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Ask Slashdot: Is Beaming Down In Star Trek a Death Sentence? 593

Artem Tashkinov writes: Some time ago, Ars Technica ran a monumental article on beaming of consciousness in Star Trek and its implications, and more importantly, whether it's plausible to achieve that without killing a person in the process.

It seems possible in the Star Trek universe. However, currently physicists find the idea absurd and unreal because there's no way you can transport matter and its quantum state without first destroying it and then recreating it perfectly, due to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. The biggest conundrum of all is the fact that pretty much everyone understands that consciousness is a physical state of the brain, which features continuity as its primary principle; yet it surely seems like copying the said state produces a new person altogether, which brings up the problem of consciousness becoming local to one's skull and inseparable from gray matter. This idea sounds a bit unscientific because it introduces the notion that there's something about our brain which cannot be described in terms of physics, almost like soul.

This also brings another very difficult question: how do we know if we are the same person when we wake up in the morning or after we were put under during general anesthesia? What are your thoughts on the topic?
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Ask Slashdot: Is Beaming Down In Star Trek a Death Sentence?

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  • To Be (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tomtom ( 23188 ) * on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:14PM (#56315993) Homepage

    There's a great animated short by John Weldon that explores this topic. It's called To Be and can be found at this URL: http://www.nfb.ca/film/to_be/ [www.nfb.ca]

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      It's an existential question. There is no clear answer.

      How you do define a life? It can't be consciousness unless you think sleep is death too. If you die but are then revived are you the same person?

      You could say your life is your brain functioning, but the transporter (as depicted on Star Trek) keeps you conscious during the process.

      • Not to mention, as others have pointed out, the matter that makes up 'you' changes constantly and is totally replaced every 7-10 years. You're literally not the same person you were 10 years ago.

        I like Rudy Rucker's exploration of the metaphysics in Software [openlibrary.org], where characters argue that it's not the physical being that matters, it's the pattern that embodies 'you'.

        And "potential existence is just as good as actual existence." :)

        • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

          Not to mention, as others have pointed out, the matter that makes up 'you' changes constantly and is totally replaced every 7-10 years.

          Though that's not quite true, Neurons, in particular, are not replaced, you die with what you were born with. Other cells are replaced more frequently, but the essence of consciousness is in the brain. No one would call you a different person after a kidney transplant, but nearly everyone would call you a new person after a brain transplant.

          http://askanaturalist.com/do-w... [askanaturalist.com]

          Neurons in the cerebral cortex are never replaced. There are no neurons added to your cerebral cortex after birth. Any cerebral cortex neurons that die are not replaced.

          • Though that's not quite true, Neurons, in particular, are not replaced, you die with what you were born with.

            But those neurons take in water, salts, glucose etc. and dispose of waste products, break down dead organelles, etc. They are not the same matter from minute to minute, let alone year to year.

            • I stick with "Ship of Theseus" (alleged) paradox: If each plank, oar, sail - all components - are gradually replaced over many years, is it still the same ship? In all ways that would matter to me - basically identical structure, functionality, and yes even a bit of romantic belief - I would simply shrug and say "Sure, why not? Close enough".
          • Re:To Be (Score:4, Insightful)

            by wagnerer ( 53943 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @08:28PM (#56316859)
            That article reflects an outdated understanding. Adult neuron growth is known and studied. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
  • Put It Simply... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:16PM (#56316013) Journal
    Is the transporter killing people by ripping them apart atom by atom, and then creating a new person?
  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:17PM (#56316027)

    . . . beaming down while wearing a red shirt does NOT seem to be a good idea.

    Folks dressed like that never seem to last too long.

  • Double Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jschultz410 ( 583092 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:18PM (#56316037)

    "... which brings up the problem of consciousness becoming local to one's skull and inseparable from gray matter. This idea sounds a bit unscientific because it introduces the notion that there's something about our brain which cannot be described in terms of physics, almost like soul."

    No, all it says is that a copy of a brain is not the original brain.

    If you make a perfect copy of an orange, all the way down to the subatomic level, then that copy is still not the original orange. It's the copy.

    If you make a perfect copy of me, down to the sub-atomic level and that copy walks into my room, then I will not suddenly confuse that copy with myself.

    • If you make a perfect copy of an orange, all the way down to the subatomic level, then that copy is still not the original orange. It's the copy.

