God bless Natalie Angier. One of the Times’ best science writers, her topics are so, well, topical. She reassures me time and time again by stepping up and owning her mental failings—which often correspond to those I possess as well—and thereby soothing my concerns that if she can still be scintillating and bright in spite of those infirmities there may be hope for me too. Plus she writes well, which makes reading her a pleasure.

Today’s Angier exposé answers a question I have been troubled by for years: Why can’t I remember jokes? She isn’t able to do joke recall either, so I feel better already. (What a relief to find out I’m not suffering from a humor-impaired mental deficiency!)But today’s article actually offers physiological explanations for why a joke’s twists and turns are hard to capture:

They work not by conforming to pattern recognition routines but by subverting them. “Jokes work because they deal with the unexpected, starting in one direction and then veering off into another,” said Robert Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.” “What makes a joke successful are the same properties that can make it difficult to remember.”

This may also explain why the jokes we tend to remember are often the most clichéd ones. A mother-in-law joke? Yes, I have the slot ready and labeled.

Memory researchers suggest additional reasons that great jokes may elude common capture. Daniel L. Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of “The Seven Sins of Memory,” says there is a big difference between verbatim recall of all the details of an event and gist recall of its general meaning.

“We humans are pretty good at gist recall but have difficulty with being exact,” he said. Though anecdotes can be told in broad outline, jokes live or die by nuance, precision and timing. And while emotional arousal normally enhances memory, it ends up further eroding your attention to that one killer frill. “Emotionally arousing material calls your attention to a central object,” Dr. Schacter said, “but it can make it difficult to remember peripheral details.”

And as an added bonus, I loved this explanation for why music and lyrics are frighteningly easy to get implanted forever, sometimes against our wishes:

This process, of memory formation by neuronal entrainment, helps explain why some of life’s offerings weasel in easily and then refuse to be spiked. Music, for example. “The brain has a strong propensity to organize information and perception in patterns, and music plays into that inclination,” said Michael Thaut, a professor of music and neuroscience at Colorado State University. “From an acoustical perspective, music is an overstructured language, which the brain invented and which the brain loves to hear.”

A simple melody with a simple rhythm and repetition can be a tremendous mnemonic device. “It would be a virtually impossible task for young children to memorize a sequence of 26 separate letters if you just gave it to them as a string of information,” Dr. Thaut said. But when the alphabet is set to the tune of the ABC song with its four melodic phrases, preschoolers can learn it with ease.

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