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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kennedy

The Ship of Theseus

Plutarch, from the late first century, used a thought experiment to illustrate how the human mind works. The Ship of Theseus was built to travel to the furthest edges of the known world. During its voyage it encountered ferocious seas and was battered and tossed around by storms. Bits and pieces needed to be replaced at first, from damaged planks to torn sails. But as time went on all the great ship’s components were replaced, including the nails holding the vessel together.

Upon returning to the port from where her journey began, not a single piece of the original Ship of Theseus remained intact. Plutarch asked whether the vessel, restored with all new parts from nails and planks, to ropes and sails, remained the real Ship of Theseus. Could it be?

Some people thought not, which is understandable, since not one fragment remained from the one that left port. So, at what point did the original ship stop being the Ship of Theseus?

Was it when the first plank was repaired? Or was it when the first sail was replaced?

At what point did it lose its identity? Some people said it never lost its identity, it remained the Ship of Theseus, it was just restored.

What, then, was the Ship of Theseus? An idea?

It had to be more than an idea, it could still be seen and touched. According to Aristotle, the “what-it-is” of a thing is its formal cause, so the Ship of Theseus is the 'same' ship, because the formal cause, or design, doesn’t change, even though the matter used to construct it varies with time.

Without a mind to envision a ship, to create and build a ship, to sail it as a ship, there is no ship. It’s the mind that creates the design. It's the mind that shapes the matter to fit the design. That’s when the ‘ship’ takes form and exists.

And that’s exactly what creativity is. It’s having an idea for something that doesn’t exist and shaping matter to bring it to life – whether its ink on a blank page, a poem, a novel, or a ship.

Ideas aren’t waiting to be discovered, we need to first create them in our own minds. Then we have to make the concept real out of matter. Only then does something ‘exist’.

Creativity is bringing ideas to life.

If we can create something from nothing, doesn't it makes sense to work on something great? Why waste time on anything less?

Like the Ship of Theseus, we all face headwinds. We all get battered and tattered by life. We may not look the same as when we started our journey. But in the words of Zig Ziglar, “Just as ships are built to sail the seas… so is man created for a purpose.”

When we get on purpose, and get off outcome, we can get through the greatest struggles in life. We may need new ‘planks’ and ‘sails’, but who we are, who we really are, will always remain intact.

When we have the mindset of a champion, we attract the resources (the matter) necessary to make our dreams come true. Whether it’s building a great ship, or creating a great life, we can accomplish anything.

Don’t settle.

Ships weren’t built to stay in port. Be the champion you were born to be. Why not you? Why not now? Starting today.

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May 16, 2022

Nicely written.

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