I am currently a research associate at the Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition at Indiana University, where the main topic of study is the nature of creativity. This study of the mechanisms of creativity necessarily touches upon deep questions of aesthetics, will, semantics, knowledge and purposiveness. In my current work, I am looking at all of these issues within a framework of the neuro- and cognitive sciences of emotion.
I began my career in cognitive science with an inquiry into humor. It is a complicated topic with factors of culture, emotion and cognition all playing central roles; but, for me, it was a fascinating topic and it also served as a platform for looking at the confluence of those three factors.
I first got interested in humor because of two conflicting, yet very basic, intuitions that everyone has probably noticed at some point. The first was that humor is related to some kind of mistake. Every pun, joke and comic incident seemed to contain a fool of some sort—the "butt" of the joke, even if it is one's own self. The second was that the typical response to these mistake-laden events is enjoyment. So, funniness is in some way about idiocy being a good thing. And that makes sense when it is your enemy or your competition that is somehow failing, but not when it is yourself or your loved ones.
The question became “why do we enjoy mistakes?” and by the time I got through a course in humor theory taught by my co-author, Reg Adams, in the summer of 2004, I began to formulate a theory that could make sense out of those conflicting impressions. The answer was based in an emotional reward for discovering and thus undoing mistakes in thought. We don't enjoy making the mistakes, we enjoy weeding them out.