In Star Trek, the transporter moves you from one spot to another, saving on shuttle fuel (and special effects budgets). In-universe, it’s ‘the safest way to travel’. Yes, *sometimes*, two guys die horrible, mutilated deaths under rare circumstances… …but trillions of individuals transport to work every morning without a hiccup. But, what if the transporter isn’t as safe as claimed… …what if the death rate isn’t point almost nothing percent, but one-hundred percent… …because the transporter is a suicide box. First, how does the transporter work? There are technical manuals, with pages and pages of hilariously over-specific details… that yet say *so little*. Star Trek is nothing if not consistently inconsistent, but, taking the most common elements: First, the transporter scans you down to the quark, takes apart your atoms and sends the pieces of you to the destination for reassembly. But, is it *you* on the other end? Or a copy that thinks it’s you? Well, who *is* you? That’s a hell of a big question, but let’s try to be good scientists about it: …we don’t assume there’s a magic part of you that can’t be measured. After all, if it can’t be measured, that means by definition it can’t affect anything. So Occam’s Razor it away and we take you as you seem to be: a collection of atoms arranged to think they’re you. And because the arrangement of atoms in post-transport you is exactly the same as pre-transport… …you must be you. Case closed. But… You might still have this nagging feeling that your experience of stepping into the transporter will be… …a funny sound, a bright light — then nothingness eternal.. …while down on the planet, a brand-new life, complete with all your memories up to the moment before your death …popped into existence and assumed it’s you… *How could it otherwise?* It lives a life as short as the mission… …and a new creature with the memories of you both makes it back to the ship. If true, multiply this by all the life forms in all the ships in all the star systems… …and this transport technology is a silent holocaust… …which makes an average episode of ‘Trek rather grim watching. And it’s a small mercy when a crew member takes the turbolift rather than site-to-site transport. But again, the measurements check out so perhaps we’re being paranoid and we’re already late for our holiday on Risa so just step inside already. But atom reassembly is the optimistic version and can’t be how the transporter really works… …because sometimes accidents combine two crew into one – or split one into two. There aren’t enough atoms in you to make a second you, so the transporter has to be turning atoms into energy and energy into atoms. You are destroyed, used to charge a battery, then recreated anew. This really seems like death. But the philosophy majors in the room are *dying* to bring up “The Ship of Theseus” now — so fine. You take this ship on an adventure. As parts get worn, you replace each until eventually no piece is original. When you return is the “Ship of Theseus” still the same “Ship of Theseus” you left on? Seems so – and this is what your body does daily via eating (bringing in new atoms) and excreting (losing atoms). Compare to the “The Cutty Sark”, a colonial tea ship burned down and restored with new parts. Is it still the same “Cutty Sark”? The result is the same: all new parts – only the time it took is different. If you’re happy “Ship of Theseus”-ing through life (as you already do), … …then getting “Cutty Sark”-ed by transport shouldn’t matter. Right…? However… step into a working transporter with a broken disassembler – and death is revealed: …pre-transport and post-transport you can disagree on who is you. And when Scotty tells pre-transport you “Sorry, the disassembler is broken, give us a minute to fix it”, you aren’t going to wait around. That a copy of you made it to the destination is no consolation. The transporter has to be a suicide box. OK, so why worry about the metaphysical implications of fictional technology? Because the transporter points us to the problem of consciousness. We were quick to cut out the idea of the unmeasurable before — because everything we can measure about the copy is identical… …but there is something unmeasurably different. The transporter forces confrontation with the possibility that there’s something about being a conscious creature that isn’t measurable from the outside. Did we not contain conscious brains ourselves, how would we know that other brains are conscious? Truth be told, you can really only know that *you* are conscious… — and it seems polite to give other people the benefit of the doubt. But were a computer to claim that it was conscious, how would you know? Your continuous stream of consciousness is your life. And you are the only one who can experience it, who can know if it *exists* and if it is continuous. And transporters are scary because they cause breaks in that consciousness. Making a copy that lives the life that you have left, with no one the wiser. With no one able to be wiser. And while transporters aren’t real, breaks in consciousness are. If you go for surgery, when they put you under, you can’t be sure if it’s you that woke up. For that matter, your bed might be a suicide machine. Every night’s slip into unconsciousness, the warm embrace of the reaper… …and every morning the first and only day of a new creature’s conscious life. It’s impossible to know. Sleep well tonight. [Music] Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this episode’s artwork there are special wallpapers over at Patreon. So click here to get access to the Star Trek wallpapers… …and thank you for supporting the channel to help get this kind of custom artwork made. [Music] Still here? You can’t stay awake forever.