Putting Underwear on the Dog
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: If I were trapped on a desert island, the one thing I would most like to have with me is this book. No, wait. That's stupid. I'd want a satellite uplink. But if I could have TWO things, I'd want... well, enough potable water to support me until help arrived. Okay, THREE things, I'd -- oh, screw it. This is the book. This was how lots of geeks first understood that there's more than one kind of funny: There's "man attempts to walk down an icy path, but falls down" funny, which has been delivered successfully by only three people in all of history: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and John Ritter of the TV show "Three's Company". This kind of funny is based in the idea of schadenfreude ( tells me it means "harming joy"). Someone is hurt. It is not you. Rejoice!

And then there's another kind of funny: a man wakes up one morning and his house is knocked down. Later, a tiny fish in his head translates poetry. Eventually, he has tea. This kind of funny seems to work by forcing your brain to zap new pathways between neurons who've never met before, and it's that tiny shock of unexpected juxtaposition that geeks love so much. You have a sense that something genuinely NEW is going on, and the deeper the disparity, the greater the joy.

Let's take an example at random:
Mime Assaulted With Corndog Musket. There! You can see it. The blued steel of an antique flintlock firing greasy batter-fried wieners at a mime. Think about the processing required to imagine such a thing. Your brain has to search through its archives to locate images of a mime, a musket, and a corndog. Then it constructs a working virtual prototype of a rifle capable of chambering a corndog. Finally, it drops these elements into a temporary staging space and runs a short movie for you depicting a whimpering mime curled into a fetal ball, corndogs smacking wetly into his head.

Lots of people wouldn't find that funny. Mimes wouldn't. And that's why they so desperately NEED to be shot with yummy carnival snacks! This more cerebral kind of funny demands that your brain go beyond logical, linear relationships, things like

tomatoes are red
The sun is shining. It is a nice day.

Instead, you have to think nonlinearly:

tomatoes despise me
The sun is shining. Perhaps it will implode.

Your brain just got a little more warped. It's now slightly more predisposed to connect the unconnected, and that's the same skill which drives the synthesis of new ideas, whether artistic (pocketwatches melting in the trees) or technical (a filesystem that uses a journal to maintain state without sacrificing speed).

Brains, especially geek brains, need action. Absurd humor and creative synthesis are just methods for the needy geek brain to keep itself happy through vigorous exercise. There's an entire class of things that fill that need. The Hitchhiker's Guide is one of the best. You owe it to your brain to read it.

Next: Jabber Walk.

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Copyright 1999 Benjy Feen /

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