Learnings from the classic thought experiment — The Ship of Theseus!

The ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus’s paradox, is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object.

While deliberating what Plutarch might have meant from his classic thought experiment, we thought, let’s play around with this thing a bit, after all, this should be carrying practical implications which go much beyond than a hypothetical case of replacing the parts of ship!

So lets start with homo sapiens, who are born with somewhat binary-like emotions (happy, sad). For it is very rare for a human baby to exhibit feelings of anger or jealousy because of it’s small or somewhat shabby cradle?

Now, if the ‘ship’ here refers to ‘human psyche’, what we essentially are looking at, is the transformed version of the paradox which translates to the following:

Over a long period of time, with almost infinite social and moral encounters with oneself or others, does a person’s innate behavior change?

I know the terms are loosely mentioned and there is no proper definition for ‘innate behaviour’, but, if we assume that these are those basic instincts that guided us in our interactions when we were kids VS how we interact as adults (which is mostly guided by our memory of past interactions), then we can say that our pristine unadulterated nature without any external influence of society or institution defines our innate nature.

If the answer to above is a yes, we want to have different perspectives to characterize that change, like, how would your mother describe the change she saw in you since you were a baby as compared to a high school friend or a colleague who has known you for only recent years.

A Typical Twisted Rope

Compare it with a twisted rope. Each twist can correspond to an aberration to the person’s behaviour. The two ends of the rope can signify the events of birth and death, and the length of the rope can succinctly define the person’s timeline.

So if were to think objectively, our behaviour does deviate, but it’s largely attributed to external influences and surroundings. No one is born with the bad feelings or emotions, they just choose to associate themselves with them more often. For eg. a small kid from a poor family may often experience emotions such as helplessness and jealousy as compared to their rich counterparts, but isn’t it natural? Now what is not natural to realize that these emotions are not healthy and should be kept at bay.. So in a way society does a good job in teaching us that.. and voila, we got one twist in our plain rope. This is an example of external aberration.

Much more profound change occurs when thoughts are reflected inwards rather than outwards, and we start to define our own guiding principals and question the very essence of what is moral and what is not. And unlike a twist in the rope, this makes an aberration which is largely permanent in nature (math alert: maybe make a Möbius strip or Stevedore knot out of the twisted rope).

A Möbius Strip

Over years, one might witness many such other such incidents that may twist the rope further and characterize/give shape to our psyche.

So coming back to our original paradox, does the person remain the same? The answer is an obvious no. Well, can a person become same again? Perhaps, this is where the other end of the rope (untangled and naked) can provide some inspiration. There is a lot that can be inferred, but let’s take time to enjoy this Beatles song and discuss later in the subsequent posts.