Saturday, February 11, 2012


It seems that I have lots of spare time recently. :) I'm still waiting for the Stanford University open courses to start. That will take awhile..

But now for something completely different... I might have mentioned about the "Society of Mind" lectures. In one of them, Minsky started to explain theories about "Why jokes are funny?". According to the mighty Freud, jokes are funny, because they are messing with "not allowed" topics. Things our society try to suppress thinking or talking of, like violence, sex, bad politics, etc.. So our mind is trying to mask our real thoughts by making them seem not serious. And you might say, "Ye, Freud, the guy is nuts!", but I find it reasonable explanation for the majority of the jokes. And here's the funny part, Freud's theory does not explain why the nonsensical jokes are also funny. Does it?

Think about it for a moment. Why are nonsense jokes funny? This is extremely interesting question for me, because I'm a big big fan of Monty Python, and the jokes there are totally nonsensical. It's like a surrealism without the depri-art part. So I needed to know why people are laughing like crazy when they hear a punchline that's completely illogical and sometimes not related to the rest of the joke.

The answer is here. In this wonderful paper, Minsky suggests that the reason people laugh when hearing nonsense jokes is the same as the reason they laugh about all other kinds of jokes . And this reason was originally formulated by Freud - they allow our childish consciousness to play with forbidden things. This time, the forbidden topic is logic, or more precisely, the lack of it. Illogical thinking is considered bad thing in our society and the people speaking nonsense are labeled dumb. Of course, not if you are telling jokes ;) .

And now for something completely the same: a fine selection of toys for your mind I found around the web:


Two strawberries were sitting in the bathtub, one said to the other 'can you pass the soap' the other replies 'what the fuck do I look like, a typewriter?'


If you say Jesus backwards it sounds like sausage.


- Why did the plane crash?

- Because the pilot was a loaf of bread.


- What's the difference between a duck?

- One's twice as long as itself.


- Ask me if I'm an orange.

- Are you an orange?

- No.


Driving down a road Santa sees a sign that says, “Watch for Fallen Rocks.” A few kilometres later, he sees some rocks at the side of the road, so he stops and picks them up. When he gets to the next town, he carries the rocks into the Highway Maintenance office and puts them on the counter. “Here are your fallen rocks,” he says to the man behind the counter. “Now where is my watch?”.


Inpatient customer, sarcastically:

- "Waiter, do you serve crabs?"

- "Sit down, sir - we serve anyone."


Descartes is sitting in a bar. The bartender asks him if he'd like another drink. Descartes replies, "I think not" and *poof* he disappears.


These here are from the paper:

A gentleman entered a pastry-cook's shop and ordered a cake; but he soon brought it back and asked for a glass of liqueur instead. He drank it and began to leave without having paid. The proprietor detained him. "You've not paid for the liqueur." "But I gave you the cake in exchange for it." "You didn't pay for that either." "But I hadn't eaten it".

--- from Freud (1905).


"A man at the dinner table dipped his hands in the mayonnaise and then ran them through his hair. When his neighbor looked astonished, the man apologized: "I'm so sorry. I thought it was spinach."


Well, some of them are not complete nonsense, see.. But they are in the same category, since they make fun of false interpretations. (Btw, if you have more, please share! :)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thinking like a moss :)

Two days ago as I was derping around the web (not surprising at all), I discovered this awesome open course called "Critical reasoning for beginners". What's all about? The title does not say much to me, as I simply cannot catch what's so critical about reasoning. However, the content is circling around the nature of arguments and how by using logic and simple structuring rules to make your arguments stronger.

What's nice about all that stuff is, that even from the first lecture, one learns a lot of definitions formulated in "human understandable language" ( I mean, not only with symbols, as we learned it in the formal systems course, e.g. P or !P = true ). Besides, the lecturer has soooo amazingly wonderful beautiful amusing British accent, which might be the real reason for me listening to the lectures. Btw, she started the lecture with part of a Monty Python sketch (this one)!

Here's some interesting stuff: we are somehow used to say that an argument is true or false. But arguments cannot be true or false, they can be simply good or bad. The premises of an argument can be true or false, for example, but not the arguments themselves. And the good arguments are truth-preserving, because they can preserve the truth of the premises in the conclusion.

There is also this interesting statement I very much like: "There are only 2 sorts of things that can be true or false in this world. One of them is beliefs and the other is the sentences we use to express beliefs." At first, I was little bit confused, because beliefs are kinda subjective. But later on, it became clear, that there is a difference between religious beliefs, etc. and the term belief in the philosophy.

Also, I found out, that there are levels of abstraction and often the reason for a bad argument is when you are not able to make the difference between those. The clarity of thoughts is a consequence of not confusing those levels. And there's a very nice example:

Let's use chair, concept of chair and "chair". Saying that chair has 5 letters is not true, because chairs don't have letters. It also does not make sense to say that the concept of chair that someone has in mind has 5 letters. Therefore saying "Chair has 5 letters." makes sense only when chair is seen as a word. And that's definetely different abstraction level from the first two.