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I am just curious. If I am teleported is the original me dead and the teleporter just makes another copy of me there[at destination]?

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This is related to a deleted question (10K-ers can click here) – Wikis Mar 20 '12 at 8:38
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@Wikis why was it deleted? – Evil Angel Mar 20 '12 at 11:35
    
@SachinShekhar: it was deleted as a list question, see this link. – Wikis Mar 20 '12 at 11:39
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Answers on Do the Star Trek Transporters use Energy or Matter? may also help here. – Xantec Mar 20 '12 at 13:56
    
For interest and further reading The Minds I (Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel C Dennett) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mind%27s_I is a fascinating read and talks about the transporter in the introduction (I seem to recall). – Jaydee Aug 16 '13 at 12:36

13 Answers 13

up vote 29 down vote accepted

Sorry TangoOversway, but... Physically: yes, the original is lost. "Death" is overkill, though.

Based solely on onscreen evidence, it's more accurate to say that the original is recycled.

First: Matter is not directly transmitted as energy and reconstructed as-is. Most likely it's simply used as an energy-saving mechanism during 99.999+% of transports. Evidence:

  • TNG 1x07, Lonely Among Us. Data uses a copy of Picard's pattern stored in the pattern buffer, and combines it with Picard's energy signature to create a new (living) body. Picard only has vague memories of the experience.
  • TNG 2x07, Unnatural Selection. Doctor Pulaski is reverted to a younger body through manipulation of the transporter. Her mind remains unchanged.
  • TNG 6x07, Rascals. A transporter accident turns 4 of the crew into children, which causes them to both lose a lot of mass, and further shows that the transporter is actually improvising based on their DNA, not doing a molecule-for-molecule transport of their mass.
  • TNG 6x24, Second Chances. Where we meet Thomas Riker. This episode is a double whammy to a lot of the theory: The copy of Riker shows that new life can be created, and it also shows that the energy from the second transporter beam created new mass. It wasn't converted from somewhere else.
  • TNG 7x23, Emergence. Further evidence that the transporter system can create life. In this episode, it's shown to be so exceedingly complicated and lengthy a process that no one has figured out how to do it at will.


Second: Mentioned in TangoOversway's answer:

This still leaves the question open: Is the consciousness or the self-aware entity in the reconstructed body the same as before, or was the original consciousness destroyed and a new one created. That has been answered on-screen in Star Trek: The Next Generation in the episode Realm of Fear.

In this episode, Lt. Barclay, who is afraid of using the transporter, while being transported from the Enterprise to another ship, sees other beings while in transport. We see the entire transport process from Barclay's point of view. He does not lose consciousness and is aware, during the act of transport, and is able to rescue a crewmember of the other ship who was caught in the pattern buffer for an unbelievably long time (it was justified with technobabble, of course).

Actually, what we saw was Barclay's point of view. And his consciousness was likely paused for a moment while he was in the pattern buffer in the middle of transport - very similar to Hoshi Sato in ENT 2x10, Vanishing Point. She experienced no apparent break in consciousness, despite being stuck in the transporter buffer for about 8.3 seconds - her transport up flowed smoothly into the "dream" (during which point she was actually completely suspended for about 6 seconds), there was the "dream", then that flowed smoothly into reallife during the final seconds while she was getting "unstuck".


Third: DS9 4x10, Our Man Bashir, shows that it's possible to store both neural patterns and transporter patterns for extended periods of time, given enough memory. But this is in the computer's memory - not in a pattern buffer. Seen in this episode:

  • Creating life from a template (patterns stored in the holosuite).
  • Restoring neural patterns from the rest of the computer systems, essentially copying the mind back into the new body, which seems similar to synaptic pattern displacement. 1
  • Creating new mass from energy, when their bodies were finally restored at the end of the episode (at least, assuming the energy from the pattern buffer wasn't reabsorbed).


