My response to New Scientist’s “Ten Things We Don’t Understand About Humans” article. My reply addresses item #2 – Laughter, which they note “The discovery that laughter is more often produced at banal comments than jokes prompts the question, why did it evolve?”. In advance of my reply, be aware that I dismiss their tangent about banality producing laughter because I expect that is mostly just polite laughter, mere titters. I said titters, ha ha. See? No where near the same level of pleasure as comes from a clever joke or observation.
Laughter, and more precisely the rush of pleasurable endorphins, may be a sort of reward or incentive to promote novel thoughts.
We laugh when we realize associations that may seem unlikely.
Sometimes these associations are made explicit in the form of a joke detailed by someone else, and sometimes associations occur to oneself as one realizes a solution to a problem. (If you’ve ever smiled to yourself or even laughed out loud when you finally realize the correct way to construct something, you’ve had a taste of that reward.)
Not only do we laugh at things we’d label as funny, we also sometimes laugh at things which are considered the opposite of funny — we may for example laugh at funerals when we realize something true (but inappropriate, given the setting) about our relationship with the deceased, etc. Although such laughter is socially taboo, it occurs because we are again being rewarded for making an association.
You can imagine how this “reward” response may have evolved: People whose brains provided pleasurable endorphins every time they thought of something clever would be more likely to continue to think up clever ideas that would have given them an advantage in survival, in most any society or era.
Absurdist humor, by the way (such as some Monty Python skits) in which connections are made which are wholly illogical, are the pimping of that natural response — absurdism provides a stimulus which is designed to appear as if it may be an “unlikely but authentic” connection, but is in fact wholly unreal (illogical and baseless) when one examines it closely. Despite the knowledge that the connection does not pan out — there is no cheeseshop that does not sell cheese — the remarkableness of the initial impression is enough to create a hearty rush of laughter and pleasure as one entertains the possibility.