My apologies in advance for writing about humor in an unfunny way. Someone wrote once that in a certain prolonged analysis of humor (Freud?) there was not a single joke or amusing anecdote, but perhaps that is like complaining that there is no food in a cookbook, albeit jokes being easier to produce in a text than steaming hot meals.
No one is an actual determinist in the sense of living his doctrine. Determinists even admit that it is impossible to live that way. Certainly, a consistently determinist society would be unworkable. The logical implications are hard to calculate. Perhaps, it would mean never getting out of bed or off the couch since determinism implies complete passivity. Consciousness as an invisible spiritual effect-producing phenomenon would be removed. Agency, coextensive with a consciousness that is not merely a passive, inept, unreliable perceptual recording device, means being a center of decision making. Acting. It is not possible to “act” if there is no conscious “you” deciding or doing anything. A marionette manipulated by its strings is not acting; merely moving. We simply pretend it is acting when it is involved in some human-derived, thus conscious, drama – just as we pretend things about flickering images on a screen.
Yet, bizarrely, many hundreds of thousands (millions?) declare themselves to be determinists. They feel themselves to be in good company, so remain unaware of the absurdities of determinism with its denial of consciousness, to the extent that they often want to put the burden of proof on those who believe in free will – even though nothing about his life or the functioning of society could survive more than five minutes were determinism to be regarded as really true – as something you could actually live.
In the engineering mindset, to understand something is to build a model of it that functions, reproducing the phenomenon. Thus, to understand the mind would mean to build a computer program that simulates it. People have commented that a simulation of a mind would be coextensive with the real thing. It would be a thinking, feeling entity. Since consciousness cannot in fact be reduced to its physical correlates, artificial general intelligence will not in fact be possible. Only God can produce a soul.
Curt Jaimungal comments that though most members of “the public” claim to believe in free will, when pressed, they quickly get lost and are unable to explain what freedom means in this context. They are incapable of building a working model of freedom that functions – not even conceptually. For some, though not for Jaimungal, the hidden assumption is that for something to exist, or to have a chance of existing, it must be explainable. Rigor, clarity, and logic demand an explanation and a definition, otherwise, one is just handwaving and dealing in something akin to necromancy or alchemy. Those random members of the public would likewise be unable to explain knowledge, beauty, or humor without generating skepticism about at least two of those on the part of the determinist.
Thus, the determinist is that person trapped in the rules of the left hemisphere of the brain; facts, the known, the light of day. He fails to recognize that there are right hemisphere experiences that cannot be known, or explained, and that to do so kills them. Humor is just such a phenomenon. Humor permeates our lives. Like beauty, which shares many of its characteristics, humor makes life tolerable and it generally brings people together. Comedians comment that watching a live comedy show and laughing with other people is completely different from viewing comedy on a screen. They have a financial interest in having people turn up to live events of course, but it seems that they are telling the truth regardless. And people will come from all over the world to look at beautiful paintings and architecture, sharing in joint aesthetic experience. Beauty cannot be defined, and neither can knowledge – and knowledge in particular is the bread and butter of scientists. If the determinist who required an explanation of free will were consistent, and of course he is not, he would be as skeptical of knowledge as he is of free will. If we were to ask him to define knowledge he could not. By the rules of his own game, he would need to assert that knowledge does not exist.
Humor has the additional well-known property that it is immune to analysis. It is real. It has a social function. If the burden of proof were merely to point to the existence of funny things, then, assuming one’s interlocutor was not totally autistic, this ostensive method would work. Likewise, if asked to point to an instance of freedom, I could say that I started to read a book, but then decided to write this instead. If the universe decided I would write this, then I am not an agent, and nobody is writing it. The universe is.
Beauty can probably survive a doomed effort to define it, or explain it. So too with knowledge. But, humor cannot. As everyone knows, an explained joke is no longer funny. Some things are destroyed by left hemisphere analysis. Freedom shares this characteristic. Freedom is the precondition of creativity. Scientific and artistic ideas come from we know not where and then they must be developed following the tastes, interests, and abilities of the person. The ideas themselves bear the hallmark of their discoverer or inventor in many instances. Were creativity to be explained it would also cease to exist. There is no creativity without mystery and this mystery must be spiritual. Determinism, indicated by the false metaphysics of materialism, denies consciousness and the creativity that emerges from it.
It is not true that something that cannot be explained is thereby not real. Life cannot be explained but many scientists and philosophers have done their level best to dispel any sense of mystery concerning it. But, again, life might survive finding its origins. Humor cannot.
Nikolai Berdyaev’s writings are almost all of them one long meditation on freedom, its nature, and its role in human life. Berdyaev can do that because he is a philosopher of the right hemisphere; of the intuitive and spiritual. The Meaning of the Creative Act is an excellent discussion of freedom and creativity, but Freedom and Spirit, or Slavery and Freedom name their topic in the title.
If determinism is true, then the determinist is not even asking a question. He is not pushing the burden of proof where it does not belong. Only the universe is asking the question. When the universe asks a question, only a conscious being of a human-level of intelligence or beyond, can answer it. But of course, the nonconscious, the non-sentient neither ask questions nor answer them.
Originally appeared on VoegelinView Read More