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YMIAFT Chapter 2 Part 10

The punchline

“A witty saying proves nothing.”

~ Voltaire

We now have a physical model for what determines the success of potential humour in terms similar to Seinfeld's gap model. There is a flow of activity in your head, forming patterns that represent your interpretation of some sensory experience. That flow takes place in a structure that is yours and yours alone, differentiating how individuals respond to jokes. Potential humour that is too close is where the activity in your brain is flowing through well established channels, with strong connections. They flow too easily in your brain, stimulating pathways that are based on concepts you've had before. Potential humour that is too far takes that flow of activity down pathways that essentially lead nowhere, effectively to terminals not connected to any other networks. The concept is just too out there, and you could learn it and develop new pathways for it eventually, but for now, it's not funny because it doesn't stimulate any activity. Potential humour that is “just right” at some point in its flow hits an area of weak connectivity. Neither too familiar nor too strange.

Why would the people at the next table be laughing at stuff you don't find funny? The activity in their brain is running around in networks of neurons in patterns that is built around all sorts of context you don't have. Not merely information you don't have, but networks in their brains related to how they feel about their friends, their individual perceptions of the current environment, their immediate emotional state of mind, and all sorts of connections to stuff that mattered to them and their brains, but not to you. Where they have weak connections ready to be activated is different from you. Anything, even a simple “yeah, sure” can be funny if inspires activity within your personal framework of context for that moment. Anything can be not funny if you don't have a connection to it, nor a context to support it, within your mind.

Ultimately, the most significant implication of this model for explaining humour is that because it is based on a set of physical circumstances within your brain, it is unbound by any particular type of content. Humour based on status, surprise, culture, language, body position, smell, sight, random memories, emotions, music... you name it. If your brain can think about it, it can be funny. The type of activity, possibly of weak connections being activated in a neuroplastic model, or, hedging my bets a little, maybe something similar that can account for an evaluation of too close versus too far, can take place anywhere in the brain. As a result, there is very little limit to where the humour network can be listening, which matches observable evidence. Anything can be funny, and anything can be not funny.

If they laughed, it was funny.

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