Not A Laughing Matter

By CodingStrategies on March 31st, 2017

As virtual reality simulators assume larger roles in helicopter combat training, programmers have gone to great lengths to increase the realism of the their scenarios, including detailed landscapes and — in the case of the Australian Northern Territory’s Operation Phoenix — herds of kangaroos (since groups of disturbed animals might well give away a helicopters position). The head of the Technology Organization’s Land Operations/Simulations division reportedly instructed developers to model the local marsupials’ movements and reaction to helicopters. Being efficient programmers, they just reused some code originally used to model infantry detachments reactions under the same stimuli, changed the mapped icon from a soldier to a kangaroo, and increased the resulting avatar’s speed of movement.

Eager to demonstrate their flying skills for some visiting American pilots, the hotshot Aussies “buzzed” the virtual kangaroos in low flight during a simulation. The kangaroos scattered, as predicted, and the Americans nodded appreciatively – but then did a double-take as the kangaroos reappeared from behind a hill and launched a barrage of stinger missiles at the hapless helicopter. (Apparently the programmers had forgotten the remove that particular part of the infantry coding).

The lesson from this is that simulated objects are defined with certain characteristics, and any new object defined in terms of the old one inherits all the same qualities. The embarrassed programmers had learned to be careful when reusing object-oriented code, and the Americans left with the utmost respect for the Australian wildlife. Simulator supervisors report that pilots from that point onwards have strictly avoided kangaroos, just as intended.

Hopefully, this story made you laugh! Laughter is a physical reaction in humans consisting typically of rhythmical, often audible contractions of the diaphragm and other parts of the respiratory system. Most commonly, it is considered a visual expression of a number of positive emotional states, such as joy, mirth, happiness or relief. Even rats laugh when they’re tickled, and the more they play together, the more they laugh. Psychologist Jack Panksepp first observed laughing rats in the 1990s; he needed special equipment to hear it, as rat giggles are very high pitched.

Laughter is a part of human behavior regulated by the brain, helping individuals clarify their social interaction and providing an emotional context to conversations. And the saying “laugh and the world laughs with you” is more than just an expression; laughter really is contagious. The sound of laughter triggers regions in the premotor cortex region of the brain, which is involved in moving the facial muscles to correspond with the sound and prepare to join in.

Laughter has been used as a therapeutic tool for many years because it is a natural form of medicine. Laughing raises both your energy expenditure and heart rate by 10 percent to 20 percent. This means you could burn from 10 to 40 calories by chuckling continuously for 10 to 15 minutes. While this sounds good in theory, you’d have to chortle solidly for an hour or more for this calorie burning to have any meaningful effect. Other benefits of laughter include stress reduction, a boost to the immune system, improving teamwork and endorphin release to relieve pain. Studies indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease by increasing blood flow and improving the function of blood vessels.

But, laughter is not always a pleasant experience and is associated with several negative phenomena. Excessive laughter can lead to cataplexy (ICD-10-CM code G47.411), and unpleasant laughter spells, excessive elation, and fits of laughter can all be considered negative aspects of laughter. A fit describes an abnormal time when one cannot control the laughter, sometimes leading to seizures (code R56.9) or a brief period of unconsciousness (code R40.20). Some experts believe that fits of laughter represent a form of epilepsy (code G40.89).

Enter Chrysippus of Soli, born circa 279 BC in a Roman province located in what is today known as Turkey. He is considered to be a cofounder of Stoicism, one of the most influential schools of Hellenistic philosophy. Chrysippus wrote over 700 works, none of which have survived except as fragments embedded in the works of later writers. He was celebrated as a scholar of great erudition, a master of dialectic and a prolific writer. An old woman who lived with him maintained that Chrysippus composed five hundred lines a day, no small feat in the absence of word processing!

It was recorded by a student at the Stoic School that the influential philosopher and headmaster literally died of laughter. It all began when a donkey approached Chrysippus and began eating his figs. He then jokingly commanded the old woman to “give the donkey neat wine to drink with which to wash them down.” According to the philosophy student who supposedly documented the events first hand, Chrysippus laughed so violently he died! Modern medical experts believe that the actual cause of death was most likely cardiac arrest (code I46.8) which was brought on by asphyxiation (code R09.01) caused by intense laughter.

This means that the Stoic philosopher and educator Chrysippus died of laughter at the age of 73, survived by the old woman who cared for him and the drinking donkey who gave him his last laugh.