Professor Stollmann, why do we laugh?

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“There is one straightforward answer to this question: we laugh because we are tickled. Even the ancestors of humans and chimpanzees tickled each another. In other words, laughter has been around for roughly eight million years. And why do mothers tickle their children? To wean them. Tiger and wolf mothers hit their young if they continue to demand their mother’s milk once there is none left. Great apes, however, resort instead to tickling because their stronger motherly love means that mothers do not like to hit their children.

Tickling is a mixture of aggression and love

A good laugh is a tonic for the body and the soul.

Tickling is a sign of affection that is intended to push the other away: I love you, but leave me alone just now. Tickling is neither stroking (love) nor hitting (aggression) – it is something in between. A mixture of aggression and love, a contradiction to which the body that is being tickled cannot react in any other way than by “exploding”, that is to say in a chaotic, anarchic way, and by losing control.

It is not only our skin that reacts to tickling

Professor Rainer Stollmann

Our skin is not the only part of us that is sensitive to tickling. Humans are a bit like onions, with more than seven “skins”. Our body’s skin is merely the original, natural casing in which we live. Then we have things like our family, neighbours, friends, society, politics, religion and culture – all of these are “skins” with sensitive areas in which we can be tickled. We do this to one another every day when we tease and laugh at each other or make jokes. And all comedians, comics and satirists identify the most sensitive points in our social, cultural, existential and religious skins and tickle them with language, images or films to make us laugh.

Laughter means freedom

As many great philosophers have pointed out, “laughter is what happens when fear disappears.” In all of the fears that can be released by laughter there is the child’s deep-seated fear of the mother’s rejection – the fear of losing love. Inevitably, however, the child grows up and must become independent. In this sense tickling and laughter are a natural means of emancipation: through laughter we learn individual freedom. If laughter is forbidden (whether for religious or political reasons), this is an attack on emancipation.”