Plutarch used a conundrum to illustrate the human mind.
The Ship of Theseus was built to travel to the furthest points of the known world.
During the voyage it was tossed around by storms, battered by wind and waves.
Sails had to be replaced.
Ropes had to be replaced.
The planks in the hull, even the nails holding them, had to be replaced.
By the time the ship returned, not a single piece of it was made from the original material.
So, could that ship still be considered the real Ship of Theseus?
Some people thought not.
Because not one atom of it was the same as the one that left port.
In which case, when did it stop being The Ship of Theseus?
When the first piece of wood was replaced?
Surely not, that’s just a minor repair.
Okay how about the second, third, or fourth repair?
When there isn’t one original plank left, is it still The Ship of Theseus?
Hmmmm, probably not.
Okay, when does it change, when does it lose it’s identity?
Some people said it never lost its identity.
It was still The Ship of Theseus.
It had just replaced itself bit-by-bit.
It hadn’t altered the basic concept.
In which case, what was The Ship of Theseus?
Was it just a thought?
If it was, that meant The Ship of Theseus didn’t actually exist at all?
But that couldn’t be true, because you could see it and touch it.
So what was the actual Ship of Theseus?
Two thousand years later the philosopher Thomas Hobbes took it further.
He said, assume the crew of The Ship of Theseus didn’t throw any of the old parts away.
As they replaced them, they stowed them in the hold.
Then, when they got home, they unloaded them in a big pile on the dock.
Splintered planks, bent and rusty nails, frayed ropes, torn and faded sails.
Now, which one is the real Ship of Theseus?
The beautiful ship that looks exactly the way it did when it left?
(Although not a single atom of the original ship remains.)
Or the rusted, rotting pile of junk that looks nothing like a ship.
(But every atom of it made up the original Ship of Theseus?)
There isn’t an easy answer.
But most of us would choose the thing that looks like The Ship of Theseus.
At least it floats, it looks and behaves like a ship.
The alternative, the pile of junk, doesn’t do anything.
The pile of wood and metal and cloth is just inert matter.
Without a mind to have the vision of a ship, to shape it into a ship, to use it as a ship, there isn’t a ship.
See, the concept ‘ship’ doesn’t actually exist in the real, physical world.
All that exists in the real world is matter.
A mind thought up the concept of a ship.
Then the mind shaped matter to fit the concept.
And then the ‘ship’ existed.
But only for people who understood the concept ‘ship’.
If all there was around were animals, they wouldn’t perceive a ship.
It would just be a big lump of stuff.
But as long as there are other people that understand what a ship is, and use it as a ship, it exists as a ship.
And that’s what creativity is.
Having an idea for something that doesn’t exist.
Then shaping matter to make it exist.
If you don’t do that, it doesn’t exist.
Because, in the physical world, only matter exists.
Concepts don’t exist.
So they’re not sitting around waiting to be discovered.
We have to create concepts, in our mind.
Then we have to make the concept real, out of matter.
Then it ‘exists’.
That’s what creativity is: creating something out of nothing.