[ExI] Pattern Recognition Theory of Humour

PJ Manney pjmanney at gmail.com
Sat Jun 21 03:11:40 UTC 2008

Does this mean that Stephen Colbert really IS a genius?  God, how I'd
love the Pythons to get a hold of this... Can't you just see the
Ministry of Humour?


innovations-report 13.06.2008
URL: http://www.innovations-report.de/html/reports/life_sciences/report-112267.html

Humour is shown to be fundamental to our success as a species

First universal theory of humour answers how and why we find things funny

Published today The Pattern Recognition Theory of Humour by Alastair
Clarke answers the centuries old question of what is humour. Clarke
explains how and why we find things funny and identifies the reason
humour is common to all human societies, its fundamental role in the
evolution of homo sapiens and its continuing importance in the
cognitive development of infants.

Clarke explains: "For some time now it's been assumed that a global
theory of humour is impossible. This theory changes thousands of years
of incorrect analyses and mini-theories that have applied to only a
small proportion of instances of humour. It offers a vital answer as
to why humour exists in every human society"

Previous theories from philosophers, literary critics and
psychologists have focused on what we laugh at, on 'getting the joke'.
"Humour cannot be explained in terms of content or subject matter. A
group of individuals can respond completely differently to the same
content, and so to understand humour we have to examine the structures
underlying it and analyse the process by which each individual
responds to them. Pattern Recognition Theory is an evolutionary and
cognitive explanation of how and why an individual finds something
funny. Effectively it explains that humour occurs when the brain
recognizes a pattern that surprises it, and that this recognition is
rewarded with the experience of the humorous response." says Clarke.

Humour is not about comedy it is about a fundamental cognitive
function. Clarke explains: "An ability to recognize patterns instantly
and unconsciously has proved a fundamental weapon in the cognitive
arsenal of human beings." Recognising patterns enables us to quickly
understand our environment and function effectively within it:
language, which is unique to humans, is based on patterns.

Clarke's theory has wider implications: "It sheds light on infantile
cognitive development, will lead to a revision of tests on 'humour' to
diagnose psychological or neurological conditions and will have
implications regarding the development of language. It will lead to a
clarification of whether other animals have a sense of humour, and has
an important role to play in the production of artificial intelligence
being that will feel a bit less robotic thanks to its sense of

Alastair Clarke explains: "The development of pattern recognition as
displayed in humour could form the basis of humankind's instinctive
linguistic ability. Syntax and grammar function in fundamental
patterns for which a child has an innate facility. All that differs
from one individual to the next is the content of those patterns in
terms of vocabulary."

Pattern Recognition Theory identifies further correlation between the
development of humour and the development of cognitive ability in
infants. Previous research has shown that children respond to humour
long before they can comprehend language or develop long-term memory.
Humour is present as one of the early fundamental cognitive processes.
Alastair Clarke explains: "Amusing childish games such as peek-a-boo
and clap hands all exhibit the precise mechanism of humour as it
appears in any adult form. Peek-a-boo can elicit a humorous response
in infants as young as four months, and is, effectively, a simple
process of surprise repetition, forming a clear, basic pattern. As the
infant develops, the patterns in childish humour become more complex
and compounded and attain spatial as well as temporal elements until,
finally, the child begins to grapple with the patterns involved in
linguistic humour."

Alastair Clarke explains that the Pattern Recognition Theory "can not
say categorically what is funny. The individual is of paramount
importance in determining what they find amusing, bringing memories,
associations, meta-meaning, disposition, their ability to recognize
patterns and their comprehension of similarity to the equation. But
the following two examples illustrate its basic structure. A common
form of humour is the juxtaposition of two pictures, normally of
people, in whom we recognize a similarity. What we are witnessing here
is spatial repetition, a simple two-term pattern featuring the outline
or the features of the first repeated in those of the second. If the
pattern is sufficiently convincing (as in the degree to which we
perceive repetition), and we are surprised by recognizing it, we will
find the stimulus amusing."

"As a second example, related to the first but in a different medium,
stand-up comedy regularly features what we might call the It's so true
form of humour. As with the first example, the brain recognizes a
two-term pattern of repetition between the comedian's depiction and
its retained mental image, and if the recognition is surprising, it
will be found amusing. The individual may be surprised to hear such
things being talked about in public, perhaps because they are taboo,
or because the individual has never heard them being articulated
before. The only difference between the two examples is that in the
first the pattern is recognized between one photograph and the next,
and in the second it occurs between the comedian's words and the
mental image retained by the individual of the matter being

"Both of these examples use simple patterns of exact repetition, even
if the fidelity of that repetition is poor (for example if the
photographs are only vaguely similar). But pattern types can be
surprisingly varied, including reflection, reversal, minification and
magnification and so on. Sarcasm, for example, functions around a
basic pattern of reversal, otherwise known as repetition in opposites.
Patterns can also contain many stages, whereas the ones depicted here
feature only two terms."

Nicola Hern | Source: alphagalileo

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