The Most Impossible Idea From Star Trek (Synopsis)

“‘Star Trek’ says that it has not all happened, it has not all been discovered, that tomorrow can be as challenging and adventurous as any time man has ever lived.” -Gene Roddenberry

Today would have been the 95th birthday of Gene Roddenberry, the mind that brought us the Universe of Star Trek. In addition to a utopia where maladies like hunger, disease and poverty were eradicated, Star Trek promised a future where technology was widely available and sufficiently advanced to the benefit of all of humanity.

Image credit: ©2015 KGO-TV, of the “Scanadu” medical tricorder. Image credit: ©2015 KGO-TV, of the “Scanadu” medical tricorder.

While many of these imagined advances in technology have been met or even exceeded already, such as in the field of medical diagnostics and communication, others like warp drive and the Star Trek transporter may never come to fruition. No matter how much your technology advances, you still can't circumvent the laws of nature.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user AllenMcC. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user AllenMcC.

Come find out what the most impossible idea from Star Trek really is, and see if you can come up with a workaround!


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"...aside from the fact that “sub-space” doesn’t exist ..."

ghm.. since Dark Energy requires an eventual name.. I officially propose to name it sub-space Energy! :) After all, if it's vacuum energy.. it is coming from "within" space ;)

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 19 Aug 2015 #permalink


one very important thing IMO was skipped and that is Replicators. They are the thing which essentially made possible for the society to move from greed. once you can "create" anything you need for free.. it's quickly possible to forget money. And replicator tech seems closely tied to transporter technology..

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 19 Aug 2015 #permalink



Nuff said.

Two thoughts:

Is it obvious that teleportation would require you to be able to know both the position and the momentum? In theory, could there be some device that recreates one of those values without "knowing" it? As a (probably not very good) analogy consider a head-on (frictionless) collision of a billiard ball with another at rest. The momentum of the one is reproduced in the other, but it isn't clear to me that there is any "knowledge" of the original momentum.

Also, you don't really need the positions at all, right? You are changing them when you teleport, after all. It seems like what you need is the relative position between every pair of particles. I don't know the math well enough to know if the uncertainty principle prevents knowing these at the same time as knowing the momenta as well.

Sinisa beat we to it. Supposedly replicators did energy to mass conversion, so that glass of water you casually asked for took more energy than released by a nuclear bomb.....

By Omega Centauri (not verified) on 19 Aug 2015 #permalink

If 'It From Bit' theory is correct then a copy-paste transporter is an easier task, so to keep it challenging let's rule that out and go with the physics we have today.

To create a transporter you would not need to determine the exact position and velocity of every particle. The transcoder would simply need to understand context. Google does a similar process with their speech to text engine. The audio stream is parsed out into words, then the context engine examines the words to see if each word in turn fits with the context of the collective whole. As it goes through, words are corrected until the end of the sentence is reached. It is not yet perfect, but the accuracy is amazing when compared to efforts just 10 years ago.

A transporter would need to do the same thing with particles. The relationship of the particle to its surrounding particles would be determined along with its role in whatever larger structure it was making up.

The process wouldn't be a dumb x,y,z inventory at site A, followed by transmission, and a dumb x,y,z assembly at site B. Instead the scanning process would recognize that a particular particle belonged to an atom bound in a molecule that was part of an elastic filament stretched to 30% of its limit in an astronauts sock. At site B, the assembler would set about constructing an identical elastic filament made up of an identical composition and amount of material.

The real question is "what is it that makes up 'you'". The assembly on the other end would be a human with all your memories and thought processes, have all your scars, and even "remember" being beamed off the pad. However, it wouldn't share a single atom of material with the source. To keep it so there was only one of you, the source would have to be Prestige'd.

@ Omega

well, once you have matter/anti-matter power stations... you're good on power needs ;)

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 19 Aug 2015 #permalink

Just a brief reminder that that transporter *wasn't* part of Roddenberry's utopian vision of the future. He stuck it in the plots out of practical necessity: budget limitations didn't let him use shuttle scenes as much as he wanted to. Deus ex machina!

Budget limits are why klingons were Mexican bandidos in space.

Better budget and realising that making your baddies all Mexicans was a bit racist then made all klingons pastie heads.

Of course, in an attempt to be gender equal, they also intruduced klingon women. For some reason the fact that they made all klingon women BSDM stripper mistresses is something that "we don't discuss", just like the pastie/not pastie evidence.

The whole thing of the transporter needing to exactly replicate the quantum state of your entire body has always bugged me. It doesn't. After all, the atoms and molecules of your body are fungible; it doesn't matter which goes where so long as a functional you comes out on the other end. That takes a lot less information than an exact quantum replication.

