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The Transporter In Star Trek: Conversion of Matter Into Energy

  1. Mar 23, 2005 #1
    The transporter in Star Trek is one of the most fascinating theoretical technologies on board the starship Enterprise. The concept was created by the late-Gene Roddenberry. He needed his characters to get from the ship to the planet within a short period of time. Originally, Roddenberry set out to have his characters on a shuttlecraft, but was unable to afford the necessary budget to do so, hence, the transpoter was born. From a creative point-of-view, it served as an excellent plot device, however, scientifically it will never work. To find out why let's examine how the transporter operates.

    The transporter works by disassembling crew members at the atomic level and converting them into energy. Once the energy arrives at the appointed destination, the process is reversed.The problem is when you convert matter into energy, you're basically creating a huge explosion, equilvalent to a nuclear missile. Another problem is that the second law of thermodynamics tells us that in any conversion of matter, some energy is inevitably lost. However, you could compensate by disintegrating some rocks and adding in that energy too.

    The problem is there no way to actually account for the first person point-of-view, or know if the person would survive the procedure, unless you or I decide to undergo it. Still, it's rather chancy, but I would think that the individual who first underwent this form of teleportation has ceased to exist and replaced with a replica, who would have all your memories and experiences.

    What does everybody else thinks? (Note: in the past we have discussed wormholes as a possibility for teleportation, but I am interested in what people have to say about the transporter.)

    Last edited: Mar 23, 2005
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  3. Mar 24, 2005 #2


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    The problem with the Star Trek transporter is how to handle all the information that defines a person and that person's actual state at a given moment. First you have to imagine a scan that can capture all that information. Then you have to figure out how to transport it; that's a king-sized bandwidth! Finally there's the problem of impressing all that information on the matter you create from the energy.

    It always looks so easy with those TV special effects!
  4. Mar 24, 2005 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    I think this is the real explanation for transporter psychosis. :biggrin:

    It is an interesing point though. How could we ever know? The same is true for this idea of uploading our consciousness.
  5. Mar 24, 2005 #4

    Well, that's true. The information is crucial for teleportation of this type to be successful. But I would like to know your thoughts on the prospect of a person surviving the conversion of energy and back into matter.

  6. Mar 24, 2005 #5

    I don't think we will ever know, regardless of how advance our technology will undoubtedly get in the far future. What do you think?

  7. Mar 24, 2005 #6

    Ivan Seeking

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    I guess it becomes a question of what constitutes consciousness. Since we can't know what the science of this would be, I would argue against success based on my beliefs about consciousness.

    Even if this sort of technology existed now I don't think I would ever take the chance of using it. At least, I wouldn't be first, or even the millionth to try it. Maybe after millions and millions of successful transports, if I could convince myself the person who leaves is really the person who arrives, I would give it a whirl.
  8. Mar 31, 2005 #7
    This thread may have forgotten the uncertainty principle. It is impossible to know both the position, and momentum of all the particles that make up a person at any moment in time. If there was such a "scanner" with a high enough bandwidth to scan the matter of any object, it can never know everything that must be known in order to create an exact duplicate of the original dynamical system.
  9. Mar 31, 2005 #8
    I would never give it a whirl. Suppose you xerox a pamphlet, it's got the exact same info on the copy, but the copy is not the original. period. Suppose you "scan" something and rebuilt it somewhere else without destroying the original? then where does the consciousness go? would a person be able to experiance being in two spacially (and/or temporally) seperated bodies at the same time? (well, I can imagine it, but is it physically possible? it would be like agent smith in the matrix). This type of gambling is not anything I would participate in.

    The only way I can see teleportation as possible is with a multiverse theory. If you can exit space-time into hyperspace (like nightcrawler from x-men) and enter back in, then you can enter anywhere and/or anytime you wish.
  10. Mar 31, 2005 #9
    So essentially if you went through a transporter you would die then have an exact duplicate of yourself at the moment of "death" recreated on the other side... Doesn't sound appealing. In a sense it's like recreating a clone of yourself every time you go through the transporter. Though a version of yourself will be recreated, it will never again the the original you, because that person will cease to exist the moment you're transported.

    I think not for me...
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2005
  11. Apr 1, 2005 #10
  12. Apr 2, 2005 #11


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    I see it was wrong of me not to respond to that post of yours when is first appeared. I'll do it now. You say:

    Your problem is that electron spin is quantum, not classical, and electrons do not spin in the fashion of classical objects like balls. Quantum spin is an effect on the wave function of the particle; instead of being described by a single complex number, it becomes what looks at first like a vector of complex numbers. Then it turns out that this "vector" doesn't behave like a vector when you change coordinates (for example by rotating through an angle). It only turns half as fast as a real vector would! It was given the name "spinor" to memorialize this. But because this wave function spinor DOES turn, even slowly, it contributes to the angular momentum of the atom the electron is bound in.

    The Standard Model treats the electron as a dimensionless point. No radius, no surface to contact other electrons. Repeated experimental searches have found no evidence for a non-zero radius of the electron.

