Jul 8, 2009

Telepathy and Humor

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Isaac Asimov wrote a story called Jokester in which it is discovered that jokes only exist as part of human culture because of an experiment being run by aliens. In The search for Kalid, telepathic communication is portrayed as a recently evolved human ability. I've been thinking about the evolution of telepathic communication and the idea that aliens might play a decisive role in allowing humans to develop telepathic communication.

Baby talk, or "parentese" is is a special style of speech used by adults when talking to children who are learning human language. The idea is that it is helpful for language learners to hear a simplified and exaggerated version of language while they are trying to learn it. Similarly, is there a "trick" that could be used to help people develop their innate telepathic abilities?

The search for Kalid
The plot device for telepathy in The search for Kalid is that telepathic communication involves exchange of "T-particles". But even if a human brain could "encode" a thought in the form of "T-particles" and even if another brain could produce neuronal signals in response to received "T-particles" carrying encoded thoughts, how could the receiving brain ever decode such a signal? If you were bombarded with a pattern of flashing lights that represented a thought, how would you know that it represented a thought, and a particular thought?

Can a SciFi Story Poke Fun at SciFi?
Jokes can be "hard to get" unless you share the cultural background of the person telling the joke. Example: "There are 10 types of people...those who know binary and those who don't." If you know binary and realize that "10" in binary is equal to "2" in decimal, then you can "get" this nerdy joke. (For a related chuckle, see the binary joke from Reboot.) Would the telling of jokes provide an efficient way to develop someone's telepathic skills? Knock knock.

"Knock-knock. (Who’s there?) It is not the owner of Yu-Gi-Oh."

In The Bicentennial Man, comedian Robin Williams had a funny scene in which he played the part of a robot trying to tell jokes. He told them "robotically". Could a robot with no experience or understanding of human experience tell jokes in an intentionally funny way and truly "get" them?

Language of Thought
I was thinking today about a way for Set and Amethyst to interact in The search for Kalid so as to awaken her telepathic ability. Why not have Set tell a joke?

This fits with an idea in The search for Kalid, the idea that telepathy evolved as a way for humans to judge each other. People such as the anthropologist Terrence Deacon (See his book The Symbolic Species) have discussed the idea that human language might have evolved as a way for humans to judge if potential mates have worthy brains. Why not the same for telepathy? How many people look for a mate with a good sense of humor?
August 2014
Note:  I modified the original text of this blog post so as to put Robin Williams in the past tense.

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