Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind Hardcover – Mar 4 2011
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Ever since Plato (who thought we laugh at vice), thinkers as serious as Kant and Freud have put forth theories of our giggles and guffaws. Hurley, Dennett, and Adams go at the problem with the ingenuity of first-rate scientists and the timing of first-rate comics. Not only do they have the riches of evolutionary psychology from which to draw, but they're even funnier than Hegel.(Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction)
The deft use of humor can win a mate, persuade an audience, or make a tyrant quake in his jackboots. Yet no one really understands why the human brain should respond so forcefully to that cocktail of anomaly, indignity, and rhythmic vocalization we call a joke. Hurley, Dennett, and Adams offer a sophisticated analysis of this important phenomenon using high standards of evolutionary explanation -- and no, it is not a turgid academic disquisition, but written with clarity, good cheer, and, of course, wit.(Steven Pinker, author of How The Mind Works)
[O]ne of the most complex and sophisticated humor theories ever presented.... The authors should be lauded for their thought-provoking and original work.(Evolutionary Psychology)
The theory [the authors] elaborate is a detailed and sophisticated descendant of incongruity theories.... The learned and even-handed stance adopted by [them] regarding problem cases is... upbeat: they regard their theory as a provisional staging post, and a prompt to further empirical enquiry into these open-ended issues. On balance, that is probably the right attitude to take.(The Times Literary Supplement)
Inside Jokes is the most persuasive theory of humor in the centuries that scientists have been trying to explain why we crack up. Extra bonus: unlike most such research, which is about as funny as a root canal, Hurley's analysis is -- and I don't think I'm going out on too much of a limb here -- the funniest thing the MIT Press... has ever published (in a good way).(Sharon Begley The Daily Beast)
Science advances by asking new questions, and Matthew Hurley, Daniel Dennett, and Reginald Adams raise a lot of them.... Some of these questions have been asked before, but no previous attempt succeeds in answering so many so well.(Walter Sinnott-Armstrong Science)
Hurley and his crew cross the road to not just explain a joke, but explain all jokes. Before this book the only comedy that had been peer reviewed and replicated in double-blind experiments was the theory that there's nothing funnier than a smoking monkey. I'm so glad smart people outside of comedy are taking comedy seriously.(Penn Jillette of "Penn & Teller")
MIT Press has come up with a page-turner, a book you can't put down. That is no joke! The authors have dissected the mental state of humor and, instead of dismissing it, instill awe about the beauty of the evolved human mind. Humor at its various levels cleans up our act and plays a magnificent role in making us who we are.(Michael Gazzaniga, Director, Sage Center for the Study of Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara)
What's so funny about a robot with a sense of humor? In this highly original analysis, Hurley, Dennett, and Adams try to locate the holy grail, the essence of a joke, by using a variety of tools (from computer science, cognitive science, linguistics, philosophy, and even evolutionary psychology) to dissect why we laugh. This powerful team of authors goes a long way to explain why and when we laugh, and in doing so uncover insights about how the mind works. But like the proverbial millipede who, trying to analyze how he lifts each of his legs in the precise sequence, starts tripping over, readers should beware that getting inside a joke risks dehumorizing it!(Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology and Director, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University)
About the Author
Matthew M. Hurley is currently researching teleology and agency at the Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition at Indiana University.
Daniel C. Dennett is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. He is the author of Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness (MIT Press) and other books.
Reginald B. Adams, Jr., is Associate Professor of Psychology researching emotion and social perception at Penn State University.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
There are so many things that can make us laugh that it is hard to say that any particular characteristic of laughable things is the foundation of humor, so it is not useful to look at all laughable things to find what is the common denominator for the humor within them. We are more likely to understand humor from the inside, from what it does to and for our brains. The authors explain that our brains, which are geniuses at making models and predictions, take pleasure in making corrections as the models and predictions are found wanting and have to be modified. Humor takes advantage of this hardwired internal brain behavior, and gives the pleasure of self-correction of mental spaces. Just as the pleasures of pornography ride upon but do not directly satisfy our sexual urges, or as the pleasures of sweetening from aspartame take over our energy-seeking appetites without having intrinsic nutritional value, the pleasures of jokes and humor represent a benevolent hijacking of the system for correcting our mental spaces. A joke (at least in many forms) sets up a premise, a mental space, and then the hearer gets rewarded by the pleasure of correcting that mental space. In jokes, this is all for fun, but the fun is dependent on a deeply important internal mechanism of assumption, prediction, and correction, a mechanism without which we could not make our way in the world. The better we can generate mental spaces and correct them (disregarding their role in humor), the better we can interact with everything around us. A good intelligence encompasses good modeling of mental spaces and the capacity to correct the assumptions therein. It is no coincidence that "wit" and "intelligence" can be synonymous.
