Hmm, That’s Funny…

There have been a few interesting articles in Scientific American Mind this year about consciousness and humor and where they arise. As the latter article said, “I was wondering why the frisbee was getting bigger; then it hit me.” As I read it, I realized some of the concepts could be related.

What stood out to me on the consciousness article was the idea that it arises from errors. If we consider our daily routine, so much of it is by rote; a series of macros if you will. We drive home on our daily commute and we barely remember it because nothing extraordinary happened. What we only notice what changes.

It is interesting to me that perhaps this is what the conscious mind developed for, simply resolving errors and disputes that the automatic processing cannot handle. 

In the article on humor, one of the theories was related to the idea that we are rewarded for discovering errors; a similar idea to the arising of the conscious mind. Most jokes revolve around someone making a conscious (pun) or unconscious (slapstick) error and we are amused by the mistake. Socially this is rewarded through laughter which shows our peers that we are both paying attention and saw the error (got the joke). 

Depending on the complexity of the joke, our laughter signals both our social accessibility and our general intelligence. It also can test sub groupings. For example “the sandals factory failed their audit because they were not socks compliant.” Groups that are familiar with Sarbanes-Oxley compliance (commonly known as SOX) will likely get the joke. Whether they laughed is another matter, but what can I say, bad puns are how eye roll.

Ignoring the social rewards, it makes sense that if consciousness arises from discovery from errors, we would have a natural reward system built in for that. Discovering errors may help socially, but it definitely helps survival when you notice the tiger. These systems are deeply intertwined. I have heard it said many ways that discovery is rarely greeted with “Eureka!” but more commonly with “hmm, that’s funny”. We associate funny with humor, but also unusual occurrences. 

Well, it may be interesting but how is this useful? I’m not sure. All I know is that it’s good to pay attention because “there is a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore like an idiot.” (Steven Wright)

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