A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. 2014-08-18T10:26:08.944Z · score: -1 (23 votes)


Comment by egarrett on Upcoming LW Changes · 2016-02-08T11:45:55.417Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Looks interesting. I may try writing an article or two to help the environment along.

Comment by egarrett on [moderator action] The_Lion and The_Lion2 are banned · 2016-02-06T09:39:39.715Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Disabling downvoting would just turn "voting" into a popularity contest.

Downvoting doesn't stop it from being a popularity contest. If you don't like someone, you can vote them down just as much as you can vote up people you like.

Comment by egarrett on [moderator action] Eugine_Nier is now banned for mass downvote harassment · 2016-02-01T00:08:37.053Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, he confessed to it when confronted. My understanding was that there were posts about mass downvoting and people asking who was doing it and if it was happening and he never admitted it or posted in them to confirm it, whereas if he thought it was okay there was no reason for him not to.

Comment by egarrett on [moderator action] Eugine_Nier is now banned for mass downvote harassment · 2016-01-31T12:16:29.995Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

He didn't just mass downvote. He purposefully attempted to remove other contributing members from the community. He also did not confess to it indicating both dishonesty and that he was aware that his actions were unacceptable. He also multi-accounted and still does and posts absolutely disgusting and logic-free racial comments and trolling (referring to black scientists to "dancing bears." You're welcome to demonstrate what's rational or constructive about that).

You don't just undo those actions, you punish the person who takes part in them in order to deter the action occurring in the future. So that there can be civil discourse going forward. This is rational and a standard part of human social requirements.

Comment by egarrett on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-13T15:43:35.249Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well I'm not interested in copy/pasting for cheap karma, and I don't wish to encourage or create an environment where others do it. All the best, no offense taken and hopefully no offense caused.

Comment by egarrett on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-13T01:47:11.734Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The goal is not to tell people what they already know nor flout tradition. Just to share a quote from the Slack Chat that some segment of the thread readers may find useful.

Comment by egarrett on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-12T22:00:41.105Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's a great concept.

Comment by egarrett on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-12T21:44:33.363Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

3 years is enough time.

Comment by egarrett on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-12T12:59:08.638Z · score: 0 (14 votes) · LW · GW

"In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it." -GK Chesterton

Comment by egarrett on Updating on hypotheticals · 2015-11-06T17:56:58.354Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Just to underline here...philosophy has a bad track record because when it finds something concrete and useful, it gets split off into things like science and ethics, and very abstract things tend to be all that's left.

Hypotheticals are probably in the same class. Useful when they apply to reality, entertaining or stimulating sometimes even when they don't...and in some cases neither. The third category is the one I ignore.

Comment by egarrett on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-04T11:45:53.930Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

"It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience." -Einstein

Comment by egarrett on Hypothetical situations are not meant to exist · 2015-09-28T09:40:25.448Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I regularly bicker about hypotheticals on the Facebook group. I wish I could give a tidy answer here, but I can't put all hypotheticals in the same category. Some represent reality better than others. "Where will I post my ideas if this group closes?" is a perfectly normal and useful one.

The hypotheticals I question are ones that don't plausibly occur in reality and that are known primarily because they irritate the brain, or allow social signaling, or some other non-useful purpose.

"If a tree falls in the forest..." can be useful since it exposes how unclear language can be, but if people aren't aware of it, it mostly is just trolling.

Another is the "Sophie's Choice" hypothetical. Such as the Trolley problem, where you flip the switch to kill one person or leave it as killing three. This problem is famous not because it represents something people will run into in real life, but because it irritates the brain. The brain evolved in imperfect scenarios, and where apparent bad choices like this are best handled by looking for the many answers it hasn't yet considered. Without this instinct to reject the scenario, we may never have developed tools and many other things.

So, these types of scenarios trigger a natural instinct to avoid the problem, not to answer it, which makes perfect sense given the way our brains work. Without that realization, the question is just shared to bother other people or socially signal. This isn't useful behavior, and thus rejecting those hypotheticals I think is a fine response.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-09-20T08:50:51.711Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When did I say i'd read the book? There are hundreds of humor theories and as I've said I haven't been able to review all of them, which is why I asked people to detail what they think is relevant so it can be discussed. Similarly, I didn't ask anyone to review all of my papers, but have pointed out and described the relevant points here specifically for people to see.

The descriptions I see of the material all fit the style that Dennett uses, which I don't enjoy for reasons I've offered. You're welcome to make a substantive reply with actual points from the book or addressing the points I made. Bald assertions aren't that.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-26T10:58:30.503Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Are you seriously going to argue that self-reported black people are no less likely to have blue eyes and blond hair than the general world population?

I'm arguing that your data is corrupted and thus so is its predictive power. This is getting very boring, as is your circular voting with Azathoth and his failed red-herring arguments. This is precisely why the voting system here is flawed.

What? Do you deny that eye color, hair color, lactase persistence and blood type are genetically caused?

Genes are caused by environment. If environment shifts, these fuzzy-categories, including racial categories, will become associated with wildly different traits. It's trivially easy.

First, you somehow forget to mention that Charles Barkley also has more European DNA than Snoop Dogg. Snoop Dogg has more Native American DNA. Is the fact that Charles Barkley has lighter skin than Snoop Dogg so surprising given these data?

