Dammit Jim, beam me over!
September 23, 2017 11:52 PM   Subscribe

Is beaming down in Star Trek a death sentence? In this Ars Technica long read, Xaq Rzetelny looks to Trek's past to suss out specifics of how transporters work.
posted by Room 641-A (173 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wait, did they seriously go through that whole thing without mentioning Tom Riker?
posted by ckape at 12:08 AM on September 24, 2017 [43 favorites]


Time to bring up 'To Be' again.
posted by CheapB at 12:31 AM on September 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


I would say the sheer number of accidents, anomalies, and other mishaps is plenty of reason to never step foot in one of those things. If your car's brakes randomly failed a couple of times a year, you wouldn't drive it, and most of the catastrophic failures top out at people suddenly dying, whereas the transporter has a wide variety of exotic tortures in store for basically everyone we ever see use one.
posted by Copronymus at 12:42 AM on September 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm with ckape. How can you write THAT much about the real meaning of transporters in Star Trek and whether there's a separate consciousness thing, etc. without including that episode?! At one point, they use the fact that Picard's consciousness-as-energy-being was needed to re-create him in an episode to argue that it's more than disassembling atoms in one place and creating new ones in a new place. But that gets really complicated with the Riker case!

Can we hill up this plate of beans more?
posted by R343L at 12:42 AM on September 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


Wait, did they seriously go through that whole thing without mentioning Derek Parfit?
posted by thelonius at 12:45 AM on September 24, 2017 [15 favorites]


I'd be okay with using transporters if it weren't for all that DRM nonsense.
posted by fairmettle at 12:50 AM on September 24, 2017 [22 favorites]


The article also fails to mention the "Relics" episode where Scotty himself has been trapped in a transporter buffer for 75 years without aging a day... that and the Riker duplication are the two most memorable "transporter incidents" in the history of Trek for me. But then, Teleportation (the word most other SF entities use instead of Transporter) is one of the Big Three technologies that make Science Fiction into Fantasy for me (the other two being Faster Than Light Travel and Time Travel) that only seem to exist in order to provide convenient plot devices designed to get a show to fit within its one hour TV timeslot.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:00 AM on September 24, 2017 [10 favorites]


Wait, did they seriously go through that whole thing without mentioning Derek Parfit?

Worst episode ever.
posted by Segundus at 1:02 AM on September 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


I would say the sheer number of accidents, anomalies, and other mishaps is plenty of reason to never step foot in one of those things.

Oh, sure, just take a shuttle instead. Much safer...

(I think Starfleet might benefit by a study done on the effects of taking a shuttlecraft from a starship since it seems like every time one is used either the shuttle or the ship will come under attack or suffer severe damage of some sort. I postulate there may be a symbiotic relationship involved that induces distress upon separation.)
posted by gusottertrout at 1:24 AM on September 24, 2017 [9 favorites]


Seriously, long stretches of the Parfit episode consist of some disheveled British guy wandering around talking about the meaning of life and trying to find someone who can make him a cup of tea. Who wants to watch a show like that?
posted by Segundus at 1:34 AM on September 24, 2017 [9 favorites]


Of course, the whole conundrum vanishes when one lets go of the belief that there is some soul which imbibes the material body with identity.
posted by Laotic at 1:40 AM on September 24, 2017 [9 favorites]



“For a piece of rock or clothes or something dead, who cares? But take something living and do that? Beam it up? What you done is ripped a man apart then stuck his bits back together and made them walk around. He died. Get me? The man’s dead. And the man at the other end only thinks he’s the same man. He ain’t. He only just got born. He’s got the other’s memories, yeah, but he’s newborn. That Enterprise, they keep killing themselves and replacing themselves with clones of dead people. That is some macabre shit. That ship’s full of Xerox copies of people who died.”


-China Mieville
Kraken

posted by Telf at 1:49 AM on September 24, 2017 [35 favorites]


This is covered in the existential comic, "The Machine".
posted by oh pollo! at 2:06 AM on September 24, 2017 [8 favorites]


I've seen this taken one step further - that maybe there isn't continuity of consciousness either. It's like a computer - while it's on, it has access to short term memory - cache, RAM, etc - but when it's powered down, it loses everything except what's written to long term memory (hard drive).

It could be that consciousness doesn't survive sleep, and when we wake we're a brand new person, only that we have access to the archives (hard drive) that the person the day before committed to long term memory. So we think we have continuity, but like the person in a hypothetical Trek transporter, we don't really.
posted by xdvesper at 3:00 AM on September 24, 2017 [28 favorites]


If it transports your midichlorians, you're probably fine.
posted by Wobbuffet at 3:28 AM on September 24, 2017 [10 favorites]


Or, per Douglas Adams, is it really you that arrives, or just an atom-perfect copy of you? And would you (2) know?
posted by pompomtom at 3:35 AM on September 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


It could be that consciousness doesn't survive sleep, and when we wake we're a brand new person, only that we have access to the archives (hard drive) that the person the day before committed to long term memory. So we think we have continuity, but like the person in a hypothetical Trek transporter, we don't really.

I've been down this road, but why is sleep the difference? Why not each discrete moment? How do we know we are the same person now...and now?

My main take away is that is just doesn't matter. I mean I guess if you are Hugh Jackman in The Prestige it does, but in our day to day life we have to accept that there is the possibility of some Dark City shit going on and that it honestly doesn't matter.

To be honest, I don't like Cory Doctorow, but his stuff in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is probably coming, so the sooner we make peace with the idea that we are not continuous entities the better.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:49 AM on September 24, 2017 [10 favorites]


Seems like this is a problem ripe for some mefite to write a sci-fi novel / forthcoming movie about?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:50 AM on September 24, 2017 [9 favorites]


I'm still not convinced that the transporters don't pass you through some sort of Event Horizon -type hell dimension, and that part of their function is to erase your memories of it.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:16 AM on September 24, 2017 [12 favorites]


I'm definitely in the "doesn't matter" camp. But there are some interesting implications. There was an old Star Trek novel which had the bad guy kidnap Kirk, fake Kirk's death so the Federation wouldn't come looking for Kirk, and then (for some reason that I've forgotten now) used the transporter to duplicate Kirk. That was the interesting part. Duplicate Kirk was Kirk in every single way. Down to the atoms and with the full memory and personality. But on being told he was a duplicate, he changed how he identified himself, and ultimately altered his behavior in interesting ways.

In terms of how the Federation viewed transporters vs. continuity of self, there's a couple of key things. One is the transporter accident in ST:TMP which killed a couple of people (and is probably one of the creepiest moments in Trek). The victims were considered dead with no possibility of recovery. Which is a little weird when you think about it, since every description of the transporter indicates they could be easily reconstructed. But they weren't, so there must be some legal fiction in place which forbids recovery if the actual atoms of the person somehow get mangled.

The other indication of self continuity is the lack of functional immortality. One thing this society doesnt do is allow people to make backups of themselves. By backups, I mean people routinely getting a transporter image created that sits on a server somewhere, and then is recovered after the person's death. If the Federation didn't believe strongly in some form of continuity, this would be a common practice.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 4:29 AM on September 24, 2017 [7 favorites]


I imagine that legal fiction is somewhat like our society deals with conjoined twins. We have to see them as having two completely separate identities, so they have to marry two different people and .... don't think about it too hard! Ignore! Ignore!
posted by rikschell at 4:38 AM on September 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've been down this road, but why is sleep the difference? Why not each discrete moment? How do we know we are the same person now...and now?

There's some suggestion that anaesthetics work by severing the connections between all the bits that make up "you". They're still all there and running, but no more communication, no more emergent consciousness. If not sleep (because hey, we still dream, right? So somebody must still be home?) then anaesthetics are a pretty good candidate for wake-up-as-a-duplicate drugs.
posted by Leon at 4:39 AM on September 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


But take something living and do that? Beam it up? What you done is ripped a man apart then stuck his bits back together

How does he know that's the mechanism? How about a micro worm hole? Or how about a Nano-space-warp -- there are already "warp"s in the cannon science.

I think we know it was probably a clever idea where it was cheaper to do a glitter effect than build the sets for shuttle craft landings.

The conjunction of "science fiction" and "fantasy" has bothered me at times, science should be science, but what is bothering more is the ongoing science by actual scientists. The Standard Model is showing that many of the science fiction mechanisms are much more fantasy than science. Don't need silly transporters but something close to FTL would sure be nice, oh well, in the sim maybe.
posted by sammyo at 4:44 AM on September 24, 2017


Also, this doesn't even mention the potential problems with having your teleportation and food prep based on the same technology.

I mean, does no one else remember the episode of DS9 when the transporter got its circuits crossed with the replicator, and Jake got turned into a giant sentient paella, and only Major Kira could protect him from the rest of the crew, because Bajorans can't eat shellfish?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:45 AM on September 24, 2017 [19 favorites]


> I'm still not convinced that the transporters don't pass you through some sort of Event Horizon -type hell dimension, and that part of their function is to erase your memories of it.

I've got a new idea for a show titled 'Star Trek 40,000'
posted by I-Write-Essays at 4:50 AM on September 24, 2017 [7 favorites]


I'm still not convinced that the transporters don't pass you through some sort of Event Horizon -type hell dimension, and that part of their function is to erase your memories of it.

If you were required to wear this hideous uniform as you explored the universe, you'd want your memories to constantly reset too.
posted by Fizz at 4:59 AM on September 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


The conjunction of "science fiction" and "fantasy" has bothered me at times, science should be science, but what is bothering more is the ongoing science by actual scientists.

Not picking on you particularly, but any time someone expresses the idea of distinctly separate science fiction and fantasy, I first think of an Arthur C Clarke quote, discard it as trite and then recommend they read Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman series.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:03 AM on September 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


There have been so many times that the transporters have been used to filter out diseases, parasites, and the like, and to revert to "clean copies" of people's DNA, that I'm surprised Transporter Medicine hasn't become a specialty by at least the end of TNG.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:21 AM on September 24, 2017 [13 favorites]


Oh hell, I thought this post was about whiskey.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:23 AM on September 24, 2017 [12 favorites]


Two alternatives to me: either the continuity of the specific material/biochemical/electrical processes that go into producing the experience of continuous selfhood are necessary and discontinuity in those processes kills you, or there's a deeper set of ideal mathematical relations that any specific instantiations of selfhood only realize as an instance of one's self and there sort of really is something like a soul only it's a natural, meyaphysical phenomenon, like the idea of a triangle, say, and not magic.

To expand on that last idea a little: in programming, I work with classes that represent idealized models/definitions of particular objects. To apply those concepts by way of analogy to selfhood and consciousness, a soul might be something like an abstract class that requires implentation in one or more concrete instances to produce the experience of continuous selfhood. If there's some consistent, mathematically describable identity function or abstract, nonlinear pattern that's unique to every concrete instance of a self and that remains consistent in its function despite producing nondeterministic outputs, then maybe there's some characteristic identity function that remains stable over time regardless of concrete implementation and that abstract set of relations is akin to what we intuitively experience as continuity of consciousness and selfhood.

Basically, if there's something akin to a unique, abstract base class definition that only exists as a set of idealized relations until physically implemented that in some practical sense defines all or part of who we are as individuals, then maybe there is a sort of consistency to who we are that persists even when we're not "implemented" in a particular physical instance.

Sorry if that attempt at explaining my point is confusing; I'm not sure I'm capable of getting my point across but I think I know what I'm trying to say, lol.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:24 AM on September 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm surprised Transporter Medicine hasn't become a specialty by at least the end of TNG.

All their investments are tied up in HoloPornHub.
posted by Fizz at 5:33 AM on September 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm still not convinced that the transporters don't pass you through some sort of Event Horizon -type hell dimension, and that part of their function is to erase your memories of it.

That's in the realm of what Reginald Barclay thought too -- the show isn't explicit on the particulars of his transporter phobia. But, turned out it was just the consciousnesses of other people trapped in the transporter buffer...
posted by mystyk at 5:34 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


It could be that consciousness doesn't survive sleep, and when we wake we're a brand new person, only that we have access to the archives (hard drive) that the person the day before committed to long term memory. So we think we have continuity, but like the person in a hypothetical Trek transporter, we don't really.

