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The Science of Humor 344

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-put-a-dollar-in-a-change-machine-and-nothing-changed dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The sense of humor is a ubiquitous human trait, yet rare or non-existent in the rest of the animal kingdom. But why do humans have a sense of humor in the first place? Cognitive scientist (and former programmer) Matthew Hurley says humor (or mirth, in research-speak) is intimately linked to thinking and is a critical task in human cognition because a sense of humor keeps our brains alert for the gaps between our quick-fire assumptions and reality. 'We think the pleasure of humor, the emotion of mirth, is the brain's reward for discovering its mistaken inferences,' says Hurley, co-author of Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind. With humor, the brain doesn't just discover a false inference — it almost simultaneously recovers and corrects itself. For example, read the gag that's been voted the funniest joke in the world by American men. So why is this joke funny? Because it is misleading, containing a small, faulty assumption that opens the door to a costly mistake. Humor is 'when you catch yourself in an error, like looking for the glasses that happen to be on the top of your head. You've made an assumption about the state of the world, and you're behaving based on that assumption, but that assumption doesn't hold at all, and you get a little chuckle.'"
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The Science of Humor

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  • Minsky 1980 (Score:5, Informative)

    by cstacy (534252) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @09:36AM (#38181422)
  • Python 1969 (Score:4, Informative)

    by ghmh (73679) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @09:41AM (#38181440)
  • by ArsenneLupin (766289) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @10:11AM (#38181592)

    just because it mentions SQL injection,

    You mean the famous "Bobbie Tables" one? Yeah, but that one is funny as hell, sorry if you didn't get the humor. And yes, it does not just drop the buzzwords "SQL injection", but actually constructs a small story around it. And I just checked, the strip doesn't even mention "SQL injection", it just shows the consequences of one...

    Of course, a webmaster having been called from his weekend because a goat wandered on to his site might find SQL injection less funny, but the same is true of the hunter who just shot his mate.

  • by sbjornda (199447) <sbjorndaNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:39PM (#38182358)
    You might enjoy the book by Regina Barreca, "They Used To Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted... Women's Strategic Use of Humor."

    --
    .nosig

  • Re:The real joke (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 27, 2011 @01:31PM (#38182668)

    I'm not sure where the editor got that from. The study was based in the University of Hertfordshire and that joke was the cumulative product from various nationalities. The top joke as chosen by americans was:

    A man and a friend are playing golf one day at their local golf course. One of the guys is about to chip onto the green when he sees a long funeral procession on the road next to the course. He stops in mid-swing, takes off his golf cap, closes his eyes, and bows down in prayer. His friend says: “Wow, that is the most thoughtful and touching thing I have ever seen. You truly are a kind man.” The man then replies: “Yeah, well we were married 35 years.”

    http://richardwiseman.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/ll-final-report.pdf

  • Re:Two things (Score:5, Informative)

    by fyngyrz (762201) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @02:15PM (#38182918) Homepage Journal

    The "two goldfish in a tank"-joke doesn't have a loser.

    Well, let's see.

    Do you mean this joke:
     
    Q: Two goldfish are in a tank.

    A: One says, "Do you know how to drive this thing?"

    That definitely has a loser: The person being told the joke is made to think "fish tank" by the context presented by the teller of the joke, and then is ambushed by the teller of the joke specifically by being made to know they were thinking incorrectly -- it's a military tank. The laughter comes from the listener when they realize they were wrong; from the teller at the realization of the listener they've been had. Dominance and submission, both.

    Or did you have another "two goldfish" joke?

    I'd be really interested in a list of animals where humor has been observed

    I just gave you one (abbreviated, but pretty obvious.)

    and how that manifests (or can be detected)

    Ever see a cat hide from another cat or dog, smack it on the head when it wanders by, and then "run away", but using very high leaps that aren't effective at distancing instead of the ground covering-speed they are actually capable of? That's an ambush, with a victim, delivered as social one-uppance, but clearly below the threshold of actual violence. Dominance. That's humor, straight up. The laughter *is* the "run."

    Dolphins not only ambush and prank, they laugh at the victim's discomfort, too. Ask any dolphin handler. It can be pretty rough humor, too. Like, broken-bone rough. That's more of a reflection of just how powerful an animal they are as compared to humans, I think -- the same jokes on other dolphins wouldn't result in that kind of damage. They'll pull you under when you're swimming, spit water in your face, all kinds of dominating pranks.

    Parrots... those are considerably harder to explain, as the behavior is, in fact, linked with their use of language, and that varies enormously by the individual parrot. I'm going to punt and say you need to live with one. They're bloody hilarious, though, believe me.

    Dogs... they exhibit a wide range of intelligent behaviors (as do cats, for that matter), but as far as humor goes, just play "throw the stick" with one that hasn't been trained to fetch, and see how easy it isn't to get the stick back, and how the dog will tease in the manner of "I have the stick, here, it's almost in your reach, whoops, you're too slow, aren't you?" Straight up dominance, you're the victim, sub-violent. If you enjoy being teased, then we have submission as well (though note how quickly being teased gets old... submission is a hard place to maintain cheerfully.) It's humor.

  • by artor3 (1344997) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @03:37PM (#38183400)

    You're projecting. The squirrel didn't understand that it was inserting characters into your stream of text and annoying you. He didn't understand he was pranking you. All he understood was that you were just sitting there wiggling your fingers for some reason, and he could make you stop and pay attention to him for a bit by stepping on the clicky surface.

    Animals play for some pretty well established reasons, reasons which are largely the same for (young) humans. It builds social skills, locomotive skills, and (where objects are involved) fine motor control. But for them to enjoy teasing and pranking each other, they'd need to have thoughts about another creature's thoughts. Humans are able to to take this out to the fourth or fifth order before getting confused ("I know that Bob knows that Sue knows that Bob knows that I know..."). With animals, great apes have been shown capable of second-order beliefs (but no further), and no other animals have demonstrated this capacity at all. This is unsurprising, since very few animals have even been able to demonstrate self-awareness with the well-known mirror test.

    There is no doubt that some animals are smart and self-aware. Great apes, dolphins, corvids, and elephants have all demonstrated self-awareness, and I'm in no way suggesting that they are mindless automatons the way some philosophers once believed. But you're attributing a much higher level of thought to them, one which scientists have often tested for and never found (except in great apes).

  • by snaFu07 (1111263) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @07:37PM (#38185024)
    It's a reference to Monty Python's sketch about world's funnyest joke [youtube.com].

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