You're talking about who is self-reported as a black person. Which refers traditionally to their Sub-Saharan African DNA. To claim that other DNA has contributed to their skin color, and thus corrupted the causal link between self-reported race and genetic profile, is to shoot yourself in the foot, not vice versa.

This is very, very boring.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-26T10:49:20.105Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

As opposed to the banishment/disenfranchisement etc of actual convicted criminals?

If you remove the trait, you won't have criminals. A genetics-caused relationship, logically, would allow you to do this. You'll know beforehand who will be a criminal. Not only that, since it would assist in establishing likelihood, you should be able factor race into the evidence in criminal trials. This would be a terrible idea.

Whether races exist as useful categories that allow to make predictions about observations is an epistemic question. We have very strong evidence for this claim.

Whether some races, in modern Western countries, are more prone to have certain "bad" traits (e.g. low IQ, high crime rates, etc.) is also an epistemic question. We also have strong evidence for these claims.

You have nothing but correlation, and correlation based on fuzzy and corrupted data. Correlation is not causation, and you seem to struggle mightily with the difference.

Political incorrect as they are, some of these claims, specifically the one about IQ, have some degree of plausibility, due to the high heritability of some of these traits. But the jury is still out.

Whether we should discriminate against these races with "bad" traits is an entirely different kind of question, a moral question. It doesn't follow from any of the previous claims.

These claims are also the result of you not seeing the distinction between logic based on causation and logic based on correlation.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-26T10:43:41.135Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

No. If you believe personality traits are caused by genetics, that's the solution to minimizing or removing those traits.

Environment and nurture-based solutions, i.e., the accurate ones, are based on environment and nurture as the primary operative factors.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-24T22:24:16.267Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If I ask you to estimate the probability that a person randomly sampled from the world population has blue eyes, you can do no better than aswer with the worldwide prevalence of blue eyes. If I then tell you that this person is black, then you can improve the a posteriori probability of your prediction by updating it to the, much lower, prevalence of blue eyes among self-reported black people. We can do the same even for traits that are not immediately visible, yet entirely genetic, such as lactose tolerance or blood type.

This is evidence that self-reported race is an epistemically useful concept.

A self-identified "black person," has a highly unpredictable amount of actually African genes, and the common results of certain traits will depend on genes that may not cause self-reporting, so your conclusions will all be corrupted. Including the fact that genetic-causation of traits is a hopelessly flawed concept in the first place. But if you're hellbent on doing this type of science, go for it.

Actually, they are both self-reported black people and the DNA test detected primarily sub-Saharan African ancestry in both of them.

They are self-reported "black people" with significantly different DNA, including in their skin color, which is supposed to be a defining trait in terms of self-reporting. Their actual proportion of Sub-Saharan DNA did not express itself in these most stereotypical traits. In regards to having "primarily" Sub-Saharan African Ancestry, the cultural "one-drop rule" tendency to self-report as black with an African-American parent will also cause you to have self-reported black people who actually have less than 50% Sub-Saharan African DNA. So even that will be highly unreliable.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-24T22:11:08.217Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming I'm parsing this sentence correctly, you favor "changing short and long term environmental pressures on groups of people". Good, so do I. However, the way racial differences are currently not acknowledged is making this difficult.

First, I hope it's clear that if we chalk up personality traits and other such individual characteristics to race instead of environment, then the solution to removing certain undesirable traits (like criminality) would be banishment/disenfranchisement etc of an entire race of people, or outright genocide. This is why this is a problem.

Secondly, you say that you recognize that environment is the cause, but you immediately go back to referring to them as "racial differences." This is the phrasing that leads to race-based thinking, and thus prejudice and discrimination. I can't stress enough that these aren't racial differences and there's a reason society generally rebukes this classification.

Also, false egalitarian beliefs have killed far more people than false "racist" beliefs. The way is happens is the following logic:

What?? The Communist famines and purges were results of sociopaths killing their political enemies and delusional economic policy. Not egalitarianism, but believing that the country would survive fine if everyone stopped producing food and instead was forced to make metals. Those aren't "egalitarian" failures (not that I believe in egalitarianism), but racial purges are absolutely and explicitly done in the name of "ethnic cleansing."

...and even if this were true, this is a bizarre attempt at a red herring argument. If I killed your dog, would you consider it okay as long as I pointed out that other people have killed more dogs than me?

Um, the genetic aspects of ethnicity quite likely are the cause of a lot of those differences.

This implies that you're ignoring the most fundamental parts of this conversation, so I'm not sure what the point is of this exchange.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-24T21:52:15.379Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes in the example the person is viewing a single tendency in an example and acting in a damaging way because of that. It may be more accurate for the speaker to say that he saw a group of Asian people sleeping on a plane and none waved back, while the Hispanic person who was awake, did.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-23T09:44:42.451Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I really don't think you're engaging with the actual points here, which are (1) that puns and similar jokes can be funny simply by being clever, without any "misplacement" required; and (2) that even when a "misplacement" is involved, your theory doesn't appear to identify any reason why the pun should be funnier than a mere plausible mistake that no one would be amused by.

I feel that puns, when by themselves, all play off of our misplacement instinct. But not all puns are equally funny. Some things are more "out of place" then others. And the more "obscure" your pun, (the more out-of-place) the funnier it will be. (assuming of course that it's noticeable, low anxiety and the other requirements)

I think I know what you're saying though. The "flushing" example fits in BOTH places, and thus isn't "misplaced" by itself in the actual sentence where it's used.