    And rather than going away, the uncertainty principle, in the quantum form of non-commuting operators, seems to be taking over! Physicists are more and more interested in non-commutative spacetime.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2005
  13. Apr 2, 2005 #12
    thats funny, because it makes unfamiliar sense and yet completely contradicts what my physics teacher says, that the electron has a radius, somewhere around the length of 10^-6 angsrtoms. I'm so tired of wave functions!!! what is waving? anyway, thanks for shedding some light on the reason for quantum spin arising from imaginary numbers rather than from magnetic spin interaction effects (the classical way of viewing spin). I don't even know what I'm talking about... So an electron is only a point? not a ring or sphere of matter waves and electric and/or magnetic fields? not a wave-packet with a phase velocity limit of c^2 (as long as the electron is at rest)?
  14. Apr 2, 2005 #13
    if it's a point, then does it not undergo dispersion? If it's a point, then does it never decay?
  15. Apr 22, 2005 #14
    The "Star Trek" transporter

    As this thread seems to have started by considering "Star Trek"'s transporter, Here's a little more on the same. The Star Trek transporter does supposedly copy the person and delete the original. In "Star Trek - TNG" there is an episode where Will Riker meets himself of the past (a clone who calls himself Tom Riker) in Episode #624 "Second Chances". A transporter accident renders two versions of the same person.

    However the science behind "Star Trek" is never explained (or even attempted to be explained). This held good for the series (as opposed to George Lucas' rendering of midichlorides :P ).

    IMO, walk through time portals are a better possibility from what is suggested by physics theories of today.
  16. Apr 22, 2005 #15


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    Not quite accurate. The show takes a moment to explain how the duplication happened. Without going into the mumbo-jumbo, suffice to say that they don't normally make a copy and delete the original.
  17. Apr 22, 2005 #16


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    The show addresses this with some technobabble called "Heisenberg Compensators", mentioned more than once. The exact nature of it is, of course, never explained, but the point is that by the 22nd century they have solved it.
  18. Apr 22, 2005 #17


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    I have always found trhis to be a fascinating concept. I've struggled with the same idea: is the guy at the other end really me, or just a copy? I don't think it's merely philosophical. The 'me' on the ship will never see the planet.

    There is a fascinating short story called 'Think Like a Dinosaur' by James Patrick Kelly that deals with this concept. In the stories technology, the source person really is destroyed, and the destination person really is a copy, but something goes wrong...
  19. Apr 22, 2005 #18
    thats what makes star trek so interesting is the transporters!! and the different races. Umm thats very interesting Dave, yet scarey in a way.........the destination person is a copy? or is it just leaving our bodies there, and only taking our minds? but we will never know, i dont think a transporter will ever be possible.... just like a time machine, but thats why we have science fiction!! lol, gotta love it
  20. May 4, 2005 #19
    Let's not forget the replicators. In one episode, some being creates plates full of gemstones for Kirk and the gang. Kirk looks at them and says, "I could manufacture a ton of these back on my ship".
    To me, the replicators is the fascinating thing, and the technology dovetails with the transporters. Supposedly, a "template" pattern for everything they need is stored in the ships computer. When someone dials up "latte, hot", or "tea, earl gray, hot". then the patterns are combined to produce the desired result. Unfortunately, the original series did not have this technology perfected. Even subsequent series did not always have it right. Some things just did'nt taste quite right and they never could duplicate the ever valuable "dilithium crystals".
    However, in the books, and in one episode of TNG, Scotty survived an extended period when he had himself and one other guy scanned by the transporter that was put into an infinite loop so it never transported him anywhere. He survived as a pattern in the transporters "buffers" for years.

    Clearly, the original is destroyed as it is converted into a pattern held in the computers. Then a nearly exact replica is recreated somewhere else. Which brings the philosophical question "if it has all your thoughts and memories, mannerisms, and experiences; if it duplicates you down to the quantom level; how can it not be you?" As the science of ST puts it, the trick was to send two beams, one for the energy, and the other for the organizational information. when they both converge, (and here's where we go from sci fi to mumbo jumbo) they combine through quantom entanglement to recreate a near exact duplicate of the object. That's why McCoy did not like them "scrambling his atoms".
    In fact, there were some rules against duplicating people. Apparently, the only reason why people were'nt instantly cloned all over the place is because the "buffers" in the computer was automatically purged once the person was transported. But there was nothing but laws, ethics, and an elecronic circuit preventing a person from disabling the purge and producing dozens of himself.
    I never understood why nobody thought about combining the replicators with the transporters to create a self repairing ship. The enterprise could have repaired or replaced any part of itself within seconds. Shields go down, simply scan and destroy the damaged circuits and transport new circuits into place. Shield back up within seconds. Hull breach? simply replicate and transport a new section of hull into place.
    Lots of wasted energy, but who's gonna care about energy conservation when you're under fire?
  21. May 6, 2005 #20
    It seems that the United States Air Force is also looking into the concept of teleportation, even so it's quite practically impossible without something like a "Heisenberg Compensator."

    U.S. Air Force Takes a Look at Teleportation

    Atom Experiment Brings Teleportation a Step Close
    http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/technology/quantum_teleportation_010926.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
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