Can quantum theory explain why jokes are funny?

March 17, 2017
smile

Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 789. Whether this pun makes you giggle or groan in pain, your reaction is a consequence of the ambiguity of the joke. Thus far, models have not been able to fully account for the complexity of humor or exactly why we find puns and jokes funny, but a research article recently published in Frontiers in Physics suggests a novel approach: quantum theory.

Aiming to answer the question of what kind of formal theory is needed to model the cognitive representation of a , researchers suggest that a approach might be a contender. In their paper, they outline a quantum inspired model of humor, hoping that this new approach may succeed at a more nuanced modeling of the cognition of humor than previous attempts and lead to the development of a full-fledged, formal quantum theory model of humor. This initial model was tested in a study where participants rated the funniness of verbal puns, as well as the funniness of variants of these jokes (e.g. the punchline on its own, the set-up on its own). The results indicate that apart from the delivery of information, something else is happening on a cognitive level that makes the joke as a whole funny whereas its deconstructed components are not, and which makes a quantum approach appropriate to study this phenomenon.

For decades, researchers from a range of different fields have tried to explain the phenomenon of humor and what happens on a cognitive level in the moment when we "get the joke". Even within the field of psychology, the topic of humor has been studied using many different approaches, and although the last two decades have seen an upswing of the application of quantum models to the study of psychological phenomena, this is the first time that a quantum theory approach has been suggested as a way to better understand the complexity of humor.

Previous computational models of humor have suggested that the funny element of a joke may be explained by a word's ability to hold two different meanings (bisociation), and the existence of multiple, but incompatible, ways of interpreting a statement or situation (incongruity). During the build-up of the joke, we interpret the situation one way, and once the punch line comes, there is a shift in our understanding of the situation, which gives it a new meaning and creates the comical effect.

However, the authors argue that it is not the shift of meaning, but rather our ability to perceive both meanings simultaneously, that makes a pun funny. This is where a quantum approach might be able to account for the complexity of humor in a way that earlier models cannot. "Quantum formalisms are highly useful for describing that entail this form of ambiguity," says Dr. Liane Gabora from the University of British Columbia, corresponding author of the paper. "Funniness is not a pre-existing 'element of reality' that can be measured; it emerges from an interaction between the underlying nature of the joke, the cognitive state of the listener, and other social and environmental factors. This makes the quantum formalism an excellent candidate for modeling humor," says Dr. Liane Gabora.

Although much work and testing remains before the completion of a formal quantum theory model of humor to explain the cognitive aspects of reacting to a pun, these first findings provide an exciting first step and opens for the possibility of a more nuanced modeling of humor. "The of "getting" a joke is a difficult process to model, and we consider the work in this paper to be an early first step toward an eventually more comprehensive theory of humor that includes predictive models. We believe that the approach promises an exciting step toward a formal theory of , and that future research will build upon this modest beginning," concludes Dr. Liane Gabora.

Explore further: Relationship success tied not to joking but shared sense of humor, researcher says

More information: Liane Gabora et al, Toward a Quantum Theory of Humor, Frontiers in Physics (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fphy.2016.00053

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Carefully crafted light pulses control neuron activity

November 17, 2017

Specially tailored, ultrafast pulses of light can trigger neurons to fire and could one day help patients with light-sensitive circadian or mood problems, according to a new study in mice at the University of Illinois.

Strain-free epitaxy of germanium film on mica

November 17, 2017

Germanium, an elemental semiconductor, was the material of choice in the early history of electronic devices, before it was largely replaced by silicon. But due to its high charge carrier mobility—higher than silicon by ...

New imaging technique peers inside living cells

November 16, 2017

To undergo high-resolution imaging, cells often must be sliced and diced, dehydrated, painted with toxic stains, or embedded in resin. For cells, the result is certain death.

The stacked color sensor

November 16, 2017

Red-sensitive, blue-sensitive and green-sensitive color sensors stacked on top of each other instead of being lined up in a mosaic pattern – this principle could allow image sensors with unprecedented resolution and sensitivity ...