That's probably an example of a pun which, by itself, would not be very funny. Something that could be out of place but not you see it as potentially a small chuckle. But if "flushing" had less in common with where it was (rather than fitting in both places), I think it would be funnier.

That "double meaning" or "double placement" in flushing might earn a small chuckle, similar to how you might see a button on a computer that looks like candy and suddenly find yourself feeling a tiny bit hungry.

Obviously this is a subtle case we're discussing so we might need to speak more.

I'll take, in fact, one of your own examples, the "kidney beans" joke from your longer paper, which I shall modify a little further to bring out a point. Imagine that you are reading a scholarly article on a cannibalistic tribe in some faraway place, and you find this passage: "The Ougalou people consume human flesh only on special occasions such as a victory over another tribe. Their staple diet otherwise is a dish of kidney beans." I suggest that you might find this quite amusing, if you happened to notice it (I suspect it would be easy to pass over without noticing).

There is no "misplacement" here; the dish of kidney beans is (in my hypothetical scenario) perfectly correct. It's just funny that cannibals should turn out to eat kidney beans. There is no one here to lose status (the author hasn't made any kind of mistake; neither has the reader).

Yup, you're absolutely right, I would laugh at that. I think I did correctly see what you're putting across too. In addition to what I said above, I also feel this is likely the brain's misplacement instinct being triggered by something that looks VERY much like a misplacement. After the fact of course, you may realize that it's not misplaced, but laughter is a reflex that serves its purpose by triggering in the moment to allow others to potentially see the fail and adjust their opinion of the social order.

So it senses the potential misplacement and reacts, like how you might feel what you think is a bug on your arm, pull your arm away, then realize it was just a hair. It was the potential thing that caused the reflex.

This is a great thing to bring up.

But: "I make typos all the time. I see them all the time". Apparently typographical errors, even when noticed, don't constitute a serious enough loss of quality to be funny. So why would "copse" in place of "corpse" be suitable joke material, on your theory? It's no worse an error -- no more a sign of incompetence -- than my example of "validty" in place of "validity".

Typographical errors CAN produce funny, if they are very egregious, or if they get layered with some other fail. Think of the "Autocorrect Fails" that get sent around as memes. You see a correction that ends up making someone say something they really didn't mean to say and thus makes them look really bad. But a simple missing letter that doesn't lead to anything else, like "valdty" instead of "validity" is just run of the mill, generally not a surprise at all, and isn't even layered with any other failure.

If this doesn't cover it, let me know and I'll go through the rest of what you said. I don't want to bury you in too much text so I'll move on otherwise.


Yes, indeed, clowns do more than just dress up in silly clothes. I didn't intend to suggest otherwise. My point is simply that their pies-to-the-face and comic pratfalls and absurd misunderstandings and whatnot are displays of conspicuous incompetence from people we expect to show conspicuous incompetence. So Qe-Qd in your equation can't be large because Qe is low to begin with. And yet clowns can be pretty funny.

Ah, people WE expect, and I agree that we do expect clowns to do those things. But we as adults don't laugh as much at clowns as kids do, right? Kids don't have the same thorough understanding and expectations of the world as adults, so they will buy into certain acts that adults don't...and clowns naturally perform more often for kids.

I would suggest that once kids have seen quite a few clowns and realize that they're doing an act, they find the outfit and most of the standard stuff less funny. (though they may still laugh at some of the jokes and so on) Just like how we might laugh at some of the clown's jokes if we haven't heard them before, but the outfit and the horn and so on are generally "ho-hum" and not funny. (at least to me).

(obviously some kids are terrified by clowns, etc etc but that's a separate issue)


Of course there's no reason why you should be much concerned with novelty. The only reason I brought it up is that you were saying that your theory, if correct, would "redefine the field": I don't think it would.

I say that mainly because I think it provides a logical reason for both "superiority" and "incongruity" to be found in humor, which relates quite clearly to an evolutionary pressure and has some elegance and simplicity. I've found that "uniting theories" like this tend to quickly become the main theories in a field (from what I understand, M-Theory united the 5 or 6 competing forms of string theory and is now by far the main idea)

On top of that, the ability to study jokes using this system and adjust different things to (at least in my testing on myself) make them more and less funny in many different ways is unique enough that it's called "The Holy Grail of humor studies" in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article.

Uniting the previous theories under a single elegant umbrella and finding the "holy grail," in my opinion, would be a pretty major shift in a field of research.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-23T09:10:26.987Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

...a single line that expresses itself in a broad wide open polydimensional space of ideas and humor. In the second paper we listed 40 examples of different "blooms" from this single seed. There are countless more.

I don't think this is unprecedented at all. Take the Theory of Evolution. It's amazing to me (and of course what we're discussing is even just a small slice of its results). The whole of Evolution is also a single line (variation and selection) that expresses itself in thousands and even millions of ways.

I'll continue thinking about what you've said.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-23T08:58:24.884Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It's not a matter of disputing, it's a matter of not recognizing and taking it into account.

Of course, saying the "environment is the ultimate cause" is like saying "the big bang is the ultimate cause", true but not helpful.

