the humour mill: why our brains make us laugh

I’m hearing rumours that humour is intimately linked to thinking. Bonus! Because I like to laugh. I’m hoping this means I’m uber smart!

A new book (2011) called “Inside Jokes: Using Humour to Reverse-Engineer the Mind” has the following premise:

our brains make sense of our daily lives via a never ending series of assumptions, based on sparse, incomplete information. All these best guesses simplify our world, give us critical insights into the minds of others, and streamline our decisions. But mistakes are inevitable, and even a small faulty assumption can open the door to bigger and costlier mistakes. Enter mirth, a little pulse of reward the brain gives itself for seeking out and correcting our mistaken assumptions.

A sense of humor is the lure

that keeps our brains alert

for the gaps between our quick-fire

assumptions and reality. 

Coauthored by three scholars, the book started as an undergrad term paper. Matthew Hurley took a course on humor, and started wondering why humans find anything funny. Why have a sense of humor in the first place? Continue reading

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the chance of being me is basically zero. even for ME.

I spent a little bit of time looking at this the other day. It’s fascinating, so I thought I’d share… author Ali Binazir attempts to quantify our existence.
So, your mum and dad meet (which is already a chance of 1 in 20,000…) And then the probability of them staying together long enough to have kids is about 1 in 2,000. Which is where this series of graphics comes in to illustrate:

oprah is cool. but i know vicky…

Oprah came to Australia. In case you’ve been living under a rock. Which is really no way to live.

She’s amazing. You know the drill, you’ve heard what she did, what she gave away, how she treats people with kindness and generosity. People say all sorts of things about her, but I reckon she’s the real deal. I reckon she works HARD to make the world around her a better place. And she does a good job. In my humble opinion.

There are people around me who inspire me. Daily. People that I know personally. People that I KNOW are the real deal also. They are not the Oprah types, and they won’t ever necessarily have a huge Oprah-type platform. But they continuously wreck my heart for good, in the most amazing way.

* Vicky lives out West. VERY west. I travel to her place quite a lot for one of my jobs. She fosters babies, and has done so for a LONG time. So long in fact that she’s fostered almost ONE HUNDRED little people. Yes. ONE HUNDRED.

She is one of my heroes. If she had a website, or a blog, or a twitter, I’d link you there FOR SURE. But she doesn’t. She’s not looking for the fame, or the accolade. I’ve asked her why she does it, and HOW – because I’d want to keep those babies for sure. She just shrugs, and says “this is how I can help, and these little people deserve a chance”. Hello. YES. Selfless and generous beyond my comprehension.

Vicky is amazing. You’d love her. She’s the real deal. I love her. She makes my spirit rise every time I’m with her. She inspires me to action.

* The A21 campaign rescues girls from the hideous underworld of sex trafficking. My friends Christine and Nick started this INCREDIBLE campaign only a short while ago. They don’t talk much publicly of the dangers thrown at them in running something like this, but I know they’ve had many threats, because stuff like this is corrupt all the way to the top…

These guys are on a mission. Because there are TWENTY SEVEN MILLION (yes, read that number, and try to comprehend that each ONE of those is someone’s daughter, mother, sister, cousin, friend…) people in slavery on the planet today…

* My friend Justin Mayo started an organisation called RedEyeInc out of LA. Now they’re in NYC as well. Justin NEVER sleeps. Truly. The dude is always awake. He makes me tired just trying to keep up with his tweets! (coincidentally, the name redeye comes from exactly that – continuously awake, continuously trying to do good…) His creativity inspires me, and he is tireless and genius at gathering people around a cause.

* Watoto child care ministries is something close to my heart. Africa: I grew up there. Uganda: I’ve been there. Watoto. I’ve cuddled a little girl who was LITERALLY, just days before I cuddled her, rescued right off the dirty wooden table in a witch doctor’s house, where she was about to be ‘sacrificed’ as part of a spell. Um. Yes. You read correctly….

yes, this is the baby rescued from the witch doctor… 2007

Watoto rescues children. Orphans who have lost parents to AIDS. Children who are taken from the side of the road by witch doctors, human traffickers, and general nasties. Children who have been abducted into the bush and turned into child soldiers under the LRA. Pure evil. They are forced to kill each other through the most attrocious means as part of their ‘initiation’. Such as biting each other to death. Yup. Again. Hideous but true.

These things are not so fun to talk about, but we should be aware. And once we’re aware, and we know, then I reckon we’re responsible for what we know, and what we choose to do about it…. (yes, I’m on my soap box tonight.)

