Horror Legend Boris Karloff Reads Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Premiering in 1966, the How the Grinch Stole Christmas TV special is a perfect (snow?) storm of creative folks working at the top of their game, with Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss providing the original 1956 book on which it’s based, Chuck Jones brilliantly interpreting Geisel’s own drawings in his own animated style, and making the Grinch’s long-suffering dog companion Max much more of a moral sidekick. It also gave us several musical numbers written by Albert Hague using Geisel’s lyrics.

And then there’s Boris Karloff, who narrates the special from beginning to end and supplies the Grinch’s voice. The English actor was best known in his early career for portraying Frankenstein’s monster and The Mummy in the original Universal horror movies of the same names (and numerous sequels), and was a go-to character actor to play all sorts of nefarious criminals.

Later he would have a second career capitalizing on his horror pedigree, hosting anthology shows on television, and reading not just tales of Edgar Allan Poe on vinyl, but other not-so-scary children’s lit, like Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Unlike Bela Lugosi, who suffered from being typecast his entire career post-Dracula, Karloff was able to make a good career from that breakthrough performance with good humor.

Karloff’s reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas is pretty much taken straight from the animated TV special with some judicious editing and no commercials to get in the way. Side note: It is not Karloff but Thurl Ravenscroft singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” He was not credited in the original cartoon and Dr. Seuss profoundly apologized after the fact. The record would go on to earn Karloff a Spoken Word Grammy Award, the only such entertainment award he ever won. You can also listen to it on Spotify below:

If you have been feeling Grinchy in any way as we approach the holiday season, prepare to get your heart melted. This reading will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

The Birth Control Handbook: The Underground Student Publication That Let Women Take Control of Their Bodies (1968)


Central to Michel Foucault’s theory of “governmentality” is what he calls “biopower,” an “explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations.” Where debates over abortion and contraception generally coalesce around questions of religion and rights, the French theorist of power saw these issues as part of the bio-political struggle between “governing the self” and “governing others.”

Those who resist repressive biopower seize on the former definition of government. Take a very pointed example of both restrictive government biopower and creative resistance to the same: the 1968 Birth Control Handbook you see here, printed illegally by undergraduate students at Montreal’s McGill University. At the time of this text’s creation, notes Atlas Obscura, “under Canada’s Criminal Code, the dissemination, sale, and advertisement of birth control methods were all illegal, and abortion was punishable by life imprisonment.”

Despite facing the possible consequences of up to two years in prison, the McGill Student Society “sold millions of copies” of The Birth Control Handbook, writes Amanda Edgley, “in Canada and internationally.” Maya Koropatnitsky describes the tremendous social impact of the handbook:

Students at McGill as well as other Quebec campuses snapped up the first run of 17,000 copies. Due to its major success, the committee came out with a second issue of the handbook in 1969. This handbook is seen to be a major player in women’s liberation because it gave young women the knowledge and the ability to control reproductive functions.  

The handbook furthermore “mobilized women into forming meetings and groups to talk about consciousness-raising issues.” This informal education was invaluable for millions of women, who were “desperate for this information,” writes author Laura Kaplan, “so starved for information. You wanted it, in as much detail as you could get it, as graphic as it could be made.”


What the Canadian, and U.S., governments saw as sexually explicit will look to us like standard biology textbook illustrations, mundane charts and graphs, ordinary pictures of the birth experience, and tasteful, rather tame nude photos. Original authors Allan Feingold and Donna Cherniak “pored through books in the medical library,” Atlas Obscura writes, “and consulted medical advisors, compiling detailed information on topics like sexual intercourse, menstrual cycles, surgical abortion techniques (accompanied by prices and statistics), and how, exactly, to contact abortion providers.”

Illustrating another Foucauldian insight into the relationship between knowledge and power, not only were birth control methods under the strict control of mostly male doctors (and only available with permission from a husband), but even basic information on reproduction and birth control was difficult for most women to access. “To have all the information on the various methods of birth control in one place,” says Kaplan, “with pros and cons and what you needed to know about them, was a revelation.” Cherniak later remembered, “We joked that after the Bible, we were probably one of the most widely distributed publications in Canada.”


Both editions of the handbook addressed the controversial topic of abortion, citing the Canadian criminal code along the way. “Concerned with the problem of illegal abortion,” writes University of Ottowa professor Christabelle Sethna, “the council mandated the publication” of the handbook, which also “contained editorial commentary that took Western population-control experts to task for their racism and that supported women’s reproductive rights as a function of women’s liberation.” Sethna situates The Birth Control Handbook within a much larger Canadian movement, just “one of the ways,” writes Edgeley, “Canadians took control over their own bodies.” Its creators saw it as a means of changing the world. “Those were the years,” Cherniak says, “in which you thought you could do anything.”


