American physicist Richard Feynman was a joint recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, for his work on quantum electrodynamics. He is credited with the concept and early exploration of quantum computing. He also had a very well developed sense of humor.
Here is how he is described in Wikipedia: "As well as being an inspirational lecturer, bongo player, notorious practical joker, and decipherer of Maya hieroglyphs, Richard Feynman was regarded as an eccentric and a free spirit. He liked to pursue multiple seemingly independent paths, such as biology, art, percussion, and lock picking." An unusual character, to say the least.
Another example of the combination of a very creative mind with a sense of humor is found in Albert Einstein. You may have seen one of the more famous photos of him, in which he is sticking his tongue out at the photographer. Einstein was known to be very playful and full of laughter.
But is this just coincidence? We are all a collection of character traits after all. Is it possible that Einstein and Feynman just happen to have a well-developed sense of humor - which had no relation to the creative work which they did? Maybe. But there is a more likely explanation.
According to brain researchers, three parts of the brain light up when you laugh at a joke. There is the thinking part that helps you get the joke, the area that controls the movements of your muscles and an emotional area that makes you feel good. What makes something funny isn't as clearly understood, but humor researcher (what a job!) John Morreall believes laughter is a response to incongruities or stories that disobey conventional expectations.
Does that sound familiar? Stories that disobey conventional expectations? That is the essence of lateral thinking. Consider that while other mathematicians and physicists were more conventional, Einstein was imagining himself riding on a beam of light. That's a whole different approach - closer to the kind of thinking that makes humor possible than to the usual analytical thinking of mathematicians and physicists.
Of course a correlation doesn't prove causation. In other words, Feynman's love of practical jokes and Einstein's readiness to play and laugh don't necessarily cause more creativity. Instead, it is possible that their creative genius and there sense of humor are both caused (at least in part) by a different way of thinking.
If this different way of thinking explains the correlation between humor and intellectual creativity, then developing your sense of humor wouldn't necessarily help you to become more creative (although you might be happier). To do that, you would have to change the deeper patterns of thought. But then, what if humor did just that?
Remember that humor lights up three parts of the brain, starting with the thinking part that helps you get the joke. Consider a one-liner, like "If at first you don't succeed, skydiving may not be for you." A joke like this starts out with a traditional saying ("If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."), and then surprises you. It disobeys conventional expectations. It goes in an unexpected direction.
To "get it," your mind must go in an unexpected direction as well. In other words, creating or understanding humor is essentially a process, and a practice of lateral thinking. (Lateral thinking is a way of attacking problems from other angles, as opposed to the more traditional linear and logical ways. ) Doesn't it seem likely that if you exercise your mind in this way, you will also have more ability to think "outside the box" - to be more creative in your problem solving?
Two eggs are in a frying pan and one says to the other, "Gosh it's getting hot in here." The other one screams, "Oh my god, it's a talking egg!"
Many people have observed that the relaxation which often comes with laughter results in greater productivity. This makes sense. It is easier to do good work, and have good ideas when you are less stressed. But beyond that, I think the research will eventually show that developing one's sense of humor specifically develops a kind of thinking that leads to greater creativity.
Copyright Steve Gillman. For more on How To Increase Brain Power, and to get the Brain Power Newsletter and other free gifts, visit: http://www.IncreaseBrainPower.com
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