You don't see how a logical thought process that would advocate genocide (removing "bad genes" you believe are responsible for undesirable social characteristics or behavior) over changing short and long term environmental pressures on groups pf people is a bad idea?

Care to define what you mean by "racist thinking", also preferably with an explanation of why your particular definition is a bad thing?

To quote myself from years ago...

Racism: A specific form of the causation-correlation logical fallacy, where a person looks at different tendencies that happen to align among people of different ethnicities and assumes incorrectly that the ethnicity or genetic aspects of the ethnicity are the CAUSE of those differences. The person then usually acts, speaks, or governs in a damaging and incorrect way based on that mistaken assumption.

Examples: 1. I waved hello to a sleeping Asian person once, and he did not respond. This taught me that Asian people are rude, and I have never said hello to one since!

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-23T08:49:41.636Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

DNA Tests can predict a trait that would cause you to self-identify, but that doesn't relate to the rest of your gene profile...and that trait (like hair consistency, nose size and shape etc) may have nothing to do with the other result you're trying to measure. I may self-identify as black because I full lips, but if you then try to measure my athleticism, you may find that's dictated by genes I received from someone Native American or white in my ancestry.

They recently tested Snoop Dogg and Charles Barkley for a bit on the George Lopez Show. Snoop Dogg has far more stereotypically "black" physical traits," particularly much darker skin...which would lead you to identify as being more black and having more African Ancestry. It turns out Snoop Dogg was only 70% black, and Charles Barkley's percentage was higher. If you think Snoop Dogg's data, is more indicative of "black genes" and what they result in, you'd be wrong. Thus, self-reporting is not objective scientific data about DNA categories.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-22T21:55:33.735Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If the self-report isn't actually reflective of their real genetics, then that's a problem for trying to link traits with self-reported race and then claim or imply that is data about the real genetics.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-22T20:45:57.594Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'll correct that. Was probably in the course of typing several replies on different parts of the subject. Bone structure gets detected by environment, but it in itself isn't.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-22T20:41:04.849Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wikipedia adds:

Correspondence between genetic clusters in a population (such as the current US population) and self-identified race or ethnic groups does not mean that such a cluster (or group) corresponds to only one ethnic group. African Americans have an estimated 10–20-percent European genetic admixture; Hispanics have European, Native American and African ancestry.[6] In Brazil there has been extensive admixture between Europeans, Amerindians and Africans, resulting in no clear differences in skin color and relatively weak associations between self-reported race and African ancestry.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-22T19:46:55.055Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is natural reciprocal altruism. If I was bickering a bunch of calling names, I wouldn't mind receiving it back. But I'm going out of my way not to do so, so I'm less tolerant of receiving it.

Similarly, not every reaction someone has is a sign of personal weakness of them. Including "quicker-than-optimal to take offence." Focus instead on the ideas and not trying to force things into aspersions on others.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-22T19:39:47.456Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

No, that's not what's commonly meant, and the lack of acknowledging that environment is the ultimate cause is one of the major sources of confusion that creates racist thinking.

Not realizing this may confuse the issue for you. But I know precisely what I'm saying.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-22T19:35:17.959Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You said "what on earth," which implies no awareness at all.

I also don't necessarily agree that you can discuss statistical correlations with poorly-defined or undefinable categories. Sounds like a recipe for bad science. It may work at first, but as you try to really investigate, it will become awkward.

Oh and by the way, I've noticed that the more I talk to you, the more downvotes are starting to appear on my posts here and elsewhere, and it's begun here, specifically, on my replies to you, with no evidence of anyone else doing it in my conversations with them.

Be aware that the moderators do not take kindly to mass downvoting and you will get banned if that's what you're doing.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-22T19:33:23.320Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

First, regarding puns, yes that's how I explain them. But puns and misplacements frequently aren't funny...they usually create humor through 2nd person laughter (at someone else's bold and forced punnery, showing either their lameness or utter disrespect for people who don't like puns), or through being layered with something else (misplacement combined with further physical failure)

Misplacement by itself is kind of like a hamburger patty without any salt, bun, lettuce or tomato. If it's a wrong enough misplacement, it CAN be funny, just like you CAN eat the plain old hamburger patty without preparing it...but it's pretty uncommon. The "flushed with success" example is a layered pun. It's not just the patty. The person is pointing out first that they didn't use puns, implying that it's lame, obvious, easy or silly, then immediately doing it. This is combined with the misplacement. So you get both him purposefully doing something that he just implied isn't good humor, AND the sense of's a hamburger patty combined with some seasoning, which is what we normally see. Plushed with success might still be somewhat funny because he's failing at punning or still "stooping to it" after mentioning it, but not as funny as "flushed" since that has more pun characteristics.

By the way, I'm well-aware that this is one of the least obvious aspects of the theory, and I'm also well-aware that this is the most ripe for me to focus on and try to put more clearly and speak more about. I'm not proclaiming that this is or was stated perfectly, but I do have a strong feeling that I've gotten a handle on what's going on and just need to trim and organize the thoughts on it well.

In general, this theory seems squarely aimed at humour that could be classified as "laughing at someone" (perhaps one's hypothetical self, etc.). There is a lot of humour of this kind, but it's by no means all there is.

