November 22, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

On the Origin of Hee-Hees by Natural Selection

From slime to smile in 200 million years: some Darwinists feel they have explained the evolution of laughter.  In all seriousness, EurekAlert announced, “The first laugh: New study posits evolutionary origins of two distinct types of laughter.”  The story is about a new hypothesis by Matthew Gervais and David Sloan Wilson.  The origin of comedy, they explain, was no laughing matter:

Using empirical evidence from across disciplines, including theory and data from work on mirror neurons, evolutionary psychology, and multilevel selection theory, the researchers detail the evolutionary trajectory of laughter over the last 7 million yearsEvolutionarily elaborated from ape play-panting sometime between 4 million years ago and 2 million years ago, laughter arising from non-serious social incongruity promoted community play during fleeting periods of safety.  Such non-serious social incongruity, it is argued, is the evolutionary precursor to humor as we know it.
    However, neuropsychological and behavioral studies have shown that laughter can be more than just a spontaneous response to such stimuli.  Around 2 million years ago, human ancestors evolved the capacity for willful control over facial motor systems.  As a result, laughter was co-opted for a number of novel functions, including strategically punctuating conversation, and conveying feelings or ideas such as embarrassment and derision. (Emphasis added.)

Their work is to be published in the forthcoming Quarterly Review of Biology.  Perhaps their subtitle should be: Or, The Presentation of Funny Faces in the Giggle for Laugh.

What spoilsports the evolutionists are.  They take everything from the most sacred to the most enjoyable and turn it into ancestral ape antics.  Did you know that Darwin himself wrote a book on this in 1872?  (See the somewhat flawed, somewhat balanced Newsweek cover story on Darwin this week).  On the Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals was published 13 years after The Origin.  To a certain degree, this could be a somewhat worthwhile subject to study, but Charlie got some of his suckers to photograph themselves making all kinds of funny faces (see plates).  According to Janet Browne in Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton, 2002, p. 367), for instance, photographer Oscar Rejlander [see photos]…

struck histrionic attitudes—grief, pleasure, disgust, and so on—and either photographed himself with a timelapse device or got his wife to aid him.  The resulting pictures depended as much on comically exaggerated gesture and body position as on facial expression.  On the back of one picture he scribbled in pencil, “My wife insists upon me sending this for you, that your ladies may see that I can put on a more amiable expression.”  Rejlander’s wife posed for a photograph of a sneer (Darwin thought that sneering evolved from the expression of disgust).  Gamely, she allowed herself to be reproduced thus in Darwin’s volume.   (Emphasis added.)

All in the service of science, of course.  (Who knows; maybe Mrs. Rejlander was expressing her emotions at Darwinism—picture.)  This was all in the post-Origin period when Darwin’s new fan club was trying to evolutionize everything: the evolution of romance, the evolution of music, the evolution of religion, the evolution of grooming, the evolution of nose-picking, etc., doing their best to unite their eminent British fellow-citizens with their monkey past.  Science marches on.
    And so the tradition continues, with Gervais and Wilson looking for the first laugh in mythical serious-minded primates just beginning to discover what to do with their leisure time.  We don’t care who got the first laugh.  We want the last (see next story).

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Categories: Dumb Ideas, Early Man

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