Has anyone pondered the problem of teleportation?

No doubt this is a known issue in science fiction, but I’m too lazy to search online now…

I wonder if most people have ever wondered about how cool it would be to be able to teleport? Like, if that technology existed – such as in Star Trek, do most people think it would be cool?

There’s a huge problem with it though. Let’s go through a little thought experiment. Imagine that the technology to teleport already existed and you could use it right now. Here’s what would happen:

  1. Some technology, that we pretend exists, scans you and somehow makes a snapshot of you on a molecular level, at that instant.
  2. Zap. You are disintegrated.
  3. Bap. The snapshot is used, once again with that imaginary technology, to reintegrate your molecules in some other place.

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Like, you can get up half an hour later and be beamed to work, or you can go on vacation without having to pay for a flight… Hooray!…

…Except there’s a problem. In step two you’d be killed instantly. Step three makes a copy of you on the other side, and reintegrates different molecules into the same structure as you were in the snapshot that was saved. For all intents and purposes, from the perspective of other people, that’s you. That person looks just like you, talks just like you, acts just like you, thinks just like you, and so on. But it’s not you. Your consciousness isn’t transferred to the other place. The person there will have your memories and will feel like they were you, but they weren’t you. You are no more. Your consciousness ends when you’re disintegrated. You fucking died, man… Bummer!

Besides the obvious ethical issues with anyone who would be OK with this, I wouldn’t want to be killed. I wouldn’t want to be disintegrated just so that a copy of me could be made somewhere else. No thank you. I like being alive.

There’s also another issue: If a snapshot can be made, and a copy of you can be zapped into existence, why not just do that? No need to be killed. Just make a copy. Now there are two you’s. I’m not sure what happens next, because you will develop different memories from that point onwards, and this brings up another ethical dilemma. I also can’t exactly send a copy of me to work so I can have some time off, because I won’t have his memories, and then we have an extra mouth to feed, plus the guy will have all my hopes and dreams and we can’t both have the things that are mine. And so on.

Maybe a better way would be if we could somehow fold space? Like, make a portal from here directly to someplace else. That way, I can step through and get somewhere instantly without having to be killed and duplicated.

There’s another technology that suffers the same problem as the teleportation problem. Apparently some scientists are working on a way of digitally saving our brains, so that in future they could be inserted into an artificial body, allowing us to live forever. The article glosses over the fact that they would use nanotechnology to copy the data of the brain, then use cloning technology to restore the brain. But once again, this would be a copy of the person’s brain. It wouldn’t allow you to live forever; instead it would allow someone to make a copy of you long after you’re dead. It wouldn’t be the same person who’s reading this, and thinking it might be a cool idea. And sorry… that’s not the same as living forever. Not by a long shot. Anyway, I’m highly skeptical of that article and pretty certain they’re promising something that can’t be done.

Anyway, these are the silly things I think about. Probably pointless… Maybe such technology will never exist?


About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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8 Responses to Has anyone pondered the problem of teleportation?

  1. I’ve never thought about these specific problems. Interesting questions…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jerome says:

      It’s a problem I’ve wondered about for years; then a few months ago I noticed it was discussed on a skeptic group, which implies that it is a known issue in scifi. I don’t read scifi so I don’t know if it has been explored in fiction… For example, imagine a future society where teleportation is normal, but most people are ignorant of what it really means – then you have a group of activists against it, where it becomes just one part of the plot about the resistance against the controlling regime. Don’t know how that would play out but I think it has potential.

      As for the “science” article, I think that whoever wrote it was aware of the problem, and chose their words carefully. Though nanotechnology and copying various bits of mapped data from a brain was mentioned, it was deliberately glossed over in order to mislead and further the premise of the title – that people might be able to live forever.

      Realistically, even if all of the brain’s cells could be mapped and the data saved somehow, to be restored such that the duplicate would have the emotions and be a true copy of the original, that would be torture for anybody… to become aware of themselves hundreds of years later, after all their loved ones are long gone, with all their hopes and goals meaningless, and be inside a machine in a world nothing like the one they know. How would it be to find yourself in a mechanical body, without the feelings and senses we take for granted? How would it be to wake up and no longer be human? Existence itself would be an eternal prison, conflicting with the individual’s will to survive and fear of death. Also has potential in science fiction…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. bbnewsab says:

    This is one of the most readable, important blog posts I’ve read this year. Very well worth considering. So thank you very much, Jerome!

