Intelligence and humour

Intelligence and humour

“All religions deserve equal freedom of worship and practice, but none deserves the right to freedom from criticism.” This brilliant comment is of Rowan Atkinson a.k.a. Mr Bean, quoted in Reader’s Digest’s May 2007 issue. The comment proves that Atkinson, besides being a superb comedy actor, is also a very wise and intelligent man. Wise, because he comes across as open-minded; and intelligent, because he is able to hold two seemingly incongruous thoughts in his mind.

I have always believed, for some strange reason, that humour and intelligence are linked. Sorry, I don’t think there is any scientific research to prove this — that’s because I do not necessarily allude to conventional (read MENSA-type) intelligence. Though I did find this page that links humour with creativity.

Also, I differentiate between being humourous and a sense of humour. The latter refers to a having a funny bone, an ability to respond to humour, while the former is the ability to be humorous.

Coming back to humour and intelligence, I think it takes an enormous amount of intelligence to make people laugh, and even more so, at one’s own expense. In fact, self-effacing humour is also a sign of wisdom. It shows that the person is willing to be laughed at, because it matters little to him what others think of him. Such a person seems to know the eternal wisdom of Les Brown’s words: “Other people’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.”

True intelligence is about understanding the limitations of life on planet Earth and therefore realising that it ought not to be taken too seriously. It is no coincidence that Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman were humorous. Sample some of the quotes attributed to Einstein:

  • “The wireless telegraph is not difficult to understand. The ordinary telegraph is like a very long cat. You pull the tail in New York, and it meows in Los Angeles. The wireless is the same, only without the cat.”
  • “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
  • It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.

If intelligence and humour are allies, then shouldn’t Supreme Intelligence that flows through us be the foremost source of humour? Perhaps it is — imagine looking at this delightful planet from outside, and seeing its inhabitants fighting with each other, killing each other, and most frequently in the name of their creator. Then you would laugh and think: Why on Earth did God put dumb, self-destructive, humourless species such as humans on such an exquisite planet? Perhaps French philosopher Voltaire did get an opportunity to view the world from outer space when he said, “God is a comedian, playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh”.

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