Why do we forget jokes?

Could you remember a sequence of 26 letters?

Try it: etungfrxzanjkolpmidscqwytu

Can you recite the alphabet? abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz

What if our alphabet wasn’t abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz but instead we were asked to learn etungfrxzanjkolpmidscqwytu? C’mon try it. A child could sing the ETU’s as easily as the ABC’s, don’t you think?

OK. OK. In fact, it’s the melody of the ABC song that makes learning the alphabet seem easy. The melody is a sequence, tied together in a pleasant sound, and our brain uses the song to store the letters.

A snappy melody made learning the alphabet seem easy. It’s the sequence.

If we told jokes with a song we might remember jokes too, but because jokes are designed to surprise us, they break any hope of remembering a pattern. No sequence. That’s what’s funny about a joke, turning where we don’t expect.

We remember the alphabet because we remember the song, but forget jokes because the sequence is broken. My explanation seems clumsy to me. Can you say it better?

More here, by Natalie Angier at NYTimes
Tip to MindBlog