Laughing ‘Matter’: Science, by any Means!
Humor, the Power of the Punch-line
Now normally, “if you were to draw a Venn Diagram featuring two sets, ‘science’ and ‘comedy’, you might not expect to find much at their intersection” [AAAS]. But for years, stand-up comedians like Brian Malow and Norm Goldblatt, along with science-centric cartoonists like Sidney Harris, have found the overlap, harnessing the power of the punch-line to spread a little science to the most dilettante among us! Even physicists from CERN have jumped on the burlesque bandwagon to humor us [Sam Gregson‘s CERN After Dark], proving that laughs and scientific research too can collide!
How Ha-ha can Lead to Aha!*
Laughter disarms us and engages us, but there is more. In studying the role of humor in pedagogy, R.L. Garner* illustrates just how a little levity and a few content-specific lols can open new horizons, even lead to new perspectives and novel cognitive insights.
Humor is all about contrast, juxtaposition, puzzle-piecing and aha moments (much like science itself!). So what better way to give exposure to scientific concepts and to prod a bit of critical thinking along the way! For Amy Bree Becker who has studied this extensively, comedy is already driving the everyday discussion of science, shining a light on what otherwise might be obscure and complicated ‘matter’ … (pun intended)! She explores just how information is best passed along, not just by presenting a ‘fact’ but by putting a humorous spin on it.
And that is exactly what Dean Burnett, a doctor of neuroscience who also happens to moonlight as a comedy writer, does! For him “a catchy, comical metaphor is far more effective than pages of precise details” …
Remember the one about …?
Beyond the attention-grabbing effects of humor, it is mnemotic! A substantial body of research explains why we remember things that make us laugh and why humor has such positive effects on attention, attitude, retention and engagement. Apparently chortles and chuckles, by releasing powerful endorphins in brain pathways, can literally set the stage for meaningful and memorable learning.
And kids (with all their bundling, buzzing, burgeoning neurons!) may be especially primed for this!
Tickling kids’ ‘medial epicondyles’!
Childrens’ book authors like Jon Scieszka are whipping up the wild and wacky with the wondrous world of science. Given my own tendency to tickle, I find that this couldn’t be more perceptive, seizing, as it does, on kids’ instinctive quest to figure out the world and their growing sense of humor.
Even Pixar gets this and, using satire, word-play, and humorous twists and turns, has been embedding some science savvy into its animated narratives:
Hey, you’re a clownfish. You’re funny, right? Tell us a joke. – Yeah. – Yeah. Well, actually, that’s a common misconception. Clownfish are no funnier than any other fish.
– [Looking for Nemo]
What is intriguing* is that children, even the tiniest among them, will walk away with not only Pixar’s puns in their pockets, but with a tidbit of accurate scientific knowledge wadded in there too. And once home, they will almost always spontaneously unfold them … just to find out more!
So, the guffaw is a kind of gateway … and a really gaping one to boot!
Speaking of gateways:
- So a Scientist Walks Into a Bar: The Importance of Comedy in Science/The Plainspoken Scientist
- Laughter and Learning: Humor Boosts Retention/Edutopia
- *Learning Science Through Humour in Children’s Media/Sai Pathmanathan