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To Beam Or Not To Beam?

  1. Sep 3, 2003 #1
    In 1998, researchers at Stanford University's Linear Accelerator Center successfully converted energy into matter. This feat was accomplished by using lasers and incredibly strong electromagnetic fields to change ordinary light into matter. The results of this experiment may allow for the development of variety of technological gadgets. One such development could be matter/energy transporters or food replicators that are commonly seen in some of our favorite science fiction programs.

    For more information, check out the following site:

    http://www.geog.ouc.bc.ca/physgeog/contents/6a.html [Broken]

    The transporter in Star Trek operates by separating crew members at the atomic level, converting them into energy, sending them to their appointed destination and the process is reversed. Granted, this is science fiction, however, fiction has a knack for becoming fact. Anyway, imagine for the sake of argument that scientists have built a transporter/teleporter that works just like in Star Trek, let's see what would happen to a person undergoing the process.

    If the mass of a person is converted into energy in an uncontrolled way (eg, collision with a very large amount of antimatter, destroying every proton, neutron and electron in your body) then the information that is encoded on the gamma rays (usually) released will be lost.

    In a controlled conversion, you could in principle convert the entire body to energy one particle at a time, and then read off the whole state and transmit it. But there are two problems with this:

    1) A tremendous amount of data needs to be sent. In "The Physics of Star Trek" author Lawerence Krauss calculates the approximate amount, about 10,000 light-years to the center of the galaxy!

    2) The amount of time this takes.

    However, current thought in neuroscience is that the "personailty/consciousness" is not at all QM, and thus there is no need to break someone down to a subatomic level and read their Quantum State. Instead, it is simply enough to know there chemical structure - and copy it at that resolution. This means there are no "no cloning" problems, much less data to handle, and no need to destroy the original (given sufficient technology to do the scanning). This would allow you to create "clones" - you could send copies of yourself "over the radio", while you stay safe at home. (Greg Egan's Diaspora talks about this at an AI level - the AI programs clone themselves and send themselves all over the place)

    Now if you turn each person into energy, you get a cloud of gamma rays expanding outwards. There is nothing that would make them spontaneously reform the person - even if you reflected them backwards, they would not neccessarily create the original particles. It is much more likely that teleportation would involve sending the information that can be gleaned from the gamma rays, and then having the information used by a base station to construct the person, more mechanically.

    In my view, when your body is destroy, you die. End of story. What comes out of the teleporter is an exact copy, with all your memories etc, and no knowledge that it isn't you, but it isn't. No one would ever notice the problem, so it only affects you when it happens. Unless, if you believe in souls, there are "conservation of souls" problems to deal with - does the same sould follow the body around?

    While in an information state, there is no consciousness, no heart to beat - the person is not a person shaped lump of energy, rather they are radio waves carrying info about his state.

    What does everybody else thinks?

    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 3, 2003 #2

    Les Sleeth

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    While I ponder your question, I wonder if you have a link to the experiment you referred to at the beginning of your post ("using lasers and incredibly strong electromagnetic fields to change ordinary light into matter"). I find that possiblity extremely interesting. At the link you provided, I didn't see anything about it, but maybe I should have gone past the first page.

    A small problem I have right now is, you equate light and energy, and I do not think they are the same thing. If light loses energy, it oscillates more slowly and its wavelength stretches, but light still remains as light. Yet the departed energy is gone, and for good too. No one can say where that energy went, or what it was beyond the power to cause movement. But light solidly remains light (albeit altered by the loss of energy). So it appears (to me anyway) that light carries energy, but is not energy itself.
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  4. Sep 4, 2003 #3
    This is my understanding too, Les. Light is electromagnetic radiation, which is alternating electric and magnetic fields. One's collapse generates the other field temporarily. That field then collapses and generates the other and thus it propagates though space at the speed of light. The rate that the fields alternate is the frequency of the wave produced. The higher the frequency the more energy contained in the wave.
    Presumebly if a wave reached zero energy there would be no energy left to create the next alternate field once that field had collapsed.
    It would cease to exist. This would not effect the conservation of matter and energy as that energy would have gone, in this case into matter and the only thing destroyed would be the fields which is neither matter nor energy.
    Hope this helps.
  5. Sep 4, 2003 #4
    Sorry, I just don't understand what lightyears have to do with information. It sounds like you are comparing apples and oranges.

