Author: Brian Etta
Professor Thomlin was equivocating as to whether or not he’d let his TA, Lee, teach his last class before finals until Lee decided to return to Shenzhen to pursue tenure in his home country. Historically it was a complete and utter slaughter of a perfect beach day. Students who’d been on top of the material throughout the semester usually aced his test as that was by design. He had his favorites and played to their strengths! The kids, dumbasses, as he lovingly called them, who thought they were Neo and could download 5 months of Plato, Descartes, Spinoza and Sartre….Sartre, for God’s sake…were indeed living in some kind of Matrix (the original of course!) Those little pecker heads would definitely get an “A” for jamming up his hang time. The waves would just have to wait!
Breathing in acceptance and blowing out resentment he thought to the universe and himself, “The dude abides!” He leisurely entered the auditorium and took notice of the shrinkage, i.e. the 2nd week crowd, usually up from week one and built on the fake news that he was an easy “A” he wasn’t and that he took the high holy days off as a practicing Jew…half true. He wasn’t practicing but he did like days off. By week 2 when reality set in, driven home with a liberal smattering “C”s, “D”s & a few “F”s for good measure. The roster had slimmed down and how! It was like Roman decimation, one out of 10 would be gone every few weeks. His class was a philosophical isotope with a very, very short half life. Scanning the bleachers nothing was out of the ordinary, the kid with the post modern coif was gone…what a shock…as well as the hipster collective who rocked 80’s tees but ironically, of course! One thing caught his eye…a new face. Typically that meant a proxy for a real student and that would not stand. He’d shred this little pecker head and turn him over to the Provost. Let the school do its job, he had way, way better things to do and places to go. Have 6 pack, will travel!
“Oy” he called out to the ringer, the ringer in turn “Oy’d” him back. “Cheeky bugger” he thought channeling a Britcom only he could see. “Haven’t seen you before, what can we do for you Mister…?” He did that trailing rise of intonation on Mister to indicate he was asking for a name. “RT” the ringer easily responded, as if answering question 2 on an oral exam. “No Mister, RT is good” he continued. Thomlin said, “Well RT, in case you’re lost, Liberal Arts is an entirely different wing, sorry you wasted your time.” “Professor Thomlin?” RT inquired as if he didn’t know. “I’m here for you. See, I’m planning to take your class in Fall and wanted to see what it would be like”. Thomlin thought…”Oh, OK, no worries. Got an audit slip from the Registrar?”, “Got you now!” he thought with finality and glee. No way he had it, how? That department was usually closed, they were seemingly always closed. To his chagrin, RT produced it, why? “OK then, why would you want to take the last class, I mean, you know it’s the last class…right? Said the professor incredulously. As if seizing an opening, storming a breach, he replied, “That’s exactly why”…”Creepy” Thomlin thought, but interesting could be fun. He engaged, “About what?…as in you clearly have something in mind and this is your time, lo it pains me to ask, about what would you like me to speak?” RT twisted in the uncomfortable decades old plastic seat and looked out, as if formulating the answer for the first time. He took a beat and said, “Theseus, or to be precise his ship, the Ship of Theseus”. Thomlin looked down at his hands and back at the loose assembly of students. “Yes, yes I know what you meant”, replying indignantly. The Ship of Theseus was a thought experiment wherein if succeeding parts of the ship were removed and replaced but with identical parts, could the resulting entity be considered the same ship with which Theseus entered port? Arguments could be made in the negative as also to the affirmative, hence making for lively debate. Franky he couldn’t care less.
Over the next and remaining 45 minutes between helping the other pecker heads, he found he was enjoying the back and forth with the youth, RT was smart, like how he was, odd, he reminded him eerily of his younger self. RT asked him, “What if you took discarded human limbs, let’s say cells, hell…let’s go with atoms. What if I collected, at whichever scale, all the components used by your body as it recycled and renewed itself then put them back exactly as they were, would that entity be you? If yes, why? No? Why not?” Thomlin felty the planet spin just a little slower as he took a seat, he felt disoriented. He was too old for late night dorm room philosophising. After class, he hoped RT would leave…RT wouldn’t leave and in fact took him further down the rabbit hole. RT pressed him and finally he admitted that while a good thought experiment he’d have to say no, maybe yes…and finally no. No the reconstituted ship and the reconstituted Thomlin were essentially fugazi…ersatz versions.
RT smiled, “Thought you’d feel that way” He took off his jacket to show a sleeve tattoo. It matched the professors well hidden ink. Richard Thomlin, my name is not RT my name is Richard Thomlin…a pleasure for me to meet me…I mean you.”