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Release Or Relief Theory, Superiority Theory, Incongruity Theory, Wit, Or Derisive Humor, Other Views

Humor is such an integral part of the human psyche that philosophers and other intellectuals have long been fascinated with its origins in and its effects on the human brain. Several early theorists have provided subject matter for continuing observation and debate. The Greek word chumoi means "juices," and the ancient Greeks used the word, from which we get the English humor (as well as humid), to refer to the bodily fluids of blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. The amount of these fluids and how they happened to be mixed in a person's body was assumed to determine that person's disposition or temperament. When authors, playwrights, and comedy performers create eccentric characters, they are going back to this old idea of some people being extremely bilious, phlegmatic, sanguine, or jaundiced.

Related to this idea of bodily fluids is a belief that humor is good for one's health as reflected in the Book of Proverbs: "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones" (17:22). In 1979 Norman Cousins, a talented writer and former editor of the Saturday Review, popularized the wish-fulfilling idea that laughter could reduce pain and release healing chemicals into people's bodies. While the idea caught the fancy of the general public on a worldwide scale, the twenty-first century's thoughtful researchers are asking questions about possible confusions between causes and effects. For example, even if well-documented evidence could be collected to show that people with a sense of humor live longer, it might be that they have a sense of humor because they are healthy and things are going well. Along the same lines, it might be that hospital patients who are pleasant and find things to laugh about will get well faster than grumpy patients because their pleasant personalities attract a broader support group and make doctors and nurses more willing to spend time with them.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Heterodyne to Hydrazoic acid