Beam me up, Scotty

Beam me up, Scotty

Star Trek Transporter

I love those scenes where Star Trek characters, and many aliens since the series was conceived, step onto a transporter platform, and Captain Kirk commands, ‘Energize!’. Everybody fizzles out, to instantly materialize somewhere else. I was tempted to say, ‘in a galaxy far away’, but that would be mixing my movies. The concept is titillating, and beats the hell out fleeting around in a shuttle or landing a ponderous starship. How did Gene Roddenberry come up with this? Simple. In the ’70s, the cost of special effects for a studio was considerable, computer animation not even a dream then. Much easier to ‘beam’ people around than spend an episode’s budget on special effects. As a bit of trivia, Kirk never actually said, ‘Beam me up, Scotty’.

Fascinating as the notion of beaming an object from place to place is, being technically minded, I always wondered about the rationale behind it. So, what does the transporter actually do? Basically, in the process of beaming, it destroys the original, stores the matrix of the subject in a computer, and then reconstitutes the individual at the destination point. If such a device were possible, it would be a terrific way to get around. But is it actually possible to beam stuff around?

Look at the ‘beaming’ process more closely. No one knows how many cells an individual has – inanimate objects are something else. In the movie ‘Tron’, a laser beam converted the object into a matter stream and stored it in the computer, to be reassembled at will. Very shaky theory, but entertaining. Both concepts require destroying the target object. I can sympathize with Dr. McKoy’s reluctance stepping into such a device. The first step in the process is to get a ‘pattern’ of the subject, which requires scanning the target, destroying it, and memorizing everything about every molecule in the target. As you can imagine, for a human being, that’s a lot of memorizing. The pattern is supposedly stored in a computer ‘buffer’ – never mind the enormous storage capacity required and almost instantaneous processor speed needed for this. The transporter then ‘beams’ the pattern as an energy stream containing all buffered information to the destination point and somehow reassembles the individual. Again, never mind where the required elements and minerals are sourced from to do this, as air is unlikely to have all these things on tap. The process would need these elements from somewhere. Sounds like far too much work, with too many points where errors – fatal ones – can occur. If you’re thinking that atoms are created spontaneously from the transporter beam, the energies required to create a proton or a neutron would be staggering.

I will not step into the ethical and legal quagmire the concept of a transporter presents to any state, although several Star Trek episodes touched on it. The obvious is possible duplication of an individual, like their food replicators. You don’t need an army, only one soldier who can be replicated indefinitely; or a dictator, who keeps a copy of his ‘pattern’ and creates a new version of himself when the original gets old. Train one starship captain and replicate him. Lots of story scenarios here, but you get the idea.

The other thing I was never able to figure out, although the beaming out part was sound enough, Enterprise had all the necessary equipment for it, the beaming up bit confounds me. Where is the necessary equipment needed to scan and convert the subject into an energy stream necessary for the return to the ship? The idea that the energy beam that’s meant to retrieve the subject somehow carries out this scanning is something I was never comfortable with. Take another problem. How does the beaming out and beaming back avoids the problem of picking up unwanted surrounding matter, differentiating it as not belonging to the subject? You might have seen the film ‘The Fly’ which touches on this gruesome issue.

Using the quantum mechanics tangled particles effect, physicists have actually transported single photons over several kilometers. But again, the original photon was not transported. The receiver got its tangled particle mirror, proving that the process always destroys the individual. That’s okay for a photon. Physicists can determine its spin, energy state, and location, although not all of them simultaneously, as quantum mechanics laws forbid determining simultaneously a particle’s location and energy state. You can only do one or the other at the time. Still, there are wrinkles that get around this problem. It has taken scientists millions of dollars to get this far. Determining the correct state of every atom in a human body is mind-boggling. If you are interested in this kind of stuff, read Brian Greene’s ‘The Fabric of the Cosmos’.

So, what is the alternative for something that might actually work, given sufficiently advanced technology? String M-theory postulates eleven dimensions that make up our ‘brane’ universe. The math is involved and not all the bugs are worked out. It is theorized they are closed/curled point dimensions, or each might be as large as our own universe. The theory is vague on this. However, if an advanced science could open one of these dimensions – which one would be suitable is also vague, as the theory does not clarify the properties of these dimensions – it could act as a gateway between locations in our four-dimensional spacetime continuum, eliminating the technical challenges required to disassemble and reassemble an individual or object. A person would simply step into a transceiver that would open a doorway and emerge in a different location. Of course, the destination would also need a transceiver, avoiding problems associated with Star Trek’s concept of materializing anywhere and then being beamed up.

Beam me your thoughts!

2 comments on “Beam me up, Scotty”

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