This is a book filled with jokes; there are cartoons here, too, and various ambiguous drawings, so that if the theorizing ever seems dry, there is always a joke coming up soon. Many of them are explicitly pulled apart here, and the exercise is not as morbid as E. B. White might have guessed. The jokes show the many previous explanations of humor, like surprise or the feeling of superiority or incongruity or the release theory of Freud, and the overall theory within the book shows how such previous explanations are merely partial, like the blind men perceiving different parts of the elephant. The theory here encompasses the previous ones, and shows humor to be part of the brain's essential mechanisms of emotion and learning. _Inside Jokes_ is an enjoyable tour of the forbidden, deep, dark recesses we all carry about in our crania.
OK, we lied about Masters and Johnson. And we lied about the humor recipe. Not only does the theory in this book not uncover such a recipe, it shows why it is extremely unlikely that anybody-or any bank of computers-will ever find one.
Basically meaning that authors found it reasonable to waste your time and money on their product which has no value at all. Why would you write a book like that without achieving anything in reverse engineering the mind really, but substituting with your nonsense "it is impossible cos it is too complex". It is not reverse engineering, it is reverse sense.
Reading Inside Humor, I could see that the BVT was pretty weak in many areas. It may be true enough that it describes *what* humor is (see McGraw's TED talk called "What Makes Things Funny") however, it didn't seem to say anything about *why*. This omission only became obvious when Inside Jokes argued that "why" was really the interesting question and that they had answered it. I also think that the Benign Violation Theory has a danger of being somewhat circular - humor results from a "violation" but could a violation be defined as something that, when benign, was funny?
Again, I mention this competing theory to demonstrate how much more comprehensive the theory of Inside Jokes is. It is a functional theory that would inform someone who wanted to design a synthetic brain capable of humor. I felt this theory's attention to the big picture was far more complete than any other theory I'd heard. It made me feel like other theories of humor were merely "observations" of humor.
In classic philosopher style, Daniel Dennett keeps the theory on track by very explicitly avoiding circular thinking, incomplete theories, and other easy-to-make thought errors (which he enumerates). He puts forth a list of hard questions that a proper theory of humor must be able to answer and then makes sure they get answered. I felt that the scrutiny of the questions was a valuable contribution to the topic by itself and the idea (Hurley's apparently) of how to answer them was kind of a bonus.
To me it seemed like this work was in a different league than the BVT and theories put forth by other philosophers through history. It seemed like this idea also provided insight into how the mind works and why humor is essential to our brains functioning the way that they do.
If you're interested in humor or how the mind works, this is an excellent and powerful book. It is extremely well-thought out, well-written, well-researched, and, given it's subject matter, pretty entertaining.
First, it does not seem maladaptive to be amused at one's own error, to the degree that Hurley claims. It would not be maladaptive even if humor's purpose were mainly to send a positive signal of failure in others instead of ourselves. Other-directed and self-directed humor are compatible and conceptually identical. Yet another reason why the maladaptation thesis doesn't follow is that people consume palliatives that are not detrimental when used in moderation. Humor is no different, though its palliative effect does not explain its ultimate meaning. It is unlikely that humor evolved as strictly other-directed or, as this book suggests, as a sign of one's self-correction.
Second, the mainstream theory of jokes is that they resolve either partially or fully and that we find this resolution inherently funny. The latter part of that view is plainly false. And this book is close to that, seeing jokes as belief revision. But in all humor, even first-person, the real source of funniness is some state of willful error or an allusion to such. There are jokes that can briefly puzzle an audience, but no joke exists in which any accidental mistake is the source of humor, as a factual error. Any sufficiently non-serious mistake is funny if treated as though it involves pretension. For instance, the audience's error has that effect in jokes although there it is a minor factor.
