The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
Inquire about purchasing the book | Table of Contents | Annotated Bibliography | Class on Nature of Mind

These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

What Are Jokes And Why Do We Make Them

Language developed because it had an evolutionary function. In other words, it helped us survive. For example, language enabled humans to exchange information about the environment. A member of a group can warn the member of another group about an impending danger or the source of water or the route taken by a predator.

This may be true, but it hardly explains the way we use language every day. When we write an essay, we may be matter of factual, but most of the day we are not. For example, we make jokes all the time. A human being who does not make jokes, or does not laugh at jokes made by others, is considered a case for a psychoanalyst. Jokes are an essential part of the use of language.

Nonetheless, jokes are a peculiar way to use language. We use words to express something that is not true, but could be true, and the brain somehow relates to this inconsistency andů we laugh.

There must be a reason why humans make jokes. There must be a reason why we use language to make jokes.

Upon closer inspection, we may not be so sure that the main function of language is communicating information about the environment.

If a tiger attacks you, i will not read you an essay on survival of the fittest: i will just scream, "Run!" We don't need the complex, sophisticated structure of language to "communicate" about the environment and us. If you are starving, I may just point to the refrigerator. For most practical purposes, street signs communicate information about locations better than geography books. It is at least debatable whether we need language to communicate information about the environment that is relevant to survival. We can express most or all of that information in very simple formats, often with just one word or even just a gesture.

On the other hand, if we want to make a joke, we need to master the whole power of the language. Every beginner in a foreign language knows that the hardest part is to understand jokes in that language, and the second hardest is making them. Joking does require the whole complex structure of language, and, at closer inspection, it is the only feature of human life that requires it. In fact, it requires even more than that. Making (and understanding) jokes is possible only if you have a full understanding of the context. A computer that wants to "laugh" or make someone laugh will have to master much more than just the linguistic kills.

Jokes are probably very important for our survival. A joke is a practice: we laugh because we realize that something terrible would happen in that circumstance: the logic of the world would be violated, or a practical disaster would occur. The situation is "funny" because it has to be avoided. Being funny helps remember that we should avoid it.

Joking may well be an important way to learn how to move in the environment without having to do it first person, without having to pay the consequences for a mistake.

In that case, it would be more than justified that our brain evolved a very sophisticated tool to make jokes: language.

Ultimately, language may have evolved to allow us to make more and more useful (funnier and funnier) jokes.

 


Back to the beginning of the chapter "The History of Language: Why We Speak" | Back to the index of all chapters