Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind

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MIT Press, Mar 4, 2011 - Philosophy - 374 pages
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An evolutionary and cognitive account of the addictive mind candy that is humor.

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.

 

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Contents

1 Introduction
1
2 What Is Humor For?
9
3 The Phenomenology of Humor
15
4 A Brief History of Humor Theories
37
5 Twenty Questions for a Cognitive and Evolutionary Theory of Humor
57
6 Emotion and Computation
61
7 A Mind That Can Sustain Humor
93
8 Humor and Mirth
117
10 Objections Considered
177
11 The Penumbra
213
12 But Why Do We Laugh?
257
13 The Punch Line
287
Epilogue
301
References
305
Index
329
Copyright

9 HigherOrder Humor
143

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About the author (2011)

Matthew M. Hurley is currently researching teleology and agency at the Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition at Indiana University.

Daniel C. Dennett is University Professor Codirector of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He is the author of Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds; Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness; Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting; Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness (all published by the MIT Press), From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Mind, and other books.

Reginald B. Adams, Jr., is Associate Professor of Psychology researching emotion and social perception at Penn State University.

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