Posts tagged THe Theseus Ship

Ancient Philosophical Paradox

Paradox of the ship.

“The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned [from Crete] had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.”
—Plutarch, Theseus[2]

McCoy checks to see if anything is missing.

Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy hated the transporter.  It was a device that could deconstruct your body and transport it to the surface of a planet on a beam of energy.   Some suggest the atoms are destroyed at Point A and reconstructed at Point B.  McCoy was always afraid before stepping into the transporter pad that his atoms would be scrambled.  Later stories contended that McCoy even wondered if the atoms reconstructed upon reaching the destination may not even be the SAME atoms.   Thus providing a paradox that McCoy’s body and brain would be a mere facsimile of himself.     Is the real McCoy (get it?) the one that stepped onto the pad, or the one at the end of the transporter beam?

So this brings up the philosophical question called: The Theseus Ship. 

You name is Theseus.  You are at sea.  Your ship needs to be refitted.  The ship is old.  It is taking on leaks.  The wood is salt stained, and sea worms have bored into the planking.    You love this ship, you know how it tacks in the water, how it moves by the sound of the mast when the sail takes wind, how fast it can turn port or starboard.  The ship has outran pirates, and stayed miles in front of any storm front that tried to catch her.  You know how to give the orders to make it perform at its best.   However, you are taking on water and you need to repair the vessel.  It is your living, and those shipbuilders in Crete are the best.  You walk from the ship with nostalgia and hand it over to the shipwrights. 

I find a JPEG of a ship on the internet. I copy it and paste it on this blog entry. The first JPEG is still on the internet. This JPEG is on my site. Are they the same image, or two images made with different electrons?

Bit by bit, board by board are pulled.  The nails are removed.  All the parts are replaced with new wood and nails.  It takes three months, and you watch the workers with amazement as they work.   Your ship is torn apart, and a new keel is laid, boards, mast, rope is strung and nails are hammered into the vessel, and the smell of rot disappears and the smell of new wood fills the shipyard.

You board the new ship and take to sea.

Back at port the ship builders stare at the parts.  Times are tough for these men and they begin to build a ship out of the old parts left in port.  Soon a new ship rises up, old wood, smelling of bilge and men in cramped quarters.   Maybe an occasional broken nail must be added, however the old ship takes form.

One ship goes to sea, the other is ‘resurrected’ from the pieces of the old ship.

Question: Which is your ship? Are you standing on your ship as you pass the Pillars of Hercules, or is your ship still back in port? Is the ship renovated or it it replaced?

How does this relate to man?

Can people change into something else?

If you replace a part in your computer is it the same?

Are you the same if you lose a leg?

If you have amnesia are you still the same person?

Your cells replicate themselves.  Are you a Theseus Ship ‘in the flesh?’

What makes up the nature of self?

The Case of the Brady Photo:

A while ago there was show called People’s Court with Judge Wopner. He tried a case where a man took a photo taken by William Matthew Brady [correction submitted by wwlasher…thanks], the great Civil War photographer, into a corner photo shop to make a copy.  What he got back was a copy, but the original was destroyed.  It was thrown away by the owner.  He took the case to the judge asking for damages in the thousands.  Judge Wopner only would give the complainant the cost of a black and white print.

“A photo is a photo,” he said.

Personally, I was outraged by the decision.  The original photo was handled by a giant in photography, the paper and process was done by civil war standards.   IT was a process with chemicals and glass in the back of a horse drawn carriage.  The original photo is…unique.  Wopner could not see the difference.

The paradox of the Theseus Ship is according how we define the nature of originality and the whole.   I am sure that some people do not see a paradox at all, some do.

How do you see it?