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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Science of Hollywood

Following the Academy Awards this week (2/22/2015), came an article in the UK Daily Mail. Do you read reports like this with a critical eye? 

As I was reading this one, I found myself wondering, "In what way is this 'science'? Where can I find the citations to the original studies? How credible is information that has been simplified (dumbed down?) for popular consumption, i.e., referring to the activation of neuro-physiological responses as 'tricks'?"

In this particular case, I'm asking, "Who makes the rules? Are the rules that are attributed to neuroscientist, Jeffrey Zacks, similar to scientific laws, e.g., gravity, thermodynamics; or, are they merely theories, or perhaps just speculation worded in popular idiom? At one end of the scientific credibility spectrum, laws of science are so well replicated and so highly probable of predictable outcomes that they are indisputable. Theories fall toward the center of the spectrum as suspicions of predictable outcomes that are not necessarily highly verified. Speculations are way at the other end of the spectrum, with little or no particularly reliable predictability.

I am also asking, "How does Zacks' mirror rule square with the theory of mirror neurons, which holds that the contagion of emotions has a particular neurological basis making it more complex than simply imitative behavior? According to the Wikipedia entry on mirror neurons, "Neuroscientists such as Marco Iacoboni (UCLA) have argued that mirror neuron systems in the human brain help us understand the actions and intentions of other people. In a study published in March 2005 Iacoboni and his colleagues reported that mirror neurons could discern if another person who was picking up a cup of tea planned to drink from it or clear it from the table. In addition, Iacoboni has argued that mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy."

Unlike the piece in the Daily Mail, that Wikipedia entry includes some cautionary notes: "It has also been proposed that problems with the mirror neuron system may underlie cognitive disorders, particularly autism. However the connection between mirror neuron dysfunction and autism is tentative and it remains to be seen how mirror neurons may be related to many of the important characteristics of autism. Despite the excitement generated by these findings, to date, no widely accepted neural or computational models have been put forward to describe how mirror neuron activity supports cognitive functions such as imitation. There are neuroscientists who caution that the claims being made for the role of mirror neurons are not supported by adequate research." In your opinion, how important is it to include such cautions?

When we say that laughter is contagious, or when I salivate while I imagine biting into a lemon, did I not have a real and complex physiological experience? Is the fight-or-flight response of the central nervous system merely a habit?

Can the exercise of careful questioning go too far? 
It reminds me of a bit that I heard a comedian do years ago (Mort Sahl? Tom Lehrer? Lenny Bruce?) describing how philosophers tediously question the nature of reality. "The philosopher picks up a glass of water and states: This is a glass of water. Then, he ponders an elaborate set of semantic questions: But is it really a glass of water? And, if it is really a glass of water, why is it a glass of water? And, having spent so much time on these questions, the philosopher dies of thirst (rim shot, please!)." 

Sometimes, when we are thirsty, we should just drink some water. There is also a time to just shut up and enjoy the movie!

Monday, January 19, 2015

SERVICE is a Laughter Therapy Value

Did you know that the curriculum for "How to Create Therapeutic Laughter" is comprised of three major building blocks: Knowledge & Theory, Skills, and Values? Starting in 1973 (yes, indeed), I used this model to launch and maintain a highly successful college-level training program for mental health professionals, that is still in effect today. In fact, the collegiate program has incorporated "Therapeutic Laughter", which has become one of the most popular electives.

Among the World Laughter Tour's values education for laughter therapy is the concept of 'serving with love'. That is, keeping service in our hearts and minds while teaching & leading laughter programs. We underscore this concept in every workshop by studying these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"Everyone can be great because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your noun and verb agree to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love... When evil men plot, good men plan. When evil men bomb and burn, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glory of love."

