Borscht Belt on the Bimah: The Neuroscience of Comedy

Borscht Belt on the Bimah: The Neuroscience of Comedy

One of the aspects of Jewish culture most immediately recognizable to the unacquainted is its humor. Over centuries, wit and laughter have cast light and warmth on what has sometimes been a difficult and marginal existence, creating camaraderie and connection, in particular, through the incredibly rich tradition of Jewish-American comics.

Humor comes in many types and forms, but what it all has in common seems to be how difficult it is to explain. At times we revel in this aspect (and it can even add to the humor in and of itself; there’s usually nothing more unfunny than trying to explain a joke), but recent advances in brain imaging might finally give us a concrete idea of what makes us laugh.

As part of Scientists in Synagogues, Temple Har Shalom in Warren, NJ took on the topic of the neuroscience of humor, inviting two local comedians to give routines utilizing all types of humor, and then bringing the expertise of a neuroscientist, Dr. David Zald, to give us a glimpse into what’s happening when our sides are splitting.

(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. Dr. David H. Zald is the inaugural director of the Center for Advanced Human Brain Imaging Research, and Henry Rutgers Professor of Psychiatry, at Rutgers University).

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