Researcher identifies just 8 patterns as the cause of all humor

March 20, 2009

Evolutionary theorist Alastair Clarke has today published details of eight patterns he claims to be the basis of all the humour that has ever been imagined or expressed, regardless of civilization, culture or personal taste.

Clarke has stated before that is based on the surprise recognition of patterns but this is the first time he has identified the precise nature of the patterns involved, addressing the deceptively simple unit and context relationships at their foundation. His research goes on to demonstrate the universality of the theory by showing how these few basic patterns are recognized in more than a hundred different types of humour.

Clarke explains: "One of the most beautiful things about the theory is that, while denying all previous theories, it also unites them for the first time. For decades researchers have concentrated on limited areas of humour and have each argued for causality based on their specific interest. Now that we have , all previous explanations are accommodated by a single over-arching concept present in all of them.

"The eight patterns divide into two main categories. The first four are patterns of fidelity, by which we recognize the repetition of units within the same context, and the second four are patterns of magnitude, by which we recognize the same unit repeated in multiple contexts.

"What this all means is that the basic faculty of pattern recognition equips us to compare multiple units for their appropriateness within a certain context, effectively selecting the best tool for the job, and then to apply our chosen unit to as wide a range of contexts as possible, effectively discovering the largest number of jobs that tool is good for.

"Basically humour is all about , accelerating faculties that enable us to analyse and then manipulate incoming data."

Clarke lists the patterns that are active in humour as positive repetition, division, completion, translation, applicative and qualitative recontextualization, opposition and scale.

"Some are more intuitive than others," he admits. "The most basic, positive repetition, simply means that the unit is repeated in a similar form with the same purpose. As with all patterns, the repeated unit can be composed of any information available to the human brain, whether an entity, action or property. Then there's opposition, in which we take the unit and turn it against itself, such as can be seen in a mirror image or if we turn an arrow back to point in the other direction, producing a pattern of symmetry. However, while all the patterns are relatively simple in structure the activity of some forms of translation and recontextualization can seem counter-intuitive at first sight.

"In instances of humour these patterns may be recognized individually or in any possible combination of the eight. Most instances are founded on one or two, although theoretically there is no limit to the number of patterns a person has recognized when they find something funny. Pattern recognition remains a subjective matter, just like any other perception."

Details of the patterns and how they relate to more than a hundred forms of humour are published today in 'The Eight Patterns Of Humour', which is also available as a free eBook from the publisher's website at for a period of 30 days.

"The patterns reflect vitally important cognitive frameworks. Those of fidelity provide us with a basic arithmetical toolkit, while those of magnitude provide everything required to develop syntactical systems. Pattern recognition is in many ways pattern cognition, since the promotion of patterns through the reward systems associated with humour has massively accelerated humankind's ability to order and manipulate multiple units for multiple uses. Put like that, there are few better ways to express human ingenuity and adaptability."

This publication is one of several within a series regarding Clarke's Pattern Recognition Theory Of Humour, which posits the fundamental role humour has played in the development of the intellectual and perceptual capacities of the species.

The theory is based on extensive observation and analysis. "While countless thousands of instances were informally considered over the years, ten thousand specific instances were analysed in a single document known as 'The Humour Ten Thousand'."

Source: Pyrrhic House

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5 / 5 (5) Mar 20, 2009
This article had me laughing, not at its validity, but at the dry, clinical descriptors. It is breathtakingly Ironic. This would make a perfect script for the character Sheldon on TV's The Big Bang Theory. I can hear him trying to explain why a joke was or was not funny, evoking the eight pattern rules from Clarke's theory of humor. -Pattern recognition is in many ways pattern cognition, since the promotion of patterns through the reward systems associated with humour has massively accelerated humankind's ability to order and manipulate multiple units for multiple uses. --

As much as I approve of such scientific research, it read like an engineering manual trying to explain the subtle mysteries of why a woman might be perceived as being beautiful. --Her form exhibits symmetrical volumetric qualities, smooth muscle fluidity, age and social indicators present for perception based assumption of fecundity; her facial deviance falls within the upper .05% of western social acceptance parameters. -- (A garbage statement meant as humor)

Please use science for good and not evil. Do not let commercial media mismanage these rules for creating programming. I can hear it now, -- You bypassed step six on page 34. The humor TM handbook says we need to go with a gratuitous groin hit or bathroom noises in the eighth paragraph. Also, it says to replace the drunken banker with two CEOs and a bicycle. -- Shudder.

4.8 / 5 (4) Mar 20, 2009
No matter how many ways you analyze it, Abbot and Costello still aren't funny.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 20, 2009
What about farts?
not rated yet Mar 21, 2009
Grun4it: I could not agree more with your first paragraph! Excellently put!

RaMoNaD: Maybe you found the 9th pattern :p
1 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2009
Two pigs are walking through the desert. One turns to the other and says "I'm bacon".
not rated yet Mar 21, 2009
Grun4it was right. This was the most humorless dissecting of humor to date. I imagine the author would not ever espouse his theory at cocktail parties. It would go down like lead balloons.
not rated yet Mar 21, 2009
I hate to throw a monkey wrench into this discussion but how do you explain the universality of and in humor at different age groupings? Understanding a simple funny joke can many times go over the heads in young people. Is this a learned ability? Do life experiences play a role in relating to the funny side of a joke? Oh well.
1 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2009
I wonder what Frankie Boyle would say.
not rated yet Mar 23, 2009
i think you missed the point grun4it this is an article on philosophy -- in that context the argument is impressive and insightful
not rated yet Mar 23, 2009
Rule 1 of 1 - if you have to explain it -it ain't funny - Mel Brookes
not rated yet Mar 26, 2009
This sounds more like 8 classes of theme building, in 2 categories - which makes him sound like an accountant of humor, while adding little useful value. There's probably an infinite list of triggering patterns.

This is the case for many theories (whether atheistic or theistic). Just because a mapping seems consistent, that doesn't at all mean that they're causative or useful, only that there's evidence of another pattern. Most patterns are irrelevant noise.

Anyway, I remember other theories of humor & laughter noting that it fits as a form of stress release, or shunting of recognized patterns from triggering of one response behavior to another. In that sense, anything can be humorous if it's context changes from threatening to non-threatening. It's just the brains way of using up de-mobilized glucose & adrenaline? Like a yawn, a sigh, & other ritual behaviors. We don't laugh unless others are present or we're imagining they are. Humor is also considered a social ritual.

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