Please Don’t Beam Me Up, Scotty

A ship explodes, just as its captain materializes on the Enterprise’s bridge. He looks around, obviously frightened and confused.

Kirk: Don’t be alarmed. I’m Captain Kirk, and this is the starship Enterprise. Your ship was destroyed, but we beamed you out of there just in the nick of time.

Visitor: You… oh no. You beamed me here?

Kirk: Yes.

Visitor: With a transporter device?

Spock: That’s correct.

Visitor: Oh Lord, forgive me.

Kirk and Spock exchanged worried glances.

Kirk: Aren’t you glad to have survived the wreckage?

Visitor: Survive? I didn’t survive. Don’t you understand how that damned device even works?

Kirk: You mean the transporter?

Visitor: It doesn’t transport. It disassembles your molecules and reassembles them on the other side. It annihilates you, and builds a perfect copy in a new location. It’s not a transporter, it’s a replacer. What results is a facsimile, a reproduction, a brand-new being with borrowed memories. The original creature—its consciousness—its soul—all gone.

Kirk: Nonsense, man!

Visitor: Think about it. It’s not the actual molecules being “transported,” just information about them. You could just as easily transmit that information—and build the new being—while leaving the old one perfectly intact. Couldn’t you? And if the old one persisted, wouldn’t it be obvious that the new copy is a different being altogether?

Spock: His analysis is not incorrect, Captain.

Visitor: I’m a monster. I’m a back-up file. I am not myself, but my own echo, my own substitute, my own ghost.

Kirk: Calm down! I’ve transported myself thousands of times, and I assure you, I still exist.

Visitor: When was the last time you transported?

Kirk: Why, just yesterday.

Visitor: Then you are one day old. You were born yesterday, in an unholy swirl of atoms and quarks. You were fabricated out of thin air, and planted with the memories of a man who had existed before and who unwittingly perished that you might live. But you are not him. You are but a perfect forgery.

Kirk: This man is clearly disturbed!

Spock: No, Captain, he is not.

Kirk: Spock?

Spock: As a logical being, I deduced many years ago that I am annihilated each time that I am transported.

Kirk: Spock! If that’s true, then why do you still do it?

Spock: Logic dictates that I should not mourn the end of my own consciousness, if I shall be replaced with an identical being that can continue in my place.

Kirk: You’re both crazy. Scotty, please beam Mr. Spock and our visitor to sick bay for a medical examination.

Spock: If you believe it is for the greater good, Captain, then I shall go.

Visitor: NOOOOOOOOOO!!! I’VE JUST BEGUN TO LIVE!!!

Spock and the visitor both de-materialize.

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18 thoughts on “Please Don’t Beam Me Up, Scotty

  1. McCoy has been known to say things like this, but less consistently. If he had his druthers, it would be all shuttlecraft all the time. (Of course, there just isn’t time in TV episodes to do all that shuttling, which is why Roddenberry invented the transporter.)

  2. I’ve thought on this subject as well. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the UFP ever makes multiple copies of their personnel at once. E.g., there are simultaneously multiple Spocks or multiple Kirks in the same universe. Worse, if the transport can grab the data, then it can also store it. And data can be altered… These multiple Spocks and multiple Kirks might have completely different memories, simply by reversing the orientation of an electron here and there inside their brain configuration.

    • Actually an episode of DS9 establishes that the transporter buffer is only designed to hold the data for very short periods and anything else risks the pattern degrading. You’ve got about a minute of pattern retention at most before it all goes bye-bye, and to handle multiple neural patterns requires an amount of storage space equal to everything else one of their massive supercomputers normally stores. In TNG Scotty got around this by putting the buffers into a sort of fake cycle where it assumed it was constantly beaming the signal back into itself every few seconds, and even then it only had a 50% success rate.

      The only time a transporter copy’s ever been confirmed was Thomas Riker and that one was completely by accident under very odd circumstances. Basically the ship doesn’t have an unlimited amount of energy to rebuild someone with and when it snags you, it uses your matter to convert into energy and then uses that energy to rebuild your matter, so it’s still all the same “you” from start to finish, even though your state of being is temporarily altered.

      • If you can store data even briefly, you can store it permanently. The ships themselves may not have the capacity to do so in TOS, but UFP headquarters or other planet based installations certainly could. There are other cases of previous transporter patterns being used to restore characters to a former “version” of themselves, most notably TNG’s Dr. Pulaski. This indicates that the UFP (and individual vessels) can and do store large amounts of data on a regular basis. Copies have clearly been made (Scotty, Riker), so that is not the issue. The subject is not rigidly defined, and is debatable, but wondering if the UFP creates copies is valid and relevant.

      • Yeah, it seems Trek canon is (surprise!) a little inconsistent on this stuff. The Rikers split because of a doubled “containment beam” (whatever that is). Scotty just left himself buffering for like 80 years. The latter of these seems to contradict the DS9 episode (which I watched recently but only half-remember) where they’re trying to store people inside the station computer.

        I like the idea that the mass in the body is converted into energy, which is then used to reassemble the body. I don’t think it feels any more like a continuous existence, but I like it.

