Inside Jokes

Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind

Some things are funny—jokes, puns, sitcoms, Charlie Chaplin, The Far Side, Malvolio with his yellow garters crossed—but why? Why does humor exist in the first place? Why do we spend so much of our time passing on amusing anecdotes, making wisecracks, watching The Simpsons? In Inside Jokes, Matthew Hurley, Daniel Dennett, and Reginald Adams offer an evolutionary and cognitive perspective. Humor, they propose, evolved out of a computational problem that arose when our long-ago ancestors were furnished with open-ended thinking. Mother Nature—aka natural selection—cannot just order the brain to find and fix all our time-pressured misleaps and near-misses. She has to bribe the brain with pleasure. So we find them funny. This wired-in source of pleasure has been tickled relentlessly by humorists over the centuries, and we have become addicted to the endogenous mind candy that is humor.

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
  2. 1. Introduction
  3. 2. What Is Humor For?
  4. 3. The Phenomenology of Humor
  5. 4. A Brief History of Humor Theories
  6. 5. Twenty Questions for a Cognitive and Evolutionary Theory of Humor
  7. 6. Emotion and Computation
  8. 7. A Mind That Can Sustain Humor
  9. 8. Humor and Mirth
  10. 9. Higher-Order Humor
  11. 10. Objections Considered
  12. 11. The Penumbra: Nonjokes, Bad Jokes, and Near-Humor
  13. 12. But Why Do We Laugh?
  14. 13. The Punch Line
  15. Epilogue
  16. References
  17. Index