The excellent reputation of WLT programs and associates has made a groundbreaking difference in the acceptance of these strategies. Because of careful curriculum design and faculty training, WLT has led the way in overcoming the skepticism and resistance we encountered initially. At first therapeutic laughter was considered ‘new’ to the field of healthcare therapies, but we have progressed from being considered as ‘alternative’ to being called ‘complimentary’, and finally to being an accepted part of ‘integrative medicine’. The ideas and methods are now acknowledged as playing a significant positive role in personal happiness as well as health & humans services, education, business, and community development.

Our concerted efforts over many years have certainly helped to make many lives richer and more rewarding, and has made the world a better place. We look forward to continuing this contribution for generations to come.

Join us!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Right to Satire, Parody, and Bad Jokes


"The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen." ~Tommy Smothers

"Censorship is saying: 'I'm the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine.' But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word - even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper." ~Ai Weiwei

Through the ages, humor and laughter have dogged dictators and politicians. Some have gone so far as to outlaw them. It is happening again, albeit in a very modern way and with a twist: the focus is on the comedy movie, "The Interview".

Is the current flap based in politics? Religion? Personal tastes? National security? I have a feeling that this attempt at squelching comedy is a dangerous censorship based in fear.

It's nothing new but, as with any attempt to abridge our rights, it is critically important that we understand what's going. It's not only the United States that holds dear the right to freedom of speech, it is every other freedom-loving country. The better we understand what's going on, the more strongly we can hold tight to our precious right of free speech. Put simply, we respect individual differences when we say, "It's different jokes for different folks." 

 "The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship." ~George Bernard Shaw

William F. Fry, Jr., M.D. (1924-2014)
A true pioneer in the study of humor and laughter, my friend and teacher, William F. Fry, Jr., explained and illuminated ideas about misconceptions of humor, liberation therapie, humor and the social potpourri, the biology of humor, political correctness, and much more. He was prescient; a deep thinker, humanitarian & scientist, and a fine writer.

History Repeats Itself 
Always ahead of his time, early on Bill was talking about “Fear of Laughter” as if he knew that we would have to confront and understand the issue again and again.  His observations help to illuminate for us the current events around Sony's decision not to release "The Interview", a comedy movie. Here are excepts from Bill's keynote presentation at the 6th International Conference on Humor and Laughter in Tempe, Arizona, April, 1987.

"Despite the awareness of humor as a valuable and generally beneficial element in human existence, some strange anomalies have arisen during the centuries, regarding human attitudes about humor. There have been -- and are -- people with very negative views on humor. Various people consider humor to be frivolous, inconsequential and unimportant, vulgar or repulsive, disgusting, hostile, threatening and aggressive, fearsome.

"These negative views may appear as individual evaluations, or they may be majority attitudes of entire populations. On certain occasions in the history of Western Civilization, humor has actually been banned, forbidden, repressed by prosecution carried forth by ruling persons or groups. Although such extremes are not the common rule, they are also by no means totally
idiosyncratic and rare."

Potter Stewart, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, said, "Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself." Fry highlights the historical record, citing Aristotle (345 B.C.), St. Paul the Apostle (60 A.D.), Psychologist Vasey (1877 A.D.), France, during the late 1300's reign of Charles VI, National prohibition of comedy proclaimed in England during the rule of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector (1650's), and Nazi Germany (1930's).

"This type of fearful repression was also found in Nazi Germany (1930's), with the establishment of a special court commissioned to try cases of people creating humor about Der Fuehrer, his gang and their lunatic philosophies. Humorists and comedians were sentenced by the court and some were actually executed for this crime.

"It appears that a major source of the fear of laughter is the power of humor in human life. If humor and laughter were, in fact, as trivial and inconsequential as has been expressed at various times, there would be no cause for display of negativity and rejection. However, as we can recognize, humor and laughter are powerful elements of human life. They are elements which must be dealt with, not ignored or rejected.

"The issues of power over humor are primarily concerned with the question of "who's in control?". There should really be no question on this score. We are the experts and it's our humor, our laughter. We receive the benefits of our humor and laughter. To fear these powerful parts of our lives, to scorn, trivialize, reject them runs counter to the facts about them and counter to our own best interests." (Bold added.)

