Scattering Atoms

Tyler Cowen raises a question that troubles both McCoy and Tuvix

Welcome to Star Trekking, my attempt to share points of interest and random intersections in the final frontier.

The ongoing thesis of this newsletter is that, whether you’re actively looking for it or not, Star Trek is everywhere.

This week, for me, it was in my ears and in my eyes.

In my ears it arrived at the very beginning of a podcast, the latest episode of Conversations with Tyler. Tyler Cowen is an economist and he’s come up before in the newsletter. This week, his conversation is with theoretical physicist David Deutsch, and Tyler jumped right in with a Star Trek related question.

COWEN: I’m unwilling to step into a Star Trek transporter machine because I’m afraid it would kill me and it’s a copy of me that would keep on living.

At what price are you willing to step into a Star Trek transporter machine?

Most of my Star Trek watching life, I’d never contemplated the “realities” of the transporter. The first real inkling of thinking about it, as far as I remember now, came after reading John Scalzi’s novel Old Man’s War. In it, the old man protagonist’s brain is essentially copied and pasted into a younger body. So the old man really does effectively die when his consciousness is turned off, but then he “wakes up” in a new body with his memory and consciousness intact. But it really is a whole new body, a whole new person. Later I came across discussions of the Trek transporter, and intimations that it would have to essentially kill you when it tears your body into component atoms, then reassembles them into an exact duplicate. So is it still “you”?

After listening to Tyler and Deutsch discuss the matter (full episode and transcript here), I took a Twitter poll.

The results aren’t appearing in that copy of the tweet, but it came down to this:

Yes: 44.6%

No: 55.4%


Also, I got some great replies.

All of these are wonderful and thought provoking and I am definitely going to rewatch Mortal Coil soon.

So what do you think? Would you let your atoms get scattered?

Leave a comment

As for me, well, I will leave you with this.

Is this how transporters work?

Another Trek reference came from my wife. We attended the Indy 500 (aka The Greatest Spectacle in Racing) and my wife was struck by the Borg Warner trophy and the way it essentially assimilates all past winners into its matrix.

Will get worried if Helio Castroneves begins using the royal “we.”


The Seekers series is 99 cents a piece in ebook formats this month. I have always admired the evocative Blish-era feel of the covers. I mean just look at this.

The excellent stories are a bonus.

If you’ve been looking for eight hours of rain on the holodeck, well, have I got a video for you.

I fell down a rabbit hole of TNG bloopers, subtitled in Italian but whatever.

Which then led me to this. “Admiral, we are receiving hail storms.”


  1. The Untold Truth About Transporters.

  2. Excellent series of articles about transporters and the law.

  3. Strange New World hints.

  4. Woman in Motion documentary now available to watch.

  5. To quote Homer J. Simpson, I love legitimate theatre.

Until next time,

LOVE long…and prosper.


Star Trekking is written and edited by Neil Shurley, except where noted.
Star Trekking logo art by James H. Dargie.
Amazon Affiliate links included to help offset some of the costs of assimilation.