The Grandfather's Axe

Suppose you were to take your brain, a collection of neurons, the source of your consciousness, and replace a single biological neuron with a synthetic neuron which has the exact same functionality.  To the brain as a whole, each neuron can be treated as a black box.  If you can provide the exact same input/output function, then swapping the contents within the box has no effect on overall functionality.  Assume that this swap occurs instantaneously and is seamless to your experience of the world.  Most would argue that you are still the same person with the same consciousness.  Now, imagine that one by one you gradually repeat this procedure until the entire brain is composed of synthetic neurons.  Using transitive reasoning, you must conclude that if swapping 1 neuron changes nothing about your sense of self, then swapping n neurons must also have no effect.  This implies individuality is not defined by the physical material that makes up the brain, but by the unique consciousness that is the result.

At this point your entire brain would be synthetic, meaning that you could easily duplicate it or simulate it.  It would be seamless to the individual's consciousness to disassemble and reassemble the brain using the same pieces.  If that reassembly occurred elsewhere, at a different time, or with different physical matter, would it make a difference to the consciousness or the individuality?  At what point does the individual stop being you?  If the reassembly occurred before the disassembly using duplicate matter, would there be two of you?  The point is that each step is a small extension of the previous one, making it difficult to refute any single step given the base assumption.

It seems that the only conclusion is that, like any entity that exists, we have given our consciousness a name and an arbitrarily defined boundary. Take for analogy, a river, whose water will never be the same twice, whose direction may change over its years, and yet can still be called the same river.  There is no point in arguing about where the limits lie of a definition in which we, ourselves have invented.

Have a different interpretation of the Ship of Theseus paradox?  Feel welcome to contribute in the comments.  Want to read more?  Check out David Chalmer's paper titled Absent Qualia, Fading Qualia, Dancing Qualia.  It makes a great case for the consciousness being independent of the physical substrate.

Would the gears in the above image spin freely?

Poll Maker