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Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  268 ratings  ·  42 reviews
An evolutionary and cognitive account of the addictive mind candy that is humor.
Hardcover, 359 pages
Published March 4th 2011 by MIT Press (MA) (first published March 1st 2011)
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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Start your review of Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind
- Good morning, sir!

- Good morning, young fellows!

- Sir, will you tell us about last night's reception at the Qrzyrfian Embassy? Did you meet the beautiful new Ambassadress, of whom we have heard so much?

- Indeed, I had the honor of accompanying her in to dinner.

- Oh gosh sir. Are her ovipositors as large and pleasantly proportioned as the holovids suggest? Please excuse my vulgar curiosity.

- Young Kzzorf, I fear your curiosity will get you into trouble one day. But, since you ask, Her Sufficien
Jun 17, 2021 rated it it was ok
I don’t really find biological explanations for complex social phenomena all that convincing. And so, I was inevitably going to struggle with this book. And then I also find evolutionary psychology, even when the story sounds convincing, to be trapped by the problem of having to work backwards from the punchline to the set up – in a kind of inversion of the joke format. While I was reading this book, I kept thinking a couple of things. One was ‘so what?’ – which is always a useful question to ke ...more
Stephen M
Aug 05, 2012 marked it as to-read
Inside jokes are the pinnacle of pretension and signify an author that aspires to the lowest of the low in comedic quips. They are the type of joke that says that any person who doesn’t happen to be in a select group of a few people are not a part of the joke and wouldn’t “get it” anyway. What is this? What is this abstaining from the hard work of making a good joke? To make a joke with mass appeal and universality is one of the most challenging aspects of the medium of comedy. The onus of the e ...more
Rishiyur Nikhil
Apr 14, 2013 rated it liked it
The authors present a theory of humor (why we laugh), and compare it to past theories of humor, practically claiming that this is the first one that achieves perfection (the tone is quite hubristic). Briefly, humor is a debugging process, i.e., it identifies a fallacy in some mental model that we have, and this is an invaluable survival skill, and hence evolutionarily rewarded with feelings of pleasure. I.e., a joke, or even a naturally occurring humorous situation, sets up a "mental space" in o ...more
Stephie Williams
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
In this book the authors try to elucidate humor and how it may be implement in the brain and a machine. They also think that it speaks to the workings of the mind in more general terms. To start the book they take a stab at what humor is for and how it may have evolved. They then go into the phenomenology of humor (i.e. what it is like, what elicits it, how it is expressed, etc.). After this dissection they go through the various theories of humor that have been proposed and attempt to show how ...more
Mar 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
I feel like I should give this a one-star review, but also a three-star review. Ergo, the compromise.

One stars for its personal appeal: I found it boring. Considering I love pop cog in general, I found this a little surprising. On reflection, I realized this book's appeal (except, perhaps, to comedians and professionals in the cog biz) is theoretical. It is unlikely that any disease will be cured if someone nails the theory of funniness, and the only profound change foreseeable in society at lar
Sep 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"...we propose that Mother Nature [bribes us with candies, metaphorically,] to get our brains to do all the tedious debugging that they must do if they are to live dangerously with the unruly piles of discoveries and mistakes that we generate in our incessant heuristic search. She cannot just order the brain to do all the necessary garbage collection and debugging (the way a computer programmer can simply install subroutines that slavishly take care of this). She has to bribe the brain with plea ...more
Frederic Kerr
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
E.B. White is said to have remarked: "Analyzing humour is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it." I am one of those people who started out very interested, but I couldn't wade through the academic prose of this book. I had to skim most of it, having lost interest and the will to live.

The title implies some kind of great leap in neurology that doesn't arrive. The authors speculate why humour exists, suggesting that it must have some evolutionary function to ha
Boris Limpopo
Mar 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Hurley, Matthew M., Daniel C. Dennett, Reginald B. Adams Jr. (2011). Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. 2011. ISBN 9780262015820. Pagine 359. 29.95$

Un libro serissimo, naturalmente, anche se spesso capitoli e paragrafi sono introdotti da una barzelletta (ma joke è un po’ più polisemico di barzelletta).

All’origine del libro c’è la tesi di dottorato completata nel 2006 da Matthew Hurley, che può dunque essere considerato l’autore principale del vol
Christopher Gontar
Jun 12, 2013 rated it did not like it
This book presents an original theory of humor, while also arguing that classic theories and other more recent ones are deficient. That critique is good though it could be better, for example in the case of benign violation. The book's own theory, that humor is covertly entered belief, is easily disproved.

But two short initial criticisms are useful. First, it does not seem maladaptive to be amused at one's own error, as this book claims. Self-directed humor is not maladaptive, even if one of hum
Anne Libera
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lots to think about here- the base idea is that humor evolved from a "debugging mechanism" in the human brain that made it pleasurable to discover that using a heuristic had resulted in a commitment to a false mental picture or script.