* As you can imagine, when a child has done things like I’ve listed above, they need a LOT of rehabilitation… Another ‘under the radar’ hero of mine is Dr Robi Sonderegger. Robi is a ‘consultant and policy advisor on the rehabilitation of trauma associated with war, sexual exploitation (human trafficking) and natural disaster worldwide’. Basically, he helps to transform the thinking and mindsets of the abused and traumatised. He has worked with the children rescued from the war in Uganda. And the girls rescued by A21. And all sorts of other hideous world wide events that most of the time we just don’t want to talk about. And he is a GENIUS. The results are astounding. I’ve seen it countless times. Robi rocks.

I consider myself blessed to know these people.

To see the fruit of their labour on a day to day, month to month basis is wonderful.

To know that there are people trying to better the world around us makes me proud.

We can’t do it all. But we can all do something. AND WE SHOULD.

And with that, I step off my soap box….

for now.  xxxx

starry starry night…

I’m obsessed with the sky. Day or night. I just can’t get enough. I wake up at 0530 (yes, O five) every morning to watch the sunrise. And not just because we-just-moved-house-and-my-bedroom-balcony-has-a-fabulous-view-of-the-Harbour-Bridge-and-the-city-skyline-and-the-sun-rises-between-the-two…

Perfection.

During the day I watch the clouds. Constantly. I find them fascinating.

And by night, I can stand for hours and look at the stars.

I studied a little astronomy at university, and

I.  L.O.V.E.D.  it.

With all of my heart. And every. single. telescope. I could get my hands on at the time.

I particularly like stars. I like that they are so frikkin frikkin frikkin far away, and yet seemingly so close. I like that they twinkle. I really do. I’m easily entertained by them. I feel SAFE surrounded by them. I like the giganticness of ‘star talk’… and not that of ‘celebrity’ stars. The REAL deal.

Allow the following to just MESS WITH YOUR HEAD for a minute if you will….

* Astronomers measure the distance between stars in units called light-years.

* A light-year equals 9.46 million million kilometers. (Yes. Wrap your tiny finite brain around THAT.) This is the distance light travels in one year at a speed of 299,792 kilometers per second.

* The Sun(which I might remind you is a STAR…) is VERY FAR AWAY from the earth. UNDERSTATEMENT. The star nearest the sun is called Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri is 4.3 light-years from the Sun. That is frikkin frikkin frikkin far away…..

* The light we see from any given star on any given night, has therefore actually taken ‘x’ number of light years to travel back to earth(might I add here, in case you didn’t realise, or maybe you just ‘forgot’, you’re not seeing the ACTUAL star… just the light reflected from it….)

So you can be standing there, seeing ‘a star’, when THAT STAR MAY ALREADY BE DEAD….. It may not even exist anymore… it’s just that the light is still travelling….

WOAH. Brain hurting? Bet you never started reading this for an astronomy lesson. Apologies(although I’m not really overly sorry because I do seriously love this stuff…)

How DOES a star ‘die’?? Well, basically, it usually implodes. It runs out of fuel in its core, the core starts to cool off and all the mass starts to fall in on itself(simple explanation of a complex process).

So WHY THIS BLOG? Well, I sometimes liken us to stars… yeah, welcome back to the inside of MY head… lucky you!

I’d like to think that our earthly legacy outlasts us, our ‘light’ shines longer than the briefness that is our actual measured-out length of days…

Today is the one year anniversary of the sudden death of the brother of a friend, and so our mortality yells at me rather loudly today.

KNOW… And I mean REALLY know. That the impact of your life is far more reaching than you could possibly suspect, and more than you even sometimes care to dream.

And shine. For light years….

SING! (but maybe not a song of sixpence…)

I’ve been talking and thinking a lot about music, and singing, lately.

That’s not soooo unusual for me, although before I continue, I should inform you that my ‘default’ song(you know the song you just launch into unawares when you haven’t been listening to enough ‘current’ radio…) is actually “O Holy Night”.

I know.
It’s alarming, seeing as Christmas comes but once a year(see what I did there?) but it’s true. In February, June, August AND December, you’ll catch me singing “O Holy Night”.
I. DON’T. KNOW. WHY.
It just is what it is…

I’ve been thinking about singing so much that I even recently made Wednesdays ‘sing-all-your-words” day(and then promptly forgot to enforce my own rule and nobody sang anything today but hey…it’s the thought that counts right?)

Music evokes emotion, and memories, much like smells do…

I can hear The Carpenter’s “On the Top of the World” and I’m immediately transported to my childhood, forcing my younger brother to perform dance routines with me in the lounge room, and forcing my parents to watch and celebrate our amazing gifts of song and dance…

I can hear *insert name of band here* and I’m shaken up again, as a young high schooler, when my best friend’s older brother gassed himself in the family car listening to *said* band on repeat….

