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SitP: Heina Dadabhoy from Islam to Atheism. [caption id="attachment_2139" align="alignright" width="239"] A ninja warrior welcomes guests to Convergence/Skepchickcon[/caption]Boston Skeptics welcomes our January guest speaker, atheist feminist secular...

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Book Club: The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha... [caption id="attachment_2131" align="alignright" width="197"] The Emperor of All Maladies[/caption]This month's book is The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist...

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SitP: David Ropeik and the Risk Perception Gap Update! Thanks to Andrea and Francois, we now have a video of David Ropeik's talk available on our

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SitP: Larry Gilbertson on GMOs and Biotech [caption id="attachment_2117" align="alignright" width="300"] Feeding the world[/caption]The population of the earth will exceed 9 billion people by 2050. Arable land is decreasing, dietary preferences...

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Book Club: “Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why” by Scott Weems

Posted on : 23-04-2014 | By : John | In : audio, Blog Post

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Isaac Asimov famously wrote:

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny…”

Ha! isn’t really about that, though. Scott Weems has a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from U.C.L.A. In keeping with our tradition of books featuring horrible things happening to small children, he once made a little girl cry by telling her that some people go to school until the 26th grade. In this book, he shows us what our brains look like and what our brains look like on jokes.

Actually, the first chapter starts out describing the death of the joke. It passed away during a bitter New York blizzard in the winter of 1961, when Lenny Bruce in a seminal performance perfected a stand-up comedy routine containing no jokes at all, just pure comic genius.

The chapter continues, touching on why some jokes are not funny to some people while being particularly hilarious to others. It’s not that some people have no sense of humor. Rather, a good joke has an edginess: the closer it brings the listener to discomfort, the funnier, unless it goes over the edge, when it fails catastrophically. Since everyone’s edge of discomfort is in a different place, good jokes to some people will always be horribly unfunny* to others. For example, shortly after 9/11, Gilbert Gottfried told a hijacking joke at a comedy roast in New York. It was disastrous. However, as a pro, he recovered by pushing the audience’s boundary in an entirely different direction, telling what is generally regarded as the filthiest joke ever thought up. (Weems doesn’t tell us the joke, just the punchline which is “We are the Aristocrats.” Apparently, you can find the joke online, but given the setup, I don’t really want to…)

The chapter also provides a brief introduction to the brain structures and biochemistry involved in recognizing and responding to humor (dopamine release is key), humor in animals (rats giggle at 50KHz and their brains release dopamine when their bellies are tickled, but not when they are held nor when their backs are stroked), and the funniest joke in the world, courtesy of old friend of the Book Club Richard Wiseman. (He does tell this joke, but we were spoiled last month by someone** telling it.)

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

Join us to discuss this book on Saturday, May 3 at 3 PM in our usual meeting place, Harvard’s Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge. Bring your appetite and, if you wish, a snack to share. Also optional, you can RSVP on our Facebook event page. Remember, the first gratuitous Star Trek reference always receives a complimentary, set to stun, phaser blast.

Mary will be leading an online discussion of the book the next day (May 4) at the Skepchick Book Club. Drop by and make all those insightful comments you forgot to make at the meeting, or if you live too far away to attend in person. (But it’s much more fun to be there!)

[*] Personal opinion, I don’t know if Weems discusses this subject later in the book. This has nothing to do with a joke not being funny because it attacks a less powerful or privileged person (punches down.) Actually, those jokes can (sometimes) be funny, but they are also cruel and malignant, and only a cruel and malignant person would revel in them.

[**] I think it was Mary but it might have been Kevin? Short-term memory is the 2nd thing to go. I don’t remember what was the first thing to go.

Book Club: “Subliminal” by Leonard Mlodinow

Posted on : 12-10-2012 | By : John | In : Book Club

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Our next book is Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow.

Mlodinow is a physicist and coauthor with Steven Hawking of The Grand Design and A Briefer History of Time.

This book is not Physics nor (snacks) is it Sci-Fi. Rather, it is “a startling and eye-opening examination of how the unconscious mind shapes our experience of the world” (to quote the Amazon publisher’s blurb.) In a guest review on Amazon, Prof. V.S Ramachandran says:

“This delightfully accessible yet intellectually rigorous book transcends traditional (snacks) boundaries between neuroscience, psychology and philosophy, to tackle the riddle of the unconscious mind.”

This aligns closely with what one of our members said at the SitP yesterday. He described it as more rigorous (snacks) and data-driven than Carol Tavris’s Mistakes Were Made, But Not by Me, which covers similar topics. He said Subliminal is more readable despite being less anecdotal. I think we will all enjoy this one.

We’ll be meeting at our usual location at 3PM on Saturday, Nov 3. You can RSVP at our event page on Facebook, if it is working this month.

As usual, Mary will be hosting a discussion of Subliminal on Skepchick the day after our meeting.

[Subliminal hints about snacks courtesy of me. Remember to bring a snack or at least your appetite!]

Video: Twins, Telepathy & Smut – Samuel T. Molton 11/24/08

Posted on : 30-11-2008 | By : maggie | In : Skeptics in the Pub, video

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Video from the Nov. 24th meetup featuring Samuel T. Moulton.

Boston Skeptics in the Pub – Samuel T. Moulton Nov. 24, 2008 from Maggie McFee on Vimeo.

Monday, November 24: Twins, Telepathy, and Smut at Boston Skeptics in the Pub

Posted on : 12-11-2008 | By : Rebecca | In : Skeptics in the Pub

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Sam Moulton is a researcher at Harvard who recently used neuroimaging to study the possibility of paranormal mental phenomena like telepathy and clairvoyance. Find out how he did it and what he found while drinking in the company of a fun group of skeptics!

Date:
Monday, November 24, 2008

Time:
7:00pm – 10:00pm

Location:
Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square (top floor)

96 Winthrop Street
Cambridge, MA

Cost:
FREE!

Facebook Event Page

(join the Boston Skeptics group here)