1This is why I think "death" is too strong a term. Almost all of these instances show that the same mind is recreated without fault (so even if it is a completely new copy, it's hard to say that the nebulous concept of a "mind" (rather than "brain") died, but was rather in stasis). Plus, transferring the mind through transferring neural patterns doesn't seem too far removed from the Vulcan way of transferring their Katra to another so that their "spirit" may live on.

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And yet, as I've pointed out before, at least one of those was addressed in the tech guide (Lonely Among Us) and you're basing everything else on supposition. – Tango Sep 5 '12 at 3:37
    
@TangoOversway The excerpts from the technical guide I've seen posted so far not only provide no explanation for the other 4 TNG episodes and the DS9 episode referenced here, but if it was taken as gospel then those episodes couldn't have happened. Is there an explanation buried in there that you've yet to post/shall I post a question about it? – Izkata Sep 5 '12 at 12:08
    
There were different reasons for each of them. For instance, in Unnatural Selection they used a filter, which focused on her DNA, but not on other molecules. In other words they augmented the technology. The writers (and I know Ron Moore was careful about this) added a line or two of technobabble when necessary to "excuse" any "wibbly-wobbly" stuff they came up with. – Tango Sep 5 '12 at 14:27
    
Despite that this is an awesome answer...I think we only can answer this question if science figures out what defines "mind" (in a biological sense) and why we are who we are and how we are aware of ourselves. – Bobby Apr 13 '13 at 17:28

In Star Trek, transporters convert a person or object into an energy pattern (a process called dematerialization), then "beam" it to a target, where it is reconverted into matter (rematerialization) (source Wikipedia).

Therefore, the original is not destroyed, only converted into energy (E=MC^2), transported (or stored in safe - TNG:Relics) and restructured on the other side. This is far different from creating a copy and then "killing" the original.

To better understand this difference, a transporter should not be able to create a second copy of someone, as the energy pattern on the "transport banks" were already retransformed into matter. As a proof, a flaw in the transmission may cause transporter accidents (as in the first movie). If the "copy" approach was true, the transporter mechanism should be able to verify if the teleportation succeeded before destroying the original (and retry in the case of a failure), which would literally prevent transporter accidents. QED

It's true that some episodes seem to infringe this rule (e.g. Thomas Riker), but personally I think this is only for the dramatical effect and should not be considered outside the in-universe canons.

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Please link to your sources. – Xantec Mar 20 '12 at 13:53
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In physics matter, energy or information cannot be lost, only converted (E = mc^2). So following your reasoning nothing can ever be destroyed in RL. – Thorsal Mar 21 '12 at 13:15

This is from the Star Trek: The Next Generation Writers' Technical Manual, Fourth Season Edition. This is one of the Writers' Guides. In other words, it tells the writers what they can and cannot do on screen. (And yes, this is a bit long, but I'm including source material and explaining my reasoning.)

(This information is also from past answers, so for more related details, see this answer and this one as well.)

On page 28, under The Transporter - Once and for All:

... The stream of molecules read by the pads is sent to the Pattern Buffer, a large cylindrical tank surrounded by superconducting electromagnetic coils. It is here that the object to be transported is stored momentarily before actual beaming away from the ship (or even within the ship). It is the Pattern Buffer and its associated subsystems that have been improved the most in the last half-century. While the actual molecules of an object are held in a spinning magnetic suspension (eight minutes before degradation), the construction sequence of the object can be read, recorded in computer memory (in some cases), and reproduced. There are limits to the complexity of the object, however, and this is where the potential "miracle" machine still eludes.

The Transporter cannot produce working duplicate copies of living tissue or organ systems.

The reason for this is that routine transport involves handling the incredibly vast amount of information required to "disassemble" and "reassemble" a human being or other life form. To transport something, the system must scan, process, and transmit this pattern information. This is analogous to a television, which serves as a conduit to the vast amount of visual information in a normal television transmission.

And then, from the same section, on page 29:

From the Pattern Buffer, the molecular stream and the coded instructions pass through a number of subsystems before reaching the emitter. These include the Subspace, Doppler, and Heisenberg Compensators. Each works to insure that the matter stream is being transmitted or received is in the correct phase, frequency, and so on. (sic)

So the object or living being is disassembled, molecule by molecule, converted to a stream that is temporarily stored in the pattern buffer, then reassembled at the destination. The stream contains both matter and data used for reassembly.

The body is not destroyed and a new one is not built. In spite of all the talk about the transporter being a matter/energy scrambler, it is not. The pattern buffer stores not only information, but every molecule of a person's body, as well as their clothing and whatever they are carrying.

The body is taken apart at the original location and reconstructed at a new one.

While this doesn't answer the question completely, what it does tell us is that this isn't a case of "destroy and clone."

This still leaves the question open: Is the consciousness or the self-aware entity in the reconstructed body the same as before, or was the original consciousness destroyed and a new one created. That has been answered on-screen in Star Trek: The Next Generation in the episode Realm of Fear.

In this episode, Lt. Barclay, who is afraid of using the transporter, while being transported from the Enterprise to another ship, sees other beings while in transport. We see the entire transport process from Barclay's point of view. He does not lose consciousness and is aware, during the act of transport, and is able to rescue a crewmember of the other ship who was caught in the pattern buffer for an unbelievably long time (it was justified with technobabble, of course).

So we see that the body is not destroyed, but just taken apart and reassembled, and we also see, from that one episode, that a person is aware of what is going on during the transport and is even able to think and is fully self-aware during the transport process. While their molecules are in the pattern buffer and the full state of every particle of their body is stored, they are still thinking and still self-aware during the transport.

If you were transported, then the original you would not be dead. You would experience the entire process and the same "you" that stepped onto a transport pad would be the one that walked away on another ship or on a planet.

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Surely this asks the audience to suspend our disbelief a step too far. So we accept in a general sense that such a future exists, complete with mind-boggling technologies that enact the potentially impossible. We accept we can interchange energy and matter (e.g. replicators). But somehow teleportation makes no use of this, instead opting for a complex process that siphons a sort of buffered human soup between two locations, and oh the subject somehow remains conscious? Why not just scan-transport-assemble (a la photocopier) and accept cloning can happen? It keeps the science much more elegant. – geotheory Aug 11 '13 at 23:31
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First, the replicators don't use matter and energy interchange - they work close to the same way. Second, I am not a writer who worked on Trek or responsible for producing it or creating the tech guides, so I'm not going to take responsibility for deciding if that was too much or not. It's the rules of the universe that have been given by Word Of God, whether we like them or not. – Tango Aug 12 '13 at 5:07
    
@geotheory - The subject probably does not remain conscious as a "matter stream", only during the process of dematerialization and rematerialization, see this answer. – Hypnosifl Oct 24 '15 at 17:49
    
@geotheory - As for why they don't use the same method as the replicator, it's explained in a note at the bottom of p. 109 of the published TNG technical manual that the technology only allows replicator patterns to be stored at "molecular resolution" whereas "quantum resolution" is "necessary to re-create living beings", and p. 103 says that that during transport "molecular imaging scanners derive a realtime quantum-resolution pattern image of the transport subject" (maybe the information is encoded into the 'matter stream' itself, and that's why it can't be stored in the computers?) – Hypnosifl Oct 24 '15 at 18:00
    
Love debating the feasibility of the virtually impossible :) – geotheory Oct 26 '15 at 16:48

I've had this question in the back of my head for years, and just decided to google it. Seems to me most people answering here are guilty of some wishful thinking, as if they do not wish the star trek universe to be spoiled by inconvenient truths. However, to me the transporter is purely this: total annihilation of the human body (equaling death), transfer to energy, and re-assembly of the body (including all firing neurons). The fact that the (new) body is reassembled from the energy that has been created by destroying the former body, is purely incidental. Don't let the the fact that the new body is being built from the energy of the old fool you, this means nothing for any 'continuation' arguments. Any source of energy could be used. To the outside observer no death or such has occured. Nor does the universe 'care'. As a person, though, I would refuse to use the transporter because the cleanness of the whole operation doesn't hide for me the ugly truth that after the transformation into energy, death has occured, and death is final. I just couldn't or wouldn't take the risk. The question almost seems unanswerable though, for I keep arguing against my own reasoning, yet every time the whole reasoning loops, and I end up with death again.

