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"ALL ROADS LEAD TO DEATH. GET LOST." - Jorge Luis Borges
This paper proposes that cognitive humor can be modeled using the mathematical framework of quantum theory. We begin with brief overviews of both research on humor, and the generalized quantum framework. We show how the bisociation of incongruous frames or word meanings in jokes can be modeled as a linear superposition of a set of basis states, or possible interpretations, in a complex Hilbert space. The choice of possible interpretations depends on the context provided by the set-up vs. the punchline of a joke. We apply the approach to a verbal pun, and consider how it might be extended to frame blending. An initial study of that made use of the Law of Total Probability, involving 85 participant responses to 35 jokes (as well as variants), suggests that the Quantum Theory of Humor (QTH) proposed here provides a viable new approach to modeling humor.
Ten years ago I undertook to translate the earliest extensive religious text, the original version of the Pyramid Texts in the Pyramid of Unis. This complex body of minute hieroglyphic writing, deliberately sealed away over four thousand years ago, was brought to light when European archaeologists opened the small Old Kingdom pyramids at Saqqâra in the winter of 1880. Great minds over the ages, among them Plato and Newton, believed that hidden within the pyramids was a treasured body of knowledge, long sought for the scientific and philosophical insight it contained. Yet the actual discovery of the Pyramid Texts made barely a cultural ripple in the world. In the intellectual climate of imperial Europe, the newly created academic discipline of Egyptology dismissed the hieroglyphic text as a disconnected collection of magic spells about snakes mixed into an incoherent myth involving the dead pharaoh with various animals and gods. The translations made no sense at all, and it is obvious that the original had not been understood. The problem of interpretation did not end in the nineteenth century.
A theoretical soft condensed matter physicist by training who now heads a thriving 33-person research group spanning three departments at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Glotzer uses computer simulations to study emergence — the phenomenon whereby simple objects give rise to surprising collective behaviors. “When flocks of starlings make these incredible patterns in the sky that look like they’re not even real, the way they’re changing constantly — people have been seeing those patterns since people were on the planet,” she said. “But only recently have scientists started to ask the question, how do they do that? How are the birds communicating so that it seems like they’re all following a blueprint?”
A more recent “wow” moment occurred in 2009, when Glotzer and her group at Michigan discovered that entropy, a concept commonly conflated with disorder, can actually organize things. Their simulations showed that entropy drives simple pyramidal shapes called tetrahedra to spontaneously assemble into a quasicrystal — a spatial pattern so complex that it never exactly repeats. The discovery was the first indication of the powerful, paradoxical role that entropy plays in the emergence of complexity and order.