Humor Is a Good Thing

When we look at all the benefits of humor in our lives it is easy to see that it is a good thing. Science has discovered that it is healthy to laugh and have a sense of humor. We actually live longer in most cases.

We need to condition ourselves to laugh and see humor, because the world has conditioned us to be serious and negative. When we were small we were told not to laugh in school, in church, at the dinner table, in front of company and so on.

I was in the broadcast news business for years and as you know there is precious little to smile about in the news these days. The need for humor is everywhere.

I started looking for humor and guess what; I found it. Just look at the people around you, watch them and listen to them. Regardless of where you are from you’ll find something to chuckle about.

I live in a little town down south that is little more than a wide place in the road. And an old boy by the name of Cletus is our town entrepreneur, always looking for a way to make a fast buck.

Recently he took a CPR class and decided he was now qualified to give people medical advice, for a fee of course. So he set up his little office in back of the muffler shop and started charging people for his advice.

He said, “Why go to big city doctors when you can just come see me and save all that money. I’m cheaper and I can give you a discount on your muffler job!”

It wasn’t long, however, before people started catching on. He told one customer with a bad cough to take a half a box of Ex-Lax. “You’ll be afraid to cough!”

Another person with high blood pressure was told to cut himself and let it bleed for a few minutes. “It’s good for you and it’ll reduce the pressure in your veins. Of course, don’t forget to set the timer!”

Old Cletus is a few peas short of a casserole, but he’s always good for a laugh. And he’s always looking for ways to beat people out of their hard earned money.

We get a lot of Yankee tourists in our little town outside Nashville and Cletus decided one time that he had a sure fire way to pick up a few bucks. He put up a big sign that read, “Stop Here and See Where Elvis Is Buried!”

I said, “Cletus, Elvis is buried in Memphis!” He said, “He is not. He’s buried right out there behind the muffler shop and Yankees want to see it. He was in here having his muffler changed when he asked to use the bathroom and the next thing I know Elvis had left the building! Yes sir, Yankee money is good money!”

“And he’s buried out back you say?” I asked. “Yes sir, we didn’t make no big deal over it, we just buried him. Most people don’t know this story, but it’s time the Yankees knew the truth. And for a few more dollars I’ll show them his old muffler!”

Yes, life never gets dull around folks like Cletus. If nothing else he does cause us to laugh. Find the funny side of life wherever you are, and never underestimate the power of humor.

We need it. In fact we must have it to survive.

Mathematics and Humor – Paradoxical Bridge

Paradoxical Bridge

The issue regarding similarities between humor and mathematics has been examined by John Allen Paulos in his book “Mathematics and Humour” (1988). Both mathematics and humor are a sort of an intellectual game; in mathematics the accent falls on the logical side, in humor – on the funny side. Logic, patterns, formulas, structures – they are the essence of not just mathematics but also humor. In humor logic is reversed, patterns destroyed, formulas broken, and structure shaken. All these transformations are not, however, purely coincidental. The story takes the listener to a new level of sense and order, very different from the original one. Moreover, both mathematics and humor are simple and economical. The beauty of a mathematical proof depends to some degree on its level of concision and elegance. Similarly, a joke loses its strength when it’s long and heavy.

The bridge between humor and mathematics come from paradoxes and puzzles. They have a more intellectual character than a joke but a less serious tone than mathematics. For example:

Two trains, set apart from each other by a distance of 300 miles, begin to move towards each other alongside the same tracks. The first train goes at a speed of 100 miles per hour, whereas the second – 50 miles per hour. At the moment the trains begin to move a bird flying at the speed of 200 miles per hour takes off from the top of the first train and flies toward the other. Having reached its destination the bird turns around and flies back to the starting point and then repeats its flight between the two trains. How far will the bird fly before the trains collide?

If a person attempting to solve the puzzle focuses on the length of the flight alone, they will face the complex task of adding each consecutive path. However, if somebody realizes that the necessary time for the trains to meet is 2 hours (since the trains are approaching each other at the speed of 100 + 50 = 150 miles per hour), then they would immediately calculate that the bird will cover the distance of 2 x 200 = 400 miles.

Deduction and logic play an equally important role in mathematics and humor. Some rudimentary knowledge of logic is necessary to, for example, understand jokes build on syllogism. Very often jokes follow a structure that can be easily represented using logical deduction. For example: the teller of the joke says “In what model the axioms 1, 2, and 3 are true?”. Listener replies: “In model M”. The teller retorts: “Not at all! It’s model N”.

This is a common structure for many humorous puzzles.