The Ship of Theseus, and my Leica M3.

Film, Inspiration, Leica M3, Life's Little Moments, Q&A, Teaching point

Theseus' Ship

In Greek mythology, Theseus was the the hero who slayed the Minotaur in the Labyrinth of Knossos.

He then sailed home, on a ship that — having long been in service — was in obvious need of repair.  Wooden planks were therefore removed and replaced.

Theseus’ Paradox arises from the following thought experiment:  suppose, over time, more and more aging planks were removed and then replaced with new pieces of wood until — eventually — no original plank remained.

Would the ship still be the same ship?

Most people would still consider it Theseus‘ ship, but… Would it still be the same ship that served him so well?

There are several potential answers to this question, and one further wrinkle that involves taking all of the old discarded planks and re-fashioning another ship, thus creating two Theseus ships (the one with all of the replaced parts, and a new-old one with the old parts).  It’s very mind-bending.

So…what’s this have to do with photography?

Nothing.  But…

I recently purchased a 1963 Leica M3 in completely original condition, and sent it in for servicing.  Even though it was working well enough in most situations, several of its optical and mechanical parts were in poor condition and needed to be replaced.  The exterior covering was replaced too.

I’m currently waiting for its return.

While I’m waiting, the question I keep asking myself, after all of these changes is:

Is this the same M3 that allowed me take this image?

Or has my ship sailed?


15 thoughts on “The Ship of Theseus, and my Leica M3.

  1. Depends if it comes back with a CCD or CMOS sensor and wind on is missing :-)!

    No it hasn’t sailed in my opinion as long as it’s given the respect it deserves and the parts replaced properly. You can do up an old car and drive it, then you should be able to bring an M3 up to speed.

  2. You can give yourself a headache with this sort of thing. It is likely that no cell in your body is the same cell as was there doing the same task some reasonably short time ago. I understand (you perhaps better) that the time frame varies between types of cells, but it is often suggested that in as little as seven years every cell in your body will have been replaced. Are you then the same Peter?

    A system not maintained falls apart and ceases to function; so the only indisputable fact is that your M3 and Theseus’s ship would, without maintenance, not only not be the the same M3 or ship, but would revert to dust in time. All the cosmos is in constant flux. Sameness is a philosophical convention. But it is a good and useful one allowing us to communicate successfully about objects in space. In this instance, I’m all for it.

    1. Great reply Greg. You beat me to it.

      So in fact we are not older than 7. Always young on the inside and more wisdom added every day/cycle. Sure gives a perspective on why some of us find it is so hard to ‘grow up’ and act mature haha. There is the alibi.

      Very nice picture Peter. I hope your old youthful M3 will inspire you to make many more timeless pictures.

  3. I’ve been thinking about an M3 myself. Did you try both the single and double stroke models? If so, what was your final decision?

  4. Whoa. I click in for a peek and there you are…introducing mortality and a brief recap of a greek myth. That’s Phhotographs by Peter for you.

    The camera and the ship are only proxies for this exploration, of course. So why not add the captain and the photographer to the mix?

    Every ship needs a captain and crew and every camera needs a photographer…who are themselves changing, adapting, growing, and suffering various forms of entropy. Through and amidst ….is there a tiny part of them…a pure core pulsing on unharmed..maybe even unimproved… by time and circumstance? Can the “essence” of an epic ship or an iconic camera ever be properly considered separately from their stewards anyway?

    You ask if your refurbished M3 will be the same camera that allowed you to take the dreamlike picture of your son.

    Can you first answer whether or not you are the same person, photographer and father?

    I hope you enjoy the restored camera when it returns. I expect we will see evidence that it is both new and original if we are lucky enough to see the images you create.

    A great image. A great musing. They should go in the book.

  5. A philosophical bunch, we are. To answer one of the posed questions above, I am completely different than the man I was 7 years ago (and I’m not just talking about my cells), and yet… I’m very much the same.

    I know this M3 that is about to return will indeed be both different and the same.

    Will it matter? I honestly don’t know.

  6. Peter, as somewhat said, I forgot who, I still looking for the image I have not taken yet! We don’t know what we don’t know.
    Love your icongraphs Peter and image on! I have a M3 also and just love holding it and taking it out and photographing that inspire me. Thank you for your images.

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