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:
Unlimited. Inter‐ and intra‐atomic bonds are reconstituted
correctly. Indeterminacy has apparently been abolished in
the Star Trek Universe.
Formidable. Whole (sentient!) landing parties are
routinely shifted across from “in tray” to “out tray” in a
matter of seconds.
In “Tomorrow is Yesterday” (ST:TOS1), the sergeant is
beamed down while the Enterprise is five minutes past Earth and
receding at warp eight.
See “The Voyage Home” (ST:TMP4); two whales plus 400
tonnes of sea‐water are no trouble.
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?
7.1 STAGES OF OPERATION
The target is located by orbital‐range sensors, and scanned down
to subatomic structure, to provide a “TP pattern” (a spying
It is carefully disassembled (“energised”) by remote control,
with a matter‐to‐energy total conversion system – a
This energy is sucked up from its previous location and
temporarily stored in the TP mechanism (a handy long‐range
The TP pattern file is consulted to guide materialisation; copies
are kept, and files are editable (see “Unnatural Selection”,
The appropriate quantity of energy is sent from the TP mechanism
to its intended destination, wherever that is
(Zzap! Another weapon).
The energy is assembled into matter (“materialised”) according to
the pattern (a replicating machine;
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!
Information – If you can scan it, you can own a
copy; run stages (A) and (F) above, using ship's energy
banks. Unshielded equals piratable.
You can try reading an enemy's mind by long‐range neuroanalysis,
or alternatively you can summon up and torture a copy in your
TP pattern files can be sent by subspace radio modem (“The
Vengeance Factor”, ST:TNG3; the Enterprise reads a
planetary database from in warp), or indeed by post; thus
communication is equivalent to transportation.
Simplify your redundant DNA for easier data‐compressed
Transport – Turbolifts are obsolete. If I
was Picard, I'd program my alarm clock to beam me up out of bed,
into uniform, onto the command seat, with a freshly brewed cup of
Earl Grey sitting on the armrest.
If transponders are necessary, just beam them down onto your
Most sorts of freight or passenger craft are obsolete; go by
Patrol/survey craft are still necessary, but inessential
equipment (like Wesley) can be stored as data and useful energy
instead of mass.
Economics – Junk matter (tablescraps,
space‐dust, Romulans, stars) can be converted into vast amounts
of energy and fed into your warpdrive.
Any item can be produced if you have the data and the energy;
chicken sandwiches, gold ingots, Galaxy class starships, Romulan
ribosomes, megacredit notes, functional cloaking devices, Mona
Lisas, dilithium crystals, spare Datas, industrial‐scale TPs,
Tasha Yars, and so on.
Only shielded TP patterns and raw mass/energy can remain
Medicine – You can edit files in transit?
Who needs surgery?! Abolish infections; cancel wounds or
wear and tear; and replace failing neurons.
Why should anybody die (and stay dead) if they have TP backup
Don't call it surgery; it's a beauty salon makeover! “Okay
Doc, edit my body into a latest‐model warpshuttle with
holodeck‐computer grade brain, and built‐in facilities for
TP‐editing plus rolling backups!”
Military – Attacked by Romulans? Insert
chunks of Faster‐Than‐Light antineutronium into their
engines! Convert every tenth atom into energy and just
leave it where it is! Subtract the fire button from their
control console! Seize their ship by beaming guerrilla
nanites into its TP computers! Suck them straight up into
your batteries and throw away the pattern!
What do you mean, they'll have shields up (cf. “Ménage à Troi”,
ST:TNG3)? They transport through
shields – tacitly in “A Taste of Armageddon”
(ST:TOS1) and “Encounter at Farpoint” (ST:TNG0);
explicitly in “The Wounded” (ST:TNG4).
Otherwise, resort to throwing hideous things at them. Beam
up and then redirect their missiles! If you beam enough
neutronium to one spot you get a huge explosion and/or a black
hole! Antimatter is as cheap to create as matter! If
they shoot back at you, put mirrors in the way!
The shuttlecraft manoeuvre out of “Best of Both Worlds”
(ST:TNG4) can be refined; e.g. “Déjà Q”
(ST:TNG3) implied that shuttles are transportable.
If they blow away your deflector dish, just beam on a
If you ever resort to self‐destruct, don't use puny explosives;
fill the whole region with a smooth fifty–fifty blend of
matter and antimatter!
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.
7.4 THE SOULS ARGUMENT
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!
How can TPs fail to notice “stowaways” (“Dagger of the Mind”,
ST:TOS1), McCoy's extra “katra” (“The Search for Spock”,
ST:TMP3), and the sentience of “life, but not as we know
it” if they have to distinguish souled from soulless cargoes?
What are souls? Matter, or energy, or an emergent
Who needs them? They aren't necessary for physical
existence, life, happiness, or Turing‐testable intelligence;
personality, memory etc. are mere biochemistry (hence Pulasky's
patent mindwipe: “Pen Pals”, ST:TNG2). The Ferengi
can't sell them, the Borg can't use them to power reactors (by
embryo‐farm soul‐vampirism)… so what good are they?
What things have souls? Data? Data while
deactivated? Frozen bodies? Ova? Embryos?
Babies? Wesley? Morons? Neanderthals?
Chimps? Tribbles? Viruses?
Brain‐parasites? Symbiotes? Copies of the Moriarty
program? How many souls has a two‐headed man got? Or
a split personality? Or a pregnant woman? Or a Borg
vessel? Or one Borg? Or Locutus? Or Q?
Mark‐one TPs are the perfect experimental apparatus for testing
these questions; so why aren't the answers common knowledge in
the Star Trek Universe? Or at least, why does nobody tell
TP‐phobes that souls aren't affected?
How does any of this stop me using TPs as outlined in
7.2, to abolish money, starships, ageing, and
that pesky Romulan Star Empire?
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?)
Actually, TPs have begun to look more feasible since people
started talking about nanotechnological
assembler/disassemblers. But once you've got
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!
Incidentally, what would Picard get if he asked for “a
cup of Earl Grey”?
These questions are hardly academic; they are the obvious
criteria for giving entities voting rights, or letting them in
For the benefit of non‐Latin‐speakers: per ardua ad
absurdum = “through hardship to the ridiculous”.
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.
An afterthought on TP pattern files: why not wear an amulet so
designed that its pattern is a TP computer filing‐system
beam me back down and then
We've now seen permanent TP duplication (“Second Chances”,