IMP #5 Teleportation

Here we are already at number five! Can you believe it?

So, how do I plan on trying to thwart science today? By talking about teleportation. This is, once again, one of those things that we see in nearly everything science fiction. From Star Trek‘s ‘Beam me up, Scotty!’ to Stargate‘s Stargates, we see all sorts of variations and assumptions of how teleportation might pan out.

If you’ve been paying attention to my past few articles, and especially the articles surrounding my Thomistic Linguistics thesis, then you may be predicting my every word as I go through this article. But that’s okay, let’s see if you get it right.

Let’s start with how we might assume the inevitability of teleportation. Humans have an innate desire to move, to get from place to place. As time has gone on since the industrial revolution, our methods of transportation have gotten faster and faster and faster. We did just see the SpaceX craft Dragon reach something like 12,000 km/h (7,500 mph)? And that’s not even the fastest that human artifacts have traveled. The point is that our desire to move and get about is intense. Especially recently in our history humans have desired to make this transportation as efficient as possible. But, we ask ourselves, why worry about moving at superlight speeds when we could just transport there instead?

We can conceptualize it quite easy. Humans have a specific composition, a finite reality. My body is only so many feet wide and only so many meters tall. There is a limitation to my corporeal reality that means we can fit in some theoretical ‘box’ of some kind. Think, for example, about 3D printers. This technology, which improves all the time, only needs to print complexly enough our organic material, and it could theoretically compose a human person. We just need a 3D printer big enough.

How could teleportation work, theoretically? Well the main idea would be transmission. It could use electric transmission, light transmission, literally beaming atoms out of some atom gun that shoots from one place to another, but the essential point would be transmitting data. Since humans have material limits, we would just need sensitive enough scanners to pick up on the finest points of our reality and compile it into a transmissible package. Then we send that data from one terminal to another and boom, the second terminal is a 3D printer that pops out the human that entered at the first terminal.

In many ways this kind of technology already exists. We have the capacity of scanning a 3D object, of computing the finite limits of an object in 3D art programs, sending that data file to another terminal across the internet, and printing the same exact object at the second terminal. Sure, it might take a long time to refine the technology, especially scanning a specific object (wherein the scanned object becomes technically destroyed) and transmitting it in whatever state it was scanned, but with what we already have it just seems like a matter of time before we can pull it off. But, of course, you shall see me say:

This is an impossible modern possibility: we will never be able to materially transport a human being from one place to another.

Now, I would like you to take careful note of how I articulated the IMP. I said it will never be possible to materially transport a human being. The reason for articulating this is because of how someone might perceive teleportation as occurring. In the actual conceived teleportation process, doesn’t the person become immaterial? This is somewhat true, but the reality of every explored teleportation concept is that it somehow rests on the idea of transmitting the person, or parts of the person, through material reality. Either the person’s atoms are collected and redistributed or the specific composition of the person is maintained through computer transmissions. In any case, the transportation of the person never leaves the realm of the material, it is always material.

Before getting to the main objection, I would like to look at a minor one. As demonstrated in the recent Netflix series Living With Yourself, where Paul Rudd’s character thinks he is just getting a really rejuvenating massage and ends up getting cloned by accident. This is essentially the same technology we’re talking about, where even if the technology eventually gets developed, we run into the issue of potentially creating two of one person instead of transporting. The idea here, of course, is that we’re talking about recreating a human person every single time they transport. If the original that gets scanned isn’t properly destroyed, then two of that same person end up running around, wreaking havoc. While this dilemma does not prevent the technology from working, it at least presents a complicated philosophical question that should give everyone pause.

But, ultimately the minor objection doesn’t need to hold up any weight, because the main objection makes it obsolete. If you remember from any of my articles where I dissect the composition of a human person, you will know that I explicitly deny the notion that humans are solely composed of matter. Remember that my statement about that which is impossible is the material teleportation of the human person. All of the ideas about human teleportation, of course, are material in nature because the same people that conceive of teleportation being possible are also people that conceive of humans being solely made of matter.

If humans were indeed solely material beings, I would yield in a heartbeat the inevitability of human teleportation.

But humans aren’t. We are not just matter, but form and matter. While our form is immaterial, it is still a reality, a thing that has existence. In Thomistic language we say that forms have substance (meaning they have being, not that they are composed of matter in some way). If teleportation would ever be possible, it would not be a simple matter of transmitting matter, it would be a matter of transmitting an immaterial reality from one physical point of reality to another.

By its very nature, you cannot use material and physical means to modify something that is immaterial. It just doesn’t work that way. They exist at different levels of reality. No matter what sort of teleportation device you might theoretically engage with, the form of the person will never move along the mechanics of the teleportation device, meaning that people can never be teleported.

“But Robert, what if we do create a sophisticated enough 3D printer that can re-print a human person?”

I would not deny that science could eventually produce a 3D printer with such abilities. It seems highly improbable that we could ever really produce technology that handles physical material in such a delicate manner on such a large scale, but far be it from me to say what could be done in the realm of physical reality. Who would have ever thought that we could split an atom? Not to mention, 3D printed organs are expected to soon be a reality, and a whole human body is only a few steps away from that.

My friends, this actual possibility, the ability to print a whole human body, scares me. To print organs to save lives is a beautiful thing, but the ability to recreate human bodies is asking a living nightmare on us. If someone were to truly develop a technology that could painlessly and effortlessly destroy a human and then transmit their data only to have it 3D printed, we’re talking about a corporate or governmental monolith with the world’s most efficient weapon.

For this technology would, make no mistake, kill the person currently living, leaving their soul behind, obliterating their body, only to recreate that body somewhere else. That recreated body has two potential ways of turning out:

1.  Dead.

The body, soulless and lifeless, appears at the other side of the teleportation equipment. All of the organic components are properly reprinted together, but it is not the same person, just a copy of that person, whose mind has now been separated from the body.

2. As an Animal.

This is probably the scariest option. If the scanner was so delicate to pick up on the quantum-level realities of a human person, it is likely able to pick up everything, such as neurons mid-fire and the heart mid-pump. If the 3D printer is so efficient that it re-creates that person in an instant, then we’re talking about a moment to moment success of the heart pumping pre-teleport and finishing the motion of that pump on the other side of the teleportation equipment, and leaving the body alive. But if I can admit this, then what about the mind?

It gets left behind.

Human forms have multiple powers, but some of those powers are inherently tied to a physical reality. If you remember in my article #1 – An Argument for Aristotelian Forms, forms like triangles exist when we create a material triangle and then cease to exist one the triangles disappear. If we create technology that can re-create a human body, it would be akin to us creating a triangle. All of the physical side of humanity would be present – organs, the brain, sensation, appetite, etc. But we can’t manipulate immaterial reality. We couldn’t introduce the rational side of the mind, the purely immaterial part of our reality. It would be the totally animalized version of whatever person got scanned.

That’s freaking terrifying.

So remember folks:

This is an impossible modern possibility: we will never be able to materially transport a human being from one place to another.

And please, don’t try. The consequences (raging evil corporations and governments to the existence of animal people or the abuse of animal people once they could exist) are terrifying.