The essence of jokes is not that they correct beliefs, which in any form creates hardly any humor. Jokes are humorous because their most important features refer strongly to pretension, the only inherently humorous idea. Belief correction counts to a very small extent. There are four main types of joke. Some consist of irony or ironic sarcasm, while most of the remaining ones are glorified, that is, expanded, witticisms. The latter, like isolated puns and witticisms, are funny because they signify the power of ambiguity to deceive. And of course not all sarcasm is ironic. A third class depicts a comic episode, while sharing some features with the previous two classes. Freud's joke about a confused café customer is of this sort. The smallest class of jokes is bathos.
Take Bob Hope's now dated joke, "Los Angeles has been socked in by heavy fog every night. The only ones landing at the airport have been rock musicians." The joke implies that because a certain group has crashed planes in storms, they fly only in bad weather. This is funny because it is an imagistic pun between the fog situation and its possible effects. The allusion thus created is similar to both witticisms and irony.
The authors' evolutionary theory, that humorous amusement is the byproduct of a bribing of the brain to avoid error, is obviously false. The pain of error has served that function for any sentient life prior to humans, and the complexity of humans does not set them apart on this point. The authors do not seem to think that perception would acquire a sensation of reward just because it became second nature. But humor is inherently social in origin, not merely instrumental as this book insists. There is no need for humor as a reward of basic perception. The purpose of humor makes more sense as a moderate indulgence in self-deception as an expression of normality.
The authors define humor through their idea of covertly entered belief, which means not being fully aware of one's own assumption.
Covertly entered belief is often possible in jokes, because many of them do one of the following (mostly #1):
1. Elicit a false assumption which the audience does not know is false, then correct it.
Or in a more juvenile form,
2. Try to sneak in a spoken assertion that the audience knows is not true.
An example of type 2 will refer to some falsehood such as a rooster laying an egg, with the idea that the listener might miss this. It's a sort of bullying in joke form. But only in this kind is covertly entered belief necessary for the joke to be funny in the way it is intended, because the listener would have to overlook a stated falsehood. Of course the exchange may be found amusing even though no one is fooled.
There is never a joke of that first type in which covertly entered belief is the necessary ingredient of humor. Therefore, the theory does not fully apply to any class of jokes except #2. Implicitly this book conflates 1 and 2. It conflates thought with actual speech. In fact, in a video of Dennett's presentation on the Hurley theory of humor, one can find him making this implicit equivocation.
Thus the book is focused on jokes yet its theory does not apply to them in any significant way. The funniest jokes show or allude to errors of interpretation, not attention, and no jokes are pictures. It follows that jokes cannot generally rely on concealment of either beliefs or objects. Apart from jokes, the role of covertly entered belief is equally marginal because so many comical errors aren't caused by lack of attention.
There are jokes that hinge on some false belief which could be covertly entered in the audience's mind, or it might be mentally overt. Christopher Hitchens told one about a man who thinks he has called home where his wife is cheating on him, and asks the man who answers to shoot the couple. The gun and other things are situated as in his own home, but actually he has the wrong number. The joke does not die if we at first think explicitly that the man has called his own house. In fact, this joke may work even better if perceived that way. This book tricks the reader, by conflating the expectation of something with saying it.
In the one in which a man fishes at a skating rink, our assumption that he is on a frozen pond could be covertly entered. But humor does not require it. The same is true of the fisherman's own false assumption. Only one thing makes this joke work: because the scene is ambiguous it is misinterpreted, which resembles an act of pretension and an illusion. That is the only way this joke can be seen as basically funny.
Humor can arise from overt or covert false beliefs, for the believer if he is corrected or for others if he remains deceived. So if my glasses are lost and on my head, it is likely that I'm not thinking about that location though I surely could be. What's funny about the glasses being hidden on the head is not covertly entered belief, per se, but what makes both those themes significant: that the situation resembles a self-deception of superiority. Instead of self-deception, some prefer the phrase illusory superiority, or the Dunning-Kruger effect. But the one essence of humor is not "illusory superiority" because that allows for passive deceptions, whereas those deceptions are funny because they allude to self-deception. Passive deception is not the concept from which all humor ultimately derives, because it does not imply necessarily that some object is desired. Self-deception meets that criterion, all humor ultimately derives from it.
