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  • In Star Trek, the transporter moves you from one spot to another, saving on shuttle fuel (and special effects budgets).

  • In-universe, it's 'the safest way to travel'.

  • Yes, *sometimes*, two guys die horrible, mutilated deaths under rare circumstances...

  • ...but trillions of individuals transport to work every morning without a hiccup.

  • But, what if the transporter isn't as safe as claimed...

  • ...what if the death rate isn't point almost nothing percent, but one-hundred percent...

  • ...because the transporter is a suicide box.

  • First, how does the transporter work?

  • There are technical manuals, with pages and pages of hilariously over-specific details...

  • that yet say *so little*.

  • Star Trek is nothing if not consistently inconsistent, but, taking the most common elements:

  • First, the transporter scans you down to the quark, takes apart your atoms and sends the pieces of you to the destination for reassembly.

  • But, is it *you* on the other end? Or a copy that thinks it's you?

  • Well, who *is* you?

  • That's a hell of a big question, but let's try to be good scientists about it:

  • ...we don't assume there's a magic part of you that can't be measured.

  • After all, if it can't be measured, that means by definition it can't affect anything.

  • So Occam's Razor it away and we take you as you seem to be: a collection of atoms arranged to think they're you.

  • And because the arrangement of atoms in post-transport you is exactly the same as pre-transport...

  • must be you. Case closed.

  • ButYou might still have this nagging feeling that your experience of stepping into the transporter will be...

  • ...a funny sound, a bright light -- then nothingness eternal..

  • ...while down on the planet, a brand-new life, complete with all your memories up to the moment before your death

  • ...popped into existence and assumed it's you...

  • *How could it otherwise?*

  • It lives a life as short as the mission...

  • ...and a new creature with the memories of you both makes it back to the ship.

  • If true, multiply this by all the life forms in all the ships in all the star systems...

  • ...and this transport technology is a silent holocaust...

  • ...which makes an average episode of 'Trek rather grim watching.

  • And it's a small mercy when a crew member takes the turbolift rather than site-to-site transport.

  • But again, the measurements check out so perhaps we're being paranoid and we're already late for our holiday on Risa so just step inside already.

  • But atom reassembly is the optimistic version and can't be how the transporter really works...

  • ...because sometimes accidents combine two crew into one - or split one into two.

  • There aren't enough atoms in you to make a second you, so the transporter has to be turning atoms into energy and energy into atoms.

  • You are destroyed, used to charge a battery, then recreated anew.

  • This really seems like death.

  • But the philosophy majors in the room are *dying* to bring up "The Ship of Theseus" now -- so fine.

  • You take this ship on an adventure. As parts get worn, you replace each until eventually no piece is original.

  • When you return is the "Ship of Theseus" still the same "Ship of Theseus" you left on?

  • Seems so - and this is what your body does daily via eating (bringing in new atoms) and excreting (losing atoms).

  • Compare to the "The Cutty Sark", a colonial tea ship burned down and restored with new parts.

  • Is it still the same "Cutty Sark"?

  • The result is the same: all new parts - only the time it took is different.

  • If you're happy "Ship of Theseus"-ing through life (as you already do), ...

  • ...then getting "Cutty Sark"-ed by transport shouldn't matter. Right...?

  • However... step into a working transporter with a broken disassembler - and death is revealed:

  • ...pre-transport and post-transport you can disagree on who is you.

  • And when Scotty tells pre-transport you "Sorry, the disassembler is broken, give us a minute to fix it", you aren't going to wait around.

  • That a copy of you made it to the destination is no consolation.

  • The transporter has to be a suicide box.

  • OK, so why worry about the metaphysical implications of fictional technology?

  • Because the transporter points us to the problem of consciousness.

  • We were quick to cut out the idea of the unmeasurable before -- because everything we can measure about the copy is identical...

  • ...but there is something unmeasurably different.

  • The transporter forces confrontation with the possibility that there's something about being a conscious creature that isn't measurable from the outside.

  • Did we not contain conscious brains ourselves, how would we know that other brains are conscious?

  • Truth be told, you can really only know that *you* are conscious...

  • -- and it seems polite to give other people the benefit of the doubt.

  • But were a computer to claim that it was conscious, how would you know?

  • Your continuous stream of consciousness is your life.

  • And you are the only one who can experience it, who can know if it *exists* and if it is continuous.

  • And transporters are scary because they cause breaks in that consciousness.

  • Making a copy that lives the life that you have left, with no one the wiser.

  • With no one able to be wiser.

  • And while transporters aren't real, breaks in consciousness are.

  • If you go for surgery, when they put you under, you can't be sure if it's you that woke up.

  • For that matter, your bed might be a suicide machine.

  • Every night's slip into unconsciousness, the warm embrace of the reaper...

  • ...and every morning the first and only day of a new creature's conscious life.

  • It's impossible to know.

  • Sleep well tonight.

  • [Music]

  • Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this episode's artwork there are special wallpapers over at Patreon.

  • So click here to get access to the Star Trek wallpapers...

  • ...and thank you for supporting the channel to help get this kind of custom artwork made.

  • [Music]

  • Still here?

  • You can't stay awake forever.

In Star Trek, the transporter moves you from one spot to another, saving on shuttle fuel (and special effects budgets).

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The Trouble with Transporters

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/03/28
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