Radiolab, one of my favorite public radio shows, is back with a new batch of shows. The newest is on laughter -- a typically fascinating topic for the show.
Is Laughter just a Human Thing?
Aristotle thinks that laughter is what separates us from the beasts. That a baby does not have a SOUL, until the moment it laughs for the first time. Historian Barry Sanders, author of Sudden Glory, says that according to Aristotle, this moment of "human ensouling" is supposed to happen when a baby is 40 days old. We follow radio producer Amanda Aronczyk as she tests this theory on her newborn baby.One of the segments discusses something I'd written off years ago as an urban legend -- an outbreak of contagious laughter in an African village. Well, it actually happened. A few possible causes are explored. The explanation that the reporter thinks is the most plausible (anxieties surrounding abrupt changes following national independence) sounds like at least a strong contributing factor. Very interesting show all around.
Then we go to Bowling Green State University in Ohio, to tickle rats with psychobiologist Dr. Jaak Panksepp. It's his notion that laughter is found all across the animal kindgom. Boom, Aristotle! Then Dr. Robert Provine, author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, shows us chimps who seem to be laughing. Boom Boom!
We also get the giggles with a bit of archival tape from comedians Elaine May and Mike Nichols. And Tyler Stillman, a psychologist at Florida State University, eloquently delineates the awesomeness of laughter.
What's more, the Radiolab's hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich were guests on another fine show, The Sound of Young America.