lunes, 21 de marzo de 2016

Is Star Trek's Famous Transporter Really a Death Machine?

Star Trek's transporter is about every fan's dream method of travel. Step onto the platform and you are instantaneously disintegrated while the information from every single atom in your body measured. The energy from being disintegrated is beamed into space and the information gained is used to reassemble you. Need to get to Mars in a hurry? Boom! You're there! Unless you can apparate or use Floo like Harry Potter, there is no better method to travel. But what if the transporter is secretly a death machine?
This is the question that C. P. G. Grey asks in his latest YouTube video, "The Trouble with Transporters." It is a fun watch that is littered with Star Trek Easter Eggs. Whil Grey manages to discuss the metaphysics of consciousness in a fun and engaging way, it is possible that many people may feel lost after watching Grey's video. The good news is that the themes covered in the video is common in science fiction and most viewers are familiar with many of the concepts Grey talks about even if they aren't aware of it.
The transporter changes an object's atoms into energy and transmits it across long distances. At the receiving end, the energy is converted back into matter and the object rematerializes. If the object being transported is destroyed, what (or who) comes out on the other end?

The Ship of Theseus

The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment that raises the question as to whether an object that has all of its components replaced is still the same object. This was raised in both in the book and movie of John Dies at the End when David Wong (Chase Williamson) asks whether an axe that had its handle and head replaced over time is still the same axe.
This paradox was first discussed by the Greek philosopher Plutarch in his late first century writing, Life of Theseus. Here Plutarch describes a ship, piloted by Theseus and his crew. Over time, the crew replaces the old planks as they decay and replace them with newer pieces of timber. Eventually, all of the ships pieces are replaced. Plutarch asks the question, whether the ship remains the same if it is entirely replaced, piece by piece. To complicate things, philosopher Thomas Hobbes introduces a further puzzle. What if the original pieces were gathered up and used to rebuild a second ship. Which ship, if either, would be the original Ship of Theseus?

If any of this seem familiar, it is because this is a commonly explored theme in science fiction. Doctor Who regenerates to become a new person entirely but is still deemed the same character. In the Doctor Who episode, Deep Breath, the twelfth doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, postulates that a broom that has had its handle and brush replaced several times is not the same broom, when talking to an android who has replaced every part of himself several times. The Doctor wonders if the same applies to him.

The Theseus-like theme was also explored in the Futurama episode, "Six Million Dollar Mon," when Hermes Conrad replaces his body parts one by one with robotic pieces. Dr. Zoidberg keeps the discarded body parts, fashioning them into a marionette of Hermes, which he uses for a stand-up routine. Conrad eventually replaces his brain with a robotic one and Zoidberg puts the old brain into his marionette body, thus bringing Hermes back to life as his old self and leaving his previous body to be taken over by the new brain. Who then is the "real" Hermes Conrad?

The Heisenberg Compensator Death Machine

As Grey points out, while the transporter is deemed the safest form of transport, it is not without problems and is something fans of the show are likely aware. In the Star Trek: TNG episode "Second Chances," William Riker finds out he has been cloned in a transporter accident and that his duplicate has been living on the surface of Nervala IV for the past eight years. This understandably creates problems for both Rikers, each claiming to be the real one and that the other is an imposter.

The cloned Riker scenario raises an interesting problem, as Grey explains. As Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) points out, "He's not Will. He is Will, but... you know what I mean." Both individuals have equal claim to the title of William Riker. Even more disturbing is the implication that every time a person steps into a transporter, his/her life ends and someone new replaces them with the same experiences and memories.

If the transporter simply cloned a person and destroyed the original, it would be one thing, but Star Trek is anything but simple. In the Star Trek: Voyager episode, "Tuvix," Lieutenant Tuvok (Tim Russ) and Neelix (Ethan Phillips) are merged into one entitiy, Tuvix (Tom Wright). While this new person shared many of the attributes of the two previous individuals, he was someone new and unique; a distinct personality. When the means to split Tuvix became possible, the decision became all the more difficult as it would mean killing him to restore the lives of Tuvok and Neelix.

Occam's Razor and the Unknowable

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