Trigger’s broom

Bike chain
So. On Monday I went out on my bike to clock up some miles. It didn’t go well as there was a regular clunking and thunking from the back wheel. Back home I took the back wheel off and found the rim had split. I took the bike to bike hospital to get it a new wheel and a service. The service resulted in a new wheel, new front chainrings, new rear cassette, new brake blocks, cables and gear cables. There wasn’t really much of the original bike left.

Now, as I have been reading a short introduction to pre-socratic philosophy (a gift from Santa to one of the children, who read it and thought I might be interested) I was thrown back to the old paradox of the Ship of Theseus. Briefly, the ancient Athenians preserved the ship in which Theseus returned to Athens after killing in Minotaur. As its timbers decayed they were replaced until, in the then present, none of the original timbers remained. The question is: is this still Theseus ship? The UK TV audience has also seen the same paradox in Only fools and horses where Trigger’s broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles.

I haven’t quite got to that stage yet, but if I rode the bike a bit longer and changed all the other pieces, until there was none of the original left, would it still be the same bike? The philosophers have had plenty of goes at this, but for my money, the answer you give depends on the question. I’m with Trigger, because the question is not, ‘is this the same broom’ but ‘is this Trigger’s broom’ to which the answer is ‘yes’.

And back in ancient Athens, if pirates had carried off the ship, what would they have reported to the (non-existent) police? Obviously: ‘someone has stolen the ship of Theseus’.

[Of course, any passing philosopher is more than welcome to point out the deep and egregious flaws in my reasoning.]


O Christmas Tree

IMG_2078So. The decorations are down, the lights have been put away and the Christmas Tree has been stripped and taken down to the bottom of the garden. (Never mind Twelfth Night – the rule in our house is clear up Christmas before everyone’s back to school.)

This picture shows the Christmas Tree on its last night: in our house the Christmas Tree always stands in that corner. But that always is a temporary thing (in much the same way as saying ‘the sea has always beaten on the foot of Dover’s cliffs’, when we know that until the Mesolithic period there was no sea there to beat): we have only lived in this house for eighteen years.

Also, it isn’t even the same tree: every year there is a different tree. That reminds me of ancient Europe in Frazer’s Golden Bough, where passing strangers are seized and taken to the village, then dressed up and fêted before being sacrificed to ensure the fertility of the year.

In our house, each year’s tree is screwed into the same stand and decorated with the same lights and baubles: each wears the same robes for a few weeks, before being despatched to the garden.

But I want a more benign image for the tree. Perhaps I should think of a bride, wearing the veil  her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother wore, which she, in turn, hopes to see on her own granddaughter’s face fifty years hence. The bride is The Bride, as the tree becomes The Christmas Tree. If only for the valley of the year.