At the risk of overgeneralizing (we're covering a lot of ground here)...I'm essentially saying that yes, all humor is laughing at someone, but it's done for the purposes of peaceful group organizing, so it's not as evil or threatening as that might seem...and a lot of laughter is when someone says something or acts something out that we can imagine them saying and would cause us to laugh at them...of which the imagining causes us to laugh.

Also, we usually don't realize which someone we're laughing at. Sometimes the "someone" is an unknown person with an average-person expectation...and often our primitive brain will laugh at what it thinks is an error by an unknown person. and we get confused at who the someone is.

I am fairly sure (just from introspection, which is of course rather unreliable) that I sometimes find things funny because they're much cleverer than they first appear -- the exact reverse of your status loss mechanism. (But it fits nicely with Hurley&Dennett's.) I suppose you could try to cram this into your framework by saying that I am the one whose status is being lowered here, but I don't think this makes sense in your just-so story. What value would there be in drawing attention in a status-lowering manner to one's own mistake? Especially a mistake one has made only internally?

Yes, this is a very valid concern that has been brought up. The example I've used elsewhere is here...

Obviously we can find more examples but just one makes things tidy. The commentator (Isiah Thomas) really clarifies what I'm proposing because he laughs after the HIGHER STATUS display by Jordan, but says "Excuse me! I'm sorry!" which I think underlines the idea that this display is making him laugh at his own expectation or claim (in this case that Jordan was losing his athleticism in his mid-30's) being proven so starkly wrong.

The question of WHY we would laugh at ourselves is also a very good one to ask and I've thought about it. I think that 1) There's a "fail-safe" switch for ruining your own status in that having anxiety about it would counteract the reflex, so it doesn't happen in situations that would totally kill your status. And 2) We view people who can laugh at themselves as being likable and socially desirable. This fits with the idea that they accept their own errors being noticed and peacefully placing them wherever they may be in the status order.

You also asked why we would laugh when we're alone. I think laughter is an unconscious reaction, like smiling, that happens whether we're alone or not. We also, for example, sometimes unconsciously talk to ourselves out loud when we're alone.

Typographical errors are not usually funny, even when their validty and wrongness are both comparable to those in a pun. For instance, in the foregoing sentence there happens to be a missing letter. Maybe you noticed it, maybe not; these things are eminently missable.

As you said yourself, the noticeability on that error is very low. It's also not necessarily a display below expected quality. I make typos all the time, I see them all the time. They don't surprise me. So the difference between "Qe" and "Qd" as well as the "N" (noticeability) are both very low or 0 in the equation.

It seems to me that someone who starts out with visibly low status shouldn't be able to generate humour by doing silly things. (This is about the "expectation" term in your equation.) I think clowns (and probably court jesters) are counterexamples, and I still think so having read what you write about them in your papers. Perhaps in some cases (as you propose) one can explain a jester as mocking the king or courtiers and hence abruptly lowering their status, but I don't think that's the whole of what a jester would do and it certainly doesn't apply to a lot of what a clown does.

People with visibly low status can't generate humor AS EASILY as people with high status. They have to find new ways to mess up or sink to new lows. I think clowns dress the way they do because it earns an initial laugh from kids (adults realize that it's an act, but kids wouldn't recognize high status as well as adults if the clown dressed more normally, so the outfit works better there), but they do all other kinds of things and jokes to keep the laughter going. If it was JUST the outfit, that would get a laugh or two, then people would stop. As you said, the same is true of court jesters, they could probably use their outfits to get an initial laugh, then use their low status to get extra laughter out of mocking others, but you're right, they did other things to be entertaining as well, like maybe juggling or magic. These weren't necessarily funny though.

I can summarize a lot of what I find unsatisfactory in your theory as follows: your theory locates humour in "sudden stupidity", but it seems to me that "sudden cleverness" is approximately equally important and it appears to be entirely neglected in your theory.

I think this is similar to the above points on first-person laughter. Note that sudden cleverness can also be someone telling a clever joke, too.

I also think you exaggerate its novelty. Your theory isn't far from the "superiority theory", for instance. My memory (which is not very reliable) says that Hurley&Dennett's description of this theory lays more stress on the object's inferiority than on the laugher's superiority, at which point the differences look very minor.

I don't know if I'm as focused on "novelty" as I am on elegance, utility and consistency with evidence. Those would be the things I really am more excited about and that I think are most important. Having said that, yes, this theory definitely has things in common with Superiority Theory AND Incongruity Theory and probably some others. What I like is that I think it connects the claims of both in a manner that's logical and (at least at the core) is simple enough to be explained to a child.

But also, I think Superiority Theory focuses on laughter being (as quoted in paper one) sudden joy arising from one's own superiority. This goes much further then that, saying that laughter is not just happiness, but a DISTINCT reflex all its own that has its own physical characteristic (diaphragm spasm), and includes a pleasure chemical and a smile for a clear, logical and specific reason (peaceful social ordering etc). We also introduce a logical basis for anxiety lowering humor and so on.

Obviously, I haven't read all 100+ humor theories so I'm not comfortable proclaiming something is "brand new" and would feel silly doing it. But, I do think it's not true to say that this doesn't have different ideas (or more advanced and logical ideas) than Superiority Theory.

