What’s So Funny?

I’ve blogged about humor before.

I’ve always been interested in learning more about why we find some things funny, but not others.

Well, there’s a new theory (and a new book) coming out that tries to explain it.

Alastair Clarke explains: “The theory is an evolutionary and cognitive explanation of how and why any individual finds anything funny. Effectively it explains that humour occurs when the brain recognizes a pattern that surprises it, and that recognition of this sort is rewarded with the experience of the humorous response, an element of which is broadcast as laughter.

“By removing stipulations of content we have been forced to study the structures underlying any instance of humour, and it has become clear that it is not the content of the stimulus but the patterns underlying it that provide the potential for sources of humour. For patterns to exist it is necessary to have some form of content, but once that content exists, it is the level of the pattern at which humour operates and for which it delivers its rewards.”

I find this theory interesting, and mostly satisfying. Of course, one could define pattern recognition so broadly that all thinking would be covered. And then, the theory wouldn’t really explain anything.

But, I do think there’s something there.

And, I like that it recognizes that while there are some very common themes in humor (dignity reduction, misfortune), they don’t completely cover the domain of humor.

It’s also consistent with my (non-rigorous) observation that people with a well-developed sense of humor tend to be above average in general intelligence, since intelligence often involves facility with pattern recognition and the ability to play with the abstract concepts that form these patterns.


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