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Molly Cule
303334.  Wed Mar 26, 2008 2:15 pm Reply with quote

During Dr. Stanley Milgram's infamous obedience experiments of 1961 when volunteers dubbed "teachers" were instructed to administer electric shocks to a "learner" in a neighboring room many of the ‘teachers’ who were asked to administer shocks started laughing. Fourteen flustered volunteers exhibited hysterical laughter during the experiment, as described by Milgram in his report: "The laughter seemed entirely out of place, even bizarre. Full-blown, uncontrollable seizures were observed for 3 subjects. On one occasion we observed a seizure so violently convulsive that it was necessary to call a halt to the experiment. The subject, a 46-year-old encyclopedia salesman, was seriously embarrassed by his untoward and uncontrollable behavior. In the post-experimental interviews subjects took pains to point out that they were not sadistic types, and that the laughter did not mean they enjoyed shocking the victim."

Cannibals who feast upon fellow humans' brains are also vulnerable to the fatal Kuru disease, one of the symptoms of which is spontaneous laughter. Fore natives who inhabit a tiny pocket of the New Guinea highlands. Symptoms are much like vCJD and include an exaggerated startle response and emotional instability, with pathologic bursts of laughter. Advanced states are characterized by dementia. In the terminal state, the patient is generally totally placid, mute and unresponsive.

Why are jokes only funny the first time you hear them? One idea is ‘incongruence theory’ - that humour is a learning mechanism that detects and corrects incongruence between expectations and reality. Once you have heard a joke once the its’ pattern is incorporated into the psyche and subsequent exposures to similar patterns will not be surprising.

303844.  Thu Mar 27, 2008 5:58 am Reply with quote

Why are jokes only funny the first time you hear them?

They're not though, are they? Lots of jokes are funnier the more often you hear them. (Eg, the white horse one that ends: "What - Eric??")

And then there's catchphrases and running gags, which only become funny with repetition.

303877.  Thu Mar 27, 2008 6:47 am Reply with quote

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about Dylan Moran's series "Black Books." She concluded that she's now unable to watch the DVD in the presence of someone who hasn't seen it before because she's watched it so many times that she now laughs just before the jokes because she knows they're coming up.

304276.  Thu Mar 27, 2008 2:56 pm Reply with quote

Stanley Milgram also researched the Small World problem, now often referred to by "Six Degrees of Separation" (actually the title of a play by John Guare). I think Milgram sent parcels to 100 random addresses in the US. Each parcel contained instructions that the package needed to reach a named person in Boston and the recipient should send the parcel on to someone they thought would be more likely to know the particular named person. The average length of chain observed before the package reached its destination was six.

Milgram's experiments were not very rigorous, but more recent work has shown that the small world effect - apparently unrelated people having friends in common - is a feature of 'semi-random networks'. Researchers Watts & Strogatz have looked at the US electricity grid, the nervous system of the Nematode Worm and the Kevin Bacon game (linking actors to Kevin Bacon via common movies) and shown that they are all semi-random networks with short chain lengths.

Academic mathematicians play a game called Erdos number (after the mathematician Paul Erdos) where people are linked if they have co-authored a paper. Erdos himself has a number 0, his co-authors (some 500 people) have number 1 and so on. Apparently 15 is about the maximum Erdos number, the median is 5 and the mean is 4.65.

The humorous book "Who's Had Who" (by Richard Curtis, Helen Fielding & Simon Bell) linking celebrities by sexual couplings would appear to fall into this category

304535.  Thu Mar 27, 2008 6:49 pm Reply with quote

I have some knowledge of that book, and the key to getting a high score in it was finding a link as quickly as possible to someone who might be described as a 'node' - someone with a lot of connections. If you could get to Ryan O'Neil in, say, two or three links, then you were away.

304912.  Fri Mar 28, 2008 4:34 am Reply with quote

I always though Warren Beatty was the "Clapham Junction".

304948.  Fri Mar 28, 2008 5:24 am Reply with quote

The average length of chain observed before the package reached its destination was six.

Like you say, very unrigorous. IIRC, this was only the average of the packages that actually arrived, but something like (pulls a figure out of his backside) 80% didn't make it to the final destination.

305447.  Fri Mar 28, 2008 12:16 pm Reply with quote

I wonder if there’s some way we could demonstrate the fatuity of the six degrees thing? Perhaps pick a random member of the audience, and have a panellist, by questioning him or her, establish or fail to establish a connection?

305459.  Fri Mar 28, 2008 12:30 pm Reply with quote

Perhaps we could give 20 members of the first audience an person to whom to send their package, and see if they've got there by the last one.

Even better, if we know who is on the last show, we can see if they can get them to that celebrity, and see if he/she comes in to the studio with any envelopes.

That said, I suppose a celebrity would have more nodes than, say, my next door neighbour. And each audience member would probably just give the letter to the most famous person they know...

306005.  Sat Mar 29, 2008 10:00 am Reply with quote

The version I know is based on handshakes; how many handshakes separate you from any particular famous person. For instance:

You go to see your local councillor, for advice on a housing matter. You shake his hand.
He has shaken hands with the Prime Minister, during a photo shoot for all the party’s council candidates before the last local elections.
The PM has shaken hands with the Pope.
You’ve “got” the Pope in three.

You’ve only got to “meet” (ie, ask for an autograph) one famous person, and you have every other famous person in the world in two at the most.

My point being that this whole idea is either silly - or, on the other hand, daft. I submit that (unless you live most of your life somewhere remote) it is impossible for you not to have the Pope in eight at the most. I don’t know - because I never read any of this stuff when it came out - whether the idea was that everyone is more closely connected than they would expect, or that they're not ... but if the former, then it strikes me as an irritating statement of the staggeringly obvious.

355480.  Sat Jun 07, 2008 8:27 am Reply with quote

A study at the University of Middlesex looked at the reactions of people watching Blackadder when compared with people just listening to the audio, and people just reading the script on paper.

It turns out that people laugh just as much without the pictures as they do with. People just reading the script didn't find it quite so amusing.

355575.  Sat Jun 07, 2008 11:54 am Reply with quote

MatC wrote:
The version I know is based on handshakes; how many handshakes separate you from any particular famous person.

I'd forgotten this thread, but Stephen mentioned in a recording the other night that he shook hands with Alastair Cook, who shook hands with Bertrand Russell, whose aunt danced with Napoleon.


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