Animals And Laughter

Coco, my dog who died recently of kidney failure, came to me from the street. He always greeted me with a smile. He lifted his upper lip and then ran off to play hide and seek with me around the bushes, a game he loved. I played with him as one does with children when you pretend that you cannot find them. He would hide behind a bush and I would say “Coco kaha hai?”. And then when I snuck up on him, I would pretend surprise and say “Coco mil gaya!!”. And he would go mad and run up and down till he found another bush.
In all my life, I have never seen any animal show any reaction any different from humans. I have seen large ants gang up and torture a smaller one. I have seen ants drunk on sugared water, reeling and swaying and refusing to move even when they sense danger. I have seen crows set up such a cacophony that all of us rushed out of our houses to see what the matter was and found a baby crow stuck in the fence which we picked out and left on the ground where its mother came to nudge him to fly up. I have seen a cow begging for food the way a dog does. I have seen curious pigs chatter together and donkeys that cry if you separate them from their best friends. Five crows ganged up last month in my house to tease a servant. Every time he emerged from his room, one of them would drop a blob of feces on him. First he thought this was a coincidence but when he found them exchanging what sounded like laughter, he realised that it was a game. Five days later he finally had to throw stones at them, being careful not to hit them, before they stopped. I have been slapped by a monkey who thought she was getting a fruit from my closed palm but when she pried it open and found nothing; she looked at me and suddenly whacked my face.
I have been in staring competitions with rats and have seen bigamous cocks play favourites with their wives. I have had a broken winged parakeet crawl up from the ground to my shoulder with his mouth clutching my sari and then perch himself down and scream in my ear if I talked to anyone other than him. I have seen a mynah make friends with a guinea pig and travel on his back. I have had bears pull my hair till I followed them to where they wanted to take me. Nothing is nicer than being nuzzled by a horse. I have seen small black mosquito fish dance in organised groups. My house and life are full of animals that fight and cry and love and gossip and get frightened and boss each other. So why should you and I be surprised if we are suddenly told that the scientists have suddenly discovered that animals laugh.
Everyone except man knows that the purpose of life is to live it and enjoy it. We do not let animals do that with every form of cruelty that we can think of inflicting. But give them a tiny bit of space to breathe in and they will show you every emotion that you can think of and a hundred sensitivities that you do not have. All that most human beings can see is their pain and the way their eyes tell you that they know you will hurt them and kill them and eat them or turn them into items of little use. But if you can get them to be happy, their joy is so earthshaking and infectious that you will never be the same again.

Everyone except man knows that the purpose of life is to live it and enjoy it. We do not let animals do that with every form of cruelty that we can think of inflicting. But give them a tiny bit of space to breathe in and they will show you every emotion that you can think of and a hundred sensitivities that you do not have.  All that most human beings can see is their pain and the way their eyes tell you that they know you will hurt them and kill them and eat them or turn them into items of little use. But if you can get them to be happy, their joy is so earthshaking and infectious that you will never be the same again.

According to experiments done over many years by a team of biologists and neuroscientists at several universities in the US, coordinated by neuroscientist Professor Jaak Panksepp of Bowling Green State University in Ohio animals play, laugh, respond to tickling and love. “Just like humans”, scientists claim in a study published in ‘Science’. The capacity for laughter is, according to them, an emotional response that predates the evolution of mankind. I can believe that – from the time men have arrived, there is little that animals have to laugh about. There is a part of the brain in humans that stores the capacity to laugh. Now it is found that all mammals have it. I am sure that birds, fish and all insects have it as well.
Dogs, apes, monkeys and rats make sounds like laughter in funny situations, as chimps mischievously chase and tickle each other. They make unique panting sounds, ranging from barely audible to hard grunting, with each inward and outward breath that translate as laughter. Dogs do the same when they play as researched by University of Sierra Nevada researcher Patricia Simonet, forcing out air in a burst. To an untrained human ear, it sounds much like a pant. Rats chirp and whistle when they are tickled, seek out humans that tickle them and preferred to spend time with other “happy” rats, which chirped, or laughed, a lot as opposed to morose rats.
The chirping sounds and the pants are provoked by nerve circuitry in the brain, which releases the neurotransmitter dopamine. These dopamine circuits also light up in the human brain during human amusement. Psychologist and neuroscientist from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Robert Provine, believes many mammals laugh. But according to his article in ‘New Scientist’, “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation,” it takes intelligence to recognise the calls as laughter, because the sounds are very different to human laughter. The scientists also discovered that when animals heard their own distinctive laugh they were immediately put into a good mood and the same reaction as humans. I remember being given a “laugh box” by my husband and every time the piped laughter came on, I laughed helplessly as well and immediately felt better.
When the sound of a dogs laugh is piped into a kennel, dogs are immediately cheered up and will begin playing. Dogs have their own sound to spur other dogs to play, and recordings of the sound can dramatically reduce stress levels in shelters and kennels. In the same way, the sound of a laughing rat immediately causes rats to flock to other rats and start playing – even the ones that are awaiting mutilation in laboratories. According to the scientists, young rats have a marvelous sense of fun. Laughter in humans starts at a young age, another clue that it’s a deep-seated brain function. Young children, whose semantic sense of humour is marginal, laugh and shriek abundantly in the midst of their other rough-and-tumble activities. So do mammals.
Horse whispering is the name for engaging animals without imposing fear or stress. If you learn to speak with your body you can make friends with horses and cattle and they have the same responses of laughter and love as all the other animals I have come across. Our words are only background noise to the animals. You need to use body cues that make them feel safe. From safety comes laughter. Now that we know officially that animals laugh, we should open up communication channels with them as equal sentient beings that share this earth. How can you eat a pig that laughs and cries just the same as you? The physicality of animal play has none of the darkness and dominance of verbal humour. Rather, it taps into the joy of contact – of being in communication. Animals are often silent around me but a sudden eye contact and I know that the communication is a happy one. The poet Wordsworth wrote: …With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.”

loading...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *