Mathematics and Humor

Mathematics has served both as a means to analyze the processes involved in humor and as a source of humor. This entry examines the first of these uses.

Descriptive Mathematics

The use of mathematical methods specifically in an attempt to understand the elements of humor is of relatively recent origin and still in its infancy. Perhaps first mention should be given to the mathematician, George Birkhoff, who, in his 1933 book, Aesthetic Measure, derived a method whose purpose was “within each class of aesthetic objects, to define the order O and the complexity C so that their ratio M = O/C yields the aesthetic measure of any object in the class.” Birkhoff applied his method to measure the aesthetic “goodness” of objects as diverse as geometric designs, ...

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