A mistake is funny only if we see in it a reminder of culpable self-deception. We can do that even for a person who is passively fooled. Any lack of attention alludes to this idea. Even covertly entered belief does, and it describes accurately one aspect of the experience of falling or stumbling, as on an unexpected object. But the reverse can't be happening; self-interested self-delusion can't be the reminder of covertly entered belief. Humor always derives from the image of self-deception represented anywhere (the response, amusement, copies this image). It is impossible that this view of humor could be overturned or improved, and it certainly ought to be accepted as the authoritative view in this field. But the essence of humor has to be a blameworthy, overly self-interested self-deception, because self-deception can be innocent. To deceive oneself in order to forget one's dissatisfaction, to take a bright view of life, is not blameworthy.
I advanced this global theory of humor as self-deception in 2011, clearly the most important theory of what humor is, presenting it to Daniel Dennett in a conference at Colby College in 2013. The stimulus is always self-deception of superiority or allusion to that, while the response is a mental imitation or mimicry of it. Even outward laughter signifies the actual state of delusion, and there is a strong association between them. Though related to the humanities, that theory is completely naturalistic, empirically verifiable and surely falsifiable.
In the Times Literary Supplement review of this book, the basics of the theory weren't explained. Neither was it said that evolution would not need humor to bribe the brain to be able to avoid mistakes.
Notice Mr. Hardy's five-star review, where he gives no reason to believe the Hurley-Dennett-Adams theory other than that it is "serious" and humor "must be promoting our fitness." A true teleology of humor, explaining how it promotes our fitness, can only be found in its social use, and that use is important only because humor expresses not just a careful perception of reality but the acceptance of it. That crucial difference between mere perception and desire is what this book misses. The error of folly is motivated, not an accident, and jokes present this theme allusively, not literally. Hardy claims the book discusses what "humor does to our brains," which it intends to do though doesn't succeed. Yet it does just what Hardy denies and recommends against because it's "hard" -- it is seeking, as it should, a common property to humorous stimuli.
The superiority and release theories are the most obviously false and should be considered only historical anecdotes. It is easy to see, and admitted by scholars (Levinson, Morreall), that in the case of humor, superiority could only be a condition or feeling that accompanies the response. For some, a relief theory means that humor enables the satisfaction of suppressed impulses. But this is no theory of the essence. It describes how humor can be tendentious or have an actual person as the butt, though not necessarily one that invites ridicule. In other words, here "relief" means something separate from the humor. Humor is intrinsically relief only because it is a faint image of the satisfaction in escaping from an unpleasant reality, of being deluded about one's status. While for Freud release in laughter signifies a wasted effort, this too is a false description of the phenomenon.
In recent years there have been theories that, like Hurley-Dennett-Adams, explain humor in evolutionary terms but in other ways, that of Ernest Garrett, for example, and Hugh Basil Hall. These latter share the idea that conflict resolution is primordial and humor resembles this process. For Garrett, what is funny about a dog elevated to a position of prestige is that it evokes the discovery of weakness where power was expected, forgetting that there need be no expectation involved with the personified dog. But the main error is that a particular case of humor is mistaken for the general concept. The removal of the serious is an example of something that's funny (because worry can be a mistake), and is also the effect of humor.
Hurley, Dennett and Adams rightly reject the incongruity theory despite its being the most accepted view. But these next comments about incongruity are my own -- the following is not from this book.
The incongruity theory claims either that mere contrasts, or their resolution, causes a vague pleasure identifiable as humor. In the former case, the theory only points to the obvious two elements, saying nothing insightful about them. It fails to indicate that the humor in great versus small, high versus low really derives from the relation of delusion versus reality, and therefore, self-deception of superiority. Humor causes pleasure not by any vague, mysterious reaction, but because of a feeling of social power, and because being deceived itself causes pleasure.
Incongruity does apply to a pratfall, yet this requires explanation. The humor actually derives from pretension, absentmindedness and death. Dangerous falls provide a crude amusement, just as every slight fall alludes to the potentially fatal. In all such cases, humor arises because small concerns appear excessively important when life is sacrificed for them (in this case not in a noble sense).
