Everyone In Star Trek Dies Over And Over Again

By Zack Zagranis | Updated

The Star Trek transporters have always been the one element of the show that scares me to death. Beam me up, Scotty? Not on your life. Where most fans just accept transporter technology at face value, I see it as an existential crisis. 

Trekkies Divided

star trek transporter

Trekkies are, by and large, divided on how transporters work. Some believe the devices teleport someone from here to there. Others believe the transporter effectively destroys the person using it and then builds an exact copy somewhere else. I belong to the latter camp—the one that thinks of Star Trek’s transporters as certain death. 

The way I see it, everyone on the Enterprise has died dozens, if not hundreds of times. 

Transporters Mean Certain Death

star trek the original series transporter

The official explanation for how the transporters work is that a person or object is first converted into an energy pattern (known as “dematerialization”) and then “beamed” to a target location. There, the person (or object) is converted back into their original composition (rematerialization). In other words, matter is changed into energy and then changed back into matter.

Presto-chango! No harm, no foul, right?

Not exactly. When an ice cube melts into water, and then that water is refrozen, is that the same ice cube or another cube that just looks like the original? If you ask me, that’s a new ice cube. Just like, if you ask me, the Star Trek transporters facilitate the “death” of a person by converting their body into energy and then building an exact duplicate body based on the original blueprints.

The Ship Of Theseus Paradox

If you’ve ever dabbled in philosophy, chances are you’ve come across the Ship of Theseus Paradox. In layman’s terms, the paradox is basically this: if parts of a wooden ship are replaced with new lumber until there are no original parts left, is it still the same ship? This is essentially the question Star Trek poses with its transporters and whether or not beaming results in death every time or not.

Even The Writers Aren’t Sure

star trek the next generation "realms of fear" transporter

Star Trek is obviously a fictional universe, so the writers could easily clarify this by stating definitively whether the transporters are sending crewmates to their deaths or not. Unfortunately, as is common with a franchise as expansive as Star Trek, there are so many writers that they themselves don’t seem to know. Take the Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 6, episode “Realm of Fear,” for example.

The episode shows Lt. Barclay’s point of view during transportation, indicating that consciousness is not interrupted during the process. If your mind keeps going through the whole thing, it’s got to be the real you on the other side, right? Not so fast…

A.I. Brain Buffering

star trek the next generation scotty

Another episode from the same season, “Relics,” proves the opposite. In “Relics,” the Next Generation crew finds Scotty from the original series frozen in a transporter’s memory buffer. It turns out that Scotty has been there for 75 years—that he has no recollection of whatsoever. This implies that the Star Trek transporters store your “consciousness” like an A.I. program and plug it into the new body that’s created after the death of the old body.

Mind Storage Is The Most Likely Scenario

Star Trek transporter

What makes more sense: That Scotty’s original atoms have just been chilling for 75 years, waiting to be put back together? Or is it more feasible that the transporter stored Scotty’s “mind” until it was fixed and then plopped the mind into a collection of fresh atoms arranged in a Scotty-shaped body?

My money is on the second option. The transporter preserves your genome and brain pattern down to the most infinitesimal detail and then assembles everything into the perfect Xerox copy. Bones was right to distrust the Star Trek transporters since he, Kirk, and Spock faced death every time they used one.

The Matrix Paradox

the matrix 4

Of course, there is another instance where people experience an interruption in consciousness: sleep. If your conscious mind stops every night, are you dying and waking up a new person in the morning? Or, to put it another way, if Star Trek’s transporters handle death and rebirth so seamlessly, the individual doesn’t even notice. Does it matter whether a death technically occurred or not?

I like to think of this as the Matrix Paradox. If people in the Matrix are in a simulation so perfect and seamless that they don’t even know they’re in a simulation, does knowing the truth actually benefit anyone? Honestly, probably not. Star Trek’s transporters still scare me to death, though.