Two years after the first print run of The Birth Control Handbook, the ur-text of feminist bio-politics, Our Bodies, Ourselves, was published by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. This book “became its own widely circulated women’s health text,” Atlas Obscura writes, “translated into 29 languages.” But while Our Bodies, Ourselves remains famous for its key role in spreading much-needed information about reproductive health, “its Canadian counterpart has been mostly forgotten.” The Birth Control Handbook gave millions of women the information they needed to govern their own lives. Rediscover the complete text of the first, 1968 edition and second, 1969 edition at the Internet Archive, where you can see a scan, read transcribed full text, and download PDF, Kindle, and other formats.

via Atlas Obscura

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Infinity Minus Infinity Equals Pi: This Video Proves It

It sounds impossible. But it turns out that infinity minus infinity doesn’t necessarily equal zero. It can equal Pi, or 3.14159265359. Or so demonstrates the “Mathologer” in the video featured above.

In real life the Mathologer goes by the name of Burkard Polster, and he’s a math professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. You can check out more of his videos on YouTube here.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

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A Complete Reading of George Orwell’s 1984: Aired on Pacifica Radio, 1975

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Thus, with one of the best-known opening sentences in all English literature, begins George Orwell’s 1984, the novel that even 67 years after its publication remains perhaps the most oft-referenced vision of totalitarianism’s takeover of the modern Western world. Its fable-like power has, in fact, only intensified over the decades, which have seen it adapted into various forms for film, television, the stage (David Bowie even dreamed of putting on a 1984 musical), and, most often, the radio.

In recent years we’ve featured radio productions of 1984 from 1949, 1953, and 1965. On their program From the Vault, the Pacifica Radio network has just finished bringing out of the archives their own 1975 broadcast of the novel as read by morning-show host Charles Morgan.

Neither an all-out radio drama nor a straight-ahead audiobook-style reading, Pacifica’s 1984 uses sound effects and voice acting (some contributed by June Foray, of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame) to tell the story of Winston Smith and his inner and outer struggle with the repressive, all-seeing, language-distorting government of the superstate of Oceania (and the city of Airstrip One, formerly known as England) that surrounds him.

It makes sense that Pacifica would put the whole of Orwell’s dire novelistic warning on the airwaves. Founded just after World War II by a group of former conscientious objectors, its first station, KPFA in Berkeley, California, began broadcasting in the year of 1984‘s publication. As it grew over subsequent decades, the listener-funded Pacifica radio network gained a reputation for both its political engagement and its unconventional uses of the medium. (The Firesign Theater, the troupe that arguably perfected the art of the dense, multi-layered studio comedy album, got their start at Pacifica’s Los Angeles station KPFK.) Every era, it seems, produces its own 1984, and this one sounds as resonant in the 21st century — a time even Orwell dared not imagine — as it must have in the 1970s.

You can hear Part 1 of Pacifica’s 1984 at the top of the post, then follow these links to all ten parts on their Soundcloud page: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7, Part 8Part 9Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Velvet Underground & Andy Warhol Stage Proto-Punk Performance Art: Discover the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966)

Punk rock, an artless proletarian sneer, a working-class revolt against bourgeois tastes, good manners, and corrupt systems of consumption. Right? Sure… and also pure performance art. Or do we forget that its forebears were avant-garde fringe artists: whether Iggy Pop onstage fighting a vacuum cleaner and blender and smearing peanut butter on himself, or Patti Smith reading her Rimbaud-inspired poetry at CBGB’s. And before rock critic Dave Marsh first used the word “Punk” (to describe Question Mark and the Mysterians)—before even Sgt. Pepper’s and the death of Jimi Hendrix—there came the Velvet Underground, protégés of Andy Warhol and dark psychedelic pioneers whose early songs were as punk rock as it gets.

Some evidence: a dog-eared copy of Please Kill Me, the “uncensored oral history of punk,” which begins with the Velvets and, specifically John Cale remembering 1965: “I couldn’t give a shit about folk music… The first time Lou Played ‘Heroin’ for me it totally knocked me out. The words and music were so raunchy and devastating…. Lou had these songs where there was an element of character assassination going on.” Now these days, everyone from the mayor of London to Shakespeare has been associated with punk, but maybe Lou Reed first defined its raunchiness and devastation back in the mid-sixties. And the performances of those songs were sheer art-rock spectacle, thanks to Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, or EPI.