Kylie Minogue’s “Locomotion” gets me every time, and I’m fourteen, and SCREAMING with laughter as my friends and I dance around our holiday house in Cape Town….

Song-writers AMAZE me. They have an incredible ability to bring expression to things we often just have no idea how to verbalise at all… And strung along to a killer hook, we’re roped in for life. Literally.

Singing is FUN. Singing is GOOD FOR YOU.
TRULY. It awakens you. It makes you happy. Especially if you’re singing at the top of your lungs in the car as you hoon(at a responsible 100kms an hour) down the highway – preferably on a road trip to the beach with some of your best mates on the planet…

But don’t take MY word for it:
Suzanne Hanser is the chair(as an aside, I do feel for anyone who is a ‘chair’) of the music therapy department at Berklee College of Music. She says “Because singing is visceral, relating to, or affecting, our bodies, it can’t help but effect change”.

Studies have also linked singing with a lower heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and reduced stress, according to Patricia Preston-Roberts, a music therapist in New York. She uses song to help patients who suffer from a variety of psychological and physiological conditions. “Some people who have been traumatized often want to leave the physical

body, and using the voice helps ground them to their bodies. Singing also seems to block a lot of the neural pathways that pain travels through.”

Hmmm. Suddenly, mucking around with a song and a dance again sounds good to me!

One study conducted at the University of Frankfurt in Germany, found that people who sing(and not just professional singers) had higher levels of immunoglobulin A and cortisol – markers of enhanced immunity – after they sang than before. Just listening to music did not have the same effect as BEING ENGAGED IN the singing of the song…

Sounds to me much like life really.
BE ENGAGED.
LIVE.
Don’t just ‘listen’ to the music and let life pass you by…

SING!

Loud and proud. Off key or on. Whatever. However. Whenever. Just do it.

‘Open your mouth, and sing out your song. Life is short as the day is long.
Can’t leave you my body, but I’ll leave you a tune. This is my legacy. Cheers to you.’
Brooke Fraser.

second hand

I have a *small* collection of ‘second hand’ (read REALLLLLY old) books, and even one ‘first edition’ which I am super duper proud of. I feel it could almost gain me entry into the much acclaimed ‘book nerd’ club. I know it exists, I’m just waiting eagerly for my invitation…

I find it comforting to hold my second hand books. I open them, and smell them, and just sit and look at them. One is from 1866, and it is almost falling apart. It is a beautiful old bible, with a lock on the outside. The lock is broken, so the bible always opens. Which is how I figure you’d probably want a bible to be anyway….

The first name written on the first page of the book is Charlotte Jane Blake.
The inscription reads “Presented by her mother on her birthday. May 31, 1866”

The bible went from Charlotte to Shirley Blake, and by the script, it would appear Shirley was a child when she wrote her name in the book.

There are a few other names, and different dates, following Charlotte and Shirley. My name is the last name listed. It’s dated 2005. I haven’t passed it on yet, so that’s the last entry. I also know exactly who I am going to be giving the book to.

The book holds so many questions for me, and such mystery…. and yet a ridiculous amount of comfort and solace also.

Who was Charlotte, and how old was she on the birthday her mum gave her the bible?
Did she actually ask for a bible, and what did she really believe?
Did she marry, and did they read the bible together as a family in front of the fireplace? Maybe that’s just too idealistic, but I love the imagery, and I figure it’s my book, so I’m allowed to imagine it any way I choose.
When she struggled with something, did she thumb through to a favourite verse, and did her soul find rest?

When she passed it on to Shirley, did Shirley find a richness in it’s pages?
Did it ever just sit on the shelf unopened for years?
Was anyone judged/condemned for their belief in the words of that book?

There are a couple of pages with stains on them. Some are tear stains. I find incredible comfort in them. Knowing that someone cried over those pages is powerful. Someone loved someone else enough to shed tears for them. Wow. Someone was desperately weeping over a broken relationship, a dying child, a lost parent… Or were they happy tears?

There are a couple of markings in the book. I don’t know what they are. Some look like dog-eared pages. Maybe Charlotte tried to ‘save her place’ a few times. Maybe a child bent a page by accident. Maybe when the bible moved house a few times it got a bit beaten up. There’s a story in every page, in every crease, in every tear stain, in every word…

I love knowing that countless people have held that book before me.
Considered it precious.
Lived by it. Sometimes at incredible personal cost.
I love that there’s a LEGACY.

There’s ALWAYS a legacy….
If you choose to see it.
And that’s enough to build a life upon.
xx