So I posted about Preferential Looking, which led Andy to point me at this framework of intelligence, which suggests that that reason we fixate on the unexpected stimuli is because it doesn't conform to our predictive model of reality:
If your expectations about the door are violated, the error will cause you to take notice. Correct predictions result in understanding. The door is normal. Incorrect predictions result in confusion and prompt you to pay attention.
Prediction is not just one of the things your brain does. It is the primary function of the neocortex, and the foundation of intelligence. The cortex is an organ of prediction.
This reminded me of an idea previously mooted by Dan Dennet:
the fundamental purpose of brains is to produce future…brains are, in essence, anticipation machines
Which in turn led me to the above awesome TED video, where he points out that growing up in a free, meme-rich, culture leads us in the West to develop an immunity to ideas, and that the war on terror is really a meme war.
One thing leads to another.