The Faith Middleton Show
11:46 am
Tue April 1, 2014

The Science of When We Laugh and Why

Credit Chris Huggins/flickr creative commons

Humor, like pornography, is famously difficult to define. We know it when we see it, but is there a way to figure out what we really find funny—and why?

In his compelling investigation into the science of humor and laughter, cognitive neuroscientist Scott Weems uncovers what’s happening in our heads when we giggle, guffaw, or double over with laughter. While we typically think of humor in terms of jokes or comic timing, in Ha! Weems proposes a provocative new model. Humor arises from inner conflict in the brain, he argues, and is part of a larger desire to comprehend a complex world. Showing that the delight that comes with “getting” a punchline is closely related to the joy that accompanies the insight to solve a difficult problem, Weems explores why surprise is such an important element in humor, why computers are terrible at recognizing what’s funny, and why it takes so long for a tragedy to become acceptable comedic fodder. From the role of insult jokes to the benefit of laughing for our immune system, Ha! reveals why humor is so idiosyncratic, and why how-to books alone will never help us become funnier people.

Packed with the latest research, illuminating anecdotes, and even a few jokes, Ha! lifts the curtain on this most human of qualities. From the origins of humor in our brains to its life on the standup comedy circuit, this book offers a delightful tour of why humor is so important to our daily lives.

Check out the University of Aberdeen's Joking Computer.

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GUEST:

  • Scott Weems' career began as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served as communications officer onboard the USCGC YOCONA in Kodiak, Alaska. His travels then took him to New Orleans, Boston, Los Angeles, Annapolis, and Little Rock, earning graduate degrees in psychology, education, and creative writing along the way. He also has a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from U.C.L.A. and once made a little girl cry by telling her that some people go to school until the 26th grade. His is the author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why.

MUSIC:

  • “Gne Gne,” Montefiori Cocktail
  • “Transitions,” El Ten Eleven
  • “Yellow Bridges,” El Ten Eleven

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