Watch: Why the Star Trek Transporter Is a "Suicide Box"

Monday, 07 March 2016 - 5:25PM
Monday, 07 March 2016 - 5:25PM
When you watch a Star Trek episode in which millions of people use teleportation to get to work every day, are you actually watching a large-scale massacre? According to this new animated video from CGP Grey, the transporter is nothing more than a glorified "suicide box."

As of now, scientists have achieved quantum teleportation, or the instantaneous transport of quantum information. But that's a far cry from teleporting larger objects, such as humans, which would presumably require disassembling the human atom by atom and reassembling him or her in another location. Metaphysicists are divided on the question of whether this constitutes a meaningful "death" or not, but CGP Grey comes down with a hard "yes," which means that the Star Trek transporter has a "100% death rate."

According to the video, the best case scenario is that the transporter breaks you down to your component atoms and reassembles all of those same atoms somewhere else. Logically, it would seem that you were dead for at least an instant, but if the atoms are exactly the same, and the idea of a metaphysical "soul" is out of the equation, then it's similar to being resuscitated after a heart attack.

But that can't be the mechanism of the transporter, because characters are occasionally split into two during the teleportation process, and our bodies don't have enough atoms to create two copies of us. As a result, it must be the case that the transporter converts our atoms into energy and the energy into atoms, creating a perfect copy of "you."

But is a copy of you the "real you?" Or are "you" destroyed and another being who looks and thinks just like you is created, similar to a clone? According to the Ship of Theseus thought problem, a person can have all of their atoms systematically replaced and still be the same person (you're exchanging atoms for other atoms every time you eat and breathe, for example, and humans are said to be composed of completely different cells after about seven years of normal biological processes). So that should mean that an exact replica of you made of different atoms would still be "you." But then again, if the disassembler in the transporter didn't work, and the original person who entered the transporter survived long enough to see the copy, then he or she would likely contend that the copy was not "them." So therefore, transporter = death.

Opening quote
"If true, multiply this by all the life forms in all the ships in all the star systems, and this transport technology is a silent holocaust. Which makes an average episode of Trek rather grim watching."
Closing quote

Via Gizmodo

Science of Sci-Fi

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