Saturday, March 19, 2011

Reducing humor to an equation

Came across this recently from my Chicago friend, Lyle Dean.   No one has been able to accurately define just why something is funny.  Up until now!  Funny man Alastair Clarke has broken the code.  Throw away that seltzer bottle.  Grab a probability calculator!  Here, for the first time ever, is THE SECRET OF COMEDY.

A new theory suggests an equation for identifying the cause and level of our responses to any humorous stimuli: h = m x s.

The theory argues that human beings are more reliant for their behavioural instruction on culturally inherited information than any other species, and that the accuracy of that information is therefore of unparalleled importance. Yet the individual is exposed to the continual threats of error and deception, which can seriously affect their chances of survival and success.

To compensate, humour rewards us for seeing through misinformation that has come close to taking us in. The pleasure we get (h) is calculated by multiplying the degree of misinformation perceived (m) by the extent to which the individual is susceptible to taking it seriously (s).

Humour therefore exists to encourage us to take information apart and to reject that which is unsound and could potentially harm our prospects. Every time we laugh, we have successfully achieved this, resolving inconsistencies in the fabric of our knowledge as we do so.

"I am not attempting to claim that we each engage in an algebraic equation before we find something funny," says the author, Alastair Clarke, "but that this schematic description reflects the instantaneous reactions of the brain to potentially dangerous misinformation."


I'm sorry, that still doesn't explain Gallagher.

19 comments:

Mac said...

That's funny. It always comes down to the old one by (I think it was) E.B White;
"Analyzing comedy is like dissecting a frog; no-one laughs and the frog dies."

Carlos M Hernandez said...

I guess this is why an individual laughs when someone reveals inaccurate information about them.

What does that say to someone that can laugh at him/herself? Perhaps they do not take themselves seriously?

Maybe I'm taking this study too seriously.

gottacook said...

Such a formula would never be able to explain why, for example, the name "Rufus T. Firefly" is funny whereas "Wolf J. Flywheel" is instead sort of pathetic. Humor can be inherent in the sound and rhythm of the words and sentences, and even in words that are unexpectedly missing (for example, when the guy says to his girl, "The moment I met you, I lost all interest in women!"). Or a line that's already got rhythm can get an extra laugh if it can be bounced off the familiarity of a character well known from, for example, a long run of a TV series ("They are not the hell your whales"). How the hell do you quantify these sorts of things?

Phillip B said...

Have seen some interesting research on laugh tracks - in short, does hearing other people laugh at a joke make it funnier?

There is also a great piece of legal research exploring humor in presenting cases to the Supreme Court. Does getting a laugh from the justices help your case?

The highlight of that study is the contention that Justice Ginsburg has never ever laughed - in or out of court...

Atlanta said...

I'm not so sure about the formula's practical usage, but sure is lovely to learn that humor helped us evolve critical thinking skills. Bravo humor, keep up the good work.

For music, there is a formula, which began as humor for the creator:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2006/nov/11/popandrock.news/print

Maureen said...

The laugh track probably does make some people laugh harder. Laughter is contagious---once I was out do dinner with my sister, and she said something very funny, and I laughed very loudly. Half the restaurant was looking over at me smiling and chuckling, and there was no way they'd heard what she'd said. I don't mind a laugh track as long as it isn't gratuitous. In most circumstances, "Honey, I'm home," isn't cause for hysterical laughter. That's one dead giveaway a show is a stinker.

D. McEwan said...

Nothing can explain Gallagher, nor his brother, faux-Gallagher.

Tallulah Morehead said...

No one told me there would be math!

Pseudonym said...

Simon Singh collects these nonsense press release "equations", and gives an award to the stupidest one. You should contact him and give him a reference.

Mental Lint said...

What does Gallagher have to do with comedy?

Mr. Belding said...

I was never good at math, but yet I have a great sense of humor. Perhaps, someone can explain that!

Wayne said...

Humor helps your detect bullshit, such as formula for humor.

The funniest humor formula I remember from school had to do with the "angle of dangle."

Johnny Walker said...

Great theory! It certainly makes sense. I'm not sure it's all encompassing, but it's nice to know we're "rewarded" for finding truth.

I guess Bill Hicks was even closer to the mark than we realised!

Jack Daniels said...

Hi Johnny Walker...I'm Jack Daniels. Let's have a drink sometime!

Brandy Alexander said...

Hey, Johnny and Jack, buy a girl a drink?

Jose Cuervo said...

Hi good lookin'. What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?

Cap'n Bob said...

Amusing, perhaps, but E=mc2 is hilarious.

gwangung said...

The laugh track probably does make some people laugh harder. Laughter is contagious---once I was out do dinner with my sister, and she said something very funny, and I laughed very loudly. Half the restaurant was looking over at me smiling and chuckling, and there was no way they'd heard what she'd said.

For a lot of cases, it gives the signal that it's OK to laugh and that others find it funny, too.

I came across that in working in ethnic theatre. I know that the same lines will get big laughs when in an audience of x-background, or white and x-background, but much smaller laughs when the audience is primarily white. Why? Because a lot of the time, the white folks censor themselves and don't want to be seen as laughing AT particular characters, but is perfectly fine laughing WITH those characters (if that makes sense).

Johnny Walker said...

No sign of Bud Weiser?