Critic Wayne McGuire described these Exploding Plastic Inevitable performances, organized in 1966 and 1967, as “electronic: intermedia: total scale.” The Exploding Plastic Inevitable enveloped the Velvets in a dark, hazy, strobe-lit circus. Writer Branden Joseph describes it in detail:

… the Exploding Plastic Inevitable included three to five film projectors, often showing different reels of the same film simultaneously: a similar number of slide projectors, movable by hand so that their images swept the auditorium; four variable-speed strobe lights; three moving spots with an assortment of coloured gels; several pistol lights; a mirror ball hung from the ceiling and another on the floor; as many as three loudspeakers blaring different pop records at once; one or two sets by the Velvet Underground and Nico…

… and so on. “It doesn’t go together,” wrote Larry McCombs in a 1966 review, “But sometimes it does.” Warhol had attempted to stage similar events since 1963, with a short-lived band called the Druids, which included New York avant-garde composer La Monte Young (“the best drug connection in New York,” remembered Billy Name). Then Warhol met the Velvet Underground at the Café Bizarre, forced the broody Nico on them, and it suddenly came together. The new, Warhol-managed band first launched at filmmaker Jonas Mekas’ Cinémathèque theater. “Andy would show his movies on us,” remembers Reed, “We wore black so you could see the movie. But we were all wearing black anyway.”

As you can see in the 1966 film at the top of an EPI/Velvets performance, Reed’s proto-punk odes to intravenous drugs and sadomasochism provided the ideal soundtrack to Warhol’s celebrations of the tragically hip and pretty. The experience (at least as recreated by the Warhol Museum) put art student Karen Lue in mind of “Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk, or a total work of art.” The film we experience here was shot by director Ronald Nameth at an EPI happening at Poor Richards in Chicago.

The overdubbed soundtrack blends recordings of “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “European Son,” “It Was a Pleasure” from Nico’s Chelsea Girl, and live versions of “Heroin” and “Venus in Furs,” with John Cale on vocals. This particular happening featured neither Reed nor Nico, so Cale took the lead. Nonetheless, as Ubuweb writes, Nameth’s film “is an experience” fully representative of “Warhol’s hellish sensorium… the most unique and effective discotheque environment prior to the Fillmore/Electric Circus era.” The short “rises above a mere graphic exercise,” making “kinetic empathy a new kind of poetry” and a visual record of how punk arose as much from art-house theaters and galleries as it did from dive bars and garages.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

500+William S. Burroughs Book Covers from Across the Globe: 1950s Through the 2010s


William S. Burroughs has shown generations of readers that the written word can provide experiences they’d never before imagined. But to get to Burroughs’ written words, most of those readers have entered through his covers—or rather, through the covers that a host of publishers, all over the world and for over sixty years now—have considered sufficiently appealing representations of Burroughs’ daring, experimental, and not-especially-representable literary work. You can see over 500 of these efforts at the Burroughs page of beatbookcovers.com.


As mild-mannered as he could seem in person, Burroughs’ life and work, what with the drugs, the acquaintance with the homosexual underworld, and the reckless gunplay, has always attracted an air of the sordid and sensational. Publishers didn’t hesitate to exploit that, as we can see in the first edition of Burroughs’ first published work Junkie just above. Not only did it come out as a 35-cent mass-market two-in-one paperback, it promised the “confessions of an unredeemed drug addict,” and with that lurid illustration implied so much more besides. No matter how much readerly curiosity it piqued, how much of an artistic future could someone impulse-buying it at the drugstore have imagined for this “William Lee” fellow?


More curious readers have probably become Burroughs fans by picking up The Naked Lunch, his best-known novel but a more controversial and much less conventionally composed one than Junkie. This story of William Lee (now just the name of the protagonist, not an authorial pseudonym) and his substance-fueled odyssey through America, Mexico, Morocco, the fictional Annexia and far beyond has had many and varied visual representations, all of which try to convey how strenuously the text struggles against the strictures of traditional forms of writing. Sometimes, as in the 1986 U.K. edition from Paladin above, they resort to telling rather than just showing you that you hold in your hands “the book that blew ‘literature’ apart.”


