Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why do we laugh?

He who laughs last usually has to have the joke explained. But then why bother? After all, nothing kills humor faster than analysis. That sentiment has long dogged humor studies, a field often disparaged as an affront, even an existential threat, to its subject matter. It’s just a joke: Don’t overthink it.

But what if humor (or mirth, in research speak) is intimately linked to thinking? What if we’d have trouble thinking without it? That’s the argument of “Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind” (MIT Press, 2011).

Coauthored by three scholars, the book had an unusual genesis: It began in 2004 as an undergraduate term paper. First author Matthew Hurley, a native of Reading, Mass., had enrolled at Tufts University after a few years of travel and work as a computer programmer. As part of a self-designed major in cognitive science, Hurley took a course on humor taught by the psychologist Reginald Adams Jr. It struck Hurley that most humor theories focused on why we find certain things funny. But, he wondered, why do humans find anything funny? Why do we have a sense of humor in the first place?
Chris Berdik reviews the book "Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind" in the Boston Globe. Here

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