This has always worried me, actually. Or has always worried each successive me.
posted by Frowner at 5:36 AM on September 24, 2017 [11 favorites]


But, turned out it was just the consciousnesses of other people trapped in the transporter buffer...

I love how matter of fact this statement is. As if its just another day in the Universe with other consciousnesses trapped in transporter hell.
posted by Fizz at 5:39 AM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


There have been so many times that the transporters have been used to filter out diseases, parasites, and the like, and to revert to "clean copies" of people's DNA, that I'm surprised Transporter Medicine hasn't become a specialty by at least the end of TNG.

What if this is done wrong, and they accidentally remove your proper microbiome? I mean, that's ~90% of your body's cells (and ~1-3% of your body by mass), and that kind of weight loss could seriously mess you up.
posted by mystyk at 5:41 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


Wasn't there a short story where it turned out that the transporters were actually duplicaters and the "sending" station actually murdered the original and destroyed the remains?
posted by octothorpe at 5:42 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


The interesting thing to me about this discussion is everybody's implicit assumption that there is only one transporter design across all of Star Trek and that every transporter in the show works in exactly the same way, even in episodes separated chronologically by centuries. Imagine making the same assumption about guns, or automobile engines. Inconsistencies are much easier to explain as upgrades/redesigns/multiple modes of operation.

This general approach also adds a little more texture to an otherwise homogeneous science fiction universe. Does the sonic shower involve water? Sometimes. How does raktajino taste and what's the recipe? It depends. And this in turn increases the universe's credibility and improves storytelling flexibility.
posted by qntm at 5:42 AM on September 24, 2017 [7 favorites]


Basically, if there's something akin to a unique, abstract base class definition that only exists as a set of idealized relations until physically implemented that in some practical sense defines all or part of who we are as individuals, then maybe there is a sort of consistency to who we are that persists even when we're not "implemented" in a particular physical instance.

So, what you're saying is that all the transporter mishaps are really runtime exceptions in an object-oriented language by a programmer who didn't use enough try/catch blocks, and we are all merely instances of a sealed class inherited from an abstract class?

Well, I may run on Java, but presumably not the Sun/Oracle kind...
posted by mystyk at 5:49 AM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


Forgot to bring my points home to transporters: 1) In the first scenario, if transporters break you down to atoms and then reconstruct you from the same atoms, arranged exactly the same way, you'd be golden except in the case of mishap. 2) In the second, it might not matter if you're made of the same stuff as before, and there might be multiple copies of you that really are still "you" in a crucial sense even if there's no simultaneous experience of fragmented consciousness resulting from the duplication. There's no real problem there if consciousness is a process that necessarily can only be experienced as continuous and atomic but never really is or has been in practice because its consistency derives from a set of idealized relations and the experience of continuity isn't really the important or defining characteristic of selfhood; those characteristic and relatively stable abstract relations that define us on a metaphysical level are, and taking us apart and interrupting the continuity of our self-reflective awareness of consciousness doesn't even touch us on the level of what fundamentally makes us who we are, which really only exists as a particular pattern of abstract potentiality until physically implemented in one or more instances.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:06 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


It could be that consciousness doesn't survive sleep, and when we wake we're a brand new person, only that we have access to the archives (hard drive) that the person the day before committed to long term memory. So we think we have continuity, but like the person in a hypothetical Trek transporter, we don't really.

This has always worried me, actually. Or has always worried each successive me.
posted by Frowner at 5:36 on September 24 [+] [!]


Musing on this very thing for a while is how I completely got rid of being afraid to die.

I now think of my consciousness as more process-like than object-like; it's a thing that I do rather than a thing that I am.

For me, the words "I" and "this body" have the same referent; my consciousness is a thing my body has, not the other way around. While I'm asleep, I'm still around; I'm just not doing consciousness until I dream and/or wake up.

So for me there's no philosophical problem of identity inherent in the old thought experiment involving technology capable of snapshotting me and transporting an identical copy that occasionally doesn't destroy the original, so that I end up walking out of both the sending and receiving booths. The answer to the question of which of those people would really be me is "both", and I am completely untroubled by that; any ensuing problems would be administrative, not philosophical.
posted by flabdablet at 6:12 AM on September 24, 2017 [14 favorites]


» I'm surprised Transporter Medicine hasn't become a specialty by at least the end of TNG.

All their investments are tied up in HoloPornHub.


Jokes aside, this is one of the few things that really helped make Quark such a genuine and believable character. In all of ST, he's the only one I can recall trying to generate/sell/use Holodeck Porn (or really any, for that matter). My experience in the military would suggest that at least 80% of the enlisted and nearly as much of the officers -- men and women alike -- would have piles of porn with them, and I can't imagine that in that world a decent chunk wouldn't also utilize the Holodeck.

Now, I'm not suggesting that they needed to allude to Transporter Chief O'Brien (presumably pre-Keiko) passing away the doldrums of such a mindlessly boring job by spending his free time polishing the conduits, but the sheer puritanical approach the show takes regarding sex so often is one of the least believable aspects for me, and having Quark be so nonchalant about it really felt more honest.
posted by mystyk at 6:39 AM on September 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


One thing this society doesnt do is allow people to make backups of themselves. By backups, I mean people routinely getting a transporter image created that sits on a server somewhere, and then is recovered after the person's death

I think Trek is pretty consistent that the transporters are distinct from Replicators somehow. Replicators can't make anything living -- famously not the Klingon dish with living worms, or new organs for that weird diseased species in Voyager -- and characters occasionally complain that replicated food doesn't quite capture the tastes of the real thing, although granted the latter could just be snobbery. Transporters, in contrast, clearly do work on living things but their Patterns can't (usually) be copied, or stored for more than a few moments without degradation.

I'm not sure whether it's ever explained why they're different, but I think it's reasonable to assume that they're based on different tech.

And yes, Mieville's Kraken has the best take on transporters and teleportation that I've come across.
posted by metaBugs at 6:51 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


Wasn't there a short story where it turned out that the transporters were actually duplicaters and the "sending" station actually murdered the original and destroyed the remains?

It seems like a shame to waste all those complex proteins, especially given Voyager seems to suggest the food replicators use a lot of energy and might need to be rationed.

the transporter buffer...

Maybe its actually transporter butter, but the Computer doesn't usually use that term in front of the animals and after letting it slip once, had to convince a petty officer she had actually said buffer.
posted by biffa at 6:58 AM on September 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


>> This has always worried me, actually. Or has always worried each successive me.
> Musing on this very thing for a while is how I completely got rid of being afraid to die

I also spent a lot of time musing about this, but all I came up with was that I like consciousness and am greatly attached to mine. It's no mystery for me why I experience frequent insomnia.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:59 AM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


I've dealt with the continuity-of-consciousness thing by reasoning that, whatever things I'm worried about regarding the future, they're really tomorrow-me's problem. Sucks to be you, Tomorrow-Me! Welcome, sweet, sweet oblivion!

Yesterday-Me is such an asshole
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:12 AM on September 24, 2017 [10 favorites]


Oh, and WRT the Event Horizon-type transporter, there's a Stephen King short story called "The Jaunt" which is about a teleporter for which you have to be unconscious when you go through it in order to survive the trip with mind intact... and eventually you find out why that is. Sometimes I wish that King would do more straight-up science fiction, and sometimes I'm glad that he doesn't.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:16 AM on September 24, 2017 [10 favorites]


Literaryhero: I've been down this road, but why is sleep the difference? Why not each discrete moment? How do we know we are the same person now...and now?

If you transport a river, can you step in the same river twice?
posted by clawsoon at 7:24 AM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]




One thing this society doesnt do is allow people to make backups of themselves. By backups, I mean people routinely getting a transporter image created that sits on a server somewhere, and then is recovered after the person's death

The Eight Worlds settings of John Varley, examines this idea in more depth in short story collections and novels like The Persistence of Vision, The Barbie Murders, Steel Beach, and The Golden Globe. He doesn't ignore the implications, either, having more than one character confront the knowledge they're not the original.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 7:37 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


All their investments are tied up in HoloPornHub.

Worst job on the Enterprise? Mop duty on the holo-decks.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:53 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


The interesting thing to me about this discussion is everybody's implicit assumption that there is only one transporter design across all of Star Trek and that every transporter in the show works in exactly the same way, even in episodes separated chronologically by centuries.

Well, there was the dimensional shifting transporter used by terrorists in TNG's The High Ground, that caused cumulative cellular damage with each trip.

It would also have been interesting to see a Trek story portraying an alien race that once saw Federation transporting in action, and imperfectly replicated it with an explicitly kill/copy version, with a suitably horrified reaction from our crew when they realize what happened. (Maybe a TNG era follow up with the Iotians from A Piece of the Action?)
posted by Pryde at 7:58 AM on September 24, 2017 [6 favorites]


There's the Thomas Disch novel Echo Round His Bones where a transporter leaves a "ghost" of the original person at the site they were transported from. And these ghosts can only survive on the air and water ghosted from previous transports, and when they need to eat, cannibalism of other ghosts works.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:00 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


Please sign in to your Google account to use the transporter.

[click here to use your Facebook account credentials]
posted by ctmf at 8:19 AM on September 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


In all of ST, he's the only one I can recall trying to generate/sell/use Holodeck Porn (or really any, for that matter).

Point of Order.
In that episode with Famke Janssen as the bio engineered super flirt who Riker has to resist doing Riker things with. He very nearly falls for her charms, resisting at the last minute and departs the scene with:
"Riker to bridge, if you need me I'll be on Holodeck 4."
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 8:27 AM on September 24, 2017 [9 favorites]


As mentioned above, I wrote a book about this which was also covered in an Ars Technica article that for some reason this article doesn't reference but you should check out if this subject matter interests you.
posted by analogue at 8:29 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


Wasn't there a short story where it turned out that the transporters were actually duplicaters and the "sending" station actually murdered the original and destroyed the remains?

“Think Like a Dinosaur” by James Patrick Kelly. Also made into an episode of Outer Limits.
posted by traveler_ at 8:30 AM on September 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


I once wrote an alternate universe Voyager series outline (about half way through this - search for Star Trek rather than scrolling through all the rest of the stuff) that was based on the implications of the two Rikers episode, among other things.
posted by dng at 8:36 AM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


I mean, does no one else remember the episode of DS9 when the transporter got its circuits crossed with the replicator, and Jake got turned into a giant sentient paella, and only Major Kira could protect him from the rest of the crew, because Bajorans can't eat shellfish?

OK, that episode was dumb and the pseudoscience resolution made no sense and its continuity is irreconcilable with that episode where Bareil and Kira shared a spaghetti alle vognole, but I maintain it's still better than "Move Along Home".
posted by jackbishop at 8:37 AM on September 24, 2017 [6 favorites]


I'm surprised there's no mention of the transporter used by Roger the alien from American Dad. It's literally a meat grinder with gore pouring out the bottom and you die, horribly, screaming. But it's OK, because you're fine on the other side and don't remember it that much.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:51 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


I bring up Schlock Mercenary whenever I can, so I'll add some fun reading if you don't already read it.
The Teraport Wars are about what happens when you introduce a personal (ok, spaceship sized) teleport into a universe filled with people who don't like each other.
The former monopoly of instantaneous, interstellar travel have been enriching themselves by making copies of everyone who goes through the gate, interrogating them, and then killing the copy. Oh, and they've also been preventing an inter-galactic war.
There's also a story where a main character gets brought back to life from a backup and he has to deal with the existential questions surrounding it.
So, while not directly related to the philosophical implications of teleporting in TNG, there are a bunch of other awesome questions being asked and answered.
posted by mfu at 9:20 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


On the subject of transporter accidents, I'm sure some will be quick to dismiss this incident because "adverts for UK electrical utilities are in no way canon" or some such reasoning, but despite that, I'd like to bring up that one time Scotty had to beam up Kirk and an unnamed enlisted crew member.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:31 AM on September 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


Yes per se, but not necessarily. The Prestige addressed this accurately assuming "you" are defined by classical not quantum information, which sounds like a safe bet.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:05 AM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


One of the more interesting transporter scenes (for me) was in, I think, the second ST movie. There's a scene where Kirk and Spock begin a conversation on the transporter pad and it continues through dematerialization and rematerialization at the destination.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:16 AM on September 24, 2017


With all the references flying around here I feel it's a good idea to mention Dan Simmons' Hyperion series. The "farcasters" are a teleportation network, a bit like magic doors, and there's something of a revelation partway through the books about how they work that's pretty disturbing.