      I disagree. Once you can make a copy perfect right down the subatomic level, then the distinction between copy and original becomes meaningless. A good analogy is computer files. If I have a file on my computer, say an MP3 of a hit song of my favorite band, and I copy it to another computer or device, I don't think of it as an original and copy cause they're both identical. Similarly, if you replace your aging hard drive with a new fast SSD drive by first backing up your entire filesystem, then restorin

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jschultz410 ( 583092 )

        I'm saying that they truly are two different things: one is a file on computer A, the other is a file on computer B (where A is not the same computer as B). The fact that their contents are equivalent doesn't change the fact that IN REALITY they actually are two different things.

        Now, you could argue that this doesn't matter at a certain level (e.g. - digital copies of a movie are indistinguishable) and at those certain levels I would agree. However, here I was talking about people and people absolutely do

  • Matter converted to energy and re-converted and re-assembled at the other end as matter. It's all you, end to end. </subject>
  • by bobstreo ( 1320787 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:19PM (#56316047)

    Buffering

    Buffering

    Buffering

    I never knew why they didn't just use the transporter memory to restore all the red shirts...

    • I don't know why they couldn't use the buffer to perform surgery. Just edit the buffer and re-materialize.
      • by tgeek ( 941867 )
        Or a more practical question: why doesn't anybody fall on their ass when rematerializing? I mean, if you're transported while sitting in a chair, there's nothing to hold you up while rematerializing therefore "ass meet floor". Somehow the transporter always seems to rematerialize them in a standing position.
      • The did just that in the animated star trek series, to restore prematurely aged officers. Hilarious.

  • Ya, well ... (Score:4, Informative)

    by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:22PM (#56316061)

    ... physicists find the idea absurd and unreal because there's no way you can transport matter and its quantum state without first destroying it and then recreating it perfectly, due to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.

    It's been established that ST transporters have Heisenberg compensators [wikia.com], so checkmate actual physicists.

  • And does it matter? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Flexagon ( 740643 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:23PM (#56316071)

    I raised this very question (Star Trek, transporter experiment) to my daughter when she was a teenager. Her response was, what's the difference? Our atoms have already largely completely changed over many times by now anyway. I recall reading years ago, I think it was a Time Life book or perhaps an educational movie, that we're all breathing, and thus by implication incorporating, some fraction of the actual atoms that Leonardo da Vinci breathed; a matter of statistics. Of course, that still leaves the question of whether your consciousness this very instant is already a different "thing" that it was a second ago, and only your current state of your memory leads you to believe that it is the same.

    • I've thought a lot about. My conclusion is consciousness is an attribute of the physical universe, with various physical states corresponding to conscious states. So a storm is a conscious "feeling" though no memory or anything else specific to the brain.
      The main attributes of consciousness are continuity and atomicity, so there could be said to exist a universal consciousness. However, rare configurations of matter can correspond to consciousness experiencing separation from the universe. These states occu

    • From the perspective of the rest of the universe ? No it does not matter. From the perspective of the teleported person ? It sure do. You die. Point. You do not continue. A clone of you with your memory do continue. If you don't care to die and let a clone continue, you take the perspective of the rest of the universe, fine for you. But I take the perspective of me, myself and I, and I would certainly care not to die. As for your ship of theseus explanation : yes we sleep , we replace part of ourselves. But
  • by Stormy Dragon ( 800799 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:25PM (#56316083) Homepage

    The universe is entirely static, a four dimensional object where everything that has or will happen exists simultaneously in an eternally unchanging state.

    Our perception of it dynamically changing over time is an illusion of senses only perceiving a single "slice" of that object.

    Furthermore, our consciousness is not continuous, but rather a disconnected multitude, each trapped forever in a specific moment of our lives. Each convinced it has a history because of the illusion of memory. Each convinced it has free will because of the illusion of action.

  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:26PM (#56316093)
    Since we are talking Star Trek, this has all ready been directly answered [wikipedia.org]. Riker beams up, but leaves a copy. Years later, he is rediscovered by the enterprise crew. Dr. Crusher and Jordi agree they are identical and equally "Riker" so it must be true. Eventually the duplicate wanders off to lead a life of his own. Glad I could wrap that up for everyone scientifically, once and for all.
    • by hawkfish ( 8978 )

      Since we are talking Star Trek, this has all ready been directly answered [wikipedia.org]. Riker beams up, but leaves a copy. Years later, he is rediscovered by the enterprise crew. Dr. Crusher and Jordi agree they are identical and equally "Riker" so it must be true. Eventually the duplicate wanders off to lead a life of his own. Glad I could wrap that up for everyone scientifically, once and for all.

