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Ontological Laughter and Its Opening of the Experimental Possibility Space


Comedy, laughter, and pleasure are the areas that have garnered a fair share of interest among philosophers. These phenomena can be seen at work in the daily lives of people, and have thus evolved to adopt new definitions. In order to establish these concepts, one begins with the Kantian way of thought in which he postulated that “time and space are necessary forms of thought” (Freud 23). However, according to Freud, an examination of unconscious thoughts led him to infer, quite contrary to Kant, that thoughts are timeless and there are no confines that limit their occurrence and nature (Freud, 23). Moreover, Kant’s notions that humans as a subject relate differently to the world in comparison to other objects (Morton 325) and that the measurable things are the only real things (Morton 324) have been refuted by Morton. Instead, Morton proposes that the "real" things spoken of by Kant only measure up as appearances (324) and that both non-human and human beings all have the same significance (325). These arguments are necessary for the explanation of laughter, leisure, and comedy by both Sigmund and Morton.


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Films are only one of the ways in which people amuse themselves. With regard to the subject of laughter, both Interstellar and The Martian are analyzed in relation to Freud’s theory of pleasure and Morton’s theory of laughter. The Interstellar movie features the effort of humankind as a species to salvage itself from destruction. The story revolves around an adventurous and dangerous space mission that turns out to be essential to saving mankind. On the other hand, The Martian encompasses the experiences of a man who had to survive on the planet Mars after being mistaken for dead and left behind on the planet by his team, as well as his rescue back to Earth. The more intricately developed plot, which focuses on different characters and tough situations, proves that Interstellar employed ontological laughter to open the experimental space for possibilities, in comparison to The Martian, which follows a less dynamic story which focuses mainly on the protagonist and his future.

Ontological laughter and how it opens experimental space

The philosopher Morton developed a theory that explains laughter in ontological terms. Laughter, when approached philosophically, can be useful in explaining the ontological attributes of things. According to Morton, laughter “is the ripple of the ripple of the future pouring into the nowness.” (Morton 331). Similarly to Freud in terms of his thoughts on time, Morton thinks that the present should not be interpreted as a fixed point in time, but rather as a collision of the time itself. Therefore, laughter could be indicative of the structural form of things and thus have ontological implications.

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However, ontological laughter has its basis in the works of previous philosopher, such as Kant. For instance, the negation of Kant’s proposal on the significance of the human over the inhuman led Morton to the general statement that both forms of beings are significant. Therefore, both forms of being should be treated in the same context. Moreover, Sigmund Freud’s establishment of the timeless nature of thoughts serves as a foundation for ontological laughter. Following Kant’s and Freud’s proposals, Morton justified his thoughts that things were not real but rather merely a flickering.

Morton’s notion of laughter has been reproduced in Sigmund Freud’s work Beyond the Pleasure Principle, which establishes the sometimes contrasting and yet complementary ideologies that exist about thoughts and behavior. The pleasure principle, as Freud argues, implies that the conscious impulse often relates with pleasure (3). However, the indication of repetitive habits in people pointed to another aspect of thought. Some people would often fall into the habit of repetitive experiences (Freud 16), even when the latter were not pleasurable in themselves nor connected to any previous pleasurable moments, a condition the physiologist called transference neurosis (Freud 12). Moreover, there exist both the sexual instincts that force one to seek survival and the contrary inherent nature of living things that gravitates towards death (Freud 33), making survival merely a postponement of death (34). Therefore, Freud clearly highlights that it is possible for two different entities or ideologies to exist within the same space. 

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The above arguments, in part, are a basis for Morton's ontological laughter. Morton argues that an “object” is itself and entirely different from itself at the same time. This means that things can have an appearance, which is finite (327), and thus be themselves. However, there is a part that we have no complete knowledge of, which is the being that makes things different from themselves. The appearance and the being correspond to the past and the future aspects of the object, which are the same and yet different from each other. Because of the undecidability that exists in the structures of things, they can be rearranged into definite forms (Morton 329). The energy produced through the re-arrangement of things includes surprise and laughter.

