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