Actually I have a history for thinking that humor might be a decent indicator of good research or at least good problem solving (and not just a source of funny talks.) While a graduate student at Berkeley I participated in a San Francisco version of The Game (Fobik: there is a clue on these pages.) Basically this was a multihour (read: all night) puzzle hunt spread around the San Francisco bay area. The basic idea was that at each location there was a puzzle of some sort that you had to solve which would tell you the next location in the game. Imagine hundreds of geeks (including a world puzzle champion who was in my class at Caltech, #yeahrightlikeweweregoingtowin) piled into vans and cars racing from location to location, piling out of the car only to then sit around trying to solve a hard puzzle of some sort. Good stuff.
What does this have to do with humor and research? Well during this game I noticed something kind of interesting. Inevitably we would initially start working on the puzzle and someone would say something completely ridiculous. Like “I bet this puzzle is using flag semaphore!” Invariably, we would all laugh…yeah, right, like they would use semaphore in a puzzle involving chess. Then we would work for a while on the puzzle until someone had the audacity to think, “hey maybe it really does use semaphore.” And lo and behold, yeah that was the key to cracking the puzzle. This didn’t just happen once during “the game” but happened repeatedly (and not surprisingly as we got more tired, things got funnier, and we began to realize that the crazy funny idea we had right off the bat wasn’t something to laugh at, but was something to actually try!) Every time I’m trying to solve a problem these days, I often think, “what would be a funny solution?”
But I wonder if this solution method (“solution by LOL?” “SoLOLution?”) can’t be extended to a method for theory research.
Take a look!
PS: I am unable to resist this one: with humour as the indicator of good research, what is a classic? The paper that got most laughed at!