Friday, 24 June 2016

Teleportation: science fiction or science fantasy?

Science fiction novels and movies often assume teleportation as standard. I doubt whether there has been a single episode of Star Trek in which  at least one person or alien is not turned into a beam and transmitted more or less instantaneously from A to B.

I was inspired to think about this by an article in the UK journal Prospect (July 2014) entitled ‘If your brain is vaporised…’, an interesting review by Jim Holt of two recent books dealing with teleportation and related subjects.

The standard view of the SF fan is that while this technology is way beyond us at present this may not always be so. Never say never in science. However, there are difficulties with two aspects of this phenomenon, or more accurately thought experiment, which seem fundamental to me and which were not discussed in the review:

1/  encoding and decoding the material structure of a person.

2/ the nature of the agent animating this structure and holding it in place over time.

Once the body-brain system is encoded into, say, a digital stream of electromagnetic pulses, this encoded data can be transmitted as a beam to a receiver which decodes the beam and constructs a replica of the brain-body system from chemicals stored in the receiver.  To avoid having two identical persons the original one would have to be destroyed or, alternatively, the atoms themselves would have to be transmitted through some kind of ether or converted into some form of energy which could be transmitted and decoded at the receiving end.

The assumption is that the original person is defined purely by configurations of matter called atoms and molecule, with large amounts of energy filled space between them and within them.
Much of the structural information is at sub-molecular level and so subject to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and so beyond the reach of any attempt to measure and encode it

 Unfortunately for the credibility of this thought experiment, but fortunately for us as living creatures with self-consciousness and free will, a person is not, in any case,  just a pattern of atoms and molecules. Life is a dynamic, transcendent process, not a static pattern.

 The essence of a person is some agent which not only holds the constituent particles in place at any one instant but orchestrates their arrangement over time, conducts millions of repairs to damage (e.g. radiation or copying errors during translation and transcription within a cell) each day and replaces the enormous variety of atomic and molecular systems with new ones from outside the body-brain system. Over a period of ten years all the matter in your body-brain is completely replaced. We have no idea what this causal organising and controlling agent is in scientific terms but some people call it a soul and when it stops orchestrating and repairing the body-brain system there is death.

Not only does the soul have to repair and maintain the existing patterns and processes. It has to make them grow and develop in size, structure and function in response to, and in conjunction with, the environment, which includes other organisms. It is ‘in charge’ from the moment it inhabits an embryo – perhaps even before since it may actually choose, or play a part in choosing, its own embryo out of thousands of fertilised eggs.

This is a crude attempt to give the flavour of the total scheme involved in life and death. It can't be anything else.

Could the soul (or whatever you want to call it) actually be the result of the particle arrangements? Just throw the particles together and you have an embryo with a soul to manage it. No chance. Each embryo is in some way the product of billions of years of evolution, an intelligent process, preplanned from outside of space-time (i.e. prior to the Big Bang creation event), by which our biosphere and its constituent life systems have survived and developed over the aeons. Each body-brain system plays an integral part in the biosphere. Just as the body-brain system is governed by the life giving soul so is the biosphere governed by a larger soul – otherwise it could not thrive the way it has, despite five or six mass extinctions during the 3.8 billion years of life on Earth and a solar radiation input that has increased by up to 30% as the sun has become more luminous.

Teleportation may be a legitimate concept of SF. But only if ‘SF’ stands for ‘science fantasy', not 'science fiction’. There is a literary genre distinction between the two. Science fiction is based on visions of a future employing novel technology in which the laws of physics have been pushed to the limit. In science fantasy there is no attempt to remain within the domain of even the frontiers of physics – in effect one is introducing the supernatural. Teleportation requires us to suspend the laws of physics so it is really a science fantasy concept, albeit an entertaining one which enables characters to be transferred from place to place as part of an intergalactic story line.

For teleportation to be possible in any shape or form there has to be a soul. It will be this soul that decides whether to permit teleportation and governs how it is achieved, a soul guided by the Creator.

John Sears