At one point they all shut down simultaneously and anything that was halfway through is left half on one side of the galaxy and half on the other. And then they resort to faster than light travel that kills the person inside the ship, but they're reanimated by a sort of parasite that creates immortality and leads to the resurgence of an interstellar Catholic church.

Yeah, a lot happens in those books.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:26 AM on September 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


IMO, the Riker copy episode is pretty clear that the transporter makes copies and kills the original. The interesting bit of tech is the cultural shift that has made people okay with that. What I don't get is why people die at all in Star Trek. If you can store copies in the transporter buffer, and you aren't particularly concerned about the whole suicide box/copy thing, why wouldn't you keep backups? Also, even ignoring nu-trek, subspace radio + casual use of transporters = interstellar travel by transporter beam, so why do they fly around in space at all?
posted by surlyben at 10:26 AM on September 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


I was always kind of surprised that Star Trek never made some arbitrary hand-waving effort to dismiss these concerns in a definitive way. Some kind of plot occurrence where they had to make a true copy/clone of someone using a transporter, but the copy never attained full consciousness. That would have allowed them to shrug and say once and for all "oh, I guess consciousness is bound to the matter/energy stream through some physics we don't yet understand."

However, I'm reminded by an exchange with the Dalai Lama, where he's asked if AI or some kind of machine could have a soul. His view was that when a machine reached the right level of intelligence/sentience, a soul would simply seek it out and choose to inhabit it. So, if you view the "soul" as some kind of parasite that is constantly seeking out an adequate host, and tends to become attached to a particular host...then perhaps that makes the metaphysics of teleportation easier to stomach.
posted by prosopagnosia at 10:48 AM on September 24, 2017 [8 favorites]


I like the idea of a radio signal looking for an adequate receiver better than parasite/host, as that formulation implies the ensouled construct already had some kind of independent agency before tuning into any particular, er, soul. It also makes it sound gross and exploitative somehow.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:55 AM on September 24, 2017


Some kind of plot occurrence where they had to make a true copy/clone of someone using a transporter, but the copy never attained full consciousness.

What you don't see is the giant pile of dead bodies just behind the transporter room. There's a low level officer wearing a red shirt that just shovels dead formerly transported bodies into an incinerator that provides supplemental energy for the lighting in Ten Forward.
posted by Fizz at 11:17 AM on September 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


taking us apart and interrupting the continuity of our self-reflective awareness of consciousness doesn't even touch us on the level of what fundamentally makes us who we are, which really only exists as a particular pattern of abstract potentiality until physically implemented in one or more instances.

A really interesting perspective, self-as-Platonic-ideal, sort of. For me, an essential aspect of consciousness is that it is a process, and I haven't ever been able to make sustainable sense out of any object-framing for consciousness, be it a soul or persistent pattern or whatever. It's not a thing, it's an experience; verb, not noun. Like music. Or like this:

I now think of my consciousness as more process-like than object-like; it's a thing that I do rather than a thing that I am.

For me, the words "I" and "this body" have the same referent; my consciousness is a thing my body has, not the other way around. While I'm asleep, I'm still around; I'm just not doing consciousness until I dream and/or wake up.


Yes, this . What makes the question so difficult to consider or parse, of course, is that the thing that you experience as you is the verb you're trying to objectify when you consider the nature of your own consciousness, and the extraordinary vividness of the experience of meta-cognitive conscious awareness is so overwhelming that it consistently convinces one that it is the primary thing, the generative source of your experience.

But that's kind of like an eye thinking that it's creating the light it sees, rather than experiencing and receiving light from the world of which it's only one part. Having some kind of consciousness appears to be a necessary component of having senses like touch or sight or hearing or balance or motion or proprioception or time, because our bodies--the actual thing that each of us unequivocally is--need to make some kind of coherent sense from all that input. Since our brain never, ever touches the world, or even the rest of one's own body, and thus never experiences it directly, it must create consciousness, and it seems like consciousness is some kind of sustained illusion, hallucination or operating system, necessary to make sense of the input and to make it actionable.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:33 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


I can see how a machine could replicate the meat, but not how the actual spark gets added. In order to have continuity of consciousness, you'd have to have the same electrical impulses, so in addition to the molecules, you'd have to replicate the electro-magnetic status. When they started making transporters, I'll bet they made a lot of deeply unpleasant errors. Probably best not to think about that.
posted by theora55 at 11:35 AM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


Worst job on the Enterprise? Mop duty on the holo-decks.

Nope, because the holodecks create things such as food and drink, as well as odors appropriate for the scenario, via built-in replicators, so they can uncreate them as well. (One of my pet theories as to why you never see anyone cleaning on Trek starships--with one exception in one of the TOS cast movies--is that dirt, grease, dead skin cells, etc. are simply beamed away.) If you wanted to punish someone, though, you could create a simulation where they had to scrub all the floors in Starfleet Headquarters with a toothbrush.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:40 AM on September 24, 2017


*mumble muble* divine spark *mumble mumble* quantum stuff is a neat *mumble mumble* god of the gaps. [hit send, reap clicks.]

The idea that a neural cell is somehow in a coherent quantum state is so unlikely, given the scale of the objects involved, that claiming so requires extraordinary proof. Assuming so is half a step down from Depak Chopra on the credulous psuedoscience-enthusiast scale. The idea that creating an identical copy of you and simultaneously killing you is in any way distinguishable from transporting you cannot possibly be tested. These questions are only interesting if you already subscribe to implausible and unverifiable magical thinking, in which case "God transfers your soul from one transporter pad to another when the button is pushed" is exactly as satisfying as any other argument.

Star trek presents fascinating thought experiments that are great fun to explore and challenge our view of the universe. This isn't one of them.
posted by eotvos at 11:57 AM on September 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


I can see how a machine could replicate the meat, but not how the actual spark gets added

How do you justify the implicit assumption that the spark is something other than a property of meat arranged in that particular way? To me, your position is akin to saying I could see how a machine could draw four connected equal sized lines with corners meeting at 90°, but not how the actual squareness gets added.
posted by flabdablet at 12:07 PM on September 24, 2017 [8 favorites]


As a middle age man I am pretty consciously aware that parts of me are constantly being killed and being replaced with slightly degraded copies every single day.

Transporter not required.
posted by srboisvert at 12:16 PM on September 24, 2017 [19 favorites]


However, I'm reminded by an exchange with the Dalai Lama, where he's asked if AI or some kind of machine could have a soul. His view was that when a machine reached the right level of intelligence/sentience, a soul would simply seek it out and choose to inhabit it.

In Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld, where resurrection was based on backup copies of bodies, that's how souls worked - once they bonded to a particular material form, they'd always snap back to it if a fresh copy was available.
posted by mordax at 12:33 PM on September 24, 2017


Cory Doctorow:
Also, why wasn't the Enterprise just a hard-drive strapped to a transporter in something the size of a watermelon?
Arrive at a planet, beam down 6 copies of the most competent officers in Starfleet, have them run their mission Get a diff for the repo where officers' brains are kept, then annihilate the local instances with the transporter. The well-tempered Starfleet would be distributed and multifarious. The only explanation for the existing Starfleet config is They're all larping space-navy.

posted by Freen at 1:17 PM on September 24, 2017 [6 favorites]


No mention of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle? Hmm. Because it's too much of a buzzkill, I assume?

jeffburdges: assuming "you" are defined by classical not quantum information, which sounds like a safe bet.

Quantum tunneling is used by at least a few critical biological processes. At very least, you need to be able to deal with cytochrome c oxidase complexes in your mitochondria that are partway through tunneling an electron.
posted by clawsoon at 1:19 PM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


Is this the wrong place to complain about games that make a big deal of digitizing a new spawn of yourself when you die, and then have quests where you kill people?
posted by zompist at 1:24 PM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


To me, your position is akin to saying I could see how a machine could draw four connected equal sized lines with corners meeting at 90°, but not how the actual squareness gets added.

To me, it's less the meat than the chemicals, neurotransmitters and the like. We're just starting to understand how our sense of self and being is chemically created and influenced, and I don't see our understanding being detailed enough to replicate that any time soon. So while I remain completely materialist, I am unconvinced that anything really like human consciousness can be manufactured--certainly not using only information.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:42 PM on September 24, 2017


So for me there's no philosophical problem of identity inherent in the old thought experiment involving technology capable of snapshotting me and transporting an identical copy that occasionally doesn't destroy the original, so that I end up walking out of both the sending and receiving booths. The answer to the question of which of those people would really be me is "both", and I am completely untroubled by that; any ensuing problems would be administrative, not philosophical.

As the spinning blades close in: "This problem is completely administrative!"

The idea that creating an identical copy of you and simultaneously killing you is in any way distinguishable from transporting you cannot possibly be tested.

Wouldn't it be readily apparent? In one case you end up with a dead body. Am I missing something?
posted by ODiV at 1:45 PM on September 24, 2017


spending his free time polishing the conduits,

On my ship, we called it 'waxing the Jefferies tube'.
posted by pjern at 1:54 PM on September 24, 2017 [11 favorites]


You shed your skin over the course of several months. You don't notice, it's slow.

It's probably the same with consciousness, but those neurons don't have anywhere to go and they've already been trained with useful stuff. So I think they just stop contributing to the active executive function, their role shifting as new learning is required by it.

They're still active, just a different background role.

As is the case with most systems like this, we see evidence of their operation in their failure. Under severe psychological distress people revert to an earlier state.

That means, unambiguously, the earlier state is available to be returned to, for everyone. It's not like the brain knows someday it'll be tortured and it better keep a copy around.
posted by effugas at 1:57 PM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


OK, that episode was dumb and the pseudoscience resolution made no sense and its continuity is irreconcilable with that episode where Bareil and Kira shared a spaghetti alle vognole


Oh for sure- I think the writers mostly did it for a goof. Nevertheless, the way Avery Brooks says "Oo, paella!" just as he's about to tuck into his own son is absolutely chilling.

Then there was the bit where it turns out that paella looks and smells exactly like some Cardassian dish, and Garak is all, "Why Major, is that komock? And I thought Bajorans didn't care for it at all! The sophistication of your tastes never ceases to amaze me! May I join you? You know, I have a some kanar in my quarters that would go perfectly with this. It's a simply outstanding vintage, one of only three remaining bottles. You'll never believe how I managed to get my hands on it!"

Of course, I thought they were pushing it a bit when they had Kai Winn declare that the paella was heretical, and then Bajoran hard-liners tried to blow it up.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:08 PM on September 24, 2017 [8 favorites]


There is no good explanation for how the transcendental self works in the Star Trek universe that satisfactorily explains (a) Tom Riker, (b) Data, and (c) the fact that nobody seems all that interested in using teleportation technology to duplicate people. It seems to be the standard belief in the Federation that all three of Tom Riker (who is literally a duplicate up to the best extant technology of a real human, and presumably lacks any human characteristic that extant technology can't duplicate), Will Riker (same issue but maybe his "soul" stayed with Tom), and Data (who is constructed, and contains absolutely nothing that is not technologically replicable) are conscious belings and not philosophical zombies.

Is there any canon material on the subject of whether Data can be duplicated with a replicator or a teleporter pattern-buffer output? It's hard to see why it wouldn't be possible.

