Musings On Object Permanence


Today I wanted to comment on a thought I briefly touched upon in my post A Short Musing on the Nature of Things which you can find here .

When I sat down to write my previous post I really wanted to talk about object permanence and subsets thereof, but when it came time to actually write the article I eventually focused on the clarity I had experienced rather than the epiphany which resulted.

In this article I will peruse the topic of object permanence and briefly touch on some other related topics such as chaos theory.

I first heard the term ‘object permanence’ in regards to the formation of the adolescent brain, specifically in babies. Babies are fascinated with the game of Hide And Seek (or Peekaboo) because they have no concept of object permanence until a certain age. This means that they do not remember objects they cannot see. Therefore when you cover your face, then uncover it the baby literally thinks that your face is popping in and out of existence.

Object permanence is defined as knowing that an object still exists, even if it is hidden. It requires the ability to form a mental representation (i.e. a schema) of the object. This can be very difficult for babies who are still learning the knowledge that objects have an existence in time and space, regardless of whether or not they can be seen or touched (Simply Psychology).

A classic example is the thought experiment “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it does it make a sound?” my logical answer is yes, of course it makes a sound. The mass of the tree falling and contacting the ground moves the air creating sound waves whether or not your ears are around to interpret them.

Along this vein, imagine for a second that everything you cannot see disappears from existence. As soon as you look away from a cup on the table it disappears. As soon as you turn a corner everything which is now behind you is gone.

The main problem I have with this line of thinking, although fascinating, is if objects disappear as soon as they are behind your central and peripheral vision, where do they go? Are they transferred to some other universe? Do they travel through a wormhole? How would the matter reassemble itself in a split second when you decide to look back? What makes you so special that the world would transform itself for you?

Further down this line of thinking we come across the questions 1) is my consciousness creating or destroying objects in real time? and 2) where does the energy come from? It takes a lot of energy to move objects, especially if we are creating or obliterating objects from existence.

This line of questioning breaches the field of Subjectivism. “Subjectivism is the belief that reality is not a firm absolute, but a fluid, plastic, indeterminate realm which can be altered, in whole or in part, by the consciousness of the perceiver” (Ayn Rand Lexicon).

These kinds of thought experiments must be had in order to truly comprehend our natural world, even though the answers are never neat and tidy and cannot be answered quickly or concisely. This is a very difficult line of thinking which involves entire fields of science, mathematics, and psychology.

I hope that I have opened your mind a bit today and hopefully you learned something about yourself or one of the broader topics we touched on today.

One might ask ‘if reality isn’t real, then what is?’ My answer; you are. You are real and your brain is real. You are fighting desperately to understand the world around you and make sense of everything but the only thing you can know for certain is that you exist. If nothing else, take comfort in that.

Resources:

http://www.simplypsychology.org/sensorimotor.html

http://fractalfoundation.org/resources/what-is-chaos-theory/

http://www.abarim-publications.com/ChaosTheoryIntroduction.html#.VQpWV2R4q9Q

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/subjectivism.html

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