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Scientific analogies

By Rod Mitchell in All Sorts

thoughts on renewal and growth as we age

This article is based on an article in the book ‘A Bee in a Cathedral- and 99 other Scientific Analogies.’ By Joel Levy.
I have recently celebrated my 8oth birthday. In light of this, I want to reflect in this connections article on the very old paradox of the puzzle of ‘the Ship of Theseus’
The ship of Theseus is a philosophical paradox based on a relic supposedly preserved by the ancient Athenians. According to the 1st century Greek philosopher Plutarch:
“The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athena returned had 30 oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus (300 BCE), for they took away old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.”
In other words, if you replace every part of something, is it the same thing that it was before or something new? This paradox concerning continuity of identity could be said to apply to humans as well. Most cells in the human body are replaced at least once a month, and even those that are not are constantly having their constituent parts – proteins and carbohydrates, for example – recycled, repaired and replaced. (So 80 times 12 = 960 times I have had my cells replaced, so am I the same person as a 1 year old Rod? Clearly not; I am hoping!!!) Are you still the same person you were when younger? It may seem obvious that the answer is yes, but what if someone took all the discarded cells and molecules and reconstituted an exact copy of you with them? Which ‘you’ would be the most authentic one? How our lives might be shaped if we lived knowing that each month – perhaps even each day – we are given the opportunity to make a new start?
In the words of the hymn “The Summons” (Iona Community) Verses 1 and 4:
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Rod Mitchell