Monday, August 17, 2009

Laughter, Humor, Sexual Attraction (3/3)

The real reason behind establishing the concepts of laughter and humor (part 1 and part 2 of this series), was to end up at an attempt to connect all the dots, framing these questions within the context of man's biological evolution. They don't seem to fit anywhere but can they -not- have a purpose? Maybe they're just some odd product from an over-evolved brain or maybe their existence was more important in our evolutionary paths than we give them credit for. In exploring the later possibility, they can be seen as an evolutionary driving force, responsible for pushing our intelligence up to modern man standards.

In a recent study, women were asked to choose the most sexually appealing men according to their written introductions. Some introductions have been carefully crafted to be funny while others were not. Not surprisingly, women chose the funniest ones. Not surprisingly because we all know that women prefer men with a sense of humor, I'm not even sure why there's a study about it in the first place.

Now, can it be, that we have evolved our selection criteria to use a person's sense of humor as a sign of intelligence (broadly speaking)? There are a couple of points here. First, we must ask if the development of intelligence is a meaningful advantage in competing and surviving. That seems obvious, our species is a living proof of that. The second point is, can humor provide a generally meaningful correlation with cognitive capacity? If we agree with the way we described humor in part 2 of this series, then I'd say that humor seems very closely related with the kind of intelligence that would be useful in the chaotic, unpredictable world where the primitive man lived in.

But even if we agree that humor relates to our cognitive ability to quickly recognize logical patterns and sudden anomalies in them, it still couldn't be used as a selection method if the information of a successful recognition of humor wasn't available to anyone else other oneself, so that's where laughter comes in. So if we agree that laughter is used in this context to broadcast that recognition (part 1), then both can suddenly provide a working new possible selection criteria for a potential mate. Now if humor provides some useful measure of intelligence, the importance of humor as a selection criteria in women could have evolved in parallel and risen progressively as the actual consequences of the development of intelligence in man got more and more relevant.

The existence of this new selection criteria and the importance it has are very consistent with what seems to have been a dramatic shift in the strategic history of our evolution. Brains have always evolved, with or without humor, but never have they evolved in such a furious pace as is observable in the path that ultimately led to the Homo Sapiens. In comparison with our closest evolutionary branches, we are the most fragile, weak, devoid of any natural weapons like big teeth or claws; yet we're incredibly more intelligent. What drove us in such an unorthodox path? This would also help to explain the fact that humor is still observably a primary selection criteria, overshadowing physical dominance much of the time. However, any consideration about any selection criteria today should be taken with a pinch of salt since we risk mixing a natural animal criteria with many layers of culture and civilization.

In conclusion, I'd like to say that this is not just the case that the pieces fit here, it's also the case that they don't seem to fit very well anywhere else on the board. If we look at ourselves in light of our animal nature, if we think about the primitive roots that gave rise to these things, then humor is a very odd and special thing that either has a very odd and special explanation or else it must fit some sort of evolutionary purpose as the one suggested here. Maybe humor is not just some weird biological spin-off of our big brains and maybe it's more than a consequence of that, maybe it's a big part of the cause itself.

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