      Then there was the TOS novel Spock Must Die! [wikipedia.org] that had a similar plot.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They also engaged a second beam in that instance fearing the one wasn't enough. When they realized the one was fine, they shut the beam down. Normally, that copy of the signal would have been lost. However, the unique atmosphere of that planet enhanced the beam, reflected it back and another Riker materialized.

      It's not the same as saying there is or isn't an original.

      They beamed him twice at the same time and in a fluke accident got down data and matter.

    • Glad I could wrap that up for everyone scientifically, once and for all.

      . . . on the other hand . . . a loose nut behind the transporter console split Captain Kirk into two Captain Kirks! One was the "nice guy" Captain Kirk, the other one was the "mean and nasty" Captain Kirk.

      The gag was only together could they function effectively as a whole Captain Kirk. Each half would have died without the other one. So it was very convenient to have someone like Scotty on board to stitch up the two Kirks again with a few shots of Scotch.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Trek's depiction of the transporter is inconsistent to say the least. It's been shown that people in the transporter are conscious the whole time, but also that they can be held unconscious in the pattern buffer indefinitely.

      The transporter has cloned people, de-aged and re-aged them, merged two people into one being and un-merged them again...

  • by orev ( 71566 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:28PM (#56316101)
    The Outer Limits did an interesting episode on this topic: s07 e08 Think Like a Dinosaur.
  • Their were a lot of transporter malfunctions on ST. The duplicate Ryker proves that it was possible to make two people, which means that at least one of them was not the original, which means that neither of them were the original.

    Star Trek transporters were cloning machines that some moron put a suicide option into them and then pretended they were a transportation method. For no obvious reason, too. Leave the original alive back on earth and let the clones take all the risk.

    • The show Dark Matter takes your suggestion. They have a transporter-like technology that sends a copy of you elsewhere, and then when (or if) that copy returns to the transporter, its memories are transmitted back to you and it is disintegrated again. Copies automatically disintegrate after some time anyway (for plot reasons I guess), and if your copy never makes it back to the transporter pod you just wake up out of the pod feeling like nothing happened at all.

      Given that that world has also shown the abili

  • by Toshito ( 452851 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:29PM (#56316123)

    That's what the Heisenberg compensator are for: http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/... [wikia.com]

  • Opposite Take (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:36PM (#56316157)

    A scientific view of consciousness would state that if you could find a way to duplicate a physical body, then you could build a transporter as our consciousness is just the chemical and atomic state of our brain.

    If we really have a metaphysical "soul", then just how would that re-attach to the physical form you transport elsewhere?

    I liked how Dark Matter handled this better, where they created a clone at the destination while you were cryogenically stored at the origin, then if the clone made it back to the transmitter without dying you would get all of the memories of what happened.

  • The Star Trek Transporter is a device invented to facilitate telling a story. There was 50 minutes. Obviously they could get in their space shuttle and land on the planet, get from the clear place they chose to the town, and then start the story. Or they could beam in.

    There is also the fact that the way the communicators work is elided in the story. Obviously the channel can't be open until you say the name of the person you're calling, and even with some speeding up of the original audio it's going to take a second or two for them to catch up and respond. But nobody waits for the phone to ring on Star Trek.

    And of course the data transfer method of the future is to give someone your tablet :-)

    These are story devices. We can speculate about matter transmission being applied to conscious entities and copying people, but we should be clear that the reason these are used in Star Trek is not because they think that is how things will be in the future. It's because they made telling the story in the present easier to do.

  • It's a death sentence, but also a rebirth, so it cancels out.
  • What??? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The biggest conundrum of all is the fact that pretty much everyone understands that consciousness is a physical state of the brain, which features continuity as its primary principle; yet it surely seems like copying the said state produces a new person altogether, which brings up the problem of consciousness becoming local to one's skull and inseparable from gray matter. This idea sounds a bit unscientific because it introduces the notion that there's something about our brain which cannot be described in terms of physics, almost like soul.

    Consciousness is a physical state of the brain. It is a section of the brain which is 'reading' what's happening in other areas of the brain (more like the 2nd informational hub of the brain, similar to a large rest stop on a superhighway.) You can damage/turn off those other areas without losing consciousness. Continuity is not a primary principle. There are many ways to break continuity. Your unconscious mind don't break continuity during most of those instances. You can watch that on brain scanners

  • This also brings another very difficult question: how do we know if we are the same person when we wake up in the morning or after we were put under during general anesthesia?

    The simple answer is there's no way to know that your memories are real. There's also no way to know that other people really exist. All that you can know for sure is that you exist, "I think therefore I am". Go read "Meditations on First Philosophy" [uconn.edu] by Rene Descartes.