    In addition, a recent finding is that the entropy of information is proportional to the surface area. This implies that the larger the object the more entropy will take its toll in any kind of teleportation. Does "pure" energy have a surface area? What are all those obnoxious infinities in field theories anyway? These are nagging questions that cannot be answered at present no matter how tempting it might be to make assumptions.
  6. Sep 4, 2003 #5


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    Let me try this idea on you...

    We are conscious with each instant - in between each instant we may not be. When we sleep, we are not conscious.

    Therefore, with each awakening, or maybe even with each instant, we reform our consciousness from our memories etc. And hence, the teleportation is no different from going to sleep.. and waking up...
  7. Sep 4, 2003 #6
    Yeah, yeah, and yer mother wears army boots.
  8. Sep 4, 2003 #7
    As I have posted, once before, in responce to a similar question, wouldn't it be greatly simpler to just pack them up in a spacecraft and send them flying off at C, much safer, way less energy involved. Aside from the idea that (perhaps) the spacecraft could be designed to exceed C, teleportation could/can never exceed C as that is the limitation upon travel of energy, at least so far.......

    Aside from E=mc2 where m=yourbodyweight and C =c2 (a huge number) hence the energy that needs be dealt with is enourmous, which would require an enourmous amount of energy to convert that enormous amount of energy into a transportable amount of energy, which might require an even more enourmous amount of energy...(phew, I' running out of energy typing this....{not really })
  9. Sep 5, 2003 #8
    There's an interesting issue here that I think most people overlook. If you equate a person with information, then it's possible to create copies of yourself, the way you described above. So, like you said, instead of teleporting yourself to some place, you could just send your copy. But, wait, isn't there something wrong with that?

    If you travel to a certain place, you will experience being in that place - you will see all the sights, hear all the sounds, smell all the scents that are associated with the place. If you stay home, you experience sights, sounds, smells from your home. But if you send a copy of yourself to a place and get to stay at home, what will "you" experience? Will you experience your home, the place where your copy was teleported to, or both at the same time?

    If you experience home, that means you didn't go anywhere. That means a copy of yourself is not you. That means you are more than the information which physically describes you. That means there's something about you that's not physical.

    If you experience the destination but you haven't actually gone anywhere physically (only your copy went), doesn't that mean teleportation is only happening in your mind? How can a physical process that happens outside your body (the creation of your copy) create such a powerful illusion without physical transfer of information to your brain?

    If you experience both home and the destination at the same time, what carries the information between two brains located at different points in space? How do the two (or more!) brains keep in sync without any physical medium between them?

    Clearly there's a paradox here. Paradoxes are a sure sign that at least one of the ideas we are considering is false. In this case, it's either one or both of these:

    - There's more to a person than the total amount of physical information about the person's body. Call it by any name, it's the old concept of 'soul'.
    - Each atom is unique and cannot be copied. In other words, atoms have personal identity or, put in another way, the whole universe is alive.

    Funny how, stretched to its limits, reason always ends up looking like mysticism. That reminds me of the story of the scientists who, upon reaching the top of a mountain after tremendous climbing efforts, found the priests comfortably sitting there...
  10. Sep 5, 2003 #9


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    No. If it is an exact copy, then this is equivalent to you travelling to the destination and the copy staying at home. Each one of you has an individual experience, and each one misses out on what the other side thinks, considering themself to be the original. This in no way means for something special. You stay at home, because the bit of matter that is you didn't go there. No paradox.

    At least the scientist remembered to bring a chair. And he did have to attend a few meetings while the priests were hauled up by armies of followers.
  11. Sep 7, 2003 #10

    I'm not at all convinced by your argument. If you turn each person into energy, you get a cloud of gamma rays expanding outwards, i.e. you would become a series of gamma rays. If this doesn't sound deadly to you, I don't know what does.

  12. Sep 7, 2003 #11
    Re: Re: To Beam Or Not To Beam?

    Allow me to elaborate. Author Lawerence Krauss stated that to store enough information describing a human body, one would need to stack a series of CDs which would start from us to the center of the galaxy! It would be much easier to travel by shuttlecraft instead.

  13. Sep 7, 2003 #12
    Re: Re: Re: To Beam Or Not To Beam?

    Or to simply use a fullscale quantum computer. It's capacity to process and store information goes up factorally.

