It’s been a frustrating week. The Edinburgh Science Festival has been on and I’ve been elsewhere! However on Wednesday I remedied this and returned for an evening of maths, science and humour.
The first event was The Maths Olympics by Simon Pampena (click the links to watch part of the show or follow Simon on Twitter). This proved to contain less maths than I’d have liked and a little too much Ozzie shouting. He basically used number-crunching to prove that Oz was Top At Everything. The Q&A at the end was more fun, especially as someone had spotted a mistake in one of his slides. It’s not often you hear a heckle about 2-dimensional venn diagrams.
Afterwards I attended Humour Me, in which psychologist Richard Wiseman, evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar and stand-up comedian Robin Ince debated the psychology and evolution of humour. This was fascinating: Laughter and singing preceded speaking - how do we know? The structure of the chest cavity and lungs in fossil remains. Chimps laugh by inhaling and exhaling, whereas we laugh with one, long exhalation.
Laughter is a social bonding thing and we are much more likely to laugh if we do it in a group of four or more. Not many people laugh alone. Which makes me speculate about those of us who do laugh alone - does the ability to find something funny and then wish to communicate that to others predispose you towards getting involved in comedy professionally.
The evening was enlivened at one point by a woman who criticised the fact that there were no women on the panel. Richard Wiseman tried to damp down this protest but Robin Ince’s reaction was interesting - he was all for inviting her up on stage to join in.
The talk featured several clips to illustrate points about comedy. One clip from Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore’s 1960s TV series, apparently divides audiences straight down the middle - you either love it or hate it. I loved it and have since discovered it’s even funnier if you watch it without other people around!
I would have liked to have heard more from Robin Dunbar on the science and research into comedy - particularly his work with primates - but otherwise it was a cracking evening. Science and comedy; what’s not to like?
Here are a few sketches from the Maths Olympics: