Reading the Ship of Theseus
reminds me of a concern I've always had regarding the,
even theoretical possibility of teleportation
. (I take a different approach from that in The issue of Teleportation and Self
, though my concern is the same.)
We accept the notion so readily because so much of Star Trek technology, and
drama, is, after all, based upon the, so called, transporter-holographic-replicator nexus.
And yet, the transporter was created, not for scientific reasons, but financial. It was too
expensive in the first series to show the USS Enterprise landing and taking off in each
episode, so what greater convenience than to sent and retrieve the actors without
There is a series of science fiction books, the name of which, and the author of
which I cannot remember: it discusses teleportation in the manner of which the Ship of
Theseus reminded me. (Maybe some well-read noder will msg. me with the titles and author?)
In this world, it is too expensive, and too dangerous to sent people by rocket to the
moon, or anywhere else in the solar system. What can be done, though, is send a
teleportation device to the location that is of interest, and when it has arrived, teleport the
The hero who departs, returns different. He leaves a fat and jovial kind of person; he
returns thin and not jovial. There are many other, subtle differences, too. His memories are
the same; he is still recognizable as the person who left; but to himself, and those around
him, he is different. And the authorities keep asking him because he is the most
experienced. He keeps going out of reluctant duty.
He starts thinking of each person who returns as someone else. Each of these people
have completely different lives, different relationships. The writing style itself shows that
consciousness ceases with each transport--and another one begins
upon his return.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, one of the episodes with Barclay portrays him
with irrational fears regarding transport. Most interestingly, it shows transport from the
inside, as part of the matter stream. The implication is, clearly, that what was at
the starting point, is what arrives at the destination.
Even in theory, I find this troubling.
On other occasions, transporter engineers speak of the transmission of information,
not the actual thing itself. Even this information is terribly complex,
and of enormous amount--but still less than the quantity of stuff that would make up the
objects, and persons, transmitted.
I think there is a better portrayal of teleportation, although unintentional, in an
episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This is the final episode of Vedic Bareil. He has
some kind of disease, but is needed to assist Kai Win in diplomatic negotiations.
As the disease progresses, Doctor Bashir can replace the portions of Bareil's body
that have been affected with mechanisms. But as long as Bareil assists the Kai, the faster
the disease progresses, and the more of him that must be replaced.
There comes a point when critical portions of his brain are affected. The doctor warns
Bareil's lover, Kira, that while memories will still be there when the tissue is replaced, the
emotions, and other aspects of Bereil, won't. Kira begs Bareil to stop, but his duty and his
honor--he is being called upon by his religious superior, after all--lead him on.
The final scene of him is of one transformed. His face, and head have become a
To my mind, this is a realization of the Ship of Theseus in modern, even futuristic
Is the ship renewed still belong to Theseus? Is the person at the end of transport still the person
who departed? Is Bareil still Bareil? Yes. . . . .but also NO.
It's as if we enter, and come out Stepford.
For an interesting sidelight on this question, please see whizkid's writeup on Nirvana.