Rather than intrinsic control of novelty (which seems to me to be an unexplained ‘dormitive principle’), I would consider functions at the Planning level (a.k.a. Program level) wondering how this unfamiliar Configuration (it always seems to be an ‘object’ in the environment) might provide alternative environmental feedback paths within sequences leading to already established CVs.
The work of ‘planning’ is trial-and-error attempts to control a variable by a sequence of intermediate CVs, and where one of these CVs is poorly controlled (perhaps because of conflict) substituting another candidate.
Rather than ‘novelty’, then, why not ask about ‘familiarity’? When planning functions know well how to control a configuration superficial investigation establishes memory of its environmental location, should need arise. When they do not know how to control a configuration, in-depth investigation ensues to find out how to control it. Note that the ‘cortico-subcortical brain circuit’ in Ahmadiou et al. (2021) correlates to the ‘fight-flight-freeze-fawn’ stereotype of limbic functionality. (I’ll be talking about that at the meeting in October.)
The zona incerta (ZI) is a horizontally elongated region of gray matter in the subthalamus below the thalamus. Its connections project extensively over the brain from the cerebral cortex down into the spinal cord. … several potential functions related to ‘limbic–motor integration’ have been proposed. (Wikipedia)
Cortex, limbic system, thalamus & brain stem, and spinal cord. Pervasive connections everywhere! Perhaps best to think of the functions of these diverse regions as effected by connections traversing the ZI, rather than to look for curiosity-originating functions in the ZI.
Medial ZI (ZIm) neurons
receive excitatory input from the prelimbic cortex [a.k.a. dorsomedial prefrontal cortex] to signal the initiation of exploration. This signal is modulated in the ZIm by the level of investigatory motivation. Increased activity in the ZIm instigates deep investigative action by inhibiting the periaqueductal gray region. A subpopulation of inhibitory ZIm neurons expressing tachykinin 1 (TAC1) modulates the investigatory behavior.
Within the limbic system, the periaqueductal gray region (PAG)
is a brain region that plays a critical role in autonomic function, motivated behavior and behavioural responses to threatening stimuli. PAG is also the primary control center for descending pain modulation. It has enkephalin-producing cells that suppress pain. (Wikipedia)
How interesting, that the focus on a given CV, whether to identify it as familiar or to investigate deeply and make it familiar, is accomplished by inhibiting neural activity elsewhere. This suggests that exploratory scanning of the environment is default behavior.
But boredom is important to consider. Fromm (in his masterful survey The anatomy of human destructiveness) correlated diverse evidence that boredom occurs frequently (perhaps exclusively) in a ‘zoo’ environment, either a literal zoo or within the constraints of human ‘civilization’ (‘city-fication’), zoo conditions for concentrated populations of humans since the invention of cities and hierarchical-dominance social structures. (Contrary to Hobbes, the Social Darwinists, and other inventers of ‘Just So Stories’ to justify their privileged status amid deplorable social conditions, hierarchical-dominance social structures do not prevail in the wild, nor in indigenous foraging societies, nor is there evidence for them in paleoanthropology.) I suspect that boredom is an effect of thwarted control, including limited availability of variables to control. If you like folk maxims, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ might be apt. And ‘the devil makes work for idle hands.’
More specifically, boredom results from inability to control at the System and Principle levels of the hierarchy which motivate the search at the Planning level for Sequence means of controlling them. Incoherence at the System Concept level interferes with identifying CVs and reference values (long-term goals) at those higher levels.
Cities insatiably subordinate and exploit their surrounding countryside for resources, and greater city-states made lesser ones colonies and tributary vassals, disrupting the System Concepts of foraging and herding societies. (The story of Cain the sophisticate and Abel the herdsman.) See F. Braudel Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century. The System Concepts of the city-state were disrupted by Alexander and then by Rome as more and more legalistic and bureaucratic modulations of feudalism with a place and role for more or less everyone fixed by inheritance, with ambition most feasible only for fawning courtiers and successful generals who might become Emperor. Merchants and then capitalists (two very distinct classes!) opened the possibilities of ambition wider — wealth and power were controllable by more people, though still only observed and imagined perceptions for most. People have been quilting together jostling fragments of System Concepts from all these historical strata. Science seems a recent System Concept (Vico, Bacon, et al.). Its roots in what are confusedly called prehistoric and early religion are obscured by its rejection of religious institutions and their claims to authority and elite privilege. But I digress.
To the immediate point, boredom is not found in indigenous foraging societies, even though (pace Hobbes) they are among the most leisured people in the world; while, as John Fowles observed in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the great problem of the wealthy classes in contemporary society is boredom.