All the best and if you want to focus on anything specific I've said, just let me know. I want to address all the points but I don't want to bury people in mountains of text either. Long or short replies asking about specific issues are both welcome.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-22T18:59:03.597Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not worth talking to, not addressing their opinions...I'd put those under the same umbrella.

My replies aren't in the vein of gainsaying other people or baldly declaring that I'm right. I've developed this theory for quite a few months now (after being a writer and working professionally as a story analyst for years)...and I've had conversations with a lot of people about various aspects of it. My responses here aren't "Nope, I'm right." They're more along the lines of..."Yes, that is a valid concern that I've heard before. Here's what I determined about it, or why I think the theory can explain that."

Keep in mind also, I'm not a perfect communicator. There's no way I can know how other people view what I'm saying or what makes sense or doesn't make sense to I need to see people's replies to know what I should expand on from the theory or put my energy into clarifying.

I'm also not going to get into a discussion where I'm being called names. If "crankish" is someone who presents a theory based on over 10-years of work in a field they've studied obsessively, writes over 30 pages of papers attempting to clearly show how the theory works in as many cases as they can imagine...presents it with enthusiasm, and politely tries to clarify the idea, address concerns and discuss it...then I'm happy to be a crank, and I think a whole lot of other people should be "cranks" in that way.

I'm not going to discuss anything else related to name-calling. I'm going to address the substantive points in a friendly and respectful way. If you want to do the same, I hope you will stay, if you want to focus on names, this isn't the thread for you.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-22T18:49:18.672Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

OH, okay I think I get it. You're saying that we might expect to find A, but instead find B in its place, and be may not actually be a bad thing, therefore it's not necessarily a sign of low-quality and this seems odd given the theory? Since "kets" isn't necessarily a stupid thing in and of itself?

In that case, the act of misplacement can be an error even if the thing that's incorrectly there isn't a foolish thing. Like for example, let's say someone signs up for a speech by John Edward, thinking it's the psychic medium, and he wants to investigate. Instead when he gets there, it turns out to be the ex-presidential candidate John Edwards.

In this case, John Edwards, the presidential candidate, is more respectable (IMO) then John Edward, but you still might laugh at the error, simply because it was still you not ending up where you intended to be.

Now, if this is the issue (it may not be, if I misunderstood please clarify), I think the reason is that misplacement, including puns, are often found in "layered humor," where you can detect other signs of error or foolishness or low-quality by the people involved, along WITH the misplacement. You see this a lot in jokes and humor because it's extra funny.

For example, someone might mistake one button for another on the elevator in a way that's funny...and AS A RESULT have the elevator close on their foot while they're trying to leave and make them fall. This is a layered misplacement joke that leads to further physical failure.

You'll see that MUCH more often, because misplacement by itself isn't as funny...BUT a simple misplacement can still be funny. It's like hamburger patty. You can eat it without the bun and the lettuce and tomato...but you don't see that happening very often.

If this isn't the issue you're bringing up, I apologize and maybe you can clarify for me.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-21T21:10:06.564Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are many other factors like bone structure (which is also dictated ultimately by environment) and the year-round warm weather that seem quite clearly to contribute, but it would be a digression and wouldn't really be necessary to illustrate the point.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-21T16:39:38.918Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty sure I agree with what you're saying, but I don't know exactly what you're referring to with this paragraph.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-21T11:37:50.379Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not every reply is automatically disagreement, some are expanding on or clarifying ideas. I want to clarify and focus on the idea that the actual issue is in the way people phrase things, and show specifically how the phrasing should be changed.

If there is an aspect where I might be disagreeing though, it's in the claim that race should be included at all in these statements. Given how people get confused on this and how dangerous it's proven to be in the past, it's probably better not to use race at all when making these statements about tendencies caused by environment...especially since race itself has no causal relationship.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-21T10:33:23.818Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can we clear up one thing before we start?

You said I'm "replying dismissively." This would imply that I'm acting as though other people aren't worth talking to. I'm posting this exactly BECAUSE I want to talk to other people about it, and I'm going to great lengths to try explain my idea. I also don't see myself insulting anyone...the worst I've said is that I don't care as much for certain other theories because they aren't clear enough, don't reflect the evidence that I think is important, and aren't as simple as I suspect the answer in this case should be. These aren't insults towards other people.

To say I'm talking "dismissively" (or bring up "fools" or "cranks," I don't see a fool or crank anywhere) is starting on the wrong foot, I'm not here to engage in insults or slapfights with other people. My enthusiasm is for the ideas, and yes, certainly, for my first thread, I've chosen something that I think could be an important idea and that I'm excited to share.

As long as we are starting with this understanding, I can happily talk about the substantial things you've brought up? Fair enough?

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-21T10:27:46.614Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, firstly, this isn't a big deal, but I'll describe it because you asked. In terms of clarity, Dennett has a habit of using unnecessarily complex language, as well as burying his leads and dancing around his points. The end result is that most people don't bother and so he doesn't communicate what may at its core be an interesting thought. A lot of the same happens when people describe his ideas (you don't need to say "coterminous" when you can just say "humor is not the same as laughter," for one example, and be more specific about how they aren't the same if or when it becomes necessary.) Specificity where it isn't needed is a common problem in academic writing. (rather than tell someone that it's "time to go," you could show them a multi-decimal readout from an atomic clock that would accomplish nothing additional).

