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Is teleporting a death sentence?

October 15, 2020

“Beam us down, Mr. O’Brien! No, wait, I didn’t meaaaannnnnnnnn……”

Some would argue that having one’s “molecules scrambled,” as Dr. McCoy would put it, is actually the surest way to die. Sure, after you’ve been taken apart by the transporter, you’re put back together somewhere else, good as new. But is it still you on the other side, or is it a copy? If the latter, does that mean the transporter is a suicide box?


An old article (2017, whose impetus was the imminent release of ST: Discovery) but a good one.

Is the copy of you, you? Or is it a brand new person with the same memories? Would it have ANY memories? Would it have the same consciousness? (Or ANY consciousness?)

Of course, you can always stick to the “David Brin Theory” of teleportation: “Some dude in the future will figure this all out.”

Lazy writers!

(This is why, in my novel, I stick to quantum teleportation of inanimate objects only. That includes quantum communication relays, chunks of asteroids…miniature nuclear bombs…you know, “realistic” things like that.)

And, yes, quantum teleportation is real. Just very, very tiny. For now.


  1. If it is a human (or cat or whale) that is reassembled exactly, then the components of the brain that retain memories will be reassembled, too. So, yes, it will have the same consciousness in that respect. What is not explained is whether the exact molecules are used to reconstruct the teleportee. If the device uses a different carbon atom, for example, but puts it in the same place as the original, it’s a copy. But a copy that has no other distinctive differences is no different from the original, so it makes no difference. The real unanswered question is whether the beaming event actually relocates the original molecules, which would then conserve the original transportee and not make a copy, just a reassembled thing, as much as using the same Legos to rebuild a toy would be the exact thing and not a copy. Keep in mind, the name of the device is a TRANSPORTer, which implies moving, not copying. Exactly HOW it moves the molecules is never even hinted at, other than to toss out SF terms like Heisenberg compensator, pattern buffer, annular confinement beam, and “the trace”. The Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual claims that the devices transport objects in real time, accurate to the quantum level.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The articles does touch on that issue.

      “There’s another, more famous version of the paintbrush example: a thought experiment known as the Ship of Theseus. Theseus wants to keep his ship in tip-top shape, so whenever a board rots, he replaces it with a new one and keeps doing so until none of the original planks remain. Is it still the same ship? By our standards, it clearly is. The pieces have been replaced, but there was a continuity in the ship’s structure between them.

      “If, however, we destroy the ship but mail its blueprints somewhere else and then build a new, identical ship, it’s not the same ship. It’s a separate ship built from the same blueprints. It doesn’t even matter whether you use the same planks or not. So where does the transporter fit in, again?”

      Of course, this only works if you agree that “consciousness” is entirely physical, and cannot exist outside the corporal body as a separate entity. But “consciousness” has still never been defined to the degree that everyone agrees what it is. Personality-wise, the person could change simply due to the experience of having every single atom destroyed and then reproduced. It would be like experiencing near-death, over and over again. I wonder if they would go crazy. Or become utterly num and devoid of emotion. Or achieve Enlightenment.


      • Yeah, I’ve heard the same story of Theseus only applied to a modern-day car where everything has slowly been replaced. Thing is, it’s NOT the original, although it is the same make and model. Theseus’ ship, too. It’s a ship with all the same parts, but it’s NOT the original. It’s actually worse with a wooden ship because the planks themselves are not 100% identical. At least with car parts, they are far closer.

        Consciousness is a bear to mess with. It’s an emergent property of the brain, not a tangible physical thing. Recreate the brain, and you recreate whatever consciousness emerges from it. The person’s personality couldn’t change for the same reason. Oh, you could get nitpicky and say our personality changes from second to second (and it does, no matter what), but it’s not the same as being changed merely because of being recreated; it’s just experiential.

        Trying to remember the episode of TNG where Barclay saw creatures in the pattern buffer as he transported and what happened there. It appears that people were trapped in the transporter buffer, and that’s what Reg saw, although in a worm form that was never explained. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realm_of_Fear This was one episode where the workings of the transporter were discussed the most, I think.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that particular episode is also mentioned in the article (did you actually read it before commenting? 😉


      • I read most of the Wikipedia article, yes. That would be horrible for Scotty, though, to be aware for 75 years!!! It’s bad enough that we know in ST II Wrath of Khan that people could maintain a conversation while transporting, soooooooooooooooooooooooo… it gets complicated.


      • The Realm of Fear implied that people being beamed down / up were actually aware of their corporal bodies being literally disintegrated and reassembled. That’s why I mention the shock that must cause the first time it occurs. But does it mean that the consciousness is “alive” during the entire beaming process? Was Scotty “aware” of being alive when he was stuck in the pattern buffer for decades?

        Never fully explained in Trek. Hmm.


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