Thursday, August 31, 2006

The teleporter problem

I'm assuming you've seen Star Trek. How do you think the teleporters are supposed to work?

Science fiction writers and some scientists seem to think that there is no reason to assume that technology will advance to the point where some form of 'teleporter' will be possible. The theory goes that it will be possible for the receiver equipment at one end to completely analyse every particle of a body, including its state and its relation to every other particle in the body, convey this information to the (distant) transmitter, where an exact copy of the original object will be created while the original object will be disassembled into its component parts.

I have no problem with this theory, scientifically. It might just work someday. It will be great technology for transferring objects, but I wouldn't ever be brave enough to use it - even if it could be demonstrated to work perfectly. And here's why.

The thing is, if I was to use a teleporter, the machine would produce an exact replica of me at the transmitter end - a person with all my memories, my exact personality, my tastes and preferences, my beliefs - someone that, as far as the rest of the world would be concerned, would be exactly me. But it wouldn't be me as I would have been disolved at the receiver end. Although someone looking like me, with a conciousness idential to mine, would emerge from the transmitter, my conciousness would have been destroyed in the reciever.

What about you? Do you think that a teleporter could work, someday?


At 9:30 pm, Blogger Marcus G said...

So - if I have this right - you aren't sure if what comes back together at the other end of a teleporter is everything that went at the beginning...

I guess maybe the question could be put this way: can the soul be teleported?

The answer depends on several things. Like, where you locate the soul in the first place. Or, if you believe in the soul.

I'm not sure if I do. Which may be shocking, but as a Christian, I find the classic "soul" to be a rather un-Christian idea. I mean, whilst St Paul does make a flesh/spirit divide, and whilst St John has overtones of the same, neither of them has a doctrine of the soul as the-spiritual-bit-of-us-that-lives-on-and-goes-to-heaven. (Tom Wright has a Grove booklet on my to-be-read-soon list which I think seriously reworks the idea of what is heaven and what happens when we die. When I've read it, I'll let you know.) For the new Testament writers, the whole flesh/spirit thing isn't dualism (flesh is bad, spirit is good, so let's pretend we have no flesh just like Jesus didn't really have any, he just looked like it) but rather a way of seeing the world under the sphere of God's influence, and the world outside God's rule. Which is a bit simplistic, but this is a comment on a blog!

Look at John 3. Jesus clearly says that you don't have a spiritual life unless you have a beginning to that life which is a separate thing to beginning fleshly life. Yet we aren't then two persons, or one person in two bits, but a whole person able to wholly exist (and not perish) in God's love. That doesn't seem to me to say "everyone has a soul".

I guess what I am saying is this: we are made to be milkshakes, not oranges. All our ingredients are mixed up, not segmented, and once put all together they cannot be parted. So just as Jesus' resurrection is physical (because it is his resurrection - if he is raised, he's all raised or he's not raised at all) so our resurrection is physical and spiritual and emotional and the rest - cos we come complete before God or we don't come at all.

I'm no scientist. I don't know if the technology to teleport people could ever exist. I'm a theologian. And what I know is this - you can't split my "soul" from my body, because I don't come in bits, I come complete in the love of Christ. And neither death nor life nor anything in all creation can change that. Especially not a teleporter.

Death is a theological abhorrence because it tries to achieve this split, but I think that when we walk in the new heaven and earth, we'll see it was a sham and a trick. The church has always believed in the communion of saints - everyone here, everyone there, one body - as an attempt to say "We don't know how this works, but death does not split a person up or divide a person or make them less - so we are all part of the same family of God whether we walk this earth or the new one".

Of course, if this wasn't part of the issue you had in mind, I may just have made everything far more complicated...


At 3:23 pm, Blogger Ricky Carvel said...


Don't worry about complicating the issue, that's what makes these exchanges interesting ;o)

My issue with the teleporter is that it creates an exact copy of you in a distant location, then destroys the original. But if the original is not destroyed what happens? Then there are two of you, but they don't share a consciousness. They have two entirely independent consciousnesses. So if you then destroy one, that consciousness is destroyed. Now put the creation of the copy and the destruction of the original at the same moment and nothing changes, you still destroy the original consciousness.

The issue of the soul is another interesting one. Have you read that Tom Wright book yet?


Post a Comment

<< Home