Mathematics and Humor

  • University of Chicago Press, 1980
  • Paper, 1982
  • Dutch, Japanese, Turkish

In Mathematics and Humor I explore the operations and structures common to humor and the formal sciences (logic, mathematics, and linguistics), ii) show how various notions from these sciences provide formal analogues for different sorts of jokes and joke schema, and iii) develop a mathematical model of jokes (joke schema) using ideas from "catastrophe theory". In accomplishing this I discuss self-reference, recursivity, axioms, logical levels, non-standard models, transformational grammar, and several "mathematical" (in an extended sense) ideas. Relevant psychological and philosophical matters are discussed and provide a matrix for both the technical development and for the jokes. There is no comparable study of the formal properties of humor.


"Mathematics and Humor is an original, sophisticated, and scholarly treatment of the logic and mathematics of humor."

— Joseph Ercolano, Library Journal

"Many scholars nowadays write seriously about the ludicrous. Some merely manage to be dull. A few - like Paulos - are brilliant in an odd endeavor."

— Harvey Mindess, Los Angeles Times