Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why
Publisher: Basic Books
ISBN 10: 9780465031702
ISBN 13: 978-0465031702
In this fascinating investigation into the science of humor and laughter, cognitive neuroscientist Scott Weems uncovers what's happening in our heads when we giggle, guffaw, or double over with laughter. While we typically think of humor in terms of jokes or comic timing, in Ha! Weems proposes a provocative new model. Humor arises from inner conflict in the brain, he argues, and is part of a larger desire to comprehend a complex world. Showing that the delight that comes with "getting" a punchline is closely related to the joy that accompanies the insight to solve a difficult problem, Weems explores why surprise is such an important element in humor, why computers are terrible at recognizing what's funny, and why it takes so long for a tragedy to become acceptable comedic fodder. From the role of insult jokes to the benefit of laughing for our immune system, Ha! reveals why humor is so idiosyncratic, and why how-to books alone will never help us become funnier people.
Packed with the latest research, illuminating anecdotes, and even a few jokes, Ha! lifts the curtain on this most human of qualities. From the origins of humor in our brains to its life on the standup comedy circuit, this book offers a delightful tour of why humor is so important to our daily lives.
Here’s an interesting idea: humor (and what the author calls its “most common symptom,” laughter) is a consequence of having a brain that relies on conflict. Weems, a neuroscientist, explores what goes on inside our cranium when something makes us laugh; he also explores the essence of humor itself (Why can we tell when something’s funny, but a computer cannot?), why we laugh longer and harder at some things than we do at others, and how a healthy sense of humor can help us have a healthy body. If, as the author suggests, humor results from conflict in the brain, then certain things follow from that: we laugh loudest at stereotypes because we know on some level that they’re wrong, even if we find them amusing; we cackle when we’re surprised because our perceptions have been suddenly altered. Considering its subject, the book is a bit dry, but then it’s not a humor book; it’s a serious book about the neuroscience of humor. --David Pitt
—Alva Noë, NPR’s 13.7 blog
“Weems’s central idea is that humor and laughter are by-products of the complex workings of the brain, rather than a separate function seated in some funniness control center. Drawing on both current neuroscience research and amusing anecdote, the author steers clear of reductionism and builds his case that humor is more diffuse and complex than other emotions and perceptions.”
“In Ha!, cognitive neuroscientist Scott Weems analyzes how the punchline of a great joke, like a mini ‘eureka!’ moment, takes us by surprise and reframes our thinking. Humor, Weems argues, draws on our appetite for solving problems and helps us establish some order in a disordered world.... [I]lluminate[s] the inner workings of humor with a verve that befits the subject.”
“Mirth, points out cognitive neuroscientist Scott Weems, is still something of a conundrum—but one well worth cracking. His journey through the jovial looks in turn at what it is, what it is for and why we should cultivate it.”
“Neuroscientist Scott Weems applies the scientific method to the human funny bone to find out what makes us laugh. He discovers that laughter is one way the brain deals with the discomfort of a particularly inappropriate joke, or the surprise of an unexpected punchline.”
“[A] stimulating overview of what researchers have learned about why we laugh.”
“Weems renders extensive research accessible for a wide audience.... Humor is a difficult, subjective topic of study, and while Weems doesn’t present major conclusions, the information is interesting and the commentary insightful.”
“Weems, a neuroscientist, explores what goes on inside our cranium when something makes us laugh; he also explores the essence of humor itself (Why can we tell when something’s funny, but a computer cannot?), why we laugh longer and harder at some things than we do at others, and how a healthy sense of humor can help us have a healthy body.”
"Move over, Henri Bergson, Weems explains the science of laughter way more charmingly. Our neurons are still cracking up."
—Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, authors of Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar
"Scott Weems' Ha! is an excellent, non-technical and engaging introduction to the field of humor studies and a much needed book…. Clear, entertaining, and full of personal anecdotes that enliven the discussion."
—Salvatore Attardo, Dean of Humanities, Social Sciences and Arts, Texas A&M University, and editor-in-chief of Humor
“Scott Weems' book Ha! is a superb explanation of humor that is simultaneously entertaining and informative. I enjoyed every page, and at the end came away with new insight into what really makes things funny.”
—James A. Reggia, Professor of Computer Science, University of Maryland