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nebule's avatar

Can science explain humour in any way?

Asked by nebule (16452points) July 4th, 2009

Can neuroscience, physics, biology, psychology, or chemistry explain where humour comes from? and if not where you do think it comes from? What makes us laugh and why?

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23 Answers

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Science could potentially explain why we physically laugh, but I don’t think think the concept of humor can be adequately explained using the scientific method.

Qingu's avatar

We’re not the only animals to laugh. Chimpanzees laugh. Crows have been observed behaving in ways that suggest they have a sense of humor.

Humor can be explained through evolution. It’s a “reward” for pattern-recognition, which underlies our large brain’s evolutionary advantage. Brains process incoming information, and brains that can sense patterns and form behavior accordingly are better able to survive. It follows that brains that reward pattern-recognition itself in some way (to sharpen the ability) would also survive more often.

If you dissect the things we laugh at, a lot of them deal with incongruities or weird juxtapositions that don’t make sense. When you realize that something doesn’t line up right, or that there’s an ambiguity in how it lines up, you laugh. Laughter is your “reward” for the realization.

Blondesjon's avatar

They could but it would only suck all of the joy and laughter out of it.

Fyrius's avatar

I think you need to specify your question a bit. What aspect of laughter would you like to have explained? For examples, do you want to know how it works, what triggers it, how it develops as a child grows up, or why we have it?

syz's avatar

If I had to guess, I would hypothesize that humor has occurred as an adjunct or evolution of play. We’ve long been taught that play is a vital development tool for developing hunting and survival skills, learning appropriate social skills, and establishing pack hierarchy. It seems reasonable to me that increasingly complex organisms would develop increasingly complex forms of play, of which humor may have been a result.

nebule's avatar

@Fyrius…all of it…the whole shebang..I’m feeling greedy :-) thanks for the link…will come in useful x

Fyrius's avatar

Well, in any case, I’m sure science can answer those questions, eventually, to the extent that it hasn’t done so already.
They’re working on it, anyway, and I would see no reason to expect them not to succeed one day.

nebule's avatar

…and then I’m sure we’ll all be really thrilled that the magic will have been lost ;-)

SirBailey's avatar

Clearly there is a psychological component. When someone is very tense and anxious or afraid, they often readily laugh at the slightest bit of humor. Their minds seek tension and stress release and the humor does it.

Fyrius's avatar

Why would humour be any less fun when the psychologists find out how it works?

A e-friend of mine shared what was probably a pet theory of his, that states humour is based on defiance of expectations. We laugh about things because they’re absurd (Monty Python comes to mind), or because they make sense in a way we didn’t see coming (“outside a dog, a book is a man’s best friend; inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.”).

I think this is a good explanation. But knowing it hasn’t affected my experience of a good joke.

Ivan's avatar


Indeed it would, but you say that like it’s a bad thing.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

Knowing where something comes from does not take the ‘magic’ away from it, it does not become less of what it was because we now understand how it works. Thanks to reading a lot of scientific journals, I know a lot more about the universe and how it works than I ever did as boy, and I am still quite fascinated by the grandeur of it all. Knowing how the sun works doesn’t take anything away from it, it just makes it all that much more incredible to study.

One thing I did see years ago was that people that are laughing and people that are screaming in fright look an awful lot alike if you turn the sound down, and that a laugh speeded up sounds like a scream.

nebule's avatar

I’m not necessarily saying that when psychologists find out why and how it would be a bad thing…or take the magic out of it.. but science…in a neuroscience kind of form perhaps… I guess it depends on the scientific explanation… If its an evolutionary pshycological perspective of…we only laugh to to survive… that’s a bit boring… or…I don’t know actually…

is it boring?

you’ve got me….!

Fyrius's avatar

Well, at any rate, it would depend on whether or not you choose to read up on what the scientists have to say about humour and laughter. If you don’t, then it’s a moot issue, as it wouldn’t make a difference for you.

nebule's avatar

I consider myself told off

Fyrius's avatar

Haha, okay. I’ll stop the lecturing.

Just to be clear, I didn’t intend anything I said to be a reprimand, and I regret it if any of it came across as such. I’m just contributing my two cents.

nebule's avatar

no worries :-)

mammal's avatar

not in any way that would satisfy me, i need something a little more holistic than an abstract chemical equation.

Ivan's avatar


It doesn’t really matter what you need. Something is either true or false.

mammal's avatar

@Ivan actually it does matter to me, your belief in objectivity as a divine concept of truth is seriously flawed.

Fyrius's avatar

I’m scratching my head about your use of the word “divine”. The only way I can make sense of that adjective in this context is as an attempt to make an obvious fact sound ridiculous.

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