And even leaving aside the issue of moral qualms that the Federation might have about it, why wouldn't a less ethically fastidious culture like, say, the Cardassians, decide that the best way to assemble an away party is with many teleporter-clones of a single shock troop? They would basically risk none of their "real people" in so doing.
posted by jackbishop at 2:30 PM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


No mention of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle? Hmm. Because it's too much of a buzzkill, I assume?

Because this is all a thought experiment that bypasses the fact that the transporter requires space magic to work at all, the way a lot of Treknology does. (The FTL warp drive requires warp coils, which are stored in the nacelles that are a signature feature of most starships in the Trekverse, that are made out of an imaginary substance called "verterium cortenide." I figure that Zefram Cochrane most have somehow gotten his hands on a meteorite or asteroid made of the stuff.) The production crew came up with something called the "Heisenberg compensator" that's part of the transporter; when a fan asked how it worked, they replied, "Very well, thanks." It's also worth remembering that the only reason why there are transporters in the franchise is that filming shuttle landings was more expensive back in the sixties than the glitter-in-a-lightbeam effect.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:48 PM on September 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


A few thoughts:

1) I am delighted to find out that there are other people who have spent many hours puzzling over personal identity and continuity of consciousness. Thanks, metafilter.

2) It's puzzling to me to speak of personal identity insofar as I both do and do not share identity with my ten-year-old self. This seems more complicated than the ship of Theseus because both the material from which my body is made and the quality of my inner experience have changed.

3) I can't understand how being disassembled into elementary particles and then having other particles assembled elsewhere into a physically indistinguishable copy of me could possibly fail to result in my death. I believe (for what it's worth, given that I don't really know what consciousness means) that my inner experience is a process made possible by my body's function, but an identical copy of my body would then merely produce an identical copy of my inner experience. I die the moment my body's physiological functioning stops. Even if it is the same particles being transported elsewhere somehow, I don't think that helps - if I melt a glass bottle and create a new, empirically indistinguishable bottle from that material, it does not, intuitively, seem to me that those two objects are the same bottle. The matter involved went through a stage of not being a bottle at all, and there can be no interruptions to existence.
posted by a certain Sysoi Pafnut'evich at 3:23 PM on September 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


So, there's a ton of detail and information that would be needed to make the exact same bottle. Not just one shaped the same to human eyes, but every single scratch, every single molecular imperfection, stress, impurity, and what have you in the trillions of trillions of atoms that make up the bottle.

All of that information is definitely something, a huge amount, and it would have to continually exist in some form to truly make the exact same bottle.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:34 PM on September 24, 2017


(One of my pet theories as to why you never see anyone cleaning on Trek starships--with one exception in one of the TOS cast movies--is that dirt, grease, dead skin cells, etc. are simply beamed away.

They do address the lack of a need for cleaning - in the TNG episode where the colony of backwards Irish people sets up camp in a cargo deck, Riker tells a woman that she does not need to sweep up - the ship cleans itself.
posted by floam at 3:35 PM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


There are quantum effects at work in transistors too, clawsoon, but the important data remains classical. We have zero reason to suspect that quantum mechanics plays any role in what it means to be human.

It's true of course that to actually teleport anything then you'd presumably need quantum teleportation even to keep the same state of matter, so yeah I guess that likely prevents copying by ST transporters, and breaks their replicators.

In any case, any realistic "teleportation" scheme involves a machine reading your brain, creating a simulation of you, and putting it into a robot, so the only question is then if the reading process kills you.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:34 PM on September 24, 2017


The matter involved went through a stage of not being a bottle at all, and there can be no interruptions to existence.

Right, and I think this is the only really supportable definition.

It does get tricky, though. Does sleep interrupt existence enough to make the waker a different person? What about full-on-unconsciousness of the type which results from either head trauma or anesthesia?

My own answers are "probably not" and "maybe", which is kind of disturbing since I've been rendered fully unconscious a bunch of times.
posted by Justinian at 4:38 PM on September 24, 2017


1) I am delighted to find out that there are other people who have spent many hours puzzling over personal identity and continuity of consciousness. Thanks, metafilter.


I was hoping for a similar delight when taking Philosophy 101 before the discovery of the immutable Law that every Philosophy 101 class must contain a dude with either a ridiculous hat, or hair, or both, who will challenge the teacher on every single point, seemingly unaware that both the class, and the teacher, are fully aware that everything they are teaching you in the first year is long discredited, but being explained for foundational and historical reasons, and does not need to be extensively relitigated. Screw You, Hat Guy.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 4:48 PM on September 24, 2017 [16 favorites]


Also, even ignoring nu-trek, subspace radio + casual use of transporters = interstellar travel by transporter beam, so why do they fly around in space at all?

They played with that very idea during development of Star Trek the Next Generation.

I'm beginning to think one of the reasons we're not getting any Post-Nemesis Star Trek is because we're all secretly scared that a hypothetical Next-Next-Generation series would either have enough sufficiently advanced technology to make it totally unrecognizable from the Star Trek we're accustomed to, or be a completely uninspired and totally missing the point future where everyone just wears weird clothing and the Enterprise has advanced a few more places in the alphabet like the future that Lt. Daniels' came from in Star Trek Enterprise.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:49 PM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


I had always thought that even with advanced warp engines and such, the power draw for all that mass creation at the destination end in such a short time ought to at least dim the lights pretty hard for a minute.
posted by ctmf at 5:19 PM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


I teleported home one night
with Ron and Sid and Meg.
Ron stole Meggie's heart away,
And I got Sidney's leg.

- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
posted by tclark at 5:39 PM on September 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


Flabdablet, you can assemble a cow from meat, but something has to make the heart start beating, something has to make the lungs expand and take in air. Assembling the molecules correctly is not enough. The difference between the human and the square is that being alive is a dynamic property, whereas being square is static. If you have an exact copy of the molecules, the meat, and are able to replicate the exact electromagnetic condition, maybe the electric charge that makes the heart beat will be generated.
posted by theora55 at 5:40 PM on September 24, 2017


As an addendum, I think it's worth highlighting this quote from Picard, explaining his personal philosophy in regard to consciousness/death/etc. It comes from the episode "Where Silence Has Lease," where the Enterprise is trapped by an omnipotent being who's extremely curious about the nature of "limited existence," and announces its intent to kill one-third to one-half of the crew in different ways so as to better study death. At one point the being disguises itself as Data and appears to Picard in his quarters, and the following exchange takes place:

"I have a question, sir."

"Yes Data, what is it?"

"What is death?"

"Oh, is that all? Oh, Data, you're asking probably the most difficult of all questions. Some see it as a changing into an indestructible form, forever unchanging; they believe that the purpose of the entire universe is to maintain that form in an earth-like garden which will give delight and pleasure through all eternity. On the other hand, there are those who hold to the idea of our blinking into nothingness. That all of our experiences and hopes and dreams, merely a delusion."

"Which do you believe, sir?"

"Considering the marvelous complexity of the universe, its clockwork perfection, its balances of this against that, matter, energy, gravitation, time, dimension, I believe that our existence must be more than either of these philosophies. That what we are goes beyond Euclidean or other 'practical' measuring systems, and that our existence is part of a reality beyond what we understand now as reality."


Picard's opinion may not reflect dominant viewpoints among 24th century humanity as a whole, but I still think it's insightful if we're discussing how they've come to accept the philosophical questions associated with the use of transporters.
posted by prosopagnosia at 6:03 PM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


It is a little more clearly defined in the science fiction series starting with Altered Carbon, they do somethig called needlecasting, where they transport your consciousness into new bodies, killing off the old bodies.

It is against the law to have more than one of you around, but that doesn't necessarily stop it from ever happening.

(Soon to be a Netlfix series).
posted by eye of newt at 6:29 PM on September 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


There are constant interruptions to existence at the quantum scale. We've never been alive, by that reasoning, which is absurd. There must be some flaw in how the strict materialist view conceives the argument, or some other, physically independent factor maintaining continuity (or the illusion of it) across those infinitely many small gaps in existence.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:44 PM on September 24, 2017


I'm surprised nobody's mentioned Charles Stross's Glasshouse, which addresses a lot of the questions in this thread, and takes transporter technology to its weird and extreme yet pretty logical conclusions. It's all sort of backgrounded to the actual plot, but it's great stuff.
posted by rifflesby at 8:39 PM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


The only explanation for the existing Starfleet config is They're all larping space-navy.

This is not a new concept. It seems perfectly reasonable that in the post-scarcity utopia of Star Trek the main purpose of Starfleet is to give jobs to all the people not content to simply live a life free of want or desire. This is the main reason why we never see a Star Trek series set on Earth, it would just be a bunch of people sitting around eating replicated food saying, "Wow this is great!"

Also, I agree that Tom Riker and Data are not reconcilable. Data's conceit is there's some aspect of his positronic brain that can't be replicated, as a nice analog to whatever handwavy reason there is for being unable to replicate living tissue. When Tom Riker showed up nobody was shocked that this was possible, just as nobody was shocked that Tuvok and Neelix could be turned into one coherent person (!) that an entire away team could be rematerialized as children (!!) or Kirk could be accidentally split into Two Kirks (!!!). It seems clear that it's 100% possible to use the transporters to perform all manner of philosophical dilemmas but it's either so illegal that nobody is allowed to even suggest it or there are philosophical inhibitors built in to the design to prevent say, Data deciding to jumpstart the android
race by creating a million transporter duplicates of himself.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:44 PM on September 24, 2017


Also Tron! When Jeff Bridges gets zapped by the magic laser and ventures “into” the computer…where does his body go? Who comes back?
posted by device55 at 9:24 PM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


It seems perfectly reasonable that in the post-scarcity utopia of Star Trek the main purpose of Starfleet is to give jobs to all the people not content to simply live a life free of want or desire.

Sooo.. Contact, then. What's the Starfleet equivalent of Special Circumstances?
posted by Justinian at 10:45 PM on September 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


It does get tricky, though. Does sleep interrupt existence enough to make the waker a different person? What about full-on-unconsciousness of the type which results from either head trauma or anesthesia?

We have done imaging of brain activity, while people are asleep, and while under anesthesia; it doesn't stop. I think we attach too much importance to consciousness as a separate thing- it's clearly a product of brain activity. As long as the right brain activity continues, then you have continuity.

This isn't an answer question to the transporter question though, because we don't have any magical "Break things down into their constituent particles and reassemble an identical duplicate" technology, and we never will. It's a SFnal equivalent to the "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin" question.
posted by happyroach at 10:48 PM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


We have done imaging of brain activity, while people are asleep, and while under anesthesia; it doesn't stop.

Whew. Here I thought we might be on Justinian 6.0 or so by now.

I wish Trek could ditch transporter technology. It's a terrible storytelling device which exists solely because they needed to stretch the production budget in TOS and this way they didn't have to pay for shuttle FX or whatever. But did I mention teleporters are terrible and ruin everything?

Set a new Trek in the future and have some weird *technobabble* reason why teleporter technology ceases to work. Because teleporters ruin everything.
posted by Justinian at 11:03 PM on September 24, 2017


Sounds like Section 31 is Starfleet's dirty tricks unit, Justinian.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:54 PM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


I wish Trek could ditch transporter technology.

It's tough since transporters are so ingrained in the culture as a key Trek element that getting rid of them would be removing part of what identifies the franchise in the public mind.

At the same time, for me, the worst elements of the transporters isn't when things go seriously wrong, those stories are kinda fun. In a universe with so many other bizarre anomalies I don't need much of an explanation to accept wacky body-switching, combining, duplicating, or other malfunctions and they really don't creep up that often.

More problematic is all the times they have to find excuses for why the transporters don't work, (ion storms!), so they can find ways to avoid using them as easy answers to whatever difficulty the crew faces. In that sense, the writers of the shows might actually benefit and be onboard with losing them as it would make some of their job easier.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:55 PM on September 24, 2017


Well at least Flabdablet is here to talk some sense!

