I Laugh Because it's Absurd: Humor as Error Detection

In Jennifer Marra Henrigillis and Steven Gimbel (ed.), It's Funny 'Cause It's True: The Lighthearted Philosophers Society's Introduction to Philosophy through Humor. pp. 82-93 (2021)
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“ A man orders a whole pizza pie for himself and is asked whether he would like it cut into eight or four slices. He responds, ‘Four, I’m on a diet ”’ (Noël Carroll) While not hilarious --so funny that it induces chortling punctuated with outrageous vomiting--this little gem is amusing. We recognize that something has gone wrong. On a first reading it might not compute, something doesn’t quite make sense. Then, aha! , we understand the hapless dieter has misapplied general rules of thumb, mental short-cuts, or heuristics, that we were also initially committed to and that would usually be good enough to rely upon— fewer slices equals fewer calories; diets require fewer calories, etc—but in this particular case they fail, and the feeling of mirth is our reward for making this discovery. We don’t say all of that after a punchline, of course, but that’s what is happening according to the Humor as Error-Detection Theory : our sense of humor can sense our errors. This chapter will focus on the overlap and benefits of a humorous and philosophical attitude toward the world and our place in it. The historian of philosophy Will Durant tells us that genuine philosophy begins when one learns to doubt; we can say something similar with humor--trust me.

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Chris A. Kramer
Santa Barbara City College


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