In the long run, humor wins, but we must be vigilant and active in protecting our right, perhaps our obligation, to make satire and parody, and even to make bad jokes.

"An attack upon our ability to tell stories is not just censorship -it is a crime against our nature as human beings." ~Salman Rushdie

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Maxims of The Peaceful Teacher


The mission of World Laughter Tour has always been, "Together we can lead the world to health, happiness, and peace through laughter.” Every edition of the “Study Guide and Reference Manual”*, which has grown from 30 pages to 145, includes this advice to our students:

“Find your source, live from it, keep your heart open, and laugh generously.
These are maxims of the peaceful teacher, the tools of a gentle healer.”
~Alan Cohen

Not only are humor and laughter therapeutic allies of our physical and mental health, they are characteristics that reflect the spiritual health of humankind and this planet; what we call peace.

Thanks to the help, support, and encouragement of many friends, scientists, clowns, clinicians, and other laughter lovers, we have done a good job of understanding and promoting the health and happiness ideals of our mission, evolving to be referred to as tools for health and well-being.

Now, let’s focus more sharply on the peace ideals of the mission.

To open a conversation on the topic, I commend to you “Cultivating Peace: Becoming a 21st-Century Peace Ambassador," by James O’Dea (Shift Books, May 10, 2012). Deepak Chopra calls this holistic approach to peace work “a brilliant manifesto that weaves science, spirituality, and social healing into a peace roadmap for us all.”

Jill Knox, RN, turned me on to the book. She is a peace activist, an advocate for healthy humor, and the current president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. Her vision and passion for these things will be a lasting legacy to our field. I will do what I can to help.

You would probably never expect O’Dea, who spent ten years as the Director of the Washington Office of Amnesty International, to lead off in Chapter One making a cogent and compelling case  about the importance of laughter in laying the foundation for us to work for peace. “Cultivating Peace,” he says, “begins with not taking ourselves so seriously.” He reminds us that, “a world without laughter would not be a safe or peaceful world.”

Anger and violence, he says, constantly cook up a “biochemical brew…that is toxic at every level--physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. They shut down the body’s exquisite ease, delight, and pleasure signals and replace them with hypervigilance and stress alerts.”

From that premise, he examines, explains, coaxes, cajoles, and carefully convinces us that the art and heart of peace advocacy and activism is within us our grasp. It will take some work to make it manifest but he shows the way. He calmly convinces us that we can find greater peace within ourselves, tantalizing us with the prospect of profound personal satisfactions as well as the realization of the better world we seek and often speak of. He repeatedly and realistically cautions us that the road to peace will not be smooth nor easy nor quick, but the promised  destination is possible eventually and definitely worth the trip.

A few quotes from Cultivating Peace, Chapter One:

The peace journey begins with understanding positive emotions, seeing how “truth, reconciliation, and forgiveness are essential components of collective healing strategies…”

“In time, I came to learn that too much seriousness is deadly.”

“Any kind of overbearing behavior--be it self-righteousness, bigotry, aggression, condemnation, arrogance, or finger-pointing--is an interruption of the body’s circuitry of love joy and play.”

“When we cultivate love and joyful service, we live longer, healthier, happier lives.”

“…jokes can have a way of revealing sadness, emptiness, hostility, and even viciousness. But true humor does not carry a poison pill.”

“Laughing is about the bubbling up of connection.”

Get hold of a copy of Cultivating Peace and start reading. Then, please join me in reflecting and connecting how humor and laughter are not only therapeutic allies in the sense of your physical health, but also in the healing of humankind and this planet.

If you have a favorite quote about peace, please share it with me here or on Facebook.

Click These Links to Listen to John Lennon and Leadbelly

* CLICK HERE to purchase the Study Guide and Reference Manual.