This is very well-trodden ground in philosophy at this point, it either:
1. Makes no difference what atoms you are made up of or how quickly they are replaced (by transporter or by aging) because "you" is the pattern and not the atoms or
2. Absolutely matters because you believe in some form of magic

It's the old life force (elan vital) argument again from the beginning of the 20th century, which only survives now as a name for hair products and the fiction cliche that electricity is necessary to animate monsters of the Frankenstein variety. Once we understood medicine better it seemed silly. As silly as, as Julian Huxley put it at the time, a locomotive needing an "élan locomotif".

I'm definitely with Flabdablet, it is a better and more satisfying existence to realize that consciousness and the ensuing self-hood is something your body does and any exact copy would also be "me". I really do imagine it is similar to how understanding lightning and thunder is so much better than being scared of angry and wrathful Gods.

That's not even getting started on the problem of thinking you have a single unified self to begin with, but save that one for after you've got a handle on this issue.
posted by Infracanophile at 1:44 AM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


I wish Trek could ditch transporter technology.
Personally, I enjoyed the way it was treated in (mild spoiler here, but not as far as gameplay goes, so I'll stick to small text) Andrew Plotkin's excellent IF game Spider and Web:

The prototype transporter is written about in the same way we now write about the Trinity test: here is a device that arbitrarily rearranges matter anywhere on Earth. How can we not be terrified of the possibilities for assassination or mass destruction?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:12 AM on September 25, 2017


Absolutely matters because you believe in some form of magic

Believing that we are physical objects and nothing more is believing in magic?

It's your hand-wavy 'patterns' that resemble a magic elan vital. Patterns are Platonic entities and can't confer identity on anyone.
posted by Segundus at 3:20 AM on September 25, 2017


As the spinning blades close in: "This problem is completely administrative!"

The problems experienced by a conscious human being about to be disassembled by spinning blades are of course rather more than administrative, but they are also quite distinct from the immediate problems experienced by a pair of identical people emerging from transporter booths vis a vis their claims to possession of a genuine consciousness and a sense of personal identity continuous with that of the person who initially entered the sending booth (a philosophical problem) and their claims to legal ownership of what they both believe to be their non-bodily possessions (an administrative problem).

I'm saying that the philosophical problem has a clear and obvious answer, which is that the premise of the scenario necessarily allows personal identities to bifurcate, rendering the question of which of the emerging people is the "real" one meaningless. If the person who emerges from the receiver booth is indeed copied from the person in the transmitter booth with material fidelity sufficient to allow such booths to be routinely used as transport, then that is the person who entered the transmitter booth - as is the person who emerges from the transmitter in the presumed-unusual case of it having failed somehow to disassemble them.

And I'm saying that the reason this answer is obvious (to me at least) is that consciousness is (again, to me obviously) a process inherent in the physical functioning of bodies organized like mine.

you can assemble a cow from meat, but something has to make the heart start beating, something has to make the lungs expand and take in air.

If you claim to have assembled a cow from meat but its heart doesn't beat and the lungs don't take in air, I will reply that what you assembled might well resemble a cow to some extent (perhaps even to the extent that the corpse of a cow does, if your stitching is really tidy) but is not, in fact, a cow.

Assembling the molecules correctly is not enough.

I disagree, though I will go so far as to allow that assembling most of the molecules correctly is not enough. You have to get the assembly exactly right. If you don't, you haven't "assembled the molecules correctly".

If you have an exact copy of the molecules, the meat, and are able to replicate the exact electromagnetic condition, maybe the electric charge that makes the heart beat will be generated.

Why would there be any "maybe" about it?

I would not even contemplate stepping into some janky Grace L Ferguson Transporter and Storm Door Company sending booth that fails to guarantee complete reconstruction of my every fundamental particle and all of their relationships relative to each other at the receiver. I might not be afraid to die, but there are plenty of other things I'd prefer to get done beforehand.

There must be some flaw in how the strict materialist view conceives the argument, or some other, physically independent factor maintaining continuity (or the illusion of it) across those infinitely many small gaps in existence.

Continuity in general is something I understand as a convenient fiction. We learn it early (it's called "object permanence") because it saves us all the bother of being astonished every time we re-encounter that blue stuffed teddy bear that disappeared from view behind that chair two seconds ago. That said, it's a really good convenient fiction; reality does present us with many observable features whose propensity to change over time is relatively small.

But believing that consciousness is more process-like than object-like, I'm not convinced that taking anything like object permanence seriously with respect to it is justified.

Consider using a stroboscope to observe some cyclic process like the operation of a car engine. By synchronizing the strobe flashes with the ignition system, one can make the engine appear to stop, allowing the relationship between the ignition timing and the angular position of the crankshaft to be observed.

Now consider a naive observer who believes that the strobe really does make the engine stop. Such an observer would ascribe some degree of permanence to the relationship between the timing marks on the crankshaft pulley and the reference notch on the engine block. But that permanence is illusory, as can clearly be demonstrated by failing to warn that observer not to try to grab the fan belt.

The illusion happens because the strobe is arranged in such a way that perception of the timing marks is possible only when they are positioned right where the strobe seems to freeze them.

Now consider the consequences of a thought that seeks to check for its own existence. Such a check would succeed every single time: the very act of checking is what creates the thing being checked for!

It seems to me that the very same perceptual machinery that confers the illusion of object permanence when viewing a moving engine with strobe illumination would be likely to work equally well to confer an illusion of object permanence to the object of that thought; and that once accepted, such permanence could be reasoned about until something like the idea of the soul or the unitary Self inevitably arises. An insufficient skeptic such as Descartes might even mistake that thought for the one thing whose ongoing existence cannot even in principle be doubted.

But here's the thing: we know perfectly well that personal experience is not continuous in time, because all of us sleep. So I don't think we need to invoke "some other, physically independent" factor to explain the illusion of continuity. Plain old wishful thinking and wilful ignorance is a plenty good enough explanation for me. Consciousness is Dunning-Kruger all the way down.
posted by flabdablet at 3:43 AM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


As a middle age man I am pretty consciously aware that parts of me are constantly being killed and being replaced with slightly degraded copies every single day.

As was recently pointed out in an AskMe about age-related close vision failure, the problems of aging might well have more to do with stuff failing to be killed and replaced than with the presumed degradation of copied copies.
posted by flabdablet at 4:00 AM on September 25, 2017


How is the illusion of continuity persisted across the gaps at planck length scales? What keeps track of state when there's nothing there in those quantized gaps at the boundaries of planck length at those scales?
posted by saulgoodman at 4:05 AM on September 25, 2017


I have never perceived gaps at Planck length scales. Have you? If not, I can't see how any such posited gap would be incompatible with maintenance of any kind of illusion.
posted by flabdablet at 4:14 AM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


If everything strobes in and out of existence at planck length scales, there must still be some physical force or something that persists state information across those theoretical gaps. In theory, there should be no perceiver in those gaps to propagate the "illusion" of continuity at the higher, classical level we're observing from.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:16 AM on September 25, 2017


That assertion would seem to rest on an assumption that strobing in and out of existence at the Planck scale is behaviour indulged in by every part of reality simultaneously, rather than something the various bits of it may or may not do in some not-inherently-correlated fashion.

Our best model of gross physical reality is General Relativity, and one of the fundamental ideas built into that model is that universal simultaneity is a concept that simply doesn't make sense. That would seem to me to rule out any such universally-coordinated strobing, so I feel no particular urge to take seriously any speculation about how stuff might have to work if that's what was going on.
posted by flabdablet at 4:25 AM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


If everything strobes in and out of existence at planck length scales, there must still be some physical force or something that persists state information across those theoretical gaps. In theory, there should be no perceiver in those gaps to propagate the "illusion" of continuity at the higher, classical level we're observing from.

Inertia? across plank thresholds, matter regains the shape it's most comfortable in?
posted by mikelieman at 4:26 AM on September 25, 2017


If everything strobes in and out of existence at planck length scales, there must still be some physical force or something that persists state information across those theoretical gaps.

I would also urge you to think more carefully about what exactly it is that you mean by "everything" in this statement, and whether or not any such "everything" would necessarily have to include "some physical force".

I think you're drawing a distinction between things that strobe and things that don't, and I am unconvinced that that distinction is any more soundly grounded in a grasp of the relevant mathematics than mine is, which is to say not very soundly at all.
posted by flabdablet at 4:31 AM on September 25, 2017


Is behaviour indulged in by every part of reality simultaneously,

My understanding is that's exactly what quantum theory claims, though. The universe has a sort of "frame rate" at planck length that's uniform and regular across all matter, space, time--everything. Those observations are where all the "is the universe a hologram or computer?" conjectures are coming from...
posted by saulgoodman at 4:31 AM on September 25, 2017


In other words, how does "nonexistence" do the math to render the next frame at each quantized jump? If it's inertia, what persists and propagates it between frames? If there are no gaps, then in what sense is reality at that level discontinuous and not just a classical continuum? If there's nothing physical to persist state between jumps, every passing moment should just be followed by seemingly completely unrelated frames and there shouldn't even be any way to form memories that persist.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:40 AM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


If it's inertia, what persists and propagates it between frames?

A yet-unknown process. I suggest we call it "Laziness". Nothing bothers to do any work without a good reason, and across the plank-length ( or as Pratchett called it, the "New York Second" ) everyone's on a break so... We get what we had.

There's my "cake prediction"
posted by mikelieman at 4:51 AM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Again, I think these questions are mostly an artifact of failure to engage with the relevant mathematics at the required level of detail.

In other words, how does "nonexistence" do the math to render the next frame at each quantized jump?

This question seems arse-about to me, but that's mainly because I take existence as a whole as axiomatic, logically prior to any distinctions drawn between its parts and the mathematical models that follow from those distinctions.

I don't think some ill-specified "nonexistence" is required to "do the math". I think we are required to do such math as is needed to extract useful understandings from mathematical models of reality, and I think that neither you nor I has shown any real sign here that either of us has done much of that :-)

As an intuition pump for getting some kind of understanding of the process of modelling reality with mathematics involving discontinuities, I can offer you Monty on digital audio sampling.

A yet-unknown process

Fucking magnets, how do they work?
posted by flabdablet at 4:55 AM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Nothing bothers to do any work without a good reason

omg we have to clean up this mess, the rents are in the driveway
posted by flabdablet at 5:06 AM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


LEAVE THIS PLACE FOR JUST ONE PLANCK TIME AND YOU KIDS HAVE ALREADY REARRANGED THREE OF MY QUARKS!?

ha ha
he has no idea
posted by flabdablet at 5:08 AM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


f you claim to have assembled a cow from meat but its heart doesn't beat and the lungs don't take in air, I will reply that what you assembled might well resemble a cow to some extent (perhaps even to the extent that the corpse of a cow does, if your stitching is really tidy) but is not, in fact, a cow.

But look, it's spherical!
posted by thelonius at 6:01 AM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


If a tree falls in the forest, and nothing is there to measure it, it remains in quantum superposition, simultaneously making a sound and being quiet.

The question of what happens between frames is absurd. You might as well ask "what flavor is 3 meters?" There simply is no in-between-frames. You would have to embed the discrete time in continuous time for such a notion to make sense.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:06 AM on September 25, 2017


You might as well ask "what flavor is 3 meters?"

i just cut my tongue on the edge of my steel tape measure and it's all your fault
posted by flabdablet at 6:19 AM on September 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


Patterns are Platonic entities and can't confer identity on anyone.

Seems more like Aristotelean metaphysics to me
posted by thelonius at 6:34 AM on September 25, 2017


I take existence as a whole as axiomatic,

Then isn't that dualism, with a separate metaphysical (mathematically real/ideal but not material) process presumably accounting for the persistence of state? I have my own likely unsupportable intuitions about possible explanations but they all seem to require physics at the classical level to be more/different than just a summing of whatever's going on at the quantum level, which implies to me some independent force/factor that cuts across all levels of scale that isn't yet well understood.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:38 AM on September 25, 2017


"Existence" seems to be a metaphysical concept in that formulation, in other words, that precedes/transcends/structures physical/material reality but somehow still has meaning.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:40 AM on September 25, 2017


Existence is directly experienced. It doesn't need meaning. Meaning arises only when one begins to make the distinctions that divide existence into parts and inquire about how the parts relate to one another.

isn't that dualism, with a separate metaphysical (mathematically real/ideal but not material) process presumably accounting for the persistence of state?