    Maybe I don’t answer any of your questions, but I think in this way:

    I’m an old man nowadays, soon about to die (probably going to Hell, since I’m a God denier). When I look back at my life, I find but small resemblances to the one I was in my childhood, in my twenty’s, thirty’s, forty’s and so on. And if I look at photos from my childhood and so on, I know that they picture me. But if I show them to a stranger, I’m pretty sure they can’t tell who among all the boys in the photo who is me.

    So the copy you’re talking about, Jerome, can be expected to change personality and appearance in likely the same way as I’ve done during my life. So IF the real me once was resurrected, and I then had the opportunity to look at my copy and get to know him better, i’d probably wonder who that odd man is. He resembles me in many ways but he is definitely NOT me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:

      Glad you liked… I thought it was just a mediocre post myself… me expressing some random thoughts.

      I didn’t extrapolate much on the point of the copy developing differently and then being a different person. (I loved the movie Multiplicity though… Michael Keaton is a great actor.)

      But you’re right of course. What got to me is that in such a scenario, if you step into the teleport machine, you die and your consciousness ends. That would make the concept unacceptable to me. I don’t care if there’s another guy just like me, because I’ll be gone.

      The idea of a copy is interesting in other ways, since our cells are constantly dying and being replaced, but our awareness – what people refer to as our consciousness – continues, so each of us is a single organism.

      I also didn’t think about the idea of the so-called singularity, a combination of man and machine. I suppose in theory, if your parts could be replaced some bits at a time, or your body could be augmented with a machine, then your awareness would continue. Without that “break” between a body being destroyed and duplicated, or dying and a snapshot “restored” (which would in effect be a copy), it would be much better.

      But even the theory of the singularity is not without its problems. We are human, and what makes us human is not just our emotions – the physical component of being human is a large part of our identities. I still think that “becoming” more machine than man would not work for us; I don’t think our minds would be able to cope and existence would become torturous.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. bbnewsab says:

    I like most of your posts, Jerome!

    Your blog is without doubt one of the most interesting I’ve found in the blogosphere so far.

    Your thoughts above remind me of an thought experiment called “The ship of Theseus”. Have a look at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus

    BTW, a copy is always a deviation from the original. The copy can at best contain the same amount of information as the original. But normally the process of copying means (at least a risk of) losing some information. Cf. the genetic copying system inside our bodies.

    Also think of identical twins. They tend to develop themselves (read: tend to undergo a differentiation process) in two directions, even if they live in the same house. If they grow up in two very different environments, they tend to grow away from each other. Suppose one of the identical twins grows up in a rich Christian home in New York and the other becomes an adopted muslim in poor Somalia. Of course they will differ a lot although they have almost identical DNA.

    They form new memories every day. And those memories are not shared. For every year, the number of shared memories decreases seen in relation to the total number of memories in their minds. Eventually they will become strangers to each other, sort of. Like you and I are strangers to each other, Jerome. But by following your fine blog I think I learn to know you a bit better for every month. So maybe I understand you better than I would understand an identical twin brother (if I had one) living in, say, Islamic Somalia (while I’m living here in secular Sweden).

    BTW once more: I dislike your writing sentences like this one: “[I] thought it was just a mediocre post myself… me expressing some random thoughts.”

    I just say: Stop being so self-critical! I think that sometimes you are your own worst enemy. Instead I recommend you to start using positive affirmations, Jerome.

    How many times do I need to tell you how clever, logical, sensible and reliable you are? You seem to have a demon sitting on one of your shoulders, whispering critical words in your ear. Stop having that bad habit!!! An atheist like you must not allow any demons sitting on your shoulder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:

      Thanks for the compliments. I can’t write a longer comment now because Josh is sitting next to me and being the demon on my shoulder wanting to play games right now… 🙂

      But you’re right… My self-doubts are always an issue for me, but less severe than they used to be. I think I’m improving at becoming more positive.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. bbnewsab says:

    Those who should expresss self-doubt are very seldom self-doubters.

    Those who need not, they are very often self-doubters.

    I think this is the essence of the Dunning-Kruger “syndrome” (i.e. not being able to estimate how stupid you really are).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m reading Waking Up by Sam Harris right now and he discusses problems with telaportation. I immediately thought of this post. If you haven’t read it, so far I’m enjoying it. It examines spirituality from an atheist perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

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