The other version of the theory, "resolution," completely misuses the word "incongruity." The erroneous authoritative view of jokes is that they present some double meaning, or some puzzling remark to be reinterpreted or understood, and the humor is nothing but our comprehension of the change or the puzzle. This view is false. In the simplest jokes, double meaning is a sign of self-deception, because it generally has the power to deceive. These jokes are glorified witticisms. In the other class of jokes, by contrast, humor is irony, or ironic sarcasm. Something obscure or ambiguous subtly points to some unexpected fact.
In other words, in the irony joke a foible or complaint is mentioned, linked to another idea by the double meaning. If one needs an example, note the entire joke about the piano player and containing the line "do you know your monkey just dipped his balls in my martini?" In an example like that, something painful or foolish is exposed obliquely using double meaning as a screen, in the same manner in which we whisper to someone ironically or with ironic sarcasm. The standard appropriate incongruity theory claims that the humor here consists in our understanding the joke, our getting it and resolving an incongruity. This only identifies a small part of the humor, a supplement and not the main humor. The true theory assimilates the old "incongruity resolution" theory. Every kind of humor possible falls under the theme of self-interested self-deception. For example, the real reason isolated puns or groaners are funny is their association with the possibility of misinterpretation.
The only sensible option for humor theory is to discard incongruity and replace it with the one thematic concept that it implies. Academe now stands on the threshold of that event.
This book's theory of humor fails completely. The authors claim that humor happens if and only if "an assumption is epistemically committed to in a mental space, and then discovered to have been a mistake." That does not necessarily imply covertly entered belief, but either way, it doesn't define humor. This view is a development of the erroneous tradition that the humor in jokes consists, at bottom, in the experience of solving them. That is a repetition of the humor, but not the idea itself. Covertly entered belief is a failed illustration of that aspect, which jokes do exhibit. The view that the essence of jokes is to solve them is widely accepted, and informed Freud, Krichtafovich and many others.
The theory of this book is right to identify error as the framework, but it contains no further insight. It does not tell us that the theme of humor is always a kind of motivated error rather than accidental. And the authors don't understand that the humor in jokes is allusive, as an allusion to self-interested self-deception. In using the word "allude" or "allusive" in this theory, I am not being deliberately artsy or difficult, or just borrowing from literary theory. The word here could just as easily be the simpler "refer" or "signify." I use "allude," however, because the kind of reference is subtle, while there are also other reasons. Allusion can be a source of humor itself (as in the joke class of "appropriate incongruity"), and it uses the root "ludus" one of several terms related or synonymous with humor.
The authors hold that when the correction of a committed belief is funny it is because the believer lacked a certain degree of awareness of the belief. And they hold that when such correction is not funny, the believer was more conscious of the belief and could at least consider it directly. These assertions look very doubtful, since many conscious mistakes are funny and many non-conscious ones are not. But the reference to commitment is equivocal, as one kind of commitment requires awareness and another does not. Now there is a kind of humor in which a fact has been forgotten, and is recovered by a subtle reminder. But that is not covertly entered belief, but the simple act of forgetting.
False assumption is only one of many allusions to self-interested self-deception, and it is not the only main feature of jokes. But if it were, overtness of belief in some jokes would make no difference in the funniness. Note also, how much overtness there is, for example, in sarcasm. One way to disprove the theory is to show that it is not a good description of jokes. The following is from the book.
(A) Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you've got a mile head start, and they're barefoot.
(B) Before you criticize someone, you should (as we say metaphorically) walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you've got a mile head start, and they're barefoot.
The idea here is that a belief is covertly entered in (A) but not in (B), thus lessening the humor in (B). Here is why the above does not support the theory.
The audience still does not know what belief will be corrected, while this belief correction is humorless anyway. And even if covertly entered belief was funny, the figurative use in (A) could have been consciously considered without being written in as in (B) but with no significant loss of humor. The authors here confuse our own thought with what we read, two very different things.
Once the joke is understood, the unnecessary phrase is seen as an explanation. The joke now seems to analyze itself only after one gets it.
The main humor (here the authors are right to focus on language) is in the shift to literal from figurative -- and all kinds of meaning-based humor work by referring vaguely to an abstract personality that loses a quest for social acceptance or hospitality. That's why puns are funny, all other explanations in history have failed. In the lesser aspect, the joke sees the figurative moral adage as pompous. This joke does not appear to be another "sarcastic" appropriate incongruity, but only fits that theory in the sense of being a puzzle.
