A nice surprise? Predictive processing and the active pursuit of novelty

Andy Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent work in cognitive and computational neuroscience depicts human brains as devices that minimize prediction error signals: signals that encode the difference between actual and expected sensory stimulations. This raises a series of puzzles whose common theme concerns a potential misfit between this bedrock information theoretic vision and familiar facts about the attractions of the unexpected. We humans often seem to actively seek out surprising events, deliberately harvesting novel and exciting streams of sensory stimulation. Conversely, we often experience some well expected sensations as unpleasant and to-be-avoided. In this paper, I explore several core and variant forms of this puzzle, using them to display multiple interacting elements that together deliver a satisfying solution. That solution requires us to go beyond the discussion of simple information-theoretic imperatives (such as 'minimize long-term prediction error') and to recognize the essential role of species-specific prestructuring, epistemic foraging, and cultural practices in shaping the restless, curious, novelty-seeking human mind.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-534
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Issue number3
Early online date27 Sep 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • prediction
  • prediction error
  • surprise
  • novelty


Dive into the research topics of 'A nice surprise? Predictive processing and the active pursuit of novelty'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this