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If you are alive again, how is the death final? – James Jenkins Apr 12 '13 at 23:21
    
You're not actually converted into energy, see Tango's answer. The molecules of your body are disassembled and those same molecules are reassembled elsewhere. – Kevin Apr 13 '13 at 18:51
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@James: You are not alive again. Someone who is identical to you in all ways is created at the other end. So, to the rest of the world, sure, you never died. But to the person who actually steps into the transporter, it's like being murdered and having someone else take your spot. Your inner experience/consciousness terminates the second you are disassembled. That another person who feels and thinks just like you is materialized means very little to the consciousness that was just snuffed out. – Lèse majesté Aug 1 '13 at 23:50
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E.g. Will Riker and Tom Riker are both equally Riker. Tom changed his name simply because he was the one who was forgotten, but he has equal claim to the "Will Riker" identity as the Will who materialized on the Potemkin. Now, you obviously can't step onto a transporter and then suddenly find yourself occupying 2 different bodies. So either the sense of being the original Will Riker is purely an illusion (by having all his memories), or the consciousness of the original only went into one of them. – Lèse majesté Aug 2 '13 at 0:04
    
Since the only difference between the two is that one confinement beam ended up on the Potemkin, and the other was deflected back to the planet surface, there's no reason to believe that the original Riker consciousness would have ended up in one or the other. The only logical conclusion is that the original felt himself being dematerialized, and then he was no more. A split second later, 2 new consciousnesses were born with all of Riker's memories, neither realizing that they were actually 2 new people who hadn't existed just a moment ago. – Lèse majesté Aug 2 '13 at 0:07

In a sense you are, but then again (in the Star Trek Universe) there's really no such thing as you, your atoms and subatomic particles can be exchanged and duplicated arbitrarily. In 2361, this happened to Riker:

he was completely duplicated and there existed two identical copies of him henceforth. However, it is important to note that this didn't happen because the original was not "destroyed" but because the original was beamed to two distinct locations (see the Memory Alpha article for further information).

So ultimately this is a question of language. The person at the original location doesn't die, they simply cease to exist.

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I don't understand this answer, particularly your last sentence. It seems like you are saying that, in Star Trek, there is no such thing as life. – Wikis Mar 20 '12 at 11:24
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@Wikis: Not bound to the matter it consists of. – bitmask Mar 20 '12 at 11:34
    
Is the a general principle you've deduced from watching many episodes or is it explicitly mentioned somewhere? – Wikis Mar 20 '12 at 11:42
    
@Wikis: I don't recall an explicit quote, no. But it's the logical conclusion from how I understand the Star Trek transporters. – bitmask Mar 20 '12 at 11:46
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@Wikis A copy would not have been possible if it was as simple as Angelo Steffenel described in his answer – Izkata Mar 20 '12 at 11:52

Any machine that reassembles a human could do that multiple times at different locations creating multiple copies. The base building blocks are not part of your identity. It would be inefficient to send them. Would each copy share the same linear awareness of being? No. If you are transported, you end and your copies continue with no awareness of being a copy. It really doesn't matter how the transportation occurs(energy vs molecules). To be fair, it is science fiction. However, there should be some logic involved.

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Think Like a Dinosaur solves the problem with balancing the equation much the same way as is done in The Prestige.

Plus, has anyone bothered to actually calculate the amount of energy involved in converting the mass of an average human body into energy and back again? You could simplify it by rending it in the equivalent megatons.