State and its persistence are particular ways of thinking about existence. State is a description of the arrangement of things, and defining state requires first defining what those things are that the state is of; ill-defined things cannot be arranged and therefore have no arrangements i.e. no state.

The way I slice my conceptual space has mathematically real/ideal things as parts of the representations of existence that we thinking beings make, and material things as everything capable of existing without requiring representation.

In other words, material things are those which would still exist in a hypothetical universe identical to this one but for an absence of thinking beings. Mathematically real/ideal things are abstract representations of material things or classes or categories of same, only come into existence as a consequence of having been thought up, and exist as parts of thinkers' representations of existence, which are in turn parts of the thinkers' representation organs, which are in turn parts of the thinkers. No thinkers? No ideal forms.

Dualism implies a kind of clean split between the material and non-material. That doesn't really work for me, because I understand the non-material to be embedded in the material, as exemplified by brain activity in human beings.

Never having attended Philosophy 101, I have no idea what the official name for this position is. If somebody could enlighten me, it would probably save me lots of words in future.
posted by flabdablet at 7:39 AM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Recent work by theoretical physicists trying to make sense of quantum gravity is leading in the direction that time and space are themselves emergent phenomena of some lower-level formulation like shape space or tensor networks, or something weird like that. So all these questions of how consciousness is affected by one model of time or another need not even be fundamental.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 7:43 AM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Never having attended Philosophy 101, I have no idea what the official name for this position is. If somebody could enlighten me, it would probably save me lots of words in future.

I think monism is the closest.
posted by thelonius at 7:59 AM on September 25, 2017


After a read-through of that, possibly some flavour of priority monism; existence monism as described there strikes me as somewhat uncomfortably dogmatic, though I would strongly encourage anybody who feels equally dogmatically that it cannot possibly be right to think very very carefully about exactly where their own body ends and the atmosphere begins; and also very very carefully about whether there's anything more than scale prejudice convincing them that the edge of their chair deserves to be taken any more seriously as a genuine object boundary than the edgeless field surrounding any toy magnet.

Thanks, thelonius.
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 AM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


James Blish's original Star Trek novel Spock Must Die! dealt with transporter issues. McCoy posits that the transporter creates a perfect duplicate of the original being, but the soul is destroyed after the first trip.
posted by Billiken at 9:30 AM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


Recent work by theoretical physicists trying to make sense of quantum gravity is leading in the direction that time and space are themselves emergent phenomena of some lower-level formulation like shape space or tensor networks, or something weird like that.

Ooh, ooh, I know this one! It's love! The answer is love!

I know because that's what Matthew McConaughey said in Interstellar and NPR told me that movie was based on hard science.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:08 AM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


Musing on this very thing for a while is how I completely got rid of being afraid to die.

All I had to do was muse on how shitty my life is.

"Riker to bridge, if you need me I'll be on Holodeck 4."

When Riker tells Q, “I don't need your fantasy women!” you KNOW the subtext is, “Because I've got plenty of my OWN fantasy women!”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:45 AM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


Not to derail the beanplating, but there are two "relax, its just fantasy" moments that break the shit out most of the loose theories above:
* The Enemy Within, whereupon two instances of Kirk are formed, one good, one evil.
* Mirror Mirror, whereupon the away party beams back to a different but functionally similar universe while their counterparts do likewise.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:43 PM on September 25, 2017


> Is this the wrong place to complain about games that make a big deal of digitizing a new spawn of yourself when you die, and then have quests where you kill people?

"Hyperion suggests that you do not think about the fact that this is only a digital reconstruction of your original body, which died the first time you respawned. Do NOT think about this!"
posted by bjrubble at 1:45 PM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


The matter involved went through a stage of not being a bottle at all, and there can be no interruptions to existence.

The brain doesn't seem to work that way. Empirically speaking, people (in general) die temporarily on a fairly regular basis. People have ceased to breathe and have their heart beat for tens of minutes or more and come out the other side believing themselves to be the same person and with no more neurological problems than would be expected from any cessation of oxygen transport for 1-2 minutes. Many others have worse outcomes, whether it be personality changes due to the oxygen deprivation or never regaining mental function, but they are not universal.

Clearly some level of interruption to biological processes is survivable. There's no reason to believe that a machine that put all the body's atoms in the correct places relative to each other, just somewhere else, would then stop those biological processes. By definition the charge gradients produced by ions in nerve synapses, to use one example, will be copied/moved exactly. Nerves don't work like copper wire. It's an electrochemical reaction, not like a computer. Even if it was, placing all the electrons in the right places would still produce no apparent interruption in the flow of current as "perceived" by the wire.

Also, "quantum" does not equal woo. The universe is not "doing the math," the math describes the interactions, sometimes very well, sometimes less so depending on the theory. Moreover, there's a very good chance that the Planck values are themselves not particularly fundamental in the sense of providing a universal ruler or clock tick. We have yet to find any actual discontinuities related to them, they are just there to get around infinities that would otherwise crop up (and may itself be evidence that even our best theories aren't complete even within their limited domains, just good enough for the energies we can currently engineer for.

And yeah, given how consciousness seems for all the world to be an emergent property, I'd be unsurprised if it turns out that other things like time itself turn out to be emergent properties of our complex universe. I've actually given the consciousness bit a lot of thought over the years because I actually remember when I developed an inner dialogue and understood abstract thought as a thing. Before that I spent a lot of time nonverbally thinking about what was going on in other people's heads and how exactly they were formulating these mind blowing things they were telling me as a very young child.

Plenty of people think nonverbally through their entire lives, but I don't think it's normal to remember major changes in cognition like that, but I guess when it's a memorably beautiful spring day when the bulbs had just made it into full bloom and you were in the midst of considering some aspect of how that all works, there's a bit more to latch onto.
posted by wierdo at 1:57 PM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


What's the Starfleet equivalent of Special Circumstances?
These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 2:37 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


When Riker tells Q, “I don't need your fantasy women!” you KNOW the subtext is, “Because I've got plenty of my OWN fantasy women!”

He even has one from those aliens who developed a holodeck program specifically to keep him in there as much as possible while they did espionage elsewhere on the ship.
posted by Copronymus at 5:12 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I seem to recall a (non-Trek) short story where they just invented transporters and realize that for each individual, on their first transport, 0.74 ounces of mass goes missing and is unaccounted for. But it doesn't happen with subsequent transports by that person.

After lot of research they finally find the missing mass - it ends up in one of two places - one is some empty part of space near Alpha Centauri, the other, a location 100km beneath the Earth's crust.
posted by ymgve at 7:40 PM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've always enjoyed Clifford Simak's novel "The Goblin Reservation." Its protagonist sets out to travel somewhere in a Trek-like transporter and gets diverted from his destination. When he returns home he finds that actually an identical copy of him arrived at the destination, subsequently returned home, and then suffered a fatal accident. His friends are delighted (but puzzled) to find that the man they buried and mourned is still alive but he has to deal with the legal situation created by his death..

(in case you want to read it: most of that happens in the first ten pages of the novel; it's the setup, not the story..)
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:42 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Moreover, there's a very good chance that the Planck values are themselves not particularly fundamental in the sense of providing a universal ruler or clock tick. We have yet to find any actual discontinuities related to them,

That's actually my intuition, too, that the interpretations of quantum theory that lead to this paradox must be missing something, though I'll admit not being remotely qualified to follow the math.

There's nothing necessarily woo, in principle, about metaphysics as a philosophical domain, it just tends to produce a lot of woo because it's a domain that exists in known epistemological/empirical gaps and requires pure reasoning and intuition and conjecture. All "meta"-physics really means is the inquiry through applied reasoning into the rules governing how material reality is structured and behaves, presuming their must be some general principles, patterns, rules, etc., that govern physical reality that aren't strictly emergent from matter. In a way, you could argue forces like inertia and gravity, etc., may be more mathematically real than physical in the sense we usually think. Considering we know it's the compositional fallacy to imagine matter itself must necessarily be composed of "matter," there seems to be a possibility there are natural phenomena beyond what we normally think of as physical processes that have ontological status, that exist in a certain sense, but aren't emergent from physical processes but structure them. Personally, I'm somewhat persuaded by the arguments like incompleteness that suggest a form of mathematical realism or idealism may offer some explanatory power, though because of the epistemological limits inherent to probing phenomena that transcends and structures observable material reality, it's a domain of inquiry that very quickly becomes a void for projecting personal belief and wish fulfillment fantasy into (hence the world becomes a video game simulation to some because wouldn't that be neat!?).

Something persists and provides continuity over time beyond any apparent discontinuity. Those processes may or may not be deterministic in the classical sense, but they can't be purely random or arbitrary or we wouldn't even be able to sustain an illusion of consciousness that persists. Something we haven't identified and don't fully understand persists state universally without any information loss. Whatever that is makes it possible for the math we do to work consistently.

But if space/time is strictly emergent from matter or an illusion of consciousness, we'd still need a way to account for how matter itself preserves state over time and maybe that's attributable to something even more fundamental at work that isn't emergent from matter but structures it.

Bottom line, we could never really know what it is exactly, but that wouldn't necessarily mean it was pure woo anymore than a basic proof that the interior angles of a triangle always sum to 180 degrees is pure woo. Nothing strictly physical that we can reduce to physical parts seems to be required to make an idea like that true and measurable; we observe it in particular physical examples but the pattern seems to transcend the need for any particular embodiment, so maybe Humean skepticism is just wrong and the patterns we think we observe aren't just coincidences. After all Hume never proved seemingly related patterns of events always were in fact cooncidences only seemingly given meaning by human cognitive biases, he only offered that possibility as a conjecture to make a point about the epistemological limits of human knowledge, to point out that in the worst case our mathematical intuitions and reasoning might not be meaningful and we'd never know it if that were the case. Looking at just the face of a pocket watch, if I had no tools to open the case and peek inside, I could suggest that the "illusion" of the hands turning was accomplished by trained ants turning the hands manually but that doesn't make that possibility any more likely or true just because I can suggest it. And in fact there's almost an infinite number of mechanical or other kinds of systems that could produce the observable behaviors of the hands of the watch. Same for those domains of reality that potentially aren't strictly material or physical in the sense we usually think (which, you know, since matter itself only seems to arise as the result of nonmaterial electromagnetic forces interacting, suggests that hard, strict materialism offers only a partial, incomplete picture).
posted by saulgoodman at 4:08 AM on September 26, 2017


the interpretations of quantum theory that lead to this paradox must be missing something

In all seriousness, what's missing if the issue of what happens "between" events in discrete time appears to be paradoxical is an understanding that discrete time really is wholly discrete and not a mere sampling of an underlying continuous time, as pointed out above by I-Write-Essays.

Another intuition pump for this is to imagine trying to design a computer program that measures its own execution speed without reference to any source of timing information other than the CPU's own clock. It simply can't be done.
posted by flabdablet at 4:49 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


If it's really discrete (in fact, as opposed to only perceptually at a certain level of description), there must still be some force or other factor that provides continuity but isn't time or space or matter though, right? What's that?
posted by saulgoodman at 5:46 AM on September 26, 2017


If it's nothing, why doesn't the state of everything reset in each discrete jump from one state to the next, what persists cause and effect (or the illusion of it) but isn't space, time, or matter?
posted by saulgoodman at 5:50 AM on September 26, 2017


Why should there need to be a "mechanism" for persisting that which exists from moment to moment? If you really need something to explain the appearance of continuity of experience, it's reasonably well supported through research on people with various memory impairments that without memory there is no continuity of experience. Depending on your definition, the same could apply to consciousness itself.

As far as why the universe persists between moments and doesn't just reset itself, the laws of thermodynamics at least describe how it definitely doesn't work that way. For the moment, the why is one of the things I can only explain with the weak anthropic principle: For us to exist, that property of the universe is a necessary precondition. Further research will hopefully provide answers.