Experimental possibility space

Laughter is a part of comedy. Comedy is treated as a possibility space that allows for the co-existence of many entities, such as ideas and emotions, in a persistent flickering. Additionally, it is a genre that closely captures the ontological attributes of things (Morton 327). The flickering is representative of the futural dimension of things. Therefore, it can be argued that comedy allows for the coexistence of both laughter and tears. Reality, given that it contains many entities, has been defined as being “on the whole a comedy” (Morton 334). The desire to smooth out the loops that occur in this ontological relation of structures in comedy has often resulted in the redoubling of loops in an art form called “tragedy”, which is a “rare form of comedy” (Morton 334). Therefore, laughter has a relation to the ontological nature of things.

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 However, comedy, which is a possibility space, opens up room for experimentation in form of the “redoubled loop”. For instance, when people unconsciously engage in activities that they think can advance their welfare only to cause negative repercussions, people may make even more negative and potentially harmful decisions in order to rectify their previous, present, or future mistakes. Thus, laughter allows for the interaction of both appearances and beings, which upon coexisting may prompt humans to intervene and rectify the loops, which instead leads to other loops that must be accepted and catered for.

The whole possibility of experimentation is in accepting a futurality that is unknown at present. Since ontological laughter allows for both the flickering future and the finite past to collide, the experimental possibility space is created. Thus, things must be open to the new possibilities in the future. When this futurality is accepted and engaged, it interacts with the past and laughter is attained accordingly.

Laughter and experimentation in Interstellar and The Martian

Interstellar, as compared to The Martian, reveals a more detailed level of organization and dramatization, as well as a more advanced level of the use of ontological laughter to open up the experimental possibility space. In Interstellar, the plot captures more instances in which the characters have to open up to the unknown in the effort to solve the existing challenges. Additionally, the characters in Interstellar encounter more challenging situations on a larger scale as compared to the characters in The Martian. Thus, Interstellar encourages its characters to open up to an experimentation space, which is more sophisticated since they venture into the unknown as compared to the Martian, the characters of which open up to a futurality that is less strange. 

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The rather simple plot of The Martian is less active or dramatic than that of Interstellar. The Martian mainly focuses on the protagonist, who must open up to the unknown because he was left on another planet by his crewmates. Therefore, the extent of the dramatization is thoroughly minimized to focus on one character. On the contrary, the plot of Interstellar entailed active participation of more characters. For instance, not only did Cooper and Murph have to open up to unknown possibilities in several instances, but other characters like Mann and the researcher have to go to space to seek solutions. Moreover, the dramatization was heightened because of the extent of the problem to be solved. The problem of the Interstellar involved a whole species as compared to The Martian, which mostly involved the survival of the protagonist. Therefore, the plot and the engagement of characters of Interstellar make it more dramatic than The Martian.

The extent of ontological laughter, as determined by character interaction with the unknown was more advanced in Interstellar than in The Martian. Laughter, as Morton postulates, is the sliding and mixing of the past and the future; it can be used to detect the ontological properties of things (331). The past and the future are represented by the personal traits of the characters and the unknown situations that they face. Laughter is realized when they open up and interact with the unknown. In The Martian, the character is a healthy, neat, well-trained male botanist with a passion for exploring. However, in the face of uncertainty, his innate strengths are measured by the consecutive troubles and events that he goes through in the face of the unknown. For example, his ability to plant potatoes for food in an adverse environment exposes such traits as wisdom and professionalism. Moreover, that fact that he despaired after being hopeful for so long demonstrates another aspect of him as a character. These moments could be described ontological laughter regarding the protagonist of The Martian.

