The Star Trek films taught us that within that very specific sci-fi universe, transporters could teleport humans from one place to another, and were the safest form of travel, with an almost zero probability of users dying a horrible, mutilated death. But what if we actually looked at the physics involved in transporting life from here to there, and realised that those fancy transporters are actually full-blown suicide boxes?
The video above by CPG Grey does just that, combing the sci-fi…entific literature for details on how the technology actually works. Basically, the transporter scans you down to your very last quark, take apart your atoms, and sends the pieces of you to your chosen destination for reassembly.
But that then begs the question: is it actually you on the other side, or a copy that thinks it's you, while you 'real' you ceased to exist on the transporter pad? What does it take to confirm that you really are you?
It's a question that's been asked by a number of recent video games, such as SOMA, and the awesome short film, One-Minute Time Machine, and is basically a huge thorn stuck in the craw of the future of teleportation. As Jennifer Ouellette explains over at Gizmodo, replicating yourself isn't exactly 'allowed' in quantum physics:
"Think about it. All your atoms are scanned and destroyed in the process, because there's no cloning allowed in quantum mechanics. Then all that information about you is teleported to the new location, where a bunch of new atoms are used to build a whole new you, complete with memories, personality quirks, and that oddly shaped birthmark on your left butt cheek."
As the video says, we have to come at this conundrum with a scientific mindset, so we won't be considering the soul, or anything else that can't be measured, because if you can't be measured, you can't have an affect on anything.
So we have a bunch of atoms that are arranged in such a way that they become living, breathing, conscious you, and they get pulled apart and rearranged somewhere else, thanks to our transporter.
But just think about the actual experience of being teleported. You're being broken down to the very last atom, so you're not exactly going to be conscious the whole time. In fact, you'll likely feel nothingness forever while a brand new life made up of your atom arrangements is now living happily in your chosen destination.
So what we're dealing with here could be an entirely new and different consciousness, but with the same atom arrangement and memories as the 'real' you who lost consciousness out on that transporter pad. But is that really a problem?
If you thought all that was complicated and eerie enough to swear off teleportation forever, prepare yourselves, because CPG Grey is only just getting started. For example, what if the transporter malfunctioned and you end up with two versions of 'you' who have to fight it out for legitimacy?
It might sound like a philosophical waste of time, but with researchers making progress on teleportation technology all the time, we might one day have to grapple with these questions for real.
Watch the video above to have your mind messed with in the best way, and watch One-Minute Time Machine below, if you can't get enough of this heady conundrum.