The Impossibility of Star-Trek Like Transporters

According to SyFy Magazine there was an episode of Star Trek: The Woke Generation (Kirk ≫ Picard) in which Riker was transporting himself to the ship, but where a mysterious ray caused the beam to split, creating two Rikers, one on the ship, one left behind.


Now, if the transporter really can break apart a ham actor into tiny pieces, embed those pieces into some kind of beam, and project that beam through various obstacles to some distant locale, and then reassemble the pieces into the exact same precise configuration, all fast enough so that the ham actor remains alive, the creation at the other end would not be the same man.

Allowing the twist that the beam isn’t embedding particles, but information, a map of how to build the transported object out of energy and distant materials, does not change this conclusion.

Here’s why.

Skip the easy criticisms that such an apparatus would require too much energy to be practical, or that nobody knows how to project energy-particle-information beams through, say, solid rock. These objections will always be rebutted by the Desire & Hope Conjecture, anyway, a conjecture which always says, based on desire and hope, that such toys don’t exist now, but they will. Ours is an age that uses desire and hope as its founding metaphysics, which is why the Desire & Hope Conjecture always works.

The article says:

According to a teleportation physics study carried out by the Air Force Research Laboratory, assuming the ability to store all of the information for a single atom — its location in space, its linear and angular momentum, and its internal quantum state — with one kilobyte, it would require a minimum of 10 to the 28th power kilobytes to store the information for one person. Using current technology, it would take longer than the age of the universe to store that amount of information. They estimate that if improvement in computing technology maintains a factor of 10-100 over the next 200-300 years, we may be able to accomplish such a feat.

My old employer is wrong. It takes more than one KB to store what there is to know about a single atom. It may take only 1 KB to know the location and momentum, and something about the internal quantum state, but it cannot with that same limit know the entire quantum state.

Even a lone hydrogen atom is one proton and one electron. The proton is itself composed of two up and one down quarks. The quarks are stuck together with gluons.

We cannot know the exact position and momentum of all these entities. This impossibility of this knowledge is fundamental to quantum mechanics. Since we cannot measure with exactness the state of his lone atom, we cannot reproduce it with exactness. That’s the proof. QED.

Well, maybe exactness isn’t necessary. Making a hydrogen atom isn’t that difficult, in theory, and they all look alike chemically anyway. Beside, why this insistence on exactness? The toy phaser that was in your bedroom is after all the same toy phaser that is now in your bathroom (assuming it’s Saturday night), yet it won’t be exactly the same before and after this move. The innards in it atoms will have been jostled, it may pick up skin oil, or shed some of its plastic, and so on. But we still consider it the same toy. It’s essence remains unchanged, even though some of its accidents shift.

For atoms not interacting with anything else, exactness isn’t needed, because it seems the essence of the atom could be transmitted with just that 1 KB. So the possibility of transporting some but not all of an atom’s information isn’t impossible. Neither is a beam which transports the object itself impossible.

Maybe this works for larger objects, too, like your favorite toy phaser. If the thing is plastic, the information required to know the compositions and positions of the higher-level atomic objects, i.e. chemicals, are probably enough to enable building a duplicate. The beam may even, in theory, be able to piece back together the toy from its atoms, if the object itself is transported in the beam.

Yet this will never work for people. When atoms interact exactness is required. The states of the quarks in the protons, neutrons, electrons of your tissues, including the brain, and what the states of what these quarks are composed of, namely strings, and what those strings are composed of, namely who knows what, and so so, plus all the states of energy of the connections of these things, are absolutely necessary to specify this physical part of a human being. Electron position, for instance, is surely required the physical aspects of thinking. If, for instance, you don’t rebuild the brain in exactly the same state, down to the quantum level, you don’t have the same brain, hence you don’t have the same person. Since it is impossible—no just unlikely: impossible—that all these states can be measured, a transporter beam will never work.

All this is even before considering the mind itself, our intellects and wills, which are not material. The intellect can survive the body, so it seems possible to reunite the intellect to the discombobulated body once the body is recombobulated. But, and this is what is appalling to minds steeped in scientism, this act would require the cooperation of God Himself. Whether He would cooperate is, of course, a mystery.

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Categories: Philosophy

19 replies »

  1. There will never be enough computing power in the universe to represent the position of just one particle. The computer will have to round the number at some point in order to move on to the next number. I wonder what precision might be required to spark life in the reassembled pixels?

  2. @Titan28 –
    Quantum computing is entirely a scam.
    This is because it is based on the dogma of the Copenhagen Interpretation, which is merely pseudo-scientific bumpf. (The fact that it still holds sway in the halls of academia just reinforces my loathing of most universities.)

