Object Permanence: Is It a Thing?

It’s called “object permanence”. But, is it really?

Last week, I had an interesting text exchange with my son-in-law. It went something like this:
<T.: Have I ever told you how much your vacuum cleaner bothers rachel?>
<Either way, we need to rid of our robovac and I was going to see if y’all wanted it>
<Me: I knew I wasn’t a fan of my vacuum but I didn’t realize my daughter had an opinion on it>
<T.: Lol – she wanted to get you a vacuum for Christmas but the money just didn’t work out in the end
>
Now, my hatred of the piece of shit I call a vacuum cleaner is approaching the status of legend in my family. The story of it all is actually pretty fucking funny so I tell it a lot. But now, I’ve got a nifty, new (to me) robotic vacuum cleaner. And, as cool as I thought it was, it sat in the back seat of my car for three days because it wasn’t right in front of my fucking face. And, most neurodivergent folks would say that’s because of something called “object permanence”.

Object Permanence

If you’re neurotypical, you might not recognize this thing called “object permanence“. Basically, if something isn’t right in front of me, it doesn’t goddamn it exist. This condition covers people, things, occasions, you name it. Does it suck? Most of the fucking time, yeah. But it does cut down on the amount of shit I have to stress over. At least until I remember it again. But, here’s the thing: that term might not be the best description for the way my broken-ass brain works.

It’s Still There, Even When I Can’t See It

Okay, I’m going to get a little science-y/historical-y here, so bear with me. In the early 1900s, French psychologist Jean Piaget came up with his theory of cognitive development. While working on this idea, he stumbled onto our friend, “object permanence”, and defined it as “the ability to understand that an object still exists even when one can no longer directly perceive it through any of one’s senses.” Or, in non-science geek terms, it means that you don’t forget shit exists as soon as it’s out of sight. This is where the problem comes in. Because, while for most of us, things that aren’t right in front of us tend to slip our minds, we still know they exist. Like, I forgot I had the robovac because I couldn’t see it. But I’m not shocked that it’s a thing in the world when I’m reminded of it

It’s a Memory

Right about now, you may be thinking, “Okay, smart ass, if I don’t forget things exist when I can’t see them, what the fuck is going on?” I’m guessing our issue is more of a memory issue than anything else. I don’t know about you, but I have a horrendous fucking problem with things moving from my short-term/working memory to the long-term side of things because the least little thing can get in the way. New information/stimuli/pretty-much-any-fucking-thing will do this. For example, someone who doesn’t struggle with this issue would’ve put the vacuum in their backseat, driven home, and then remembered that they’d put it there despite any interference–i.e. new information/stimuli/pretty-much-any-fucking-thing–that may have come along during the drive home.

It’s Not Permanent. Hell, It’s Not Even Constant

You can see that I don’t really have a problem with object permanence. As one of the articles linked earlier says, “object constancy” is probably more accurate. They define this condition as “the ability to maintain a positive emotional bond with another even where distance and conflicts intrude.” Again, to put it in non-science geek terms, problems with object constancy can best be summed as “out of sight, out of mind”. Is this a more accurate representation of what I deal with? Absolutely. But it’s new, while “object permanence” is tried and true. And, we endies love us some “tried and true”.

What Possible Difference Could All This Bullshit Make?

Honestly, not a lot. I mean, no matter what you call it, I’m going to forget shit the minute it’s out of sight. And, that’s whether I remember if it’s still a thing or not. But there are some things I can do to forestall that. Like, one thing I do is set alerts in the calendar app on my phone for reminders of important things. I also have a couple of notepad apps where I can make notes of things I want to remember. This is especially helpful when I’m out and about and get an idea for whatever writing project I’m working on. If I don’t make a note of that shit, I will forget it. Another is to do a thing that needs to be done when I think of it, if at all possible. There are others, of course, but this paragraph is starting to run long, and you should be getting the fucking picture by now.

A Flaw in My Plan

Of course, the effectiveness of all this relies on me actually doing shit. Like, entering an alert, making a note, or getting off my ass before I get distracted. That last one happens so much fucking quicker than you’d think. And then, of course, acting on that alert/note/task. You can see how this could be a problem given what you know about that fucked-up executive in my head. It happens way more often than I’m comfortable with, too. Not so much that I can’t function, but enough that I’m constantly looking for new, better ways to deal with the issue.

Is It Really a Flaw, Though?

Lately, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really that big of a goddamn deal. It’s possible that my “issues” here could just be more bullshit laid on me by a society that doesn’t take the time to understand anything about me. I mean, I pay my bills on time, I’m never late for work, and I don’t remember the last time I missed an appointment. More and more, I’m thinking that anything more than that demands a level of perfection that most people, both neurodivergent and neurotypical, really aren’t able to meet. Maybe I should stop beating myself up over this shit?

So, Is It a Thing?

The title of this post calls into question the existence of object permanence. I suppose that could be considered a little click-bait-ey because, yeah, it’s a thing. A better title might have been “Object Permanence: Is It a Thing Within Neurodivergence?” But that’s clunky and doesn’t really vibe with all the SEO shit I’m doing. But, yeah, is it a thing? First of all, yes, it’s a “thing”. Piaget, the father of child psychology, said it is and that has been backed up a fuck ton of other brain mechanics (because science motherfuckers). The more suitable question might be, is it a thing with neurodivergence?

So, It’s Not a Thing?

In addressing that more suitable question, I think you can see that it’s actually not. As I said a few paragraphs ago, it’s not that I forget things exist. it’s that I just don’t think about them when they’re not right in front of my fucking face. That may seem like a minor distinction to you, but to me, it’s damn important. Precision in words is a big deal to someone who struggles to be understood the way I do. Unfortunately, saying “object constancy” doesn’t have the same kind of immediate recognition as “object permanence” so I’m probably going to be stuck with this shittily imprecise phrase for the foreseeable future. Of course, I’m going to forget all that about 30 seconds after posting this piece, so it kind of works in my favor.