Yes, the original dies even as Trinneer observes in Enterprise, "We're all copies."

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Trinner or Trip? If Trip said it, then this would be a canonical answer to the question. Also is "Think Like a Dinosaur" a Star Trek episode or are you referring to the Outer Limits? – Lèse majesté Aug 2 '13 at 5:30
    
Think Like a Dinosaur is not Star Trek. It's a short story, and the premise is that teleportation does make a copy of the person at the new location. The aliens (dinosaurs) who share this technology with humans hold as a philosophical belief that the copy left behind must be killed, to satisfy the demands of the cosmic equations. – swbarnes2 Dec 16 '13 at 18:17

Just to add another point, it's pretty clear that Star Trek believes in souls, energy-based souls. Hence all the plots about souls moving back and forth, and this is discussed in terms of transferring energy. So the transporter doesn't kill you, because it keeps your energy-based soul intact throughout. This is why it makes sense that you can't make copies of people; the technology, when functioning as intended, doesn't make souls.

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Here's another way of thinking about the transporter, death, and consciousness.

My understanding is that the transporter scans and then transports a person atom by atom to a new location, by physically moving your atoms to the new location in a matter stream through subspace (i.e., the matter stream doesn't physically plow through walls or solid rock in our own space).

If I were to remove one atom from your body and move it to a different location, you wouldn't know the difference. Likewise, if I take another atom, and a third and a fourth, you'd still scarcely notice. That's how the transporter works. Your body isn't converted to energy, destroyed and then remade. You don't die and you aren't cloned. Rather you're moved piece by piece ... transported.

What's more, as far as the atoms in your body are concerned, whether still on the transporter pad, en route in the matter stream in subspace, or at the destination, they are still effectively adjacent to each other, in the original configuration, via subspace. I think it's assumed that the domain of subspace used in transportation can simultaneously "touch" every location in our own space, as if the entire domain is filled with wormholes. Therefore it's never the case that half of your body's atoms are completely isolated from the other half in two different locations, which I imagine would be harmful.

Of course you would eventually become aware that you're being moved to a new location, however your consciousness would not be interrupted. Instead, your consciousness would gradually shift so that you're briefly aware of being in two places at once while transporting.

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Interesting conjecture but than how would you explain the duplicated Riker in 'Second Chances' ? – Stan Nov 16 '13 at 15:12
    
That's still a mystery. There was an "unusual distortion field" that permitted a second version of Riker to be created from subspace. However if we allow this one unusual case to dictate transporter theory, then cloning via the transporter is possible & we've opened up a can of worms (why not make copies of Data, Picard, etc.). – RobertF Nov 17 '13 at 15:41
    
I don't believe you can dismiss it. Conjecture also doesn't explain the 'young' crew members in TNG-Rascals episode. Their bodies obviously didn't have the mass that the older versions did, so what happened to all that extra mass during transport ? And conversely, when they sent through at the end of the episode (to 're-age them), where did the additional needed mass come from ? – Stan Nov 17 '13 at 17:22
    
Rascals and episodes with evil twins and crew members caught in the matter stream were not the best Trek - I'm going to cast all schlocky episodes out of the canon. :) – RobertF Nov 18 '13 at 3:52

It's interesting. I believe that consciousness is somehow stored in a safeguard in these circumstances (when adding additional mass in the rascals epoisde, converting dr palski back to a middle aged adult, and putting consinous back into picard's reconstructed body). So, during normal transport, matter-energy transformation takes place for the physical body, but the mind is stored in some kind of electronic state, still alive and aware during the transfer. This would explain how in DS9 that the patterns are stored separately from the mind and the computer has established a program to transfer neural consciousness into electronic consciousness, and back again. They were stored in the holodeck because the computer memory was being used for neural memory, otherwise the patterns would be stored normally in the ident database of the transporter for identification (in a sense a copy of DNA but not consciousness) that's why they needed hair to reconstruct palaski. The double riker, some kind of quantum phenomenon that caused both his consciousness and mass to be duplicated and the rematerialised. Honstely, I try to avoid this as it is inconsistent with everything we see. However, is transferring consciousness still the same consciousness, a philosophy question.

