The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment first posited by Plutarch in Life of Theseus. It goes a little something like this:
A ship goes out in a storm and is damaged. Upon returning to shore, the ship is repaired, with parts of it being replaced in the process. Again and again the ship goes out, and again it is repaired, until eventually every single component of the ship, every plank of wood, has been replaced.
Is the repaired ship still the same ship that first went out into the storm? And if not, then at what point did it become a different ship?
Now, say you collected every part of the ship that was discarded during repairs, and you used these parts to rebuild the ship. With the two ships side-by-side, which one would be the true Ship of Theseus? Or would it be both? Or neither?
There’s no single answer to the problem, no correct one, just the looming question: what is the intrinsic thingness of a thing? But the thought experiment has captured my attention because, even though it is thousands of years old, it’s still relevant today. It’s given me a new way to look at some of my favourite bits of pop-culture, some of the technologies used in science fiction, and by extension, a valid frame by which to look at some of the technologies we may be using in the future.