Friday, December 05, 2003

OtherMe. OtherYou.

I can't stop thinking about Star Trek Transporter technology, and the philosophical repercussions of using it. I know, I'm lame.

But consider the technology and how it works. A lot of people think that it's a teleporter, and it's not. It's a human fax machine. Normally, on a fax machine, your paper message goes in one end, the scanner reads your text, and then on the other end, another fax machine gets your encrypted message, and prints it out on another sheet of paper (with additional text tags up top to identify the sender, time and date, etc.). It's important to note that it doesn't stop trying to send the fax until the machine on the other end admits it was received successfully.

The transporter works in a similar way, only instead of two fax machines, there's only the one, so it has to beam the paper with the message on it to the new location, and when it knows there's a successful completion, it destroys the original document.

That document is you. You're not truly being beamed anywhere. You're dismantled, atom by atom, and stored inside of the computer as anti-matter in a pattern buffer, and then new anti-matter material is beamed down to the destination and re-assembled atom by atom, until a perfect facsimile of you is deposited. Then your original pattern is destroyed.

That's what I find really disturbing. I mean, for all intents and purposes, you're dead. Some say "pattern buffer," I say "disintigration ray." The transporter kills you and then re-assembles a new you. I just can't get past the metaphysical ramifications of your body just being destroyed for a few seconds, and then re-appearing as far away as, say, in orbit. If you have a conscience, or a spirit, does it know where to find you? Do you experience death upon dismantling? Does your newly formed clone retain all of your memories? (Well, obviously the last one is true according to how everyone who's transported on the show acts.)

And then there's the whole Will/Tom Riker thing. His transporter beam was reflected back in an ep of ST:TNG and a secondary Riker was created, who was trapped and abandoned in a cave for something like ten years. He thought he was the original Riker the whole time. Of course, Will Riker, the one transported back to the ship also thought he was the real Riker. That's because they're both really Riker. And that's what makes me wonder if a Trek Transporter could actually work.

Is the OtherYou created on the other end of the beam really you? Or is it just a perfect facsimile of you that remembers what it was like to be exactly you? Is the real you dead? Does it philosophically matter? Does the real you experience death? If there's a heaven, will there be like 800 of you wandering around?

Fuck, I'm driving myself insane here.

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