Richard Wiseman: Wit

I have no idea why I occasionally think funny things. For example, the other day I was watching the film “District 9“, which is about an alien race known as “prawns”, and thought “I wonder if the alien in charge is called a king prawn?”. I would be the first to admit that it was not the world’s greatest joke, but still, where did that moderately amusing idea come from? And why are some people so skilled at creating funny stuff, whilst others wouldn’t recognise a proverbial custard pie, even if it hit them in the face? My guess is that the creation of comedy will remain a mystery for centuries, although at some point in the not too distant future, I suspect someone will carry out functional MRI scans of comedians creating jokes, and claim to have identified the part of the brain responsible for producing humour. Now, that will be funny.

Richard Wiseman is Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. A trained magician, Wiseman has won numerous awards for his communication of science and his most recent book is 59 Seconds.

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3 thoughts on “Richard Wiseman: Wit”

  1. I have noticed that some people are warmly humorous by nature and quick to see humour in situations even though they may be poor at making jokes, whereas others have a skill of wisecracking even though they do not seem to especially feel the humour on an emotional level.

    I know a guy who churns out torrents of filthy jokes whenever he is nervous or bored and I usually find it irritating rather than funny even though there is undeniably a skill involved. I know someone else who is not much of a joker but who loves comedy and tends to bring out the comic in others.

  2. It seems that a map of the brain using fMRI will have the same relationship to our experience of mind as a map of Paris does to actually visiting, or a map of a golf course to actually playing.
    And that feels like a good thing to me.

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