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List of Ship of Theseus examples

This is a list of popular culture examples of the Theseus paradox that are not covered in the main article.

The French critic and essayist Roland Barthes refers at least twice to a ship that is entirely rebuilt, in the preface to his Essais Critiques (1971) and later in his Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes (1975); in the latter the persistence of the form of the ship is seen as a key structuralist principle. He calls this ship the Argo, on which Theseus was said to have sailed with Jason; he may have confused the Argo (referred to in passing in Plutarch's Theseus at 19.4) with the ship that sailed from Crete (Theseus, 23.1).

In the book Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams, he discusses the Gold Pavilion Temple in Kyoto, which is an example similar to the Shinto shrine (discussed in the main article), and realised the following:

Theseus's paradox bears also on the question of virtual human identity discussed in Douglas Hofstadter's and Daniel Dennett's The Mind's I: Fantasies and reflections on self and soul (1981). Speculations concerning mind uploading suggest it is possible to transfer a human mind from an organic brain to a computer, incrementally and in such a way that consciousness is never interrupted, e.g. by replacing neurons one by one with electronics designed to simulate the neurons' firing patterns. Yet the result of this process is an object entirely physically distinct from the starting point.

The Talmud presents the paradox with three practical implications to Jewish law, and concludes that it is indeed considered as if it was a different object.

In the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, the lumberjack Nick Chopper's axe chopped off all his limbs one by one, and each time a limb was cut off, a smith made him a mechanical one, finally making him a torso and a head, thus turning him into the Tin Woodman, an entirely mechanical being, albeit possessing the consciousness of the lumberjack he once was. In The Tin Woodman of Oz he seeks out his old girlfriend, to find that she has married Chopfyt, who was created partly from the leftover parts of Nick Chopper.

"The idea of the building, the intention of it, its design, are all immutable and are the essence of the building. The intention of the original builders is what survives. The wood of which the design is constructed decays and is replaced when necessary. To be overly concerned with the original materials, which are merely sentimental souvenirs of the past, is to fail to see the living building itself."
"The same man cannot step twice into the same river; for the so called man who is only a conflux of mind and body, never remains the same for two consecutive moments".
  • In The Fifth Elephant, the dwarfish king compares changing a society's laws or customs to replacing components in an ancestral axe.
  • In Lords and Ladies, there are numerous references to the supposed inability of witches and wizards to cross the same river twice. The River Ankh in the city of Ankh-Morpork is the only river that is possible to cross twice because it is polluted and slow-moving to the point of being solid. The wizards refute this by demonstrating that an agile wizard can cross and recross a small river many times an hour.
  • Senior witch Granny Weatherwax possesses a flying broom whose handle and bristles have been replaced many times, yet remains unreliable to the point that she has to run up and down very quickly to essentially "bump-start" it.
  • Pratchett also directly references the paradox in The Fifth Elephant, The Bromeliad and The Carpet People.
  • In the episode "Life Support" of the Deep Space Nine series, the complete replacement of the human brain is considered the destruction of the individual.
  • The USS Enterprise, the starship featured in the original Star Trek television series, was very heavily refitted before its first appearance in film, the 1979 movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Almost nothing from the original TV version of the ship survived into the refitting. Captain Willard Decker, the ship's new commanding officer, describes it as "an almost totally new Enterprise."


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