The parenthetical, "as we say metaphorically" makes the belief into information, as the audience is being told that "in their shoes" is being used as it normally would. Though the figurative use is normal and expected, writing it into the joke remains an external source. The book thus equivocates between first and third person.
Take, for example, Hurley-Dennett-Adams' joke about a man and woman as strangers on a train.
A man and a woman who have never met before find themselves in the same sleeping carriage of a train.
After the initial embarrassment they both go to sleep, the woman on the top bunk, the man on the lower.
In the middle of the night the woman leans over, wakes the man and says, "I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm awfully cold and I was wondering if you could possibly get me another blanket."
The man leans out and, with a glint in his eye, says, "I've got a better idea... just for tonight, let's pretend we're married."
The woman thinks for a moment. "Why not," she giggles.
"Great," he replies, "Get your own damn blanket!"
On the Hurley-Dennett-Adams theory, what is funny here is that one moment both the woman and the audience think the man means by "married" to keep the woman warm by sharing his bunk with her, and then both she and we discover that his meaning is different. But such a correction itself, inert and strictly about meaning, is not funny. It is funny that the woman is fooled and mistaken about the man's intention. That is a different belief, motivated and desire-laden, which is allusive and unexplained by the Hurley-Dennett-Adams theory. Though the woman's experience is not stereotypically comical it alludes to that condition.
There's no humor in the correction of the meaning-belief either in our case or for a character in the joke. That would only be the direct source of humor if the initial use of "married" was a conventional meaning that another character failed to understand. Thus the verbal humor too is allusive. This example, also, does not seem to fall under "appropriate incongruity." There is a delay in this joke before a word is reinterpreted. Like the example of "a mile in their shoes" this ambiguity signifies a classic type of gaffe. It alludes to a truly comical situation in which meaning is in fact misconstrued in a way that is self-centered. When double meaning is funny on its face, it signifies the misappropriation of a society or other social member, in an act that alienates the one who does the misreading.
That there is also a reference to marriage being a pleasurable experience that turns out to be unpleasant is only further proof of my interpretation. Heaven that turns out to be hell is just a repetition here or echo of the same theme of self-interested self-deception.
Inside Jokes only improves on the classic theories by suggesting that mistakes in general are an important element. That approach, however, is mishandled and ruined. All of the 100 analyses of jokes are incorrect and some blatantly so. The book takes a minor aspect or narrow type of joke and makes that the main theory. The authors present their theory as open to objection while remaining overconfident. Yet they are right that there had never been a valid global theory when they wrote this book.
Rob Hardy writes: Just as the pleasures of pornography ride upon but do not directly satisfy our sexual urges, or as the pleasures of sweetening from aspartame take over our energy-seeking appetites without having intrinsic nutritional value, the pleasures of jokes and humor represent a benevolent hijacking of the system for correcting our mental spaces."
But this is unclear. The theory can't be about the humor in just any corrected false assumption. But neither can it be about a hijacking of that principle. Where's the funniness in the pure belief correction, before being hijacked? How do jokes hijack that idea? They don't. It's true that humor, in a way, hijacks delusion by alluding to it, showing it indirectly. But that's different.
The authors try to apply their theory of "covertly entered belief" to the way jokes thinly conceal what is going on, but also to the audience's covert entry of some false belief (not of its falsehood, but that it is believed). These are two different things which this book does not well distinguish, mainly presenting the latter. It first mentions covert entry as only mental and original to the audience (Hurley, 121). Then later it is said that explicitly revealing any best concealed feature of humor would "telegraph the punch line" (Hurley, 118, 134, 230).
Many reviews of Inside Jokes focus on the evolutionary notion that "sugar is sweet because we like it." Inside Jokes uses this theory of sweetness to argue that humor has become a super-normal stimulus, like dessert, for example. Thus the idea here is that a more extreme stimulus causes humor to appear to be an objective quality. But a superior humorist is not extraneous to evolution at all, and is none other than an exceptional human type that evolution has made possible. Contrary to Hurley-Dennett-Adams, humor is an objective quality. Though there is often only a mild humor found accidentally in everyday experience, that difference of accidental and contrived humor does not always hold.