    Quantum computers can be inexpensively replaced with a normal computer connected to a true random number generator, like a cosmic ray detector. This will not only be much, much cheaper, it will be faster and more useful.

  3. I heard that the transporter was invented by the writers because sets with a shuttle ship would be too expensive.

  4. So I guess Barkley was right to fear transporters. It wasn’t psychosis.

    There were discussions and episodes in the horrific series “Enterprise”, I believe, where transporters materialized people in walls at first. So, there were references to failures. There were also constant malfunctions, as is with all computers forever and ever.

    Of course, Ryker could never have been duplicated due to conservation of matter. Two for one is not allowed. Mr. Scott stuck in a transporter loop for centuries seems doubtful, too, but when an out-of-work actor needs work, you do what you can to help, right?

    What about quantum computing? If that were perfected? The number of calculations could be massive.

    As for mind and body total separation, show me an instance where a body died and the soul stayed behind here on earth. How about two bodies sharing one soul? One example will do.

    The transporter does seem to nullify Heisenberg, but he’s wrong anyway so it’s about time.

    Can we expect a column on why no Data or exocomps soon?

  5. I recall one post where you theoretically burned Santa Claus to a crisp. Have something against childhood fantasies?

  6. You’d have to duplicate every neuron and all the connections between them, and load each with the right mix of neurotransmitters. The rest of your organs could be rebuilt from generic templates, so you’d emerge from the transporter brand-new from the neck down. Every 3D-printed cell would receive a correct copy of your genome, curing all cancers.

    Scientists have already built working virtual models of the roundworm brain (330 neurons) and are close to doing the same with fruit flies (100,000 neurons). A human brain has about 86 billion neurons. I don’t think anyone’s 3D-printed a living cell yet.

    Scanning a 3D object down to its individual atoms almost certainly requires its complete disassembly, so at some point in the process you exist only as a data file of immense size. If anything happens to that file before printing, you’re dead. I would not chance it unless I was dying of cancer.

  7. Burning childhood fantasies to a crisp aside, I enjoyed the read.
    This culture is losing (has lost?) its ability to recognize what true fantasy is. They believe in and worship SCIENCE – and know by faith that everything they see on Star Trek is going to absolutely happen one day, because SCIENCE.

  8. Yes -oh, and no.
    A transporter using a disassemble, transmit, assemble method is almost certainly impossible – the amount of information to encode and transmit is simply too large given the time available in which to do it.
    However.. a hope and conjecture transporter that doesn’t violate any laws is conceivable: just imagine enclosing the transportee in something that can achieve a single quantum state and then having that cease existing where it is (was?), re-exist somewhere else, and then collapse to leave the transportee transported – basically a drive application and.. ta da! no destination equipment needed.

  9. “There were also constant malfunctions, as is with all computers forever and ever.”
    So true. In the 1970s I ran computer programs on the CDC7600 computer, the supercomputer back then. That machine was always down for maintenance. I think it was down for maintenance more often than it was up and running. However, when it was up and running it was incredibly fast. It took a few minutes to do computations that took 2 hours on the Univac1108.

  10. The “impossibility of Star Trek like transporter”? You mean “teleportation” here!

    I always thought that with the Star Trek fiction, the teleportation worked as a case where the person disappears and the program on the starship would gather information about the person’s body and then apply that information to another location and then reassemble the person’s body with a new set of atoms. So yes, you wouldn’t have the “same body” in that scenario. But technically you don’t have the same body from moment to moment in a sense.
    Teleporting a person is quite far away – if they ever will come up with an invention like that.

  11. Sorry if this has been addressed before, but if the intellect isn’t material, how comes head trauma, drugs or booze can confuse it or entirely or partially turn it off? At least, from the viewpoint of the external observer. The very least we can say is that it not only gets its sensory input from the body, but how the result of intellectual cogitation is expressed in speech and behavior also depends on the body.

    And for the internal observer, i.e. subjectively, we all probably know what trying to solve even an easy puzzle after two bottles of Merlot is like. I would describe it as trying to drive a car with not enough oil to lubricate the moving parts in the engine. The wheels and pistons in the mind are just not working well. Since there is nothing supernatural about getting drunk, it means that puzzle-solver module in the mind that gets hammered by the wine is not what Aquinas and you mean by intellect?

    Surely the medievals were well aware of drunkenness even if they did not quite understand head traumas as well as today.

  12. “Sorry if this has been addressed before, but if the intellect isn’t material, how comes head trauma, drugs or booze can confuse it or entirely or partially turn it off?”

