Saturday, May 7, 2011

Laughter and forgetting; correlation and causation

Earlier today I expressed some probably unwarranted puzzlement at noted druggie S.T. Coleridge's diary entry about laughter and memory loss:

Analyze the causes that the ludicrous weakens memory, and laughter, mechanically, makes it difficult to remember a good story.
Perhaps one should blame this on the ludicrousness of the connection, but I had forgotten that Coleridge was friends with noted druggie Sir Humphry Davy, who was the first person to study the effects of nitrous oxide on humans (i.e., himself), and appears to have quite liked it:
I have felt a more high degree of pleasure from breathing nitrous oxide than I ever felt from any cause whatever—a thrilling all over me most exquisitely pleasurable, I said to myself I was born to benefit the world by my great talents.
(Coleridge also told Davy he was going to "attack chemistry like a shark.")

It is not clear whether others who have addressed this topic, like Milan Kundera (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting) were also noted druggies. Regardless, it seems likely that Coleridge at least was confusing causation with correlation. (PS could Humphry D have been the person from Porlock?)

4 comments:

Calista said...
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Calista said...

As a connection to nothing whatsoever, here is one of Wilkie Collins's early memories:

"One day [Coleridge] . . . was in great distress, saying that it was wrong for him to take opium, but that he could not resist the craving for it, although he made every possible effort to do so. His grief was excessive. He even shed tears. At last my mother addressed him, saying: 'Mr. Coleridge, do not cry; if the opium really does you any good, and you must have it, why do you not go and get it?' At this the poet ceased to weep, recovered his composure, and, turning to my father, said, with an air of much relief and deep conviction: 'Collins, your wife is an exceedingly sensible woman!'"

(Wilkie was 9; later grew into a massive beard)

Sarang said...

It's a pretty great story -- as per Wikipedia, Collins was also a noted druggie though he had the excuse of severe arthritis.

Jenny Davidson said...

This post makes me laugh! Coleridge was a taxing house-guest...