One of the best things about having young children is that they think your jokes are funny. This morning, my two-year-old needed help getting out of the bathtub. I held out a clean towel for her to step into, wrapped her up and set her on the bath-rug. I watched her dress–undershirt first, then flowery cotton dress. She then stood smiling with feet apart and hands on her hips. I smiled back and said,
Look at you! You can dress yourself!
She stayed put for three seconds. Suddenly, she raised her eyebrows and said,
Oops! I forgot my panties!
She searched the area. Then looked to me for help.
Where are they? Where are my panties?
I shrugged and whispered as if telling her a secret,
I think they are hiding!
She burst out laughing. We both melted into giggles at the slightest hint of silliness for an entire hour.
A stand-up comedian friend of mine once said,
Humor is the highest expression of human intelligence.
This assertion seems a bit of a stretch, but it isn’t too far off. The fact that my two-year-old gets my little jokes means she can tell the difference between imagination and reality–surely this is a sign of at least budding intelligence.
Although most cognitive psychologists today would agree with me, this flies in the face of what Jean Piaget and Sigmund Freud believed about children’s cognitive abilities. Both believed children produced so much fantastic, unreal play because they couldn’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. Cognitive psychologist Alison Gopnick says,
The picture we used to have of children was that they spent all of this time doing pretend play because they had these very limited minds, but in fact what we’ve now discovered is that children have more powerful learning abilities than we do as adults. A lot of their characteristic traits, like their pretend play, are signs of how powerful their imaginative abilities are.
One of the most respected philosophers on Creativity, Arthur Koestler, believed the moment you get a joke is a crucible between higher intelligence and lower reflexes. In his 1964 book The Act of Creation, he says,
Humour [sic] is the only domain of creative activity where a stimulus on a high level of complexity produces a massive and sharply defined response on the level of physiological reflexes.
My joke anthropomorphizing my daughter’s panties was far from brilliant. It was almost reflexive. I didn’t think about it. It popped into my head and I said it. But if not a measure of my intelligence, my daughter’s reaction to it proved she’s smarter than Sigmund Freud or Jean Piaget would have thought–and that is just plain cool.