A Moment of Science

Jokes Can Help Explain Evolution

Learn how philosopher of science Daniel Dennett uses jokes to illustrate how evolution works.

Chicken pecking

Photo: Camilo Forero (Flickr)

The evolution of jokes can help explain how chickens made their gradual evolution.

Last time we discussed joke evolution. Philosopher of science Daniel Dennett uses jokes to illustrate how evolution works. Very few people actually sit down and make up jokes. But everyone is always telling jokes.

Where Do They Come From?

They come from earlier forms of jokes that get embellished every time a new person passes them on. Gradually they change into new jokes.

But sometimes you can still see the family resemblance to the earlier joke in the later development. That’s why we find ourselves saying “You know, when I heard that joke it wasn’t about President Obama, it was about President Bush. It went like this…” Or some such thing.

Passing A Joke On

This is a great example of evolution in action. Every time a joke is passed on, it’s like a new generation being born.

Each generation has the chance of changing a little bit from the previous one. A George W. Bush joke won’t get passed on very much these days; but if it changes into an Obama joke, it may. It’s the survival of the funniest.

Chickens Evolution…

Now, ask yourself this question. Where did chickens come from? Was there a day somewhere in the past when no chickens existed, and then the next day there were chickens?

No. Chickens, like all animals, came into being by a process of gradual change. They emerged from a previous species–let’s call it the proto-chicken–that changed a little bit with each generation.

Like better jokes being passed on, birds with more useful traits tended to survive and reproduce. Eventually a new species altogether emerged. Just in time to cross the road.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science