More than the sum of its parts…

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If you repair a sailing vessel, replacing each plank one at a time until the entire ship is made of new wood, is she still the same ship, deserving of the same title as she was christened?  If the discarded planks were then salvaged and built into a new vessel, is the result really a new ship, or does she rightly have a claim to the title she proudly sailed under when her planks were in their previous configuration?  I know the maritime answer because it goes back to someone paying for something to be registered somewhere and that fee must be collected, but the philosophical answer is still worth pondering.

I am a person, so my cells are doing the things that cells do all the time when I’m not paying any attention to them.  They live, replace themselves, and die while fulfilling some purpose involving converting sugar to energy or carrying oxygen through the blood or something like that, and I check Facebook.  They clearly have the more important job.

But there’s this whole list of how long it takes your body to replace all the cells of one type or another and we know how long it will take before our whole body is made up of all new parts even though we still have our same identity and memories.  My birth certificate, registered and paid for, is still mine.  Luckily no one is trying to take my old cells and build a philosophically questionable not-me.  Regardless, it is both weird and neat to know that when I say I’m not the same person I was back then, I mean it on a molecular level, and forgiveness is divine, but I digress…  

You don’t think about your company’s computer system unless that’s your job, but you are very aware when it doesn’t work, because life truly sucks and nothing gets done.  If the computer is going to be a paperweight, why I can just go home and waste time there?  I am not only skilled at doing so, well-practiced and stocked with options, I’m actually quite fond of wasting time at home.  You’ve been there, and you are not alone, because staring at a non-or-nearly-non-functional screen wishing it was the big-screen in your living room is like a Universal Truth.

Sometimes a computer system will die.  Nothing is salvageable, and you get to work to find a blinking cursor that only speaks a language engineers invented.  Luckily, we can replace parts as they need replacing so that never happens.  Is it still the same system if, in the end, it’s made out of all new parts?  Like maritime law and birth certificates, what’s it’s name?  If it’s still called the same thing on your screen, and you can still access it the same way, and your stuff is still there, it’s still the same system.  My creations will outlive me as long as a talented engineer continues to keep the system that stores them alive.  My cells can only divide so much, but technology will always be improving, and that is a form of immortality.  Just like how everything ever posted to the Internet will never really go away.  Ever.  

Plus once you get to that screen with the cursor, if a non-engineer touches it, all bets are off.  Props and respect to those who speak code, with enough humility and self-awareness to know better than to touch it myself.  SkyTech Engineers can sail the seven seas of SAN, replacing parts continuously to make sure you enjoy the smooth sailing your company expects when you turn on the computer in the morning, and I like to let the Engineers do their job.  I can’t do it, I don’t want to do it, and I have other things to do.   You shouldn’t have to think about it.  Like cells.  

Facebook just updated—I should check that.

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