I find it inelegant because it doesn't fit neatly with our common experiences of humor. For example in the book abstract, it's stated essentially that humor rewards us for fixing our mental models. I agree that we have mechanisms that reward us for that, as I've stated in the past that there's a pleasure chemical released in the brain when we make a new connection. But we don't laugh in all those circumstances. (the classic example being "Eureka!" That's that, but not a laugh).

What's important is that the new discovery not match your expectation. If it was just about updating your model, it would seem clearly that you'd laugh in the "Eureka" situation too. But we don't. The theory I'm proposing draws a clear distinction between those two moments of mental connection, and offers a (hopefully) logical reason WHY that distinction is there, including other traits associated with laughter, like why we laugh in a way that other people can hear and so on.

Lastly, regarding things being reducible to status. Let me be clear that that's the purpose of it, but the instinct triggers in its own way. Similar to how men might be attracted to large breasts for reasons that are reducible to reproductive ability in the woman, but that instinct is triggered in its own way, solely by breast size/shape etc, which means in modern times, there are situations where it's triggered without the intended purpose being fulfilled (like with breast implants).

I hope this is clear. If not I apologize and will try to use different terms.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-21T10:08:33.648Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW


The problems are that people speak in terms that assign causation to the race factor. Such as "White Men Can't Jump," and that even if you say "A White Man is less likely to be able to jump than a Black Man," you are still assigning cause based on race instead of environment. Environment is what dictates these likelihoods.

For example, people whose ancestry is in Kenya happen to be more likely to be great distance runners essentially because they live in a higher elevation with less oxygen. But to say "Kenyans are more likely to be great distance runners" is less accurate than saying "People whose ancestors spent uncommonly large amounts of time at great elevation with less oxygen."

Thus, when you really look at it, speaking in terms of race is a mistake in categorization and thinking.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-21T09:53:33.259Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

To be clear, I stated that there's difficulty in defining the categories (and gave the search suggestion to show Azathoth what I'm talking about). I didn't make any assertion about whether or not you ultimately could, and my actual argument is separate from that issue.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-21T09:47:59.053Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, got it. By the way, I like the "low in search order" concept you mentioned above. This is similar to something I just noticed about this theory, which is that puns that are closer to what we already think (like for example, seeing "ass" in the word Association), are less effective than ones that are further down. I think this has to do with what we label as a joke being "too easy" and thus not as funny. Or I guess a pun being too easy.

Anyway...the third joke.

This "kets" joke is a bit more difficult for me to analyze since, as a non-physicist, I don't know the I don't have access to my own instinct to test the reaction. I can analyze why I DON'T laugh much easier than why I would. However, I think I can say a couple things from what I think would be funny if I did get it.

I think you're right, first of all, that we KNOW a joke is coming (though I think we agree that in most cases it's more effective when we don't know it's coming). But we know it's coming and I think for people who know the terms it will still have humor.

In this case, I think that what's important is that we don't know WHAT the joke will be, even when we know it's coming. Like being in the dark and fighting, you may KNOW a punch is coming, but if you don't know from where, it can still catch you off-guard.

Now, I think this is a "layered effect", but almost superficially. I mean it takes the form of presenting an imaginable scenario of someone doing something very wrong (burning her ket). But that image doesn't immediately spring to mind for me. Maybe if I knew the term though, it would. Is a bracket/ket printed on a piece of paper? I think that would make it more imaginable (valid by the topic theory) and funnier.

But beyond that, I think it's also largely a pun. Just as you COULD potentially picture the girl's error, the joke-teller is making an error themselves by putting a word where it's not supposed to be.

This is a minor error of course, so it's a situation where I'd like to have it be a joke where I myself laugh so I can see just how hard I laugh at it. I would think it would be a small chuckle. In the theory though, there are ways to make puns more and less funny, but I don't want to swamp you with too much text.

Is that enough of an explanation? Should we look for spots where the theories might disagree? Like applying them to conventional sayings? I feel like that's one of the strengths of this topic theory.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-21T08:49:25.829Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hi Azathoth,

If you google "Does Race Exist" you'll get a number of results from Nova, Scientific American and other sources that describe this with much more detail than I could in my available time.

Comment by egarrett on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2014-08-20T15:24:02.288Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with racism is the confusion of correlation and causation. To state that "blacks score lower in IQ" is to imply that being in the Venn Diagram circle "black" automatically lines you up with a "lower IQ circle." But, besides the sheer difficulty of defining racial categories in the first place, this ignores that there are other factors in which you can group people which will cause those circles to line-up far more accurately. Particularly ones based on environmental pressure of a person's ancestors. If a group is put into a position with forced manual labor without self-determination or decision-making, the genes that make you more physically capable will tend to cause longer survival and thus more reproduction and spreading of those genes in comparison to ones that aid mental calculation.

The same is true on the other side of the spectrum if you are are forced into a situation where mental calculation is emphasized, such as rice farming or financial work.

To group these characteristics by "race" is to imply an incorrect source. Decisions made based on these incorrect assumptions cause very bad things to happen.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-20T13:18:52.255Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, what we can do is compare the predictions of the two theories in relation to these. If they both have similar results (since they both mention pattern-breaking/misplacement), I think we can look instead for places where they might differ, or look for examples that might apply to one and not the other.