  3. I am unaware if the issue is dealt with in the show but what you described in the post isn’t quite accurate. In quantum mechanics it is quite possible for teleportation to occur but for it to happen the original state must be destroyed.

    This can be thought of by considering Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in which it is stated that knowledge of certain parts of a quantum state preclude knowledge of other parts (famously demonstrated in the precise knowledge of the position of an object precluding the precise knowledge of its momentum). This leads to the problem when considering teleportation that you can not know with absolute precision the entirety of an objects quantum state and so this information can not be measured then transmitted, then recreated. However, what can be achieved within the framework of quantum mechanics is transporting the full quantum state of the object using photons by first destroying the initial state and then reconstruct the same state by interpreting the state later.

    This means that there could be an interpretation that the consciousness, soul, etc. are transported with the teleporter. And the worry of the destruction and recreation of these things can be worried about with equal validity when considering a break in consciousness in, for example, a dreamless sleep. In that situation there is no way to test with certainty that you are the same being as the one who went to sleep other than fact you have the same knowledge, memorys and physique as the person who went to sleep.

    Anyway, I did enjoy the post just thought you might be interested in some musing I have had on this subject before.

    P.S. I am a PhD in experimental particle physics and was taught about this in a quantum mechnics course as part of my masters. As always wikipedia is a good place to start if you want to know further (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_teleportation).

    • That’s why the Next Generation “Treknology” came up with “Heisenberg Compensators” built into the transporter circuitry! i got a big laugh out of that the first time LaForge mentioned them (and I’m not even a physicist!)

    • Hmm, I like that interpretation a lot. To me, the strongest argument that being transported is a more dramatic break in consciousness than falling asleep is the hypothetical scenario wherein a “transported” copy of you is produced, while the existing copy remains in existence. If we can rule out that hypothetical, transportation starts feeling a lot more like falling briefly into a dreamless sleep.

  4. Love the comic, and especially the questions it raises. I actually wrote a story about this that comes up with a conclusion opposite to the visitor’s in these panels, based on the fact that life is basically a continuous series of transporter jumps, just over a very tiny distance and a very tiny amount of time. (http://thedustinsummary.blogspot.com/2013/06/death-demystified.html)

    By the way, I’m a big fan of what you do. It makes me want to doodle more. Keep it up!

  5. Pingback: They’re Not Transporters | Transterrestrial Musings

  6. I smell Parfit lurking around over there looking for relation R.

    However, I see a problem with the visitor’s argument. Disassembling and reassembling molecules assumes that the molecules exist in their original state before and after movement. Much like if you disassembled my car, shipped it on a Lorry to Pennsylvania, and reassembled it there. All the pieces would exist before and after in there original state and Therefore after reassemble, my car would have both continuity of physical (and mental-computer brain?) as well as relation R.

    Replication also leaves the original molecules back at the starting line. With replication you’d have two individuals almost identical, but obviously not because you wouldn’t have numerical identity. You’d just have a copy, which couldn’t be one in the same with the original.

    If you destroy the original molecules, after you’ve life yes their blueprint, the new ones would still just be copies. If you just moved them, in any state, they would simply be transported.

    If by some cool technology you could destroy the original And still have the original you’d have some sweet looking Frankenmolecules. But once the original is gone, it’s gone. Everything that follows has to be something else according to our standard def of existence. Unless you’re God or this is BBC prime time where anything is possible.

    If you bend the standard definition to include simultaneous existence that would give you some overlap, then you could have old and new with numerical identity…kind of.

    So, is it called a re-materializer? I think the Swooper 3000 would be a cool name.

  7. First thing I’d do is put my phone in It to see if the new one developed a spell check that works 😡 Sorry.

  8. It’s a little known secret that the entire enterprise crew was cloned repeatedly and sent on numerous copies of the enterprise. This explains how they got into so many interesting situations with a 99% chance of dying, yet still survive. Of course they don’t report on the ones that didn’t work out.

  9. Modern Idiot: Cool, I’ve got a tab open to Derek Parfit’s Wikipedia page now – next on my reading list.

    BillB: That explains a lot.

    Anonymous: Thanks – I enjoyed the comic. But I stand by the main tenet of the visitor’s argument: If you create a perfect copy of me while leaving me standing, then that copy isn’t me. By contrast, neither falling asleep nor the gradual replacement of cells throughout my lifespan allows for the creation of a copy.

    Dustin: Thanks for reading, and thanks for the story! I find this argument a little stickier and trickier than the one in the existential comic. It basically advocates (more eloquently) for the same position I ascribed to Spock above. To quote the band Plush: “What’s so bad about dying?”

    Thought experiments like that are enough to shake my confidence that I really know anything about consciousness. I come down with the position, “Maybe I’m effectively dying every time I go to sleep, or every time I change thoughts. Maybe. But I’m DEFINITELY dying when I use a transporter.”

  10. Ignoring, of course, the temporal displacement of O’Brien, this is pretty great and something I think about frequently when they are beaming each other willy-nilly all over the place.

    In addition, if it’s an exact copy with exactly the same memories, it would be hard to argue WHICH was the real one.

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