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The Ship of Theseus- Why Isn’t Everything The Same As It Were?

The Ship of Theseus- Why Isn’t Everything The Same As It Were?

Have you ever asked if you are the same person as you were yesterday? As things tend to change every moment of time, how can be something the same even after a passage of time? This is a philosophical question that seems to have an obvious answer, yet can become very complex as one dive into the idea deeper.


This paradox of identity is often attributed to Plato’s Ship of Theseus. But Plato must have got the problem from Heraclitus’s argument that everything changes even during the finest of a moment. In his river fragments problem, he says that when you step into a river, come out and then step into the same river again, you have not entered the same river twice but have entered two different rivers once, because of the constituents of the river have changed in the time that lapsed between both of your entries.

Theseus's Ship

Theseus’s Ship: When a plank of ship is replaced with a new one, will it remain the same ship? []

As one may see the river may flow continuously without changing its course, position, and pace, but the content or matter that makes the river keeps on changing every moment. The molecules or atoms present in one part of the water is not equivalent to that present in the other parts of water.

This paradox can be analogous to that of the Theseus’s Ship. According to Plutarch, the ship used by Theseus to return from Crete to Athens was preserved in the harbour for centuries, with the old wooden planks when decayed being replaced with new wooden planks. Thus, as the new wooden planks started replacing the older ones, the ship is no longer the original ship that Theseus left on the shore because the matter that made the ship has changed.

According to Flux Doctrine, the matter that are present in the universe change and evolve continuously. Thus, the matter present in the wooden planks of the original ship left by Theseus should also have changed even without them being replaced by newer ones. Thus, the ship is no longer the same, even if the wooden planks remain the same.

A similar idea of a Grandfathers’ Axe can also be discussed. When the handle and blade of a grandfather’s axe are replaced with new ones, will it be still the Grandfather’s axe? Many philosophers – from the greats like Heraclitus, Socrates and Plato to the modern-day Thomas Hobbes and John Locke- have scratched their heads and came up with their perception of the idea.

Applying a similar idea to the rest of the beings in the universe that is made up of matter, everything is not the same as it was during the previous moment.  In fact, the paradox can be applied to the microcosmic and the macrocosmic systems.

Macrocosmically, the universe has been changing ever since we knew it as exploded 13.6 billion years ago.  It has never stopped to expand and evolve and continue to puzzle us with the ever-changing complexities.

Nikola Testla Quote on The Constituents of Universe

Nikola Testla Quote on The Constituents of Universe [YouTube]

Microcosmically, cells in the human body evolve and are replaced once in every 8 to 10 years. Thus, the cells that your body had when you were ten years old are not the same as the ones that make you function today. Those cells are the past, the dead and hence you are not the same anymore. In fact, you change every moment, every split second.

The reason that this conception of idea is considered a paradox is that we as human beings are sensitive to changes on a macro level. Had this not been the case, the planet Earth would have been inhabited by enlightened souls.

But it is not the fault of the creation. The program is compiled in such a way that we don’t know what and why are we the way we are.


For instance, Sigmund Freud’s Idea of Id, Super Ego and Ego agree to this idea. (Click here to know what is Id, Ego and Super Ego). They are very micro level changes that our human body or memory is insensitive to. A person’s behaviour is a lot dependent on the Id, which is buried deeply inside the sub-conscious during a stage in which the soul is born. From Id, develops the ego and the super-ego, which decides the characteristics of a person.

These (Id, Ego and Super Ego) are not factors that are controlled by a person but by what can one call as nature. Thus, right from the moment a soul is born, there are changes at the very micro level that decides the fate of a person and the people around, which is the society.

Id, Ego and Super Ego of Freud's theory

Id, Ego and Super Ego of Freud’s theory

If these factors can be controlled humanely, then that could be the end of all the problems faced by our civilization. Unfortunately, that is not the case. If there are no such changes, the person who is born will be the child he is forever in life. But he develops his ego and super-ego without his control, unintentionally, making him evolve every second in his life pursuing his needs and wants.

Thus, it can be argued that the act of not replacing the wooden planks of the ship with new ones doesn’t make the ship remain the same. The atoms in its matter undergo changes every split second, just like the way, our human body undergoes changes from the moment its soul was born.

Change is the only obvious thing at every level of life and with every part of the universe. Just because, it is not readily visible, doesn’t make it non-existential.

Related Video:The Paradox of Theseus’s Ship (90 Second Philosophy)

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