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In Interstellar, the protagonist is put in complicated circumstances, in which opening up to the possibilities of the future makes the ontological laughter more advanced. Cooper is a farmer who is dedicated to the well-being and survival of his family. However, when the situation around him changes and the future interacts with his form, more of the character’s traits become clear. The interaction of the character with the unknown is more robust than those of the protagonists in The Martian. Cooper knows that he faces a bigger challenge tahn his own survival in space. In fact, his actions have direct consequences on the entire human race. As he opens up to the unknown, his ontological nature is revealed. The character proves to be a caring and considerate man, who is capable of making sacrifices. He leaves his family and puts the interests of other families first. Additionally, Cooper comes across as a wise individual, based on the way he was able to seek help when he was being strangled by Dr. Mann. His decision to enter the black hole in an attempt to get the answers and save the humankind contribute to suh a perception. Basically, the ontological laughter, including the dynamics of the perils involved in the undertakings of characters, make Interstellar more advanced than The Martian.

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The more perilous consequences entailed in the futural aspect of the Interstellar create a probability space for experimentation. Interstellar portrays a planet that has been rendered inhospitable for the human race that once thrived on it. However, people contributed to its destruction through anthropocenic influences, which may initially have intended to make the planet a more hospitable place. Therefore, humanity must open up to the unknown in order to ensure its survival.

Humanity is forced to look beyond the Earth for ways to survive, such as previously uninhabited planets; a decision in which the possibility experimental space is achieved. Cooper is open to understanding the dust that is present in Murph's room, interpreted as the futurality streaming into the past. This leads him to a more important mission. Moreover, Cooper and other researchers had to go into space to seek feasible alternatives and find solutions for the perils that mankind had unconsciously caused on Earth. The use of the Morse code to communicate was another possibility space for experimenting. This is because this way of communication was a result of the flickering of the future over the past through the use of time. Murph opens up to perceive the previously unexplored communication as her father being willing to open up to the future. In all these situations, Interstellar presented situations in which laughter, that is the meeting of the future and the past, created possibility experimental space.

In The Martian, the possibility space for experimental purposes still exists, but it is limited. First, a group of astronauts are on a mission on another planet purely by the design of human invasion and influence. However, their encounter with adverse weather forces them to face dangers and head back to Earth, having "lost" one of their own. This unfortunate event, caused in part by mankind, leads to the loop of laughter in the life of the protagonist. Mark has to adjust to the harsh conditions on the planet and improvise ways in which he can communicate with the rest of the crew on Earth. Despite the loop concentrating at this point in the movie and shifting only in minor ways, it exposes a space in which the unknown future interacted with the appearances in an anthropocene-motivated situation. 

Both films have instances in which humanity, while engaging in self-preservation activities, unconsciously led to anthropocenic ecological disasters. In The Martian’s case it was a crew that left one of their own in an inhospitable world, while in Interstellar, it was the whole species that was at risk of extinction from inhospitable conditions caused by human-related activities. Regarding the scale of the ecological distortion, Interstellar has a more advanced plot. Moreover, the characters in Interstellar face direr choices and have to experiment with more unknown things in order to save their own kind.

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Laughter has been defined as the moment in which the future and the past combine. However, humans have always sought to smooth out the existing loops because of the co-existence of many entities. However, this attempt often works in a way that creates more unprecedented loops that are more complex. That forces the experimentation to be done by opening up to unknown futurality in order to solve some of these problems. For example, The Martian’s protagonist had to find the means of surviving on a different planet when he was left behind by fellow crewmates. In Interstellar, the research team had to seek other places in which humanity could survive, because of the inhospitable state of the Earth. This analysis is complementary to Freud’s analogy of living things seeking to exist merely because of sexual instincts, while at the same time having other instincts that lead the organisms towards their death. Interstellar incorporates more instances where futurality has to be opened up to in order to attempt to solve the resultant possibilities after attempting to smooth out the fate of mankind. The methods employed included the use of wormholes, the Morse code as a communication method, and seeking alternative planets to inhabit.



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