Justin B Rye [MAIL] 1992–1998


7.0 BASIC MECHANISM (see footnotes, postscripts)

It is generally accepted among non-Trekkie SF fans that Star Trek transporters, hereinafter abbreviated to TPs, are an insanely gross piece of quasiscience best kept decently offstage.  Unfortunately, the Trekkies have trouble grasping this, and insist on plots that focus on infeasible TP phenomena.  My suspension-of-disbelief glands can't take very much more of this, so in the hope of scaring scriptwriters into avoiding the subject I am obliged to go into the awful details.

The TP's operational specifications are roughly as detailed below:

RESOLUTION Unlimited.  Inter- and intra-atomic bonds are reconstituted correctly.  Indeterminacy has apparently been abolished in the Star Trek Universe.
PROCESSING Formidable.  Whole (sentient!) landing parties are routinely shifted across from in tray to out tray in a matter of seconds.
RANGE In Tomorrow is Yesterday (ST:TOS1), the sergeant is beamed down while the Enterprise is five minutes past Earth and receding at warp eight.
LOAD See The Voyage Home (ST:TMP4); two whales plus 400 tonnes of sea-water are no trouble.
MOTION Somehow permits you to move in transit (while you aren't made of matter!?) without coming out as mince.  This shouldn't be legal.  In fact, won't any change after you're scanned be lost in transmission?


  1. The target is located by orbital-range sensors, and scanned down to subatomic structure, to provide a TP pattern (a spying device).
  2. It is carefully disassembled (energised) by remote control, with a matter-to-energy total conversion system (a weapon, perchance?).
  3. This energy is sucked up from its previous location and temporarily stored in the TP mechanism (a handy long-range energy-vampire).
  4. The TP pattern file is consulted to guide materialisation; copies are kept, and files are editable (see Unnatural Selection, ST:TNG2).
  5. The appropriate quantity of energy is sent from the TP mechanism to its intended destination, wherever that is (Zzap!  Another weapon).
  6. The energy is assembled into matter (materialised) according to the pattern (a replicating machine; blibbleblibbleblibbleblibble).

7.2 SAMPLE SPIN-OFFS (see footnotes, postscripts)

If the TP was in use by 2209 (Realm of Fear, ST:TNG6) its society-smashing practical applications should have transformed the Federation long before ST:TOS!

7.3 THE REPLICATOR ARGUMENT (see footnotes)

The Star Trek TP's first line of defence against such uses goes like this: Ah, yes, pattern materialisation is indeed how Star Trek Universe replicators work; but they are only a little-developed offshoot from TP technology, and so they don't have the resolution to duplicate anything at all complex.  This, in my humble opinion, is sheerest hogwash; replication is simply transportation minus the magic remote-scanning-and-disassembly stages, and has to be perfected before the TP.  If, as in The Enemy (ST:TNG3), your TP can assemble a live Romulan in sickbay, beamed from the planet below, then despite the episode's claims it must (as part of this process) be able to assemble Romulan ribosomes in sickbay out of data and energy.


Shouldn't the monistic materialism of TPs clash with the Star Trek Universe's normal mystical dualism (personified by Deanna Troi)?  Doesn't the TP imply that a mind is nothing but a functional arrangement of matter/energy?  Wasn't McCoy right to moan that TPs don't actually transport you at all?  They just rip you apart and build a replacement elsewhere!  Does it matter?  Do TPs conserve identity?  Orthodox TPs (unlike my own Mark-two TPs) imply there are no souls in the Star Trek Universe.  I'll gladly accept psionic phenomena (ESP, psychic healing, etc.) as a convention in SF; but be consistent!

The Star Trek TP's second line of defence is a superficially neat piece of logical judo, using the monism/dualism clash to excuse the limitations on gross uses of TPs in the orthodox Star Trek Universe.  It goes something like this: Ah, yes, TPs are indeed souped-up replicators; but sentient entities have immaterial souls, which can only be transmitted, not duplicated.  That's as useless as a theory can get; contrary to the evidence, over-complex, internally confused, and no solution to the original problem!

7.5 MYSTERIES (see footnotes, postscripts)

7.6 PER ARDUA AD ABSURDUM (see footnotes)

The big problem for dualism is: what causes a soul to appear?  Deanna can detect both Worf and Data, so it's not just human embryology; which implies the answer the creation of any suitable brain.  Hmmm: doesn't this include copies of Data's brain assembled by a replicator?  For all we know, Dr Sung built him using a TP in the first place!  And if any brain created by TP matter-to-energy assembly summons a fresh soul… where does the disintegrated original's soul go?  Won't it assume it's dead?!

Or do TPs send bereaved souls a sort of forwarding address (Don't worry, your body's over here)?  If so, it's another gross subsystem… Oy, Romulan soul!  Your body went that-a-way!  Wesley, you're promoted; kill yourself and transmigrate your soul into yonder Romulan commander's empty carcase!  Or on second thoughts, let me help – take that! (So how did anybody discover the need for this extra TP subsystem, then?)

1993 Footnotes

7.0 Actually, TPs have begun to look more feasible since people started talking about nanotechnological assembler/disassemblers.  But once you've got those
7.2 If (say) megacredit notes are claimed to be unreplicatable, I'll just replicate the printing press instead; and if corpses are replicatable, how about temporary corpses?  After all, practically the whole ST:TOS crew have been dead at one point or another!
7.3 Incidentally, what would Picard get if he asked for a cup of Earl Grey?
7.5 These questions are hardly academic; they are the obvious criteria for giving entities voting rights, or letting them in your church!
7.6 For the benefit of non-Latin-speakers: per ardua ad absurdum = through hardship to the ridiculous.

1997 Postscripts

7.0 As time goes on, the Star Trek Universe tries fitfully to mutate the mechanism of TPs from purely informational to (in some sense) analogue.  See, guys?  You should have thought about it earlier.
7.2 An afterthought on TP pattern files: why not wear an amulet so designed that its pattern is a TP computer filing-system command, beam me back down and then self-destruct?
7.5 We've now seen permanent TP duplication (Second Chances, ST:TNG6).

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