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Dowell ” by Elizabeth F . Cooke , she notes : “ Our experience of surprise from a first-person point of view tells us that we often do make incorrect judgments about the world and feel compelled to rescind them . And for error recognition to occur , some things must be in place : an inquirer with concepts and a set of beliefs , as well as a nonego acting on the inquirer . The subject ’ s experience is partly of the self as an object in relation to the world . [...] Surprise is felt as causal and conceptual within experience and provides conceptual friction with the world . It serves as an empirical self-corrective insofar as it is forced by a nonego , yet still conceptual .
English cultural theorist Mark Fisher explores the haziness of surprise ’ s adjacent experiences such as the weird and the eerie , and how weirdness notes a feeling ‘ this does not belong ,’ and the intertwining of the historical ideas of the weird and of fate itself .”
Jeanette Andrews
On Surprise
After having spent the past year researching surprise through the lenses of science , philosophy , sociology , and innumerable conversations , I feel little closer to a grasp of this slippery experience . To summarize a few quick thoughts :
From a scientific standpoint , in the study “ Intuitions about magic track the development of intuitive physics ” by the team of Casey Lewry , Kaley Curtis , Nadya Vasilyeva , Fei Xu , and Thomas L . Griffiths , they note that : “ However , there is some debate surrounding the extent to which looking time is an accurate measure of surprise . Wang et al . ( 2004 ) note that when they refer to violation-of-expectation paradigms as measuring infants ’ surprise , ‘ surprise ’ is shorthand for a state of attention or interest . While there is wide
consensus that a difference in looking time indicates detection of a difference between the two events , some have argued that this attention or interest could be caused by familiarity with the event or prediction of an event , rather than by surprise at a violation of an expectation , thus providing no evidence for an understanding of the physical principle in question ( e . g ., Bogartz , Shinskey , & Speaker , 1997 ; Jackson & Sirois , 2009 ). However , as Hamlin ( 2014 ) explains , the evidence for infants ’ surprise at an event is distinct from evidence for infants ’ prediction of an event , and well-designed research can distinguish between these two interpretations .”
Research on the phenomenology of surprise holds ideas based on the richness of the lived , embodied experience . In “ Phenomenology of Error and Surprise : Peirce , Davidson , and Mc-
Finally , in many conversations with lay people across a broad spectrum of industries , ages , etc ., there seems to be no shortage of interest and opinions on this topic . I have encountered sentiments along a full spectrum that surprise is nothing more than a biological being startled , to the feeling that all experience is emotion driven and thus surprise is a personal and cultural fleeting experience .
Magic , Machine Learning , and Surprise
My thoughts on these topics converged in spring of 2021 . I was fortunate enough to be named as an Affiliate of metaLAB ( at ) Harvard , the greatest honor of my life to date . One of the original Principals of the lab , the ever-inspiring Matthew Battles , posed the question to me whether the original Victorian parlor “ Imitation Game ” was similar to the parlor magic of the era and further : A ) if this style of magic was in my wheelhouse and B ) if using parlor magic might be an interesting way to explore these ideas of surprise and computational intelligence .
I was taken aback by this beautiful line of thought and began an immediate deep dive into the relationships between magic , surprise , and machine learning . Could I design an algorithm to generate descriptions of novel magic effects with varying levels of surprise factors ? This is what I set out to do . After reaching out to some brilliant computer scientists and coders , my initial thought was to join with them to create algorithms : inspired by some of Griffiths ’ thoughts on interestingness , and to also weave in my own ideas on the properties of objects noted in his studies

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