There are a few lines I am not sure that I understand in Hamlet: "Tis danger when the baser nature comes Between the pass and fell incensed points Of mighty opposite". I have removed these lines from context, contemplating images of what they might mean (please do comment/send an email - above left if you might enlighten me). Without wanting to sound trite, I think that part of my job in life is to try to find metaphors to link disparate themes, uncouth clashing. And I suppose that the easiest way to do this is to abstract out, in the same way that many bridges rise up towards the sky: there is an incline. The Hamlet quote implies that other connections can be made that are not so noble, where 'opposite', instead of being seen as an invitation to the imagination, or to humour, is seen as a route to clash. Here I see Athena rise up: only warring when she really must. Otherwise, she uses wisdom. And I am beginning to surprise myself by thinking that an important dimension to wisdom (which I always imagined as curmudgeonly) is humour.
Because wisdom is not a popular attribute among contemporary thinkers, I will cite two thinkers from the past on this subject: John Chrysostom and Rumi. The former was known for "peppering" his sermons with humour, which does not mean that he thought it should be used unreservedly. He notes in Homily XV, On the Priesthood, that "laughter often gives birth to foul discourse" and that humour as "those things that are indifferent" can, if unchecked, lead to trouble, just like luxury, if immoderate, leads to all kinds of extremes. But as one not promoting extremities but Aristotle's golden mean, he sees a place for humour, and used it himself. In Homily XV, Hebrews ix, he writes, "There is no harm in laughter; the harm is when it is beyond measure, and out of season. ... Laughter has been implanted in our soul, that the soul may sometimes be refreshed, not that it may quite be relaxed."
This latter distinction is not something I have experience to write about; rather, I am interested in the point made about refreshment. Release from old patterns, making space for something new: creativity.
As for Rumi, his role in this discussion is made clear by the title of a book by Idries Shah, Special Illumination: The Sufi use of humour (wikipedia). In this book, which I read as far as the Google program would let me, Shah cites Plato, from Laws VII, where the Athenian says, "serious things cannot be understood without laughable things, nor opposites at all without opposites" (I am reminded of the Hamlet lines). Here, Shah speaks of the "humourless bully", which perhaps describes one's worst workplace nightmare, though, surely, few people are consistent extremes.
An example of one joke in Shah's book is as follows: "An oil-drilling millionaire went to a dentist who said, 'Which tooth do you want me to deal with?' 'Oh,' said the tycoon, 'drill away anywhere, I feel lucky today!'" This, Shah explains, is called putting the situation in another context (and corresponds with the definition of humour by de Bono at the incipit of this post).
What I found in Shah that I did not find elsewhere was the point that some people, who invest too much "capital" in their "exercises" fail to see humour in jokes like the one above. But people are seeking out food like marble on wood...
Tasteful humour ostensibly provides relief and is at the very least a personal offering for another route to be taken.
Brush: Ewansim at DeviantART.