If you want to talk about vaguely-science-based woo, though, I've got a great conjecture for you (not mine originally..I'm not that clever): If the many worlds interpretation of QM is correct, it should be impossible for a person to lose at Russian Roulette (defining "lose" as "being killed", mere injury isn't losing) in their own experience. Since the set of you that loses by definition cannot experience that outcome, only the set of you that hears the gun go "click" can exist to have that experience. The problem is that there is no experiment that you can design that could prove the results to anyone else, it can only be tested first hand, and even if the conjecture is correct your friends and family in this particular timeline will likely be very sad.

There's a point here, but I'm on my phone and it's siesta time, so I'll leave you to think on it.
posted by wierdo at 9:47 AM on September 26, 2017


If we're bringing in non-Trek stuff, does anybody remember the specifics of "jaunting" from The Stars My Destination? it's been a lifetime since I read it, and all I can remember is that you could only teleport to someplace you had physically been before.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:18 PM on September 26, 2017


If it's really discrete (in fact, as opposed to only perceptually at a certain level of description), there must still be some force or other factor that provides continuity

Why?

"Discrete" does not imply "uncorrelated".
posted by flabdablet at 2:18 AM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


Sure, but what's the mechanism that structures the relationship between discrete quanta if they're truly discontinuous, as has been suggested requires exotic explanations like holographic models of the universe, conjectures about the universe being a simulation, etc. I'll admit I may be misunderstanding still, but if space/time isn't continuous at that level, that implies some force or factor that can be mathematically described but not directly observed, that evidently isn't itself emergent from matter or space/time, *is* continuous.

To use the analogy people always propose to film animation, if each frame of space/time and matter is discrete, there must be some force or other framework outside space/time and matter that accounts for that structuring and maintains continuity from frame to frame like a film strip. If whatever that is were merely emergent from matter, it would break down in the gaps; there'd be no basis left for frames to relate to one another at all, so to me that implies the discontinuity in physical reality is bridged by something else, that isn't what we classically think of as physical--something mathematically real and "natural" but not made of stuff in the usual ways we understand. Personally, I believe we're overlooking the importance of relationships and the systemic organization/structure of things as important metaphysical considerations with practical consequences. There's a sort of weak dualism at play, with structure and organization and material playing equally important but loosely coupled roles. That's why a chair made out of plastic works just as well as one made out of wood, and when it comes to the sum of their interior angles, every specific triangle is just the same as any other: because there *are* real generalizable rules about how physical reality works that don't simply emerge from space/time and matter and that we can infer and observe indirectly.

That might sound like a trivial observation everyone takes for granted, but it contradicts Humean skepticism as a philosophical position and goes against some of the theoretical basis for post-structuralist thought.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:24 AM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


what's the mechanism that structures the relationship between discrete quanta if they're truly discontinuous

Again, the point is that discontinuity in and of itself is not sufficient to imply non-correlation.

Discontinuous time introduces the notion of successive times; continuous time doesn't have that. You can map discontinuous time to the integers; numerically mapping continuous time needs the reals. Discontinuous time allows you to describe processes that fit naturally into the notion of a succession of states, where the direct cause of each state is the previous state; doing the same thing in continuous time requires the notion of limits and the invention of differential equations.

Differential equations are, in general, difficult to deal with. Much of what we actually do with them involves solving them numerically, and this requires approximating the continuous time that differential models are built on as a discontinuous time whose discontinuities are hopefully fine-grained enough not to cause noticeable errors.

The consequence of time actually being best thought of as fundamentally discontinuous rather than fundamentally continuous would be that there would exist a grain fine enough that running numeric solvers at that resolution causes no errors as opposed to negligible errors, while solving the differential equations "properly" would yield results that disagree measurably with reality.

To use the analogy people always propose to film animation, if each frame of space/time and matter is discrete, there must be some force or other framework outside space/time and matter that accounts for that structuring and maintains continuity from frame to frame like a film strip.

I think you're still mistaking the map for the territory to some extent.

Continuity, discontinuity, causality, mechanism, structuring, space, time, matter - these are all ideas about reality. And aside from our application of engineering to small parts of it, reality's behaviour doesn't depend at all on the ideas we have about it. Whether or not the tree makes a sound when there's nobody there to hear, it still falls.

If we have a theory of spacetime in which spacetime intervals can be mapped to the integers, and it yields better predictions than a rival theory in which spacetime intervals must be mapped to the reals, that's a discontinuous theory that works better than a continuous one. That's all.

We have theories to supply answers to "how" and "when" and "in what circumstances" questions, not so much "why" questions that fail to fit into any of those other categories.

Newtonian mechanics was the first really powerful physical theory, and its concepts of inertia and force are so firmly embedded into the minds of anybody who has studied any physical theory at all as to have become almost invisible. So many things can be explained via forces transmitted through matter - this shoves on that, which is what causes the other to move - that it's really really tempting to try to use those ideas even at scales they really break down at.

But Newtonian mechanics already breaks down at subatomics; we need quantum mechanics for that, and quantum mechanics is a theory the does not contain matter or forces. It contains quanta, and fields, and perturbations, and wave functions. Quantum theory gives us the "how" and "why" and "in what circumstances" for the stuff that builds the stuff Newtonian mechanics applies to.

Trying to apply Newtonian intuitions to QM is already completely unhelpful, and the entities whose behaviour we use QM to model are tens of orders of magnitude larger than the Planck scale. You can't simply scale Planck lengths and times up to 16mm and 24fps, look for a Newtonian mechanism-style explanation for the correlations between entities at those scales, and expect useful understanding. It's just not going to work.

You repeatedly assert that some ill-specified force or framework must exist in order to account for correlations between configurations at successive discontinuous time steps, and I'm quite sure that in your mind such an assertion appears to be reasonable and possibly even necessary. But if you really want to know why a configuration at time step n+1 should closely resemble that at step n rather than being completely uncorrelated with it, then the best answer I can offer you is that this happens because those configurations are presumably features of a theory that successfully models reality, and we do not observe reality to be decreasingly correlated with decreasing scale; quite the opposite, in fact. We're so far below Newton at the Planck scale that Newtonian intuitions about admissible forms of causality simply don't apply.

Intuition is only ever useful when it's been primed and pumped and trained with quite large amounts of the kind of information applicable to the domain we wish to intuit about. Once that's been done, it works really well. But I've been personally burned by intuition run wild, and I now simply refuse to take seriously any pronouncement about what can or cannot be, with respect to a speculative branch of physical theory that nobody has worked hard enough to generate useful intuitions about.

Show me the theory. Teach me the maths. Show me worked examples. Then let's have a crack at sorting out what it "means". But until then: don't bogart that joint, my friend; pass it over instead.
posted by flabdablet at 7:32 AM on September 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


You're misunderstanding. I'm not leading to a conclusion, just poking at what seems to be a gap in explanation/description that (to an amateur POV like mine) seems like it might mean something interesting. I'm not arguing in a rhetorical mode for a conclusion I already have. I have no idea what anything "means" in an absolute sense. But there's a lot of evidence there's more to understanding than inventorying and summing parts and I find that philosophically interesting and see it as one of the last respectable domains for metaphysics and reasoning and mathematical intuition. None of which could work even imperfectly if reality is really completely discontinuous at the lowest levels unless there's some explanatory framework for how information bridges the gaps.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:12 AM on September 27, 2017


these are all ideas about reality.

Ah, yeah, that's probably the closest thing to a preexisting point I was hoping to make. That stuff that's about reality, that's metaphysics and if you believe it matters, then that position philosophically isn't a hard materialist or monist one, but a dualistic one, as those ideas are usually classified in philosophy, as I understand it. It's an interesting side point because I expect a lot of people who think of themselves as strict materialists really aren't (if they think it through) and just don't realize it.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:21 AM on September 27, 2017


Here's another discontinuous-time intuition pump.

If you zoom in far enough to see the behaviour of the gliders that link the various pieces of this digital clock, you will see that gliders emitted at certain times and meeting in certain locations with certain phase relationships trigger other events that cause the segments to light up and make the clock.

Now zoom out far enough that you only see the gliders as point-like. You can still see that gliders meeting in certain locations cause other things to happen, and you still understand that the whole clock is linked together by glider streams and that understanding these is key to understanding the causality relationships inside the clock.

Now zoom out far enough that the gliders become indistinct. All you can see is a few regions where activity of some sort appears to be occurring, and you can see the clock counting the time.

If you have a mental picture of discontinuous time as some kind of approximation or sampling of what's going on, involving snapshots of this clock's activity taken once per displayed wall time, then it does indeed seem reasonable to assert that the clock's operation is impossible to understand without embedding that in an underlying continuous time. You can directly observe the activity of the gliders in the time between snapshots, and see that it is they that cause the segments to do what they do. And indeed, getting your head around exactly how all those glider interactions work is tremendously satisfying, and leaves you with a strong feeling of understanding the causal operation of that clock.

But when it comes right down to it, the gliders themselves, as well as the glider guns that generate them, are consequences of a simple set of cellular automaton rules. The ultimate causality that drives that clock is the rules about grid cells turning on or off at step n+1 as a consequence of the count of cells in their local 3x3 block at step n, and those rules operate in discontinuous time: the ultimate cause of each state is the way the state modification rules operate on the previous state.

Now, you can of course point out that these rules are themselves implemented on a digital computer that is itself embedded in the larger world, and that there are causal explanations for why those cells light up in that way that necessarily involve positing events that occur between the quantized time steps that apply inside the Conway grid. And sure, you could do that. But if you take that embedding process down enough levels you eventually arrive at the clocks that synchronize the operation of that digital computer; and the speed of those is essentially arbitrary. You could implement exactly the same Conway grid on any digital computer running at any speed and it would behave the same way and implement a clock whose behaviour, measured relative to the step-by-step time of the grid, would be identical.

From the point of view of any being in and of the grid, causality bottoms out at the Conway rules and their associated, discontinuous time. There is simply no definitive causal explanation for that being's experiences at any lower level than that, because the implementation of that grid could be any substrate capable of implementing anything resembling computation at any speed whatsoever. There's a step disconnect between time inside the grid and anything spacetime-like underneath it, and the only way that disconnect could ever leak even in principle is if the grid implementation were buggy. Anything that such a being might have to say about how the grid "must" be arranged in order to guarantee the operation of the update rules would be pure Just So stories.

That stuff that's about reality, that's metaphysics and if you believe it matters, then that position philosophically isn't a hard materialist or monist one, but a dualistic one, as those ideas are usually classified in philosophy as I understand it.

I see ideas as firmly included in the realm of the material: they're physical processes that occur within material structures similar to myself. From my meagre understanding of dualism, I think that's not it.

However, just as it makes more sense to analyze the operation of that Conway clock at the level of gliders and glider gates than at the level of individual grid cells, it makes more sense to analyze ideas at the level of concepts and relationships and other ideas than at the level of quantum mechanics. Causality, like photography, works better with a restricted depth of field.
posted by flabdablet at 9:39 AM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


You're misunderstanding. I'm not leading to a conclusion, just poking at what seems to be a gap in explanation/description that...


AKA: Step 2.
posted by mikelieman at 9:42 AM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


None of which could work even imperfectly if reality is really completely discontinuous at the lowest levels unless there's some explanatory framework for how information bridges the gaps.

I think you're using the word "discontinuous" in a manner that guarantees the conclusion you wish to draw from it. Again, I make the point that information doesn't have to bridge anything. The explanatory power, or lack of it, of a posited physical theory built atop a quantized spacetime would depend solely on its ability to produce predictions that agree with real-world observations. Being built out of concepts that feel right according to intuitions trained on less-capable theories is not a requirement.
posted by flabdablet at 10:17 AM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


Also worth raising, perhaps: causality is rooted in theory, not the other way round. If we say that circumstances A cause events B, we can only justify that if we have some kind of theory that covers that kind of circumstances and that kind of events.

