Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why Hardcover – March 4, 2014
by Scott Weems (Author)
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 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.”
“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
About the Author
Scott Weems received a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from UCLA, and an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University. Previously a research scientist at the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language, he lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (March 4, 2014)
Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.1 x 9.2 inches
Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
Scott Weems’ career began as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served as communications officer onboard the USCGC YOCONA in Kodiak, Alaska. His travels then took him to New Orleans, Boston, Los Angeles, Annapolis, and Little Rock, earning graduate degrees in psychology, education, and creative writing along the way. He also has a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from U.C.L.A. and once made a little girl cry by telling her that some people go to school until the 26th grade.
In his spare time he whitewater kayaks and plays golf, and occasionally writes about himself in the third person.