Ex Die in Diem


Object Permanence

When their brains are ready, babies start throwing their toys away.

It takes a good long time in the world to try and work out how it works (definitely more than twenty-eight years in my case). The first few months probably represent the fastest pace of experiential learning any of us has ever undergone: we start with basically no understanding of what anything is, and progress from there to talking. Quite the leap when you stop and think about it.

The initial schema with which our minds try to understand the world contains only the objects we are directly and currently aware of: pretty much just what we can see. At some point, the developmental chain causes babies to throw their toys out of sight, and thus out of existence according to their understanding. When an adult returns the same object to the crib or pram repeatedly, the concept grows in the child’s schema of objects that continue to exist outside of their direct perception. This concept is object permanence, and of course soon extends to all objects. You would never assume as an adult that just because you can’t see your house right now that it must not exist anywhere. Hopefully.

But this child development titbit isn’t really what I wanted to write about today: it’s just context for my preoccupying thought: things don’t last forever. Having spent all that time developing a sense of object permanence, we then spend a much longer time coming to terms with the way things fade and deteriorate, or are abruptly destroyed. I think it’s a much harder lesson to learn, although its reach is equally universal.

All things change. This is one of the basic tenets of daoism, and if we want to be at rest in our lives, we have to accept the change. It’s a force for good as well as the occasional ill: it’s the reason flowers can bloom and the sun can shine. But flowers die back in the winter, and one day the sun will fade and bloat and consume the world as it perishes, and that’s a good thing too: without the nuclear reactions that only occur in the hearts of dying stars, elements heavier than iron wouldn’t form, and none of the elements astronomers refer to as metals would be distributed anywhere but in the core of large stars.

Not all change is good, but not all change is bad, either. Not all illusions of permanence are good: look at the City of London (not the city, the City: the square mile of immunity from proper laws – it’s not cool). On the other hand, I love visiting churches, and not for the religion. Even without the idea of God, some of us can find solace in the idea of Old, and built to last. Those buildings were present in history, and there’s something about that illusion of permanence that draws me. But in the end it is an illusion: all things end.

Object permanence is a lie we learn as children, and that we spend the rest of our lives trying to unlearn.

This is from the