Newtonian mechanics is a highly successful and widely familiar physical theory built on continuous space and time. Therefore, people whose intuition about causality is rooted in Newtonian mechanics will tend to assume that physical causality requires continuous space and time. But it doesn't.

Mathematics contains loads of theories that have nothing to do with spacetime at all and still yield useful causal knowledge. For example, the cause of my failure to find a way to arrange fourteen chairs in three equal rows is that three is not a factor of fourteen.

All that's required to identify circumstances A as the cause of events B is a theory covering both that has a proven track record of successful predictions. There is absolutely no in-principle reason why such a theory could not be a physical theory built on a spacetime whose intervals map to integers or rationals rather than reals.
posted by flabdablet at 11:05 AM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it is easier to approach this from the perspective that time being discrete does not imply a gap or any length of time of non-existence or any problem of state being retained. The only reason I can understand thinking that is what it means is inferring the wrong thing from someone who used a film-strip analogy to explain it. That's not true and not a problem that needs to be resolved since none of the theories say that, discrete/discontinuous in this context doesn't mean everything under the dictionary entry for it.

The cutting edge stuff is more interested in time being emergent rather than a fundamental property anyway.
posted by Infracanophile at 11:10 AM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


not even getting started on the problem of thinking you have a single unified self to begin with

I think I have something it's reasonable to think of as a single unified self. That would be this thing here with its arse in this chair and its fingers on this keyboard and bits of its brain choosing these words and its feet hurting just a little.

Is this particularly problematic? If so, why?
posted by flabdablet at 11:22 AM on September 27, 2017


I wouldn't say problematic, more that this conception ignores a lot of interesting knowledge we have gained about consciousness. I agree with Dennett that it is a "useful fiction" and (this is basically the consensus view now) that the experience of a unified self is illusory (as in "not what it seems" as opposed to "doesn't exist").

Experiments showing evidence of separate choices made independently in each hemisphere in the brain, some of the effects of trans-cranial magnetic stimulation or drugs or brain damage, the subjective experiences of almost everyone who practices meditation seriously, and most modern successful models of consciousness (attention schema theory and the one that I can't remember the name of but think of as a yelling contest between the various substructures particularly) all ignore any idea of an actual "self" and more a succession of temporary selves made up of varying parts of your brain from moment to moment.

Here are some good related links:
When Searle and Dennett agree on something you know it's widely accepted: https://www.livescience.com/55999-is-your-self-just-an-illusion.html

http://www.creativitypost.com/philosophy/the_self_a_convenient_fiction
http://bigthink.com/insights-of-genius/whos-there-is-the-self-a-convenient-fiction

The book discussed here by Hood is quite interesting, as is the book The Ego Trick by Bagginni discussed in the first link on this page, which covers a subject that is itself probably a necessary precursor to the concept of the unified self illusion. This site is unfortunately light on links to the actual supporting research though.
https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/05/31/the-self-illusion-bruce-hood/

Having gone through my booksmarks to find these and re-reading them ... I think I might have been wrong to say this is a subject to approach after this one. Maybe it should actually be understood first.
posted by Infracanophile at 1:26 AM on September 28, 2017


Here are some good related links:

Relevant is the work of Thomas Metzinger, who is developing some kind of anti-realism about the self with his concept of the "Ego Tunnel".

It seems to be going a bit far to say that Metzinger claims that "the self does not exist", but that is how his book is sometimes represented. The Amazon description, for example, says:

We're used to thinking about the self as an independent entity, something that we either have or are. In The Ego Tunnel, philosopher Thomas Metzinger claims otherwise: No such thing as a self exists. The conscious self is the content of a model created by our brain—an internal image, but one we cannot experience as an image. Everything we experience is “a virtual self in a virtual reality.” But if the self is not “real,” why and how did it evolve? How does the brain construct it? Do we still have souls, free will, personal autonomy, or moral accountability? In a time when the science of cognition is becoming as controversial as evolution, The Ego Tunnel provides a stunningly original take on the mystery of the mind.

But in the 3AM interview I linked, Metzinger seems to be saying something much more nuanced:

3:AM: Your claim is that no one is or ever has been a self, that the self is a myth. Rather you say that we are transparent self-models. Can you unpack the general claim for us?

TM: Oh no, that would be a serious misunderstanding. I certainly don’t say that you are the phenomenal self-model active in the brain right now! You are the whole person, abstract, social, psychological properties and all, the person that now asks this question. That person as a whole is the epistemic subject, it wants to know things, it is a cognitive agent. In this person’s head, however, there is a complex subpersonal state, namely the ongoing neurocomputational dynamics generating a phenomenal self. Often, but not always, the conscious representational content of this model is one of a person and of an epistemic agent.


I have only the above, superficial acquaintance with the guy, but he seems to me to be doing respectable philosophy.
posted by thelonius at 1:57 AM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, I definitely should have mentioned Metzinger! I've read his book Being No One, which I think is older and remember it as being quite good. I have The Ego Tunnel on my (incredibly long) "to read" list.
posted by Infracanophile at 2:19 AM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


I agree with Dennett that it is a "useful fiction" and (this is basically the consensus view now) that the experience of a unified self is illusory (as in "not what it seems" as opposed to "doesn't exist").

Oh, OK. If by "unified self" you mean some distinct bodily subsystem that all the senses ultimately report to and where "free will" ultimately resides - the rather soul-like thing that the transhumanist bunch are always on about when they talk about people uploading "themselves" to the cloud - then I absolutely agree that any serious belief in such a thing is unlikely to be correct.

And if Metzinger is saying that the only self worthy of the name is the entire physical body, I couldn't agree more.
posted by flabdablet at 3:07 AM on September 28, 2017


From the LiveScience piece linked above:
"The problem with personal identity is, we feel there is a fact that 'I'm me,'" John Searle, a philosopher of mind at the University of California, Berkeley, said on my TV series "Closer to Truth." "But that's hard to pin down philosophically, because all of my experiences change, all of the parts of my body change, all of the molecules in my body change."
All of those problems evaporate if one takes the view that any soul-like, non-bodily "me" referred to by the thought "I am me" is exactly that thought and that thought alone; which means that it begins in time when that thought does, and lasts only until that thought fades and is replaced by others.

The assumption that that abstract kind of "me" has persistence beyond such episodes of deliberate self-identification is, I believe, unjustifiable, and a posited soul or non-bodily self that does have such persistence is, I believe, an illusion that engages very similar perceptual machinery to that responsible for the perceived stillness of an engine illuminated by a stroboscope.

Since working this out a few decades ago I have become quite comfortable with the notion that "I am me" and "I am this body" actually mean exactly the same thing, and that this body belongs in a class of process-like objects that also includes whirlpools and storms and fires and traffic jams; like them, it has recognizable if somewhat loose spatial and temporal boundaries even though it consists largely of a flow of materials undergoing assorted kinds of transformation.
posted by flabdablet at 3:25 AM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


The general concept takes it a step or two further by combining the aspect you are discussing (and which I agree are fairly obvious and uncontroversial at this point) with the some other accepting things.

Probably equally obvious is the fact that your entire personality shifts as you age, sometimes drastically. There are also significant shifts over shorter timespans due to mood, hormones, energy level, etc.

There is also the more surprising experimental evidence that your values, beliefs and behaviours can drastically shift in short amounts of time due to context changes, social expectations, peer behaviour, being reminded of a memory you had briefly forgotten, various priming effects, etc

Taken as a whole, accepting that there is no central "real me", it is hard to identify any coherent self beyond some vague average probabilities. Make one important character defining choice in one room that's blue, has comfortable chairs, smells like cookies with friendly people and then walk across the hall to another red room that smells of bleach where someone slams a door and surprises you, mentions getting paid (shifts you to thinking in financial norms), the bench is plain wood, the people are very attractive and are talking excitedly and a painting reminds you of high school. Now make another important character defining decision.

The choices you make, and the thoughts and values that got you there will be very different. The difference between those two yous will often be larger than the difference between the individuals in the same room.

When viewed through the lens of modern neuroscience, where we can be confident that at least some of that behaviour change is because completely different parts of your brain are now involved and others are completely suppressed ... what aspects of a self remain stable enough to be the called the same "self"? It's definitely not the ones that we most strongly identify as the defining characteristics of our self. It's more like we have no stable personality, but different ones that are built from the underlying bits we have access to in every moment. And the illusory aspect of self comes from the fact that it definitely feels like we are the same person just doing our best as the world throws stuff at us because we don't have conscious access to the underlying bits.

That is also where the connection to the interesting modern theories of consciousness come in, where this process of unification of the underlying bits, driven by attention, occurs and we have some access to the stream of signals from the underlying bits (probably as an evolved trick to catch mistakes and fine tune these ideas by running it through the predictive parts to avoid mistakes).
posted by Infracanophile at 4:26 AM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


If you've ever listened to schizophrenia sufferers talk about their perceptions of the world and their own "self," the notion of one unitary consciousness in the brain seems far-fetched. A friend of mine describes it as being aware of all the various "people" living in your head, hearing them talk to you, rather than the usual process of being integrated subliminally into the thoughts you are aware of. One of "them" reminds him to drink water and eat and otherwise do the things necessary to stay alive. Others bring other needs to his conscious attention. They all seem to have their own area of responsibility. Seems pretty much like how my brain works, just with the added awareness of more steps in the process, tbh.

(The disease hasn't actually been a huge deal for him, at least once he realized that his neighbors weren't fucking with him and making him hear the voices. Once he got his head around it being internal, the difficulty of which I don't want to trivialize in any way, he's been pretty much the same overly responsible fuck with a paid off house and paid off car as ever, despite stopping the meds within a couple of months)

Salvia will lead you to the same conclusion, if you manage to remain self aware through the process. A lot of drugs are fairly illustrative in that respect, actually.
posted by wierdo at 5:03 AM on September 28, 2017


Maybe we should start with something simpler, like the personal identity of dogs over time. Is there a philosophical problem about your dog remaining the same dog?
posted by thelonius at 5:53 AM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Salvia will lead you to the same conclusion, if you manage to remain self aware through the process. A lot of drugs are fairly illustrative in that respect, actually.

Indeed. Salvia never did much for me apart from mess with my visuals some, but I've had some quite illuminating insights into self-as-committee with the help of shrooms.
posted by flabdablet at 6:04 AM on September 28, 2017


where this process of unification of the underlying bits, driven by attention, occurs

Seems likely to me that the self-seeking thought that always succeeds would arise within the very brain subsystems responsible for attention in general. "Just who is paying attention right now?" is pretty much a paraphrase of "Who am I?", and the answer "I am this!" follows pretty naturally.
posted by flabdablet at 6:17 AM on September 28, 2017


Yeah, the edges of the illusion can be seen with meditation and careful attention ... or you can take the psychedelics shortcut and just make it stop working right and make it rather obvious. Both are good, and should be done (one regularly and one occasionally)

I can see the logic in the label of me/I/whatever belonging there, it's just pretty subjectively weird that it adds in this experience of it being something very different from what it is. Although the idea that schizophrenia is a failure mode of this system suggests it's important that it does that.
posted by Infracanophile at 8:36 PM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


it's just pretty subjectively weird that it adds in this experience of it being something very different from what it is

Yeah, but really no weirder than spoked wheels on cars in movies occasionally turning the wrong way, or stage magicians being able to make stuff appear and disappear.

the idea that schizophrenia is a failure mode of this system suggests it's important that it does that

Probably important that some kind of inner-adult/arbitrator/plausibility-checker system functions, not so much that its illusory artifacts are preserved.

My own life has been far less troublesome since giving up on the idea of an ethereal Inner Me who runs the whole show, and identifying myself instead as a physical being with a wide and sometimes unpredictable range of causal modes. I've spent a lot less time beating myself up for acting in ways that I know are not in my best interests and a lot more time on acquiring effective skills to help fix that.
posted by flabdablet at 9:08 PM on September 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


This is easily my favorite metafilter thread of all time. You're all way smarter than me and I am marginally smarter as a result.
posted by Dokterrock at 1:46 AM on September 30, 2017


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