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Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why Hardcover – March 4, 2014

3.9 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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

Review

“[A] fascinating new book.... Weems makes the argument that jokes have deep sources in our human needs and psychologies. Human life is complex, not simple, although we have simple needs (food, sex, safety, sleep, friendship, etc.). Humor is a response to inevitable conflict. The humor isn’t in the joke; it is in the attitudes of those telling and hearing the joke. The same joke will be funny sometimes to some people and entirely fail to rouse a response to different people at different times.”
—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.”
The Scientist

“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.”
Psychology Today

“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.”
Nature

“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.”
Discover

“[A] stimulating overview of what researchers have learned about why we laugh.”
Kirkus Reviews

“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.”
Publishers Weekly

“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.”
Booklist Online

"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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (March 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465031706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465031702
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #205,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dr. Debra Jan Bibel TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover
While author Scott Weems is a cognitive neuroscientist, the book is more psychology and sociology than biochemistry. Indeed, aside from some mention of brain anatomy and the neurotransmitter dopamine, no other familiarity of biology is necessary to enjoy this wide-angle treatise. The book allows us to examine what we know or thought we knew about humor. It reminds us how our sense of humor changes as we age, how different ethnic groups regard jokes, how men differ from women in appreciating certain jokes. He analyzes the structure and function of jokes and humor and relates many psychological findings. Merely 200 pages in length plus notes for the more scholarly, the reader is entertained by examples of humor and of recent historical events, as TV's Jeopardy! star Jennings's comments after being defeated by IBM's Watson supercomputer. We learn that rats 'laugh' (not in my laboratory when I had to inject them) and that the sound of dog laughter can calm a kennel. Why some people enjoy horror movies and others don't is explained. Other than some rare anomaly, laughter is indeed a health-inducing process, and this too is described. Political outlook and a sense of humor correlate. (I will leave you do find whether directly or inversely.) Thus, while being amused by the various forms of humor, puns, absurdities, the breaking of taboos, surprises, and clever jokes, the reader will learn about one aspect of consciousness-mind and brain processes that makes life enjoyable. As pointed out, humor is subversive. There are some life lessons here.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is so full of great research and information that I will be using it to teach the AATH (Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor) 3 hour graduate humor studies class called The Humor Academy! Thank you Scott for your creatively written book that will be a wonderful resource for all interested in the science of humor and laughter.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Overall, I found his arguments to be very insightful but found is discussion of stereotype-based humor lacking and rather rationalized. Whether or not Polish people are perceived as cultural threat in the United States does not explain the popularity of jokes that do target groups perceived as cultural threats.
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Format: Hardcover
Humor is a funny thing. What makes something funny...or not? What is the purpose of humor anyway? And, how can it improve our health and overall life attitude?

These are three basic questions that cognitive neuroscientist Scott Weems explores in his book. As he explains:
"_Ha!_ is about an idea. The idea is that humor and its most common symptom--laughter--are the by-products of possessing brains which rely on conflict. Because they constantly deal with confusion or ambiguity, our minds jump the gun, make mistakes, and generally get muddled in their own complexity. But this isn't so bad. On the contrary, it provides us adaptability and a constant reason to laugh." (p. xiv)

Although the delivery of the book sometimes gets a bit messy, the punch line is a satisfying one: humor helps us to make sense out of our complex world by providing emotionally satisfying ways to turn conflicts into pleasure.

After all, what's the point of life's absurdities if we can't laugh at them!
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Format: Hardcover
This book on laughter and humor is so much easier to read than Henri Bergson's essays on Laughter. The "Science of When We Laugh and Why is such an important topic and should also be vastly promoted to boomers and seniors since incorporating a regime of laughter into ones daily life is an intricate ingredient to maintaining health and longevity. As a long time believer in this premise, I have created a youtube series entitled Adventures in Staying Young and I will definitely promote Dr. Weems's book as in all possible ways. Thank you, Scott Weems!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I used "ha ha" as my header for this review because the book gave me some surprising reasons we laugh and why. I found the book quite interesting and at the same time it was a stiff book to comprehend because there were a few descriptions of "real" research in it. The author made it light with the humor he interjected from time to time. The book is worth its weight in gold!
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Format: Kindle Edition
Interesting, but scientific. Don't expect to find this book hilarious, because it certainly isn't. It does more to draw connections between humor and brain chemistry than give hints to how people cam develop techniques to make us funnier. Without giving the content away, the books does demonstrate how humor is used to give humans a sign that they must problem-solve a statement or incongruity. Humor does make the brain work. I would definitely recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought it for my son, (the Comedian) as a Gift. The author was interviewed on a Radio Show and my son called in, and gave some insight on the topic of Comedy and making people Laugh. My son tells me, this is an Excellent Book and a must read for everyone! It will give you the Scientific answers to "When we Laugh and why".
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