Humor on the brain

Kerri Smith in Nature:

Robnewmanpressphoto2British comedian Robert Newman kicks off new act The Brain Show like any self-respecting scientist: with an abstract. He tells the audience about the billions pouring into mapping European and American brains through, respectively, the Human Brain Project and the White House BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative. He lays out the shortcomings of these projects’ best-known predecessor, the Human Genome Project, which, he bemoans, never did find half the genes it promised. There was no “gene for getting into debt”; no “low voter turnout” gene. And he explains what the rest of his argument will be: that humans cannot be thought of as machines, and that scientists devalue us all by conceptualising people in this reductive way. Critiques of neuroimaging could not often be called comic. Newman, however, manages it.

Newman hinges The Brain Show on a re-imagining of an infamous 2000 neuroimaging experiment by Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki. This claimed to have found the brain network responsible for romantic love, and Newman purports to have taken part. Many of his gags are only tangentially related to the science, but it’s skilfully done. He is asked to bring four photos to the scanner session: one of someone he is deeply in love with, and three of friends he is fond of. He worries about his selection of the first image. “I’m looking at this photo and thinking: is this the best picture of me I could have brought?”

More here.