could be known only by an act of faith. The Pro-Humorists were roughly of three sorts; the Rational Pro-Humorists, who claimed that the existence of Humor could be established by pure reason; the Faith-Humorists, who believed that reason could be somewhat helpful but that an act of faith was crucial; and finally there were the “Mystic-Humorists” (known in modern times as “laughers”), who claimed that neither reason nor faith were of the slightest help in apprehending Humor; the only reliable way it could be known was by direct perception. Reason, they said, leads nowhere. To believe in the existence of Humor on the mere basis of authority means that you obviously don’t see it for yourself. To have faith in the existence of Humor; on what basis is this faith? Is this faith based on acceptance of authority? Is it based on some sort of hope that there really is such a thing as Humor? Is it perhaps that the Faith-Humorists believed that Humor, if it really existed, would be something very good, and hence, because of their desire for the good, they took an oath to themselves to conduct their lives as if Humor really did exist? Yes, this seemed to be it. But, as the Mystic-Humorists pointed out, this attitude, though well intentioned, was a sad testimony to the fact that the Faith-Humorists could not see humor directly. The Mystic-Humorists kept repeating, “If only you could see humor directly, you would not need rational arguments nor any faith nor anything like that. You would then know that Humor is real.”
“What you utterly fail to realize is that it is not the ability to laugh correctly which gives you a sense of humor, but the very reverse. Once you have the sense of humor, then you will automatically and spontaneously laugh correctly without your having to analyze how you laugh. Yes, we know that you have fallen under the spell of many books with such titles as “How to Laugh Correctly,” but we can solemnly assure you that no true laugher would ever write such a book. Indeed, such books are totally antithetic to the true spirit of humor. You must remember that the activity of laughter is only the outward form of Humor; Humor itself is something entirely within the inner spirit. And you can never attain this spirit by any amount of imitation of outward forms of behavior.
And if you liked the above, you might also like his thoughts on free-will and “sinning” in Is God a Taoist?