Mar 20, 2009
A horse walks into a bar, orders a beer, and the bartender asks…Bud or Miller? Of course, you know the real punchline…the bartender actually asks the equine punter “why the long face?”. There, that’s two of the world’s eight jokes in the first sentence.
According to evolutionary theorist Alastair Clarke there are only eight types of joke, eight patterns of humour that exist across all cultures regardless of creed, race, or personal taste, from the earliest souk to the Broadway stage.
Clarke previously suggested that humour is essentially the recognition of a surprising pattern or the recognition of a deviation from a pattern. He has now defined the precise nature of the patterns involved, and demonstrates that there are a mere eight of them that give rise to universal humour.
“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,” Clarke explains, “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.”
The patterns are positive repetition, division, completion, translation, applicative and qualitative recontextualization, opposition and scale.
“The eight patterns divide into two main categories,” explains Clarke, “The first four are patterns of fidelity, by which we recognize the repetition of units within the same context, and the second four are patterns of magnitude, by which we recognize the same unit repeated in multiple contexts.”
“What this all means is that the basic faculty of pattern recognition equips us to compare multiple units for their appropriateness within a certain context, effectively selecting the best tool for the job, and then to apply our chosen unit to as wide a range of contexts as possible, effectively discovering the largest number of jobs that tool is good for.”
For decades researchers have concentrated on limited areas of humour and have each argued for causality based on their specific interest. Now that we have pattern recognition theory, all previous explanations are accommodated by a single overarching concept present in all of them.
“Basically humour is all about information processing, accelerating faculties that enable us to analyse and then manipulate incoming data,” adds Clarke.
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