Likewise, the conceit that your matter has to be completely converted to energy and then back again. You don't need to phase transition something to energy to break apart a molecular structure and you don't need atom-bomb levels of energy to move a cloud of atoms from place to place, or to reconstruct it into a coherent form.

So while I don't expect transporters the day after tomorrow, I don't see insurmountable physical barriers.

The transporters can function, in theory, just with a small catch.. Your "old" self gets destroyed. In principal, you could "scan" every single atom and molecule in your body.. while unfortunately disintegrating you in the process, and then have a different machine with just storage tanks of elements at hand, and uber CPU at hand, that will "compose" a new yourself from just carbon, water etc... based on a blueprint obtained during the scan... Can something like that ever be built, I don't know... but am pretty sure that in such a way, no QM laws are broken.

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

Wasn't that supposed to be why Scotty didn't want to be sent in a transporter? That he'd be murdered? I think one of the movies mentioned it and there was something in ToS, and *possibly* a mention in the recent reboot movies.

But the holodeck still hands down the most mythical object in the ST universe.

Especially when it once created a Moriarty smart enough to outwit data and also outwit the damn laws of physics....

Boy that episode was dumb.

@Sinisa Lazarek #11

I'm glad you agree with my idea in post #6.

@Wow #12

I think you are confusing Scotty and McCoy.

@11: I recommend the short story Think Like a Dinosaur, if you can find it. It explores exactly that angle. But don't watch the new outer limits version of the story - that stunk.

I may have been doing, Denier.

I think you're right to rule out the transporter as it stands. I think the primary reason is not so much whether it's possible to reconstruct someone exactly enough....basically because it isn't clear how exactly that would have to be. I know people say it has to be totally exact, but the only reason they are saying that is because they haven't found a convincing reason why another you somewhere else would actually be you, as in your personal experience of you. For example if you transport once then you can say it's you, because the person the other side thinks he is you, and he is. But that means you can make duplicates of yourself. So let's say you transport and duplicate into 10 of you. Which one is you? Why that one and not another? And because there is no knowledge in play that resolve it, it's actually more logical to assume none of them are you. So you died.

But then from another direction, let's say a superfast machine basically destroyed you, but immediately replaced you with a duplicate. Say within with a billionth of a second. Well it'd still be you. I mean, how could it now? Quantum behaviour involves that sort of flashing in and out anyway. So it's you.
And that matter how counter intuitive, that we are somehow wired to the position we are in, and it can't be relative, has to absolute. An absolute coordinate. Which there could be, maybe beneath the relative layer or whatever.
So my solution would be don't get in the transporter, and do a lot of science to uncover how we are tied to position, then build one that works.

By Chris Mannering (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

I thought the most impossible thing was to get women to wear those dorky uniforms.

By Patrick Powers (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

Ethan, it seems to me that you're exactly wrong on the issue of the most impossible thing on Star Trek. In 1966, the three most "elaborate" technologies employed in the show were sentient computers, warp drive, and the transporters.

Everyone was sure that by the beginning of the 21st century we'd have self aware computers a la Hal 9000. I don't think anyone warp drive soon, but at least there were theories that made the concept interesting.

But no one took the idea of matter transportation when the series aired.

But all of those technologies, only matter transportation has actually been implemented! Yes, we transfer information about the state of one type of matter to another and thus "transform it," but we have done it on a very small scale which I note is growing. Several organizations are planning "super" entanglement systems. It may not be a good idea to try to every use these systems on humans, but at least we've achieved a form of teleportation.

But Hal 9000 was a no show in 2001 and we haven't moved forward an inch via any sort of warp drive.

rick chapman
author, "Selling Steve Jobs' Liver"

By Rick Chapman (not verified) on 21 Aug 2015 #permalink

I don't think we can really rule out transporter or any other tech in Star Trek as long as we still don't have Theory Of Everything.
If Quantum Theory turns out to be just an emergent property for example, it may be possible to temporarily change its rules in a certain target volume someday.

Also same result as a transporter maybe achieved by a wormhole machine. And subspace communication with a microwormhole machine, holodeck with a brain-computer interface etc.
I think it is pretty common in history that same result getting achieved in future in a way people of the past wouldn't have guessed.

Frank, we aren't ruling anything out. And science never does. But to progress you need to make a decision and act on it, and that's no different in outcome or wording to people who either not know or don't care to know about science to ruling it out.

If you can come up with a way of a theory of everything that allows the transporter, lets hear it.

Otherwise, we'll* rule it out as the least bleeding likely tech on star Trek.

* the general "we", since I think the holodeck is more incredulous.

"While many of these imagined advances in technology have been met or even exceeded already, such as in the field of medical diagnostics and communication ..."

Really? Last time I went to the doctor, they took blood and sent it to the lab, they didn't scan me with a medical scanner. And, funny thing, there's no cell service on the ISS.

Thank you for the great story on Medium.