Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Why does inside knowledge make us laugh?

Reading the same article as in th previous post, and I came across this text:

"Not all objects that have temporal extents need exhibit enough persistence to warrant a persistent identity. Consider Roger dining at a restaurant one evening."

Cognitive scientists might note that the idea of dining at a restaurant is the usual example of a "script," an idea promoted by a guy named Roger Schank. When I realized that in their example the person dining is named Roger, I laughed out loud. Why?

I have inside knowledge. I know why they picked Roger. To the layman it looks like an aribtrary name, and in the paper it acts as such. But for those who know about script theory know where it came from.

Laughter is often expressed to ease tension. It's often evoked by unexpected stimuli. In some psychology experiments, showing somebody square after square, and then showing them a circle can elicit a laugh. Hilarious. Unexpected stimuli are a bit scary. Scary events are often followed with laughter. Jokes work on an unexpected ending.

But it seems there's more going on in this example. My friend Daniel critisizes some "Family Guy" humour because it's just referencing some cultural idea, and there's no cleverness. He's right, but the fact is it makes us laugh anyway (well, not Daniel, but more lowbrow audiences like me).

Frankly I'm a little baffled by this. Ideas?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

stealing from "reincorporation and repetition in art":

you find/put sth. you know in a completely different, unexpected context.
laughter stimulates parts of the brain responsible for gratification.
-> you reward yourself for having recognized this unlikely circumstance.
( like knowing snakes just from ashore but noticing a water snake. )