  • Wrong Question... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ytene ( 4376651 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:44PM (#56316213)
    Maybe this is the wrong question to ask...

    Obviously, given the transporter doesn't exist yet, this is all hypothetical. However, assuming that a transporter had been developer for inanimate objects and your question preceded a decision to use it to attempt to transfer a living organism, then a different question becomes relevant:-

    What is the mechanism by which the human brain achieves consciousness?

    Because, I would argue, you can only answer the second question ("Is Beaming Down In Star Trek a Death Sentence?") when you know (1) How the Beaming Down process works; and (2) How the brain acts as the "container" for the mind [assuming it does].

    Digging a little bit deeper... If it can be shown that consciousness is achieved merely from the result of a truly massive scale of parallel chemical processes that are taking place in the cells of the brain, then well, it might be possible. It would require technology that could scan the body not to a cellular resolution, but to an *atomic*, or possibly even sub-atomic resolution, instantaneously... then transmit that information to a remote location and reconstitute all that organic matter, with all those chemical "transactions", all synchronised to exactly the same point in time...

    On the other hand, if consciousness exists through other means [I'm making this up, but, say quantum super-positioning] then the act of scanning the subject at the point of origin might in fact destroy the "data" before it could be "beamed" anywhere.

    This is why my answer is that the OP asks the wrong question. It's not the beaming you need to consider first, it's to understand how consciousness functions at a materials science level. Only then can you start to understand the functional design requirements of the transporter.
  • by thinkwaitfast ( 4150389 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:46PM (#56316219)
    because Star Trek and Star Trek transporters are fantasy. Something that fewer and fewer people seem to be able to distinguish from reality.
  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:52PM (#56316277)

    It would mean eternal life.

    Since it would first record the data of the person to beam, it would analyze it and obviously NOT beam any cancer cells and pathogens down, but delete those from the data first.

    Second, it could be used to send the body of a 25 year old in perfect health but with the conscience of the real person, no matter the age.
    In case of a fatal accident, the last backup from the last beam could be used to recreate the dead person.

    Obviously all esthetic surgeons would go jobless as well.

  • by Zorro ( 15797 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:55PM (#56316297)

    But why is the copy in the Mirror Universe ALWAYS Evil and has a Beard?

  • Being an red shit is more or less an Death Sentence

  • by Jodka ( 520060 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @06:57PM (#56316319)

    The other day somebody stole everything in my apartment and replaced it with an exact replica... When my roommate came home I said, "Roommate, someone stole everything in our apartment and replaced it with an exact replica." He looked at me and said, "Do I know you?"

    - Steven Wright

  • We might as well be ripped apart and reconstructed every nanosecond right where we stand. I'm not the same persion I was a nanosecond ago. If I start fretting about it I'd never get anything done ever again.

  • Experiments performed on subjects who had the corpus callosum (the connection between hemispheres of the brain) severed, sometimes to treat chronic epilepsy, suggest that once the human brain is effectively divided in two, consciousness is also divided between the left & right hemispheres. The result is two distinct perspectives and sets of understanding observable within one body, each controlling their respective side of the body, the two sides sometimes disagreeing or fighting each other. This chall
  • install it in a new sleeve a la "altered carbon"

    Die every day and live forever... if you are rich enough.

    NO DOUBLE SLEEVING!

  • Because it is a TV show.

  • "how do we know if we are the same person when we wake up in the morning or after we were put under during general anesthesia?"

    We're not the same person, we're recreated from our memories each time we wake up.
  • by Tjp($)pjT ( 266360 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @07:16PM (#56316441)
    I’d suggest that you’re destroyed and recreated by transporting. The transporters use Heisenberg uncertainty compensators for one, implying a need to compensate for the destruction and re-creation. Transporters also have pattern buffers where they have been used to recreate adults from children and reform aged / damaged adults into their stored patterns. The information used during transport is very redundant. In one incident Riker was transported and the beam split. The result was two Rikers. So, pretty conclusively not transporting your atoms across a distance but rather transmitting a very accurate description of the being reduced to a corpse. Then recreated if no issues crop up.
  • I actually think it's pretty simple. Consciencesness = software. During the teleportation, the body and mind exist in both places. Ergo, continuity (statefulness) is maintained, and the single consciencesness exists in both places simultaneously. Think VM on a live migration. As long as the two copies are forced into exactly the same state (entangled?) It is really just one linked mind. My opinion is that the thing we call a soul, or self awareness, is something that lives entirely in the software of the
  • by BlueCoder ( 223005 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @07:21PM (#56316469)

    Specifically there are three "places" you are simultaneously; or maybe two and two. In ST you have a thing called the buffer which is not a computer simulation. It's more a pocket universe. The beaming process involves duplicating you such that you identically exist in two places at once. You more than quantum entangled (you get misreads with quantum entanglement) but rather totally entangled. Almost like a mathematical transformation. You continue to exist alive somewhat constricted by a force field. You exist in real universe and the buffer universe simultaneously while particles in each are synchronized. There is one you in two places then possibly three once once you start to beam to your destination. The magic part is this is happening without measurement but rather magical entanglement on a three dimensional scale. You are one person (information down to the quantum level) existing in multiple places at once to varying degrees in the process in a quasi time.