Those of us who get deep into Burroughs’ work often do so because it transcends genre. Still, that hasn’t stopped marketing departments from trying to place him in one genre or another, or at least to sell certain of his books as if they belonged in one genre or another. The “Nova trilogy” with which Burroughs followed up Naked Lunch, has tended to appear on the science-fiction shelves of bookstores around the world, not completely without reason. Still, the sensibilities of the sci-fi world and Burroughs’ mind do clash somewhat, producing such intriguing results as the 1978 Japanese edition of Nova Express above.


Ultimately, the only image that reliably conveys the work of William S. Burroughs is the image of William S. Burroughs, which appears on the cover of this 1982 Picador William Burroughs Reader as well as many other books besides. As anyone who’s gone deep into his bibliography knows, the work and the man don’t come separately, but they’ll surely always remember the cover that led them into his world in the first place, whether it bore images subdued or sensationalistic, a design grimly real or forbiddingly abstract, or a proper warning about just what it was they were getting into.

Visit all 500+ William S. Burroughs books covers here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

George Orwell Tries to Identify Who Is Really a “Fascist” and Define the Meaning of This “Much-Abused Word” (1944)

via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Two neologisms, “Post-truth” and “Alt-right,” have entered political discourse in this year of turmoil and upheaval, words so notorious they were chosen as the winner and runner-up, respectively, for Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year. These “Orwellian euphemisms,” argues Noah Berlatsky “conceal old evils” and “whitewash fascism,” recalling “in form and content… Orwell’s old words—specifically some of the newspeak from 1984. ‘Crimethink,’ ‘thoughtcrime,’ and ‘unperson’…. They even sound the same, with their simple, thunk-thunk construction of single syllables mashed together.”

“The sheer ugly clumsiness is supposed to make the language seem futuristic and cutting edge,” Berlatsky writes, “The world to come will be utilitarian, slangy, and up-to-the-minute in its inelegance. So the future was in Orwell’s day; so it is in 2016.” As in Orwell’s day, our current jargon gets mobilized in “defense of the indefensible”—as the novelist, journalist, and revolutionary fighter wrote in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.” And just as in his day, the euphemisms pretty up constant, blatant lying and racist ideologies. We can also draw another linguistic comparison to Orwell’s time: the widespread use of the word “fascism.”

Berlatsky uses the word without defining it (when he talks about “whitewashing fascism”), except to say that “fascism thrives on falsehoods.” That may well be the case, but is it enough of a criterion for an entire political and economic system? The word begs for a cogent analysis. Even Umberto Eco, who grew up under Mussolini’s rule, felt the need for clarity, given that “American radicals,” he wrote in 1995, abused the phrase “fascist pig” as a pejorative for any authority, such that the word hardly meant anything thirty years after World War II.

But surely Orwell—who fought fascism in Spain in 1936, and whose ominous postwar dystopian novels have done more than any literary work to illustrate its menace—could define the word with confidence? Alas, when we look to his work, even before the war had ended, we find him writing, “‘Fascism,’ is almost entirely meaningless.” His short 1944 essay, “What is Fascism?” does not, however, push to abolish the word. He calls instead for “a clear and generally accepted definition of it” against the tendency to “degrade it to the level of a swearword.”

But Orwell (being Orwell) is not optimistic. One reason a definition had been so difficult to come by, he writes, is that any group to whom it is applied would have to make “admissions” most of them are not “willing to make”—admissions as to the real nature of their ideology and objectives, behind the euphemisms, lies, and double-speak. If no one is a fascist, then everyone potentially is. Even in the 40s, Orwell wrote, “if you examine the press you will find that there is almost no set of people—certainly no political party or organized body of any kind—which has not been denounced as Fascist.”

He enumerates those so accused: “Conservatives, Socialists, Communists, Trotskyists, Catholics, War Resisters, Supporters of the war, Nationalists….” What of the textbook examples just on the other side of the front lines? “When we apply the term ‘Fascism’ to Germany or Japan or Mussolini’s Italy,” Orwell concedes, “we know broadly what we mean.” But appealing to these extreme governments does little good, “because even the major Fascist states differ from one another a good deal in structure and ideology.” Umberto Eco is content to say that fascism adopts the cultural trappings of the nations in which it arises, yet still shares several constant, if contradictory, ideological traits. Orwell isn’t so sure he knows what those are.

So what can Orwell say about the word, one he is eager to hold on to but at a loss to pin down? Though he believes it must name a “political and economic” system as well, Orwell finally opts for an ordinary language definition, to which we “attach at any rate an emotional significance.” Whether we “recklessly fling” the word “in every direction” or use it in more precise ways, we always mean “roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal, and anti-working class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist.’” Those today who are not bullies—or unapologetic fascist sympathizers—and who don’t need euphemisms for these words, would likely agree.