I appreciate the distinction between first person and third person humor (this is one that I think is particularly useful to comedians) as well as awareness of the relativity of humor and the effects of complex/thick humor. They also dig into the social aspects of
Anuj Apte
Aug 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great book that sketches a neuroscience based theory of humor and explains the emotional underpinning of cognitive processing that gives rise to mirth. It also addresses various evolutionary questions that arise along the way and in particular why mirth and laughter arose in the first place and how cultural developments have shaped the form they take today. Along the way are various interesting discussion, in particular of how humor might arise in an Artificial general intelligence system and ho ...more
Aug 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lots of funny - huh moments and in them scattered were some funny - haha moments too
Informative in a humourous way. .. a good comprehensive study of almost all contemporary theories how cognitive science understands humour.
.. Still very early it seems for science to riddle out the teasing smile ..
Good book if you like sexist interpretations of humor.
Could have been done in 100 pgs. Really interesting topic though. It's always fun to read something that makes you think about things in a different way. ...more
Divya  Pathak
Apr 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great book for the initial study on Humour research.
Michel Ortega
Apr 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I think this is the best theory of humor that I've ever read. Really liked the book and everything is explained. ...more
Bernie Gourley
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those curious about the evolutionary advantage of humor and laughter.
This book examines the science of why we find funny what we find funny. Most people probably feel about this as did E.B. White who said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” Still, while analyzing humor may not be as fun as reveling in it, it’s fascinating to scientifically inquiring minds.

Humor is universal (not the humor of a specific joke, but the experience of somethings being humorous.) A skilled science fiction writer might conjur
Robert Bogue
Mar 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s years now since I started my work on humor, jokes, and comedy. My introduction to standup comedy and my introduction to improvisation courses helped propel me forward in my speaking and my thinking. My post I am a Comedian summarizes the work at that time. Since then, I posted two more book reviews that weren’t ready when I did my I am a Comedian post. However, there’s a book I started reading back then that I hadn’t managed to make my way through. The book Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reve ...more
Jan 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
The authors set out with a big challenge: to explain humour, both in terms of its psychological mechanism and in terms of its value as an evolutionary adaptation. While the explanations were often quite dense, with a lot of technical jargon, it all made sense and worked well as a high-level examination of a phenomenon that has often been seen as unexplainable. Starting essentially from zero rather than building on earlier humour research, the theory nonetheless incorporates and expands upon much ...more
Jacob O'connor
Apr 23, 2014 rated it liked it
What makes something funny? Dennett, Adams and Hurley answer that question with Evolution. I've read accounts of natural and sexual selection to explain artistic and musical talent as well as aesthitic peciliarities in people. I think this approach has value, even if I don't subscribe to the authors' worldview.

Inside Jokes is a decent read. It might be more technical than you bargained for, and it clocks in at a hefty 360 pages. Big for this sort of book. Even so, it's a worthwhile venture.
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
A really good attempt to unify a vast history of somehow successfull theoretical failures produced as a consequence of un-funny desire to explain why ...moreA really good attempt to unify a vast history of somehow successfull theoretical failures produced as a consequence of un-funny desire to explain why we laugh and what makes a good joke. Read it, enjoy it and join the race of striving to build an intelligent robot who will never fail to laugh at our bad jokes and sense of humor.
Roy Kenagy
Nov 25, 2011 marked it as to-read
MIT Press:

"Hurley, Dennett, and Adams describe the evolutionary reasons for humor and for laughter. They examine why humor is pleasurable and desirable, often sharable, surprising, playful, nonsensical, and insightful. They give an "inside," mechanistic account of the cognitive and emotional apparatus that provides the humor experience, and they use it to explain the wide variety of things that are found to be humorous."
Feb 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology, humor

This book seeks to account for all humor. All humor. Think about the size of that.

They put forward a credible, indeed maybe even very good, theory. As they say thenselves, the theory is still just that: it can be challenged and disproven. But the theory is a move forward.

Plus it's well written, skillfully handling lots of necessarily technical vocab. Indeed there are many good jokes.
Jason Gemmill
An interesting book, that completely reads like a scientific paper. As a result it was a slog through to complete. After finishing it I did spike it on the floor and dump Gatorade over my head. It was truly a marathon to read. However, good theory of humour and why we laugh. Only read this if you are serious (?) about the mechanics of humour.
Two Readers in Love
I'm a "metatext of jokes" dilletante. The author's theory that humor is a reward for the internal error checking activity that is a requirement for the builidng of neural networks is the most convincing (at least among the many humor philosophers ranging from Henri Bergson to the present day that I've read to date.)

Fascinating - and full of good jokes.
Aug 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
I should know better. Any academic book about humor will not be entertaining.

The introduction was interesting. Especially discussing how we have more humor - sitcoms, Twitter, etc. in our lives than very before. Add to that every office clown and wise cracking person you know. We are awash in funny. But not this book.
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Clear writing, good overview, leading to lots of critical thought on the issue of humor and evolution. Though I am not fully convinced of all the conclusions made, it is a good place to begin when thinking about how humor has come to be humor
Daniel Morales
"The amusement is the sense of discovering the false committed active belief." ...more
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