    Can this be done? Probably not. Let us not forget it was a plot device to speed up the stories rather than spending so much time in shuttles. What can definitely be done is in the relatively new sci-fi drama "Dark Matter". Where your consciousness and memories can be transferred to another body over distance; either a clone of you or possibly a generic body. Then your prime body goes into a deep coma. When the trip is done the new memories are copied back. Now this is really more of the metaphysical conundrum than Star Trek is. One could download to other bodies quite easily which could be a form of immortality as well as take backup of our minds. Traveling to other planets we could download to bodies developed for the environment (like avatar but actually downloaded rather than piloting). At what point could we become so comfortable having multiple bodies that we have no issues destroying the original rather than bear the cost of storage considering we could re-clone if we wanted our original forms?

  • by theendlessnow ( 516149 ) * on Friday March 23, 2018 @07:31PM (#56316529)
    I think it's safe, in fact, I'm thinking of doing some trials using myself in the test.

    Just need to put on a clean shirt.... ah, my lucky red one! That means it's going to work.
  • by Slicker ( 102588 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @07:37PM (#56316581)

    Not only are Energy and Matter interchangeable but aso Information. Imagine a brain region prosthetic were placed onto the brain to replace a region expected to die from alzheimer's. Interconnected to the same brain regions as that which it replaces, it learns to imitation the same output patterns as per the same input patterns to that when the replaced region dies, the prosthetic takes over (such things are under development today). Now let's suppose the disease spreads and you eventually replace every part of your brain, one region at a time. At what point did you become no longer you?

    So the Soul is: one's sense of unique and continued existence.

    They say every cell in the body is replaced every seven years. To my knowledge this is true with the exception of neurons. However, would it matter if it included neurons? So long as you copy one's personality and one's memories, I think most of us would consider that to be pretty much what defines us. Perhaps some would include also one's innate drives or perhaps emotional/chemical balance, if not considering those part of the personality already.

    If a person walks through a quantum replicator (assume such a thing existed) and two of him or her walked out the other side. They would be the same person until that moment from which time they would start being separate Souls. The reason being, uniqueness split at that point.

    It is the information that defines us, not the matter.. The concept "1+1=2" works the same no matter where you write it. It exists outside of the world of matter and energy but it does exist because it remains the same. The matter and energy in which information is implemented brings it into the world the same regardless so long as the information is the same. The same with a person.

    Also, is it not accurate to say that we are a slightly different person with each moment that passes? And over time, we come to be more different. Are you the same person at 45 as you were at 25, or at 15, or at 5 years old? The Soul is a concept inclusive of one's life's narrative. It is your story.

  • by Athanasius ( 306480 ) <slashdot@migg[ ]rg ['y.o' in gap]> on Saturday March 24, 2018 @06:43AM (#56318273) Homepage

    Did some just take a beginners' philosophy class ?

    Physics as we know it says this type of transfer isn't even possible. Whilst the OP mentioned Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle it seemed to miss that it means you fundamentally can't do this. You canNOT measure perfectly (enough even) the position *and* momentum (energy) of anything at sufficient level to re-create it elsewhere (even assuming you could). Star Trek techno-babbled "Heisenberg Compensators" to address this, but that's completely fiction.

    If it *was* possible, well, then you given it's fantasy you can argue as to if the scanning/reading in *would* be destructive or not (Quantum Mechanics says the measurement will also change the state, but we're in fantasy land here...). If it's not then you have what's been covered by some SF stories, e.g. something goes wrong during transmission, and as you're not sure if a new copy is active at the destination you don't yet destroy the original. If communication issues persist then you may later find the new copy is perfectly fine. Now what do you do to the original ? If the original is destroyed in the process then you'd better hope the copying process works else you've just committed definite murder.

    As for waking after sleep... are we even the same person we were before our last conscious thought process? Unconscious one ? Anyone who's ever had their mind changed about something,or experienced anything new has this happen whilst awake.

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