A new theory suggests an equation for identifying the cause and level of our responses to any humorous stimuli: h = m x s
The theory argues that human beings are more reliant for their behavioural instruction on culturally inherited information than any other species, and that the accuracy of that information is therefore of unparalleled importance. Yet the individual is exposed to the continual threats of error and deception, which can seriously affect their chances of survival and success.
To compensate, humour rewards us for seeing through misinformation that has come close to taking us in. The pleasure we get (h) is calculated by multiplying the degree of misinformation perceived (m) by the extent to which the individual is susceptible to taking it seriously (s).
Humour therefore exists to encourage us to take information apart and to reject that which is unsound and could potentially harm our prospects. Every time we laugh, we have successfully achieved this, resolving inconsistencies in the fabric of our knowledge as we do so.
"I am not attempting to claim that we each engage in an algebraic equation before we find something funny," says the author, Alastair Clarke, "but that this schematic description reflects the instantaneous reactions of the brain to potentially dangerous misinformation."
One of two contrasting theories of humour by Clarke, 'Information Normalization Theory' is due for publication in the spring. In the meantime, further information and downloadable introductory essays are available at www.alastairclarke.net.
Clarke's 'The Faculty of Adaptability: Humour's Contribution to Human Ingenuity' is available from Pyrrhic House, www.pyrrhichouse.co.uk.