Empathy Is a Byproduct of Humor – But Only When It's Done Well

Scott Aukerman, the co-founder of 'Between Two Ferns', developed humor early on as a way disarm bullies. He knows from experience that, in comedy, your intentions really matter.

Scott Aukerman: Unfortunately I think everyone thinks they're funny maybe and so few people actually are. I think there's a certain type of bully humor – bullies throughout history including people who have become some of the most powerful people in the world they just use their humor to make other people feel small and to be like every joke they make is at someone's expense, almost bragging about how much more powerful they are than the other person. And that to me is not the greatest sense of humor to have because while it's fun to slam your friends I think you really don't have a lot of empathy for the bully who's using humor.

I think the instinct to be self-deprecating starts when you're young and you don't take yourself too seriously when you're not popular and the world and your peers don't seem to be taking you seriously. I remember in high school for some reason I just heard that there was a huge dude who really didn't like me who wanted to beat me up. as far as I was concerned I had never met him but it was just one of those things where he had found someone smaller than him to pick on and so I remember just using humor to disarm him. And like he got in my face one day and I just was like, "Come on man." I started acting like really huge and tough. "I'm like come on I'll take you down. Come on bro. Come at me bro." And he just started laughing and was like you're funny man. And then after that we were friends. I was getting mugged once and I just ended up talking to the guy for 20 minutes trying to make him laugh. And at the end of it he was like, "You're too nice of a guy. All right. I'll see you later."

That sort of skill can really come in handy when you feel as if the world is against you in a way. to not take yourself seriously I think the world then has empathy for you. You always see it when you're taking a public speaking class they always say start off with a joke. People don't want to have lives where they're sitting there being bored by people all the time. When you're in charge of a company people usually hate their boss because they're mean all the time. Humor is a great tool to use to just get people on your side.

As long as you’re funny, it can get you out of almost anything – even getting mugged, as co-founder of Between Two Ferns Scott Aukerman recounts. Unfortunately, not everyone out there is funny, although some people believe they are, and this is usually when you get bully-style humor where every joke is at someone else’s expense. In Aukerman’s view, real humor is about unity – finding the common ground with others – and it’s a gateway to empathy, which creates more genuine interactions. So if you want to navigate the tricky waters of social interactions, get people on your side during a work presentation, or stop a guy from taking your wallet, start with a joke. Scott Aukerman’s podcast is Comedy Bang! Bang!.


Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

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  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:
https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work

Credit: fergregory via Adobe Stock
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Meet the worm with a jaw of metal

Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.

Credit: Mike Workman/Adobe Stock
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