Re: Humor and Intelligence

phil osborn (
Sat, 23 Oct 1999 22:07:32 PDT

>From: Sasha Chislenko <>
>Subject: Re: Humor and Intelligence
>Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 01:08:03 -0500
>At 12:20 AM 99/10/21 , Phil Osborn wrote:
> >Similar to Koestler's analysis in "The Act of Creation." Koestler,
>however, demonstrates the bio/cognitive mechanism by which this occurs,
>which might be important in upload/AI considerations. Suggest you check it
>As most likely not everybody would research the book, could you (or
>summarize the argument?
Koestler's argument is quite detailed and is part of a larger picture of an analysis of humor, creativity and - oops forgotten the third one momentarily (it's been about 30 years since I read the book). I recall that I disagreed or was not convinced about some of his other arguments, but most of the humor analysis made perfect sense. Here is a small portion of his argument and position as I recall it:

All humor can be shown to resolve to perceiving or grasping something in two contradictory lights simultaneously, the pun being the simplest example. The brain, simplifying greatly, involves not just the "digital" kind of behavior involving discrete signals and switching by neurons, axon, dendrites, etc., but also the hormonal/emotional system that sets up both brain and body for particular value orientations - good/bad, fight/flight, etc.
The reason humor works is that the two systems function at very different speeds and via very different mechanisms. The "digital" processing can switch between the two mutually exclusive contexts of a humorous situatiion very rapidly, giving the impression subjectively of holding them both simultaneously. The hormonal/emotional charge associated with each position, however, cannot switch nearly as rapidly. In fact, even though the value charge associate with each perspective may be only slightly different, and very slight to begin with, each digital switch forces the emotional system to try to follow. But there isn't time enough to reabsorb the hormones, so the emotional system has to override them instead, with a higher concentration with each cycle.
Thus, even though the pun or joke may have little intrinsic charge associated with either position, the natural following function of the emotional system escalates the concentrations of hormones rapidly in successive overrides, building to a critical threshhold similar to an orgasm, in which any other data is being lost, at which point we laugh, as a physical response designed to relieve that pent-up charge.

As an aside, I saw a marvelous little outtake in the recent 9/6/99 Time in their article on animal intelligence. Seems that this researcher had at least two parrots, one of whose name was Paco. The other parrot was observing her prepare dinner, and, at the point she brought out a cornish game hen, announced loudly, "Oh no, Paco!" So she went and got Paco, just to reassure the bird that he was alive, at which point the parrot said, "Oh no!" and then burst into peals of laughter. I find nothing unbelievable about the idea that a parrot can have a finely tuned sense of humor. I've seen coyotes in captivity react in ways that appeared to be deliberately ironic or sarcastic. On the other hand, it is harder to seen how an upload that was not modeled after real consciousness in some way in its actual circuitry would be able to experience or enjoy humor.
>Sasha Chislenko <>

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