This is the thirtieth in a series of short essays I wrote as part of the Ship 30 for 30 program. You can read all thirty essays here.
The Ship of Theseus is an ancient Greek thought experiment that asks: If you replaced a ship’s parts one-by-one as they expired until every plank, bolt, and beam was replaced, is it still the same ship?
There’s no easy answer. (It gets even more complicated if you consider the possibility of storing the original parts and using them to build a replica ship.)
In a way, we are like Theseus’ ship. Human cells regularly regenerate and replace themselves. Within seven years, every cell currently in your body will no longer exist, having been replaced by a newer replica.
But more than our cells that go through a process of renewal. We are forever having new experiences, learning new things, and changing our minds. Change is constant, yet we have a fixed identity. My name, fingerprints, eye colour, date of birth never change, so I must always be the same person, right?
Not really. If I think back to who I was a decade ago, it’s hard to see the person I am now. Bob Dylan once said that when he looks back at himself from the iconic mid-sixties era people most associate him with, he doesn’t recognise who he sees. He is no longer that guy. But he’s still Bob Dylan.
The relationship between renewal and identity fascinates me. It is so easy to limit ourselves by thinking, “I’m not the kind of person who does that” when presented with an opportunity. But we shouldn’t let our limiting beliefs define who we are. We can choose to be who we want.
We are not limited by our past. We are limited only by our future choices and actions. Like Theseus’ ship, we are in a constant state of renewal. The best way to sail our voyage is to embrace it.