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Consider this. Perhaps in the process of transporting, the original does end, perhaps in a terrifyingly painful way, but the person arriving at the destination has no awareness or recollection of this. Perhaps the canonical, "consciousness is maintained" is merely an illusion because the transportee is indeed in stasis for some length of time and simply cannot be aware of it.

Instead of thinking as the habitually transporting person as discreet copies, copy A,B,C,D, you think of them as linear, but discreet timelines of the same person. Version A1,A2,A3,A4.... When Riker accidentally split, he became Riker A and B, each now with their own independent, diverging timelines. But both Riker A(x) and B(x).

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The answer to this is... No. When someone is transported they are converted into a state called a "matter-energy" which can then be sent to where ever and then reconstituted back into matter.

This Matter-Energy state does not exist, but there is a thing that is close to it where when you isolate matter it seems to freak out and act in a way that could could be used in a teleportation device like described by the show, not technical manuals and "science of..." books that gets plenty of things wrong. This state that I am referring to is from a TED talk given several years ago. I don't know any more than this with regards to this state, but it is just a little support for how this would work in reality.

Anyways, the proof that person does not die in the Matter-Energy state is that some people remain conscious in this state and have experiences and memories from it as illustrated by Reginal Barkley when he has a case of Transporter-phobia due to seeing things in the stream.

One could not "see in the stream" and be right about it if they were dead. They could see things and be wrong if thy were dead, but it is highly unlikely they'd be right. Thus it shows that they're alive.

The transport flubs can then be explained to... Mirror Universe is an inversion of pattern or something like that. Duplication of person is refraction and stream splitting like photons are split in the double slit experiment. Merging together are the patterns mixing Aging or de-aging is explainable too, but outside of the scope of this question.

So, again, no. The idea that a person dies in transporting comes from physicists trying to explain how one might do this in the real world and ignoring what is laid out in the canon of the series.

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All of Star Trek canon (live action TV/movies) handwaves this aspect of transporter operation. The details of its operation seem to vary with series/episode vintage. In TOS, the subject is somehow disassembled, converted to energy, transmitted to the destination, converted back to the original matter, and reassembled. It is as if there is only the original which just undergoes a series of processing steps, so there is no death and a whole lot of magic. The various transporter incidents/malfunctions occurring in the original series (good/evil Kirk, mirror universe) invoke a lot of magic - how can a device fail in such a subtle way as to duplicate a person while splitting their personality? How can it subsequently merge two beings? How can it swap subjects with those of another universe except for costume?

The notion of a pattern emerged in TNG, but there are a number of references to a "matter stream". While TOS established the in-transit form of the subject to be energy, "matter stream" suggests that in transit, a subject is both/neither energy and/or matter. The duplicate Riker episode requires that the transporter operate by scanning and destroying the original - in the episode, Riker is scanned twice (two "confinement beams") and rematerialized from each beam. Nevertheless, there is no clear statement that the original Riker is killed in the process of making two copies (one aboard ship, and the other from the "reflected" beam).

For what its worth, the Stargate TV series (all of them) also handwave this aspect of teleportation. The stargate is described in terms of a teleporter where the sender and receiver are linked by a wormhole. Although there is an obvious "event horizon" which the subject seems to be able to pass through intact (there are depictions of a person putting a hand through and pulling it back), travel is described in much the same way as the TOS transporter (other than the aspect of the connecting wormhole).

An interesting bit of science fiction (non Trek) which directly addresses your question is Think Like a Dinosaur. In this story, the teleporter scans the subject and transmits the collected information; a copy is then constructed at the receiving site. Upon confirmation that the signal has been received intact, the original must then be destroyed ("balancing the equation") in an explicit step, as a matter of policy, because the receiving site essentially created a duplicate.

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