Should we start with one? The first joke is unclear because "QALY" isn't explained, but I think I can fill it in well enough. We'll use a Hippie, Gandhi, and Justin Bieber for the butt of the joke. (apologies if you're a Beiber fan).

Plane breaks, pilot runs out, says there's only three parachutes and grabs one. Beiber then says "I have 10,000,000 twitter followers! And grabs another parachute and jumps." Gandhi then tells the Hippie, "you are young, so you can create more happiness," and tries to give him the last parachute. And the Hippie simply shows him two more parachutes and says "It's okay dude, Beiber took my backpack."

According to the theory I've posted, this is a layered joke with multiple detectable errors (quality gaps) both Beiber turning out to be fatally wrong, and in the listener expecting the Hippy to give an argument back to Gandhi.

The reference to the listener having to jump through the hoops is probably nearly the same as saying that the listener has to have the expectation that Beiber didn't make a mistake and that the joke was going elsewhere.

In this theory (my theory, the posted theory, whatever), I may be able to say that we get additional information about what makes the joke work. Since it states also that the listener must, for example, not be worried about Beiber (or the butt of the joke) dying. So if you used for example, the listener's child as the butt, they're a lot less likely to laugh.

Okay. This seems to be a distinction between the two theories where one could potentially give more accurate information about what makes the joke funny/unfunny then the other. What does this alternate theory say about this particular part? How causing anxiety (in this case using someone who the listener would worry about dying), would screw up the humor?

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-20T12:35:38.716Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well unfortunately we can't reach into each other's brains and experiment on the situations. I've dissected my own humorous laughter relentlessly to find these things, so I have to make some assumptions or estimations when discussing what makes other people laugh...especially given anecotes that naturally have limited information.

Does the Youtube video help demonstrate the general principle I'm referencing though? That the commentator laughs after the dunk, but does so as he says "Excuse me, I'm sorry!" as a clear reference to he himself turning out to be wrong...?

Comment by egarrett on Rationality Quotes July 2014 · 2014-08-20T10:57:24.342Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I feel like politics tends to create bad feelings when it's argued...we'd probably have to have some kind of quarantined thread or pre-agreement to be extra polite if we talked about those topics.

But I do like this quote by Alinsky because it's a good habit for everyone on both sides.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-20T09:07:19.345Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This appears to be the same claim as the "misplacement" part of the above theory (errors in patterns vs. errors in "abstractions" which in the link that was provided is referred to as "patterns").

The key difference which stands out now, though (before I see it applied to various forms of evidence and humor) is that this version appears to be less elegant, less clear, and has less connection with our common experiences and understanding of humor, so it doesn't fit any of my own criteria for what would make it better as a hypothesis. I also notice this a lot when it comes to Dennett.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-20T08:57:22.590Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

From this article I see them referencing that there is joy in creating and recognizing new patterns, which I agree with and makes some logical sense. But "abstractions" by itself is very different, which can be just a representation of one thing in another medium, and which doesn't logically generate pleasure.

The words "abstraction" or "abstract," also, according to my search function, don't appear on that page. Given that these can be unclear topics, we sometimes have to take care with our words.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-19T22:59:42.518Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is actually pretty easy to demonstrate though. You can laugh at your own expectations failing when you're alone, as per the phone example. So we KNOW this can happen.

Now, let's change the expectation, and we can see clearly that the laughter will change or disappear. For example, when I look at Da Vinci's notebook, who I obviously think of as an amazing artist, I don't laugh the least bit at the quality of the drawings contained within, and no one that I know of looks at Da Vinci's notebooks and the amazing quality of his thought as a source of comedy. The different aspect that creates the humor in the case is your own expectations turning out to be wrong.

We know this can cause humor by itself, and we know it's here in this case, so the theory addresses it quite clearly and it seems very well defined as laughter at the self.

Here's one more piece of information that strongly indicates this...

Here, Michael Jordan, in his mid-30's, dunks on a center, and it makes the commentator laugh. Notice what he says..."Excuse me! I'm sorry!" In other words, apologizing for his own statement or belief that Jordan was no longer capable of that. He's laughing at how wrong he himself just turned out to be.

(having said that, there is a separate emotional reaction that's triggered when someone's ability surpasses expectations, which I have as a solution to another classic "mystery" of human behavior, but that's for another topic)

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-19T11:12:47.373Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes I believe the dogs do, but I haven't spent a lot of time dissecting this or being able to study it (maybe I can figure out something the next time I'm dogsitting for my cousin).

Here's the link...

Regarding the second idea, that would probably be something good to do. Look at animals (other than humans) with breath control and consistent physical similarity, who thus have similar social situations as early man where they needed to organize themselves without knowing already who was the worker or the leader, and thus predict that they'd have a form of laughter.

I haven't gone into the animal side of it too much yet, but I'll keep that in mind.

Comment by egarrett on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-19T11:08:14.613Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's likely too. In scenarios where we're supposed to have a high expectation, we tend to laugh harder at anything humorous. The show "Silent Library" from Japan is an example I use, where people give each other harmless but painful punishments in a library while others struggle to conceal their laughter. The expectation of silence and scholarship in the library heightens the humor, and the show is very very successful and has spawned multiple spin-offs.

Being drilled that the customer must be respected and is always right would probably create a similar situation when they reveal themselves to have done totally idiotic things.