    There’s a difference between something being immaterial and something being unable to be influenced by the material. I tend to view it (probably too mechanistically) like the immaterial part being the pilot of a vehicle or aircraft: if the brakes are gummed up or the cockpit is foggy, you’ll find it harder to use.

    = = =

    On the quantum mechanics stuff, I tend to be very sceptical – too much of it reads like slapping numbers onto Aristotle’s “potentiality” or “potentia” and saying it’s now materially real. That or getting your knickers in a twist over breaking the speed of light barrier for information or potentia, rather than just for, you know, material stuff.

    t. Guy who studied history instead of maths or physics 😛

    = = =

    As to the issue of teleporters and such, here’s a little speculation of my own…

    1. In various tests, it seems you can trick people into thinking that, say, a plastic arm not connected to them is their arm.
    2. As cybernetics improve, eg with prosthetic limbs and such, might people come to think or feel that the prosthetics etc are a part of themselves to the same extent as their natural limbs and such are?
    3. Per all hundreds, if not thousands, of near death experiences, you need very little in the way of a working material body for your soul to stick around.
    4. Therefore, if you did (2) with computer backups of your material state, could you get around the limitations here, because “only” the meatsack you would be disassembled, but the digitised you would be saved? Your soul would hang around (as you’re not dead – ie the digital stuff now counts as part of your body) and, it being in its nature to be normally housed in a meatsack, would go back where it belongs in short order. Maybe with memories of a near-death experience?

  13. Nate is correct regarding why Star Trek had transporters instead of shuttles — it held the SFX budget down.
    At least one bit of fan fiction I read suggested that transporters were actually wormhole generators.
    And I’ve read a couple stories about PeopleFax (one in a zine, under that name; another in Analog, where some reptilian aliens leased the tech to humanity — in both, the originals had to be destroyed on verification of receipt of transmission).

  14. Mark,
    There’s a difference between something being immaterial and something being unable to be influenced by the material. I tend to view it (probably too mechanistically) like the immaterial part being the pilot of a vehicle or aircraft: if the brakes are gummed up or the cockpit is foggy, you’ll find it harder to use.

    Why is the brain, and only, the brain capable of interaction with the immaterial? Why is the brain necessary at all? With driving, one needs the car to travel quickly. Are you saying the brain is needed to achieve intelligence? When you die, does your intelligence die with you? How do you distinguish this material/immaterial interaction from the brain alone supplying the intelligence?

  15. “Why is the brain, and only, the brain capable of interaction with the immaterial?”

    Is that true though? There’s no doubt it’s a pretty important organ, but consider how many things can affect your mood…

  16. Mark,

    Hmmm ….
    Like rainy days and Mondays?
    Bad coffee?
    Balmy weather?

    Never thought of them as immaterial interactions before.
    Perhaps I should reconsider.

  17. I remember reading Feser on the immateriality of the intellect. If I understand it right, Thomists are saying MOST of what we generally consider our mind, like our memories, are stored in the body and die with it. Feser says only that part of the mind that is capable of understanding abstractions is supernatural, because abstractions do not exist in nature. That is, we see triangles in various shapes, colors and materials, this sense data is stored in the body, and our abstract intellect derives the Aristotelean form or essence of trianguality from it, and only that part of the mind that does that is supernatural or immaterial.

    Yet, I have this little problem that two bottles of Merlot can quite readily confuse that supposedly supernatural abstract intellect.

    Another thing I could not really accept was this. Basically the Thomist sees the intellect as an “organ” that is sensing a truth that is already there. Even thought it has to do a process of abstraction to extract the essence or form of triangularity from the various triangles it perceives, this triangularity is something really existing, mixed with matter. So the intellect perceives an existing truth, almost passively.

    Now the modern view is that the intellect is creative, all this abstraction process is the manufacturing of artificial models which are true only so far that they are able to predict future sensory experience.

    I don’t like agreeing with moderns but I have to. Pace Penrose, I perceive my intellect as a model-manufacturer, not something that stumbles upon already existing truths. I invent models when I think, I do not discover essences.

    This leads then a long way. Because logic is in the artificial model and not in reality itself, it follows that purely logical arguments (say, for the existence of God) do not work, logic is just a tool to predict sensory experience, so you have to give people something empirical. I am not a believer mostly because of this. And empiricism isn’t entirely away from the Christian view in these things actually. Thomas putting his finger in Christ’s wounds, apostles working miracles, speaking tongues. That is the kind of empirical evidence that could convert someone like me…

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