And incidentally, the trendy scientific adage that sugar is sweet because we like it is a type of fallacy known as a half truth. It is true that the experiential sweetness of sugar follows causally from its caloric or energy-producing power. However, the attraction to sugar per se is not evolved in the sense that the consciousness of sweetness is. And since consciousness evolved independently of the attractiveness of sources of energy, the sweetness of sugar, for us, is not a direct byproduct of its attractiveness to organisms generally. "Sugar is sweet because we like it" is a trivial and misleading observation.
Though they clearly maintain the "covert entry" thesis the authors sometimes omit it. That inconsistency alone almost makes the book completely unintelligible.
But the authors are dishonest where they arbitrarily designate a sort of casual assumption as committed or not (see p. 199-200). It is not "commitment" that they truly have in mind (which is ruled out for careless assumptions by definition) but rather a confidence expressed merely by not thinking about one's belief. Not only is the theory a sophism, but the author defended it at a conference by freely judging whether a belief was committed. His theory is thus plagued by equivocation or a lack of clarity, which contrasts with its scientific platform or overall methodology.
A conscious false belief may not be funny when corrected. But if it is not funny, the reason is that it is not self-interested or entirely unjustified. And conscious beliefs have those properties. Any irrational belief can be conscious, though deliberations cannot enter covertly. This book has thus completely overlooked or denied irrationality as a source of error, a kind of error which falls within humor. That is a fatal flaw for the theory, surely, but it is also ironic coming from an author who is a famous critic of religious belief. How is it that Dan Dennett, who regards religion as irrational and comical, here forgets that description and reduces humor to blind and insignificant errors, only a small aspect of something much larger?
Imagine a human or other animal who covertly assumes that it has encountered a large stone (such as in crossing a river), thus without assuming explicitly. But the stone turns out to be a dangerous predator. Probably, if the individual had thought about what this thing really is and then chose wrongly, the discovery would not be funny. But this is not merely because the belief was not covertly entered. Humor would be lacking because non-covert entry allowed consideration of the contrary possibility -- that the stone might be a living predator. The false belief would not be a hasty assumption, and if it is an assumption at all, it is a fair judgment. The covert entry theory, then, is false. Many consciously held false beliefs are funny even from the first-person point of view, when corrected. The vast majority of covertly entered beliefs, when corrected, are not funny, all things being equal. Note how ineffectively the authors respond to these same objections (p. 199-200).
In the joke about a patient and hospital administrator, the humor does not require any covertness in the beliefs, "the nurse is talking to the patient" or even "the doctor is competent." Now there certainly is something funny about the sudden discovery that the doctor is incompetent and dangerous. But that discovery itself is not the Inside Jokes interpretation. The authors have chosen the topic of who is being spoken to, while they also mean to focus on the discovery that the doctor is unsafe. They do not notice a double meaning.
Inside Jokes claims that there is humor in the discovery that occurs in the punch line. But the humor is not in the discovery itself as a revelation of the very fact stated (that is, who was speaking to whom). The humor is in the now disclosed double meaning of what the nurse had said.
And if we consciously assume that "the nurse was talking to the patient," the joke does not die. The humor remains, and the same is true of many other examples in the book. It does not seem important whether the false belief is "the nurse is not talking to the surgeon," which seems like an arbitrary attribution anyway.
(63) Do you mind telling me why you ran away from the operating room?" the hospital administrator asked the patient. "Because the nurse said, `Don't be afraid! An appendectomy is quite simple.'" "So..." "So?" exclaimed the man, "She was talking to the surgeon!" (Hurley, 168)
The book's commentary is this: We and the administrator make the same mistake, but it is our mistake that creates the humor: we infer--without noticing--from the content of the patient's speech act, that the nurse was talking to the patient. (We tacitly go back and insert "to me" after "the nurse said," but only because of the content that follows....) (Hurley, 168)
The idea that the doctor is incompetent or dangerous is not quite enough for a joke. That is why we have the phrase, "An appendectomy is quite simple." No belief about who is addressed matters, when this phrase can be treated as ambiguous. It is revealed that "X is simple" can mean "It is easy to perform this operation," and also, a meaning that fits no better or worse, "it is safe to receive this operation."
This book does not explain why an ambiguity is funny, such as in puns. It claims without good evidence that through all past belief revisions we have evolved a reward which can be identified as the experience of humor or amusement. That thesis requires that we take all errors, trivial or not, as having equal humorous potential, which they do not have. The authors write as though we did not often recognize puns at first glance.