When I think about the possible futures of science fiction I can sort them into three prominent categories: the post-apocalyptic, the pre-apocalyptic, and the mid-apocalyptic. They are worlds in which the anxieties of the present are taken to their, not logical, but cynical conclusions. Enough so that it’s almost refreshing when the death toll of a movie allows IMDB to reference its setting as merely “dystopian”. That’s why the optimists among us point to the technologically advanced, economically viable, and largely peaceful future of ‘Star Trek’ as their chosen ideal. But they’re wrong. What if I told you ‘Star Trek’’s was among the most deadly future of all?
It all comes down to the transporter. There are two ways for such a teleporter to work, scientifically speaking. In the first scenario, the user is scanned and disassembled atom by atom and those particles are beamed to their destination where they are reassembled according to the scan. In the second scenario, the user is scanned and disassembled and the information from the scan is transmitted to the destination where a copy of the user is built with new raw material. The original atoms of the user can then by discarded. The speed of light cannot be exceeded, a law that isn’t broken even in wrap drive which warps the space around the Enterprise rather than speeding up the ship, so the teleportation process isn’t instantaneous. It’s just very quick. All this means that the user ceases to exist temporarily. The user dies.Mass murderer?
The transporter process is more akin to cloning than it is transportation. If you enter to teleport, you die and a new version of you is born on the other side. The only difference between the aforementioned scenarios is that the new version may or may not contain the same matter as the original. This is an example of the continuity problem, a philosophical concept exploring what it means to be. One could argue that the continuity of consciousness is broken every night when you go to sleep and the consciousness that reboots when you awake isn’t exactly the one that passed out the night before. Try sleeping now, insomniacs. The continuity broken in the transporter is much more profound. The user’s physical brain is destroyed when the continuity breaks. Dr. McCoy is right to be skittish.
The transporter is used almost every episode by most of the main characters. On a show in which the weapons tend to be “on stun” it’s safe to say where the lion’s share of the fatalities now come. Think of how many times you’ve watched Captain Picard perish; how many times you’ve seen Dr. Crusher crushed. Imagine if this technology is used by the future’s public. I think about every time a citizen of the Federation takes a vacation and I cringe. I’m starting to feel more comfortable in that dystopia because, in the ‘Star Trek’ universe, we’re all red shirts.