    In addition, for those who keep arguing that converting matter into energy would result in gamma rays scattering in all directions, energy can be coherent. There is also the possibility of a matter-laser that has been investigated for example. Everything has both particle like and wave like properties, just as light does. The drawback with a matter laser is that it would require more time than the estimated lifespan of the universe just to teleport someone across the room.
  14. Sep 7, 2003 #13


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    Yes, but ignore the actual medium of the information - the idea is that if all the information that is required to store the mind is transmitted perfectly, this should be the same as waking up, and present the same philosophical situation. When you sleep, the you are no longer conscious but your consciousness is reformed from stored information when you wake up. In this case, it is the same - only the information is moved. If you say that teleportation is death, then it seems to me unavoidable that the temporary destruction of consciousness in sleep is also death.
  15. Sep 7, 2003 #14

    When one is asleep the person is unconscious, however, unlike undergoing teleportation, you are still alive when you are sleeping because your heart is still beating and there is plenty of brain activity occurring.

  16. Sep 9, 2003 #15
    Of course it means nothing special, and of course there is no paradox! That is the point I was trying to make: you can't create a copy of yourself! Let me repeat your own words to see if you pay more attention to them:

    the bit of matter that is you didn't go there

    When your copy goes, you stay. That means your copy is not you. That means whatever 'you' are, it can't exist in two places at the same time, therefore it can't be "copied"

    Is that so hard to understand?
  17. Sep 9, 2003 #16


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    No. It is just that you miss the point. If there is a copy, it makes no more sense to say "you" and "your copy". Instead, you can think of two "you"s. One you goes to the place. The other you stays there. To each of the yous, their experience is particular.

    An analogy to what you are saying:
    Suppose you make a photocopy of a letter. Now, you go and rip up one of the versions of the letter. Because the other letter is not ripped up as well in the same action, you then conclude that the original letter is magical and special and cannot be copied.

    In both cases, you miss the idea that both versions can persue an individual existence after creation, which eliminates the paradox.

    Whitestar: I disagree, but I can't be bothered getting into an argument. I can't see why continuous electrical inputs into the heart has anything to d with the life or death of consciousness.
  18. Sep 9, 2003 #17
    My grasp on physics is very minmal but it was my understanding that energy/matter were constants and coulden just dissaper or appear...unless i am wrong which is prably the case how would food replcation work just collectiong the atoms to reform this?
  19. Sep 10, 2003 #18
    That is always a possibility. It's also possible that the word 'you' means different things to you and me (in which case we can't even agree as to the truth of the previous sentence as it includes the word 'you'...)
    OK, let's look at this from the subject's perspective: if there is a copy, it makes no more sense to say "me" and "my copy". What I don't understand is, why? Why doesn't it make sense for me to say "I've had a hot-dog for lunch" and "my copy had cheeseburger for lunch"? What's nonsensical about those two statements? What's the right way to convey the information that there was a hot-dog-eating event and a cheeseburger-eating event happening at the same time?

    I just don't get it!
    Sure. But what happens to ME? Are you going to say the two me's are the same? That makes no sense at all to me!
    That's exactly what I'm saying: the original cannot be copied! If the copy were a true copy, then everything that was true about the original should be true about the copy. Your example makes it clear that a photocopy is not the original. That's why we call it "a copy" after all!
    You are saying both you and your copy have individuality, and you are saying they are the same person. This doesn't make any sense to me.

    If John and Jack are twin brothers, do you believe they are the same person? What's different between twins and the hypothetical scenario of "copying" a person?

    In any case, I believe it's quite possible that we don't agree on what is the meaning of terms like "individuality", "self", "truth", and so on. In which case any attempt at rational discussion is bound to end in misunderstanding.
  20. Sep 10, 2003 #19

    Yes, exactly! That's what I was trying to convey when I posted this. Thanks Amadeus!

  21. Sep 10, 2003 #20


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    What is nonsensical is that you have ALREADY assumed, by labelling one as a copy and one as not that the two are imperfect copies. This make it possible for everything that follows to be an invalid, circular argument.

    What this highlights is that the paradox derives from your idea of the word "copy", not what is actually copied. If, as you insist what you require is something that is the same, yet is different, it is not possible for anything to fulfill your idea of copy. You can't copy *anything*. And so your very concept of copy itself is meaningless.

    What is conventionally held as a good copy are two, individual objects, deriving from the same process (the act of copying) and sharing close to the same properties - to be apparently identical. In that case, there is no paradox. And this is the sort of copying that is done of your body, and hence presumeably of your consciousness.
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