12 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

sirdumpalot
not rated yet Mar 17, 2017
Could you model all human interaction with quantum mechanics? Each mind having its own Schrödinger equation.. Herd behaviour being the classical limit of individual unpredictability?
pntaylor
1 / 5 (2) Mar 17, 2017
"Can quantum theory explain why jokes are funny?"

Who gives a rat's ass????
SiaoX
1 / 5 (4) Mar 17, 2017
Jokes are funny, because the induce subconscious joy of foreign bad luck or damage. Sorry, nothing quantum mechanical is about it - only mischievousness.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 18, 2017
This reminds me of the penrose nonsense that consciousness exists in microtubules in your brain.

The author - Dr. Liane Gabora Associate Professor of Psychology and creativity studies, University of British Columbia... let us peruse the interwebs...

"My fascination with physical light as a metaphor for cognition and the human psyche dates back to a Grade 11 Physics class in which the teacher (Mr. Webb) explained the processes of reflection and refraction. Ever since that day the topic has been my greatest passion but I did not see a life path in which it could be pursued. After decades of developing ideas on it as a hobby and reading everything I could find on physical light, 'spiritual light', extended metaphors, and so forth, my research program has gradually shifted to encompass this lifelong interest."
Cont>
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 18, 2017
"In recent years her emphasis has been shifting to the exploration of physical light as a metaphor for inner light (creative spark, ray of hope, light of my life…) using multidisciplinary methods that include fiction and interactive technologies..."

-Hmmm a curious mix of science and wizardry. I smell mysticism.
https://en.wikipe...ysticism
https://en.wikipe...k_Chopra

"She has obtained over one million dollars in research grants, and has given lectures worldwide."

-And an accomplished salesperson as well. I suspect funding opportunities may dwindle in the new dawn of american reason.
adam_russell_9615
1 / 5 (1) Mar 19, 2017
Q: How can a pie be both round and square?
A: A pie pi wide is pi square round.
SiaoX
1 / 5 (2) Mar 19, 2017
The proponents of social and psychology sciences are good in parasiting on society - they have skills for it so to say.
antigoracle
Mar 19, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
shayc
1 / 5 (1) Mar 20, 2017
This reminds me of the penrose nonsense that consciousness exists in microtubules in your brain.


Well, it is all too easy to make fun of Dr. Gabora. However, Penrose is a renown physicist, with many profound contribution to physics (and mathematics), so whether you accept his controversial theory of quantum consciousness or not, by calling it "nonsense" you attest your own arrogance and nothing else.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Mar 20, 2017
so whether you accept his controversial theory of quantum consciousness or not, by calling it "nonsense" you attest your own arrogance and nothing else
@shayc
i disagree

for starters, your argument is entirely based upon argument from authority - you assume that a renown physicist can't be wrong

more importantly, there is no conclusive evidence that is validated that demonstrates quantum consciousness

if something is singular in nature and has no evidence supporting it's existence that can be validated, then any opinion about it is valid - whether that opinion supports it or condemns it

until something is validated using the scientific method then it's not a scientific truth, and as such can't be said to be anything other than a point of interest
period
full stop

shayc
not rated yet Mar 21, 2017

for starters, your argument is entirely based upon argument from authority - you assume that a renown physicist can't be wrong


I did not said he can't be wrong, only that his theory, valid or not, is certainly not "nonsense" and shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.


more importantly, there is no conclusive evidence that is validated that demonstrates quantum consciousness


There is no conclusive evidence that demonstrates, for example, string theory (and many other speculative theories of fundamental physics) yet many physicists still dedicate time and money to study them. Penrose supplies some serious arguments in support of his theory, both from the mathematical-philosophical perspective and the physical-biological one. Personally, I'm not convinced that he is right. But I'm not convinced that he is wrong either.
antigoracle
not rated yet Mar 23, 2017
Can jokes explain why Quantum theory is funny?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.