The Attractive Error
Humour’s Role in the War Against Infected Memes

Alastair Clarke

Author - Alastair Clarke

Publication date:
November 2012

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About the author

In The Attractive Error Clarke presents a detailed exploration of information normalization, his latest theory addressing the mechanism and function of the faculty of humour. Adopting a contrary stance from the pattern recognition process he suggested in The Faculty of Adaptability, a convincing case is made for the foundations of laughter and amusement being located in the brain's responses to misinformation, whether caused by wilful deception or innocent error.

Because human beings are more dependent on instruction and cultural inheritance for their behaviour than any other species, the nature and reliability of the information the individual receives radically affects their chances of survival. Considering this paramount importance of data integrity, Clarke argues that humour has evolved to compensate for that which is either intentionally or inadvertently misleading to the brain, encouraging a valuable circumspection and a sharpening of our cultural defences.

The Attractive Error examines the evolutionary basis for such a case and suggests a schematic mechanism that would enable it to function with a minimum of processing power, based on the equation h = m x s, in which m represents the degree of perceived misinformation and s equates to the individual's susceptibility to taking it seriously. The greater these two factors, the more extensive the risk to the individual the infected meme would have represented had it not been successfully evaded, and the more intense the reward for sidestepping its pitfalls.

An introductory essay on information normalization theory, written by Alastair Clarke, is available below as a free download, with further articles available at

Clarke's contrasting theory of humour, pattern recognition theory, is featured in the Encyclopedia of Humor Studies (Sage 2014) edited by Salvatore Attardo.

Further publications in Clarke’s series on humour

The Faculty of Adaptability Signal and Response