The Ship of Theseus was a famous vessel
The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrus Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question as to things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending it was not the same.
In his De Corpore, Thomas Hobbes followed up an ancient suggestion that the ship’s original planks might have been hoarded by a collector on land and reassembled, once every part had been replaced. Hobbes offered the reassembled ship as the true original. But he may have had his tongue in his cheek about the ambiguous use of language in truth claims. It is the true original, qua material, but not qua a functioning ship.
From an information philosophy perspective, the Ship of Theseus is just a quibble about naming. But the full facts of the matter provide the information to name a ship uniquely.
We have perfect information about the constituting planks, especially if they are carefully distinguished and stored for reassembly of the original planks as a museum copy (presumably the ship reassembled from old planks will not be seaworthy).
We have perfectly understandable and meaningful names for all the parts in this problem. We have the original ship. We have for example original plank 224, replacement plank 175, etc. We have the repaired ship with specific replacement planks in position. We can keep a diagram showing where all the planks fit. Finally we have the reassembled ship. We can see two numerically distinct ships (or at least collections of ship parts) at all times
The comparable problem of identifying parts of an organism, – specific cells, even atoms, is extremely difficult if not impossible. The exact boundaries of organs and limbs are vague, etc.
So apart from denials that composite inanimate objects exist at all, where is the deep metaphysical problem?
If it is the problem of identity through time, the information philosophy solution is straightforward.
Otto Neurath was an founding member of the Vienna Circle. Starting in the 1920’s, he developed what he called the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics (Wiener Methode der Bildstatistik) in which simple and attractive icons were used to communicate knowledge.
After emigrating from Nazi Germany, while working in London, he renamed the method Isotype (International System Of TYpographic Picture Education)
The idea of communicating ideas with pictures is a part of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the early Ludwig Wittgenstein‘s work for Bertrand Russell inspired by logical positivism. And it is the foundation of information philosophy, which analyzes the physical arrangement of material particles in any information structure.
Neurath’s image of knowledge (our SUM) as a ship that must be built while out at sea is his most lasting metaphor.
There is no way to establish fully secured, neat protocol statements as starting points of the sciences. There is no tabula rasa. We are like sailors who have to rebuild their ship on the open sea, without ever being able to dismantle it in dry-dock and reconstruct it from its best components.