Metaphysics of Identity

Of the many cultural gifts of the Internet, a hidden gem is the term “showerthought.” The name already gives itself away, so there really isn’t much need for explanation. We’ve all had one come to mind at an odd moment when we were zoned out. It just took the meme machine of the Internet to call it for what it is.

Here’s a showerthought I came across recently: if the cells in the human body are replaced every ten years, are we the same person we were a decade ago? An intriguing thought, already invalidated by a fallacious premise, because not all our cells regenerate at the same rate, and some cells don’t regenerate at all. But still!

That idea recalls the thought experiment which we know as the Ship of Theseus. It’s an ancient conundrum, as if the name hasn’t already given it away. It goes like this: consider our titular ship, once majestic but now rotting away. Some carpenters decide to restore it, replacing a board here and some equipment there. At the end of the project, can we consider it to be the same ship? What if all the component pieces were replaced, albeit piecemeal, such that none of the original parts remain? Is it still the same ship?

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