top of page

Fri, 11 Feb



Why Evolution Made Us Laugh - Darwin Day lecture with Prof Jonathan Silvertown

Now online

Why Evolution Made Us Laugh - Darwin Day lecture with Prof Jonathan Silvertown
Why Evolution Made Us Laugh - Darwin Day lecture with Prof Jonathan Silvertown

Time & Location

11 Feb 2022, 18:30


About the event

Laughter is an odd behaviour if you stop to think about it. It’s involuntary and infectious. It starts in the cradle, well before the development of speech, but this innate behaviour blossoms into something that can bring a whole room into uproar. It is found in all cultures and, when heard, it is recognisable across boundaries of language. All these characteristics strongly suggest that laughter is hard-wired into the human psyche, which immediately conjures the favourite question of every evolutionary biologist: what good is it? And, we would add, why did laughter evolve in the first place.

Good jokes, bad jokes, clever jokes, dad jokes - the desire to laugh is universal. But why do we find some gags hilarious, whilst others fall flat? Why does explaining a joke make it less amusing rather than more so? Why is laughter contagious, and why did it evolve in the first place?

With typical insight, Charles Darwin remarked that our response to humour is like a tickling of the mind. He never got to the bottom of the tickle, although recent research shows that the answer to why evolution makes us laugh can be found in Darwin’s second-best idea. In this year’s Darwin Day lecture, Jonathan Silvertown discusses laughter’s origins and explains exactly what this idea of Darwin’s was.

He also looks at why we laugh: from laughter's evolutionary origins, to similarities and differences in humour across cultures, and even why being funny makes us sexier.

Trained as a plant biologist, Jonathan Silvertown is Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at Edinburgh Univ. His latest book is 'The Comedy of Error; why evolution made us laugh'. He has featured on Radio 4's Start the Week and Radio New Zealand.

'Fascinating ... an awesome read.' Giles Coren (Times Radio) “…. a thoroughly entertaining and erudite extended skit on the evolution of humour.

o say that it is a laugh a minute is no exaggeration as he makes regular use of jokes to underscore his key points ” Fiona Capp (Sydney Morning Herald). He is the author of several popular science books including 'Dinner with Darwin', 'Demons in Eden' and '99% Ape'. And amongst other things he is a pioneer of Citizen Science.

This free event is in partnership with Bristol Ideas (formerly Festival of Ideas).

As this event is now online, we have re-opened the booking so please do share the event page with anyone who wasn't able to get a ticket so they can book their free place.

For those who had already reserved a ticket, the email address you used on Eventbrite has now been registered on Crowdcast so you can watch the event there on the night. If you can't watch live, the video will be available as soon as the broadcast has ended.

Thank you for your understanding and hope you enjoy the event.

Share this event

bottom of page