You know Pal. We all think that teleportation would be so great, eh? Stuck in traffic? In a big rush? Don’t want to sit on a cramped airplane for 12 hours? Won’t someone please invent teleportation already? I always thought that would be awesome, but, after listening to some science Podcasters argue about whether they would do it or not, I am not so sure anymore.
Why? You ask.
Let us consider the Star Trek scenario. This is the likeliest way to do it. The process of teleportation in the Star Trek world is to annihilate all of one’s atoms at one place, use that information to recreate copies of those atoms in their exact configuration (so as to replicate your body and consciousness) and transplant that copy to a brand new location. In other words, instead of saying “beam me up, Scotty”, you should actually say, “please murder me down here and recreate a copy of me on the Enterprise, Scotty”. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue does it? And might be tough to say if you are on the run from some blood thirsty Romulons.
The ultimate question is, if teleportation like this was available today, would you do it? On Star Trek they have no problem doing it. They come and they go as they please and no one has any issue with it. For them, nothing changed. One moment they are down on some planet and the next thing they know thay are up on the Enterprise. They feel the same, they look the same, all their memories are the same. If nothing seems different, then why not do it?
It brings into question the idea of “the self” and what do you value about it. This isn’t any kind of mystical or metaphysical question. It is just the fact that that person is not you. That copy would think they are you and the people around that copy would think it is you, but it isn’t.
To better demonstrate what I mean, how about this? Let’s suppose that there was an overlap in the beaming process. You go to the transport room to get beamed onto Risa (the Pleasure Planet) for a two week vacation. The teleporter scans all your information, down to every last atom in your body. Let’s say that before you vaporize into nothing, you see, on a screen, a live feed of your copy already on Risa. He just got handed a mixed drink and a lai by some Blorvaths in bathing suits. They escort you hand-in-tentacles to a beautiful beach where Vandanovian masseuses are waiting for you.
That is your copy down there while you are still up here. It looks like you, and has all your same memories, but it isn’t you. You are still on the ship.
“Get me the hell down there!” You say. Scotty says, “Okay, I am going to complete the beaming process”. What would you do? The consciousness you have won’t get shot down to that body on Risa. It already has a consciousness. Would you still want to get vaporized and let this other body live as you? No one else would know the difference.
What if something physical changed? Say you got beamed down and you had a different nose for some reason. Everyone would notice. Your consciousness would seem the same and you would have all the same memories, but everyone would know that you were physically different. Would you do it then?
Let’s get back to the idea of “the self”. What is it about “the self” that is so important? I must start this by saying that I come from the premise of not believing in a soul (BTW if you believe in a soul, I don’t think teleportation would fly at all). But, what about “the self”? What makes you unique? Are your atoms valuable to you? Their specific arrangement, and how they evolved over time, are what defines who you are physically and mentally. Your personality. Isn’t the original one worth protecting? Or will an exact personality copy suffice? Of course these are leading questions. I think my atoms are worth protecting. I wouldn’t feel comfortable knowing this copy is not specifically me.
Alright, so annihilating myself to get downtown faster is not a good option to beat rush hour traffic. What are my other means of teleportation then? The only other option I am aware of is to bend the fabric of space-time and create a worm hole. Sounds easy enough. Let us suppose the universe is a sheet of paper. If you could bend that sheet so either ends were touching, you could hop from one end to the other quite easily. A wormhole would allow you to do that.
Apparently worm holes do exist, but only at the quantum (or atomic) scale, where they have identified 11 dimensions. Sure, if there are 11 dimensions, it must be easy to make a worm hole. What about us three dimensional macro-people. According to the rules of Physics, to create a usable wormhole for us, you first need to collect some insanely dense matter (like what is inside a neutron star). Furthermore, you would have to collect enough of this matter until its diameter is roughly the same size as earth’s orbit around the sun. According to people who are not me, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity says that a wormhole can exist in this situation. I am no scientist, but I think that would take some time to make and might be just a little cost prohibitive. Oh well, I guess my atoms will be pushing up the daisies by the time I get downtown.
Protecting your atoms is important. Don’t just take it from me though. How about you give a listen to Venus Flytrap from WKRP in Cincinnati explain it to a gang member in an effort to keep him in school. I’m rooting for the “Elected Ones”