The tea clipper known as the Cutty Sark is symbolic of life on the high seas, empire and a bygone age, but David Bain has brought it to the centre of a new philosophical debate. The Cutty Sark, you see, is being renovated. Damaged, burnt and rotten timbers removed and replaced.
Bains asks, in a magazine article entitled David Bain’s Brain Strain, what would happen if someone were to take those timbers from the London siting of the Cutty Sark and rebuild a replica in Glasgow…would we then have two Cutty Sarks?
A similar question applies to the old London Bridge that was dismantled and rebuilt in the Arizona desert by an American businessman. Is it really the London Bridge or just a pile of bricks fashioned into a structure that looks the same.
The most troublesome thought comes when one realizes that the same philosophical questions might be asked about you, as an individual. You may feel like the same human being you were ten years ago, but in physical terms almost every cell, molecule, indeed, atom in your body has been replaced, maybe many times in that period. So are you really still you?
Bain’s viewpoint is an interesting one, although one I’ve considered in late night conversations with friends before as I am sure many others have. The whole issue of cellular renewal has vexed scientists and philosophers for, as to has the notion that every molecule of water you drink passed through the kidneys of Julius Caesar…
But, what Bain’s article reminded me of most was a tale my Dad passed on from his Dad who…had in turned heard it from his Dad. It’s the one about the yard broom that has been in our family for generations. Incredibly, it never seems to wear out not matter how much sweeping it does. Of course, it’s had a few replacement bristle heads in its time, oh and the odd new shank when the old one snapped, but that’s all…same broom?