You can read “What is Fascism?here. You can find the short essay published in this volume, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Bruce Springsteen Narrates Audiobook Version of His New Memoir (and How to Download It for Free)

In September, Bruce Springsteen published his new autobiography, Born to Run. Patiently I’ve been awaiting the audiobook version, which came out today. And, to my surprise, I discovered that it’s narrated by Springsteen himself. All 18 hours of it.

You can hear him read Chapter 41 (called “Hitsville”) above. And if you want to hear the whole shebang, you can purchase it online. Or download the audiobook for free by signing up for Audible’s 30-day free trial. As I’ve mentioned before, if you register for Audible’s free trial program, they let you download two free audiobooks. At the end of 30 days, you can decide whether you want to become an Audible subscriber (as I have) or not. No matter what you decide, you get to keep the two free audiobooks. Springsteen’s memoir can be one of them.

Learn more about Audible’s free trial program here.

NB: We have a partnership with Audible.com. So, if you give their program a try, it will help support Open Culture.

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The Map of Physics: Animation Shows How All the Different Fields in Physics Fit Together

From Newton’s mechanical calculations to Einstein’s general and special relativity to the baffling indeterminacy of quantum mechanics, the discipline of physics has become increasingly arcane and complex, and less and less governed by orderly laws. This presents a problem for the layperson, who struggles to understand how Newtonian physics, with its predictable observations of physical forces, relates to the parallax and paradox of later discoveries. “If you don’t already know physics,” says physicist Dominic Walliman in the video above, it’s difficult sometimes to see how all of these different subjects are related to each other.” So Walliman has provided a helpful visual aid: an animated video map showing the connections between classical physics, quantum physics, and relativity.

Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation and his invention of calculus best represent the first domain. Here we see the inseparable relationship between physics and math, “the bedrock that the world of physics is built from.” When we come to one of Newton’s less well-known pursuits, optics, we see how his interest in light waves anticipated James Clerk Maxwell’s work on electromagnetic fields. After this initial connection, the proliferation of subdisciplines intensifies: fluid mechanics, chaos theory, thermodynamics… the guiding force of them all is the study of energy in various states. The heuristics of classical physics prevailed, and worked perfectly well, until about 1900, when the clockwork universe of Newtonian mechanics exploded with new problems, both at very large and very small levels of description.

It is here that physics branches into relativity and quantum mechanics, which Walliman explains in brief. While we are likely familiar with the very basics of Einstein’s relativity, quantum physics tends to get a little less coverage in the typical course of a general education, due to its complexity, perhaps, as well as the fact that at their edges, quantum explanations fail. While quantum field theory, says Walliman, is “the best description of the universe we have,” once we come to quantum gravitation, we reach “the giant Chasm of Ignorance” that speculative and controversial ideas like string theory and loop quantum gravity attempt to bridge.


At the “Chasm of Ignorance,” our journey through the domains of physics ends, and we end up back in the airy realm where it all began, philosophy. Those of us with a typical general education in the sciences may find that we have a much better understanding of the field’s intellectual geography. As a handy reminder, you might even wish to purchase a poster copy of Walliman’s Map of Physics, which you can see en miniature above. (It’s also available as a digital download here.) Just below, the charming, laid-back physicist takes the stage in a TEDx talk to demonstrate effective science communication, explaining “quantum physics for 7 year olds,” or, as it were, 37, 57, or 77-year olds. To learn more about physics, please don’t miss these essential resources in our archive: Free Online Physics Courses and Free Physics Textbooks

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Science of Why We Laugh

Laughter is universal. And yet strange when you think about it. One moment we’re doing nothing particularly noteworthy. The next moment we’re convulsing and making these loud staccato guffaws. Odd that.

So why do we laugh? It’s a question that Robert Provine, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, has been studying for 20+ years, trying to understand laughter’s social, neurological, and evolutionary roots. In the video above, he gives you a sense of the “sidewalk” research he conducts, and some of the conclusions he has drawn–e.g., laughter is often not a reaction to something funny per se; it’s something that helps build social relationships with others. And it’s a reaction that’s hardwired in the brain.

At the video’s end, Provine tells us that the study of laughter has just begun. But, if you’re interested in what we know so far, see his two books: Laughter: A Scientific Investigation and Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond, an exploration of neglected human instincts.

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