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I've always been a little confused by the fact that when a crew member dies they don't just use the transporter history to bring that person back. I'm aware that this wouldn't make for good TV, but I was wondering if there was a more technical reason.

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  • How would transporting a dead person bring them back to life?
    – Kevin
    Mar 2, 2012 at 21:42
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    No, by remembering the "makeup" of the person (i.e. what was scanned, stored and then transmitted) and essentially recreating them. Mar 2, 2012 at 22:03
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    The idea is to use the pattern history stored in the transporter to recreate a living replica of the person who'd died.
    – KeithS
    Mar 2, 2012 at 22:07
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    See Do the Star Trek Transporters use Energy or Matter? for more information on how a transporter works.
    – Xantec
    Mar 3, 2012 at 2:01
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    What about the TNG episode "Rascals" where Picard, Ro, Guinan and Keiko become 12-year-old children through a transporter malfunction? Apparently the transporter stream had incomplete patterns for them; but why didn't they just materialise with holes in them?
    – Wallnut
    Jun 9, 2016 at 8:31

4 Answers 4

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In early canon, the transporter log was exactly that; such and such a person transported to these coordinates at such and such a time. They were likely entered by the person manning the console instead of in any automatic fashion.

With more advanced transporter technology, such as the ability to "save" a person's pattern in the transporter's buffer, there is the possibility of bringing someone back to life. In fact, a Voyager episode (VOY:Jetrel) deals with exactly that; Neelix's backstory is that his home colony, Rinax, had all life wiped out and was rendered permanently uninhabitable by an enemy's use of a WMD, the Metreon Cascade. Neelix was on the Talaxian homeworld at the time, but lost his entire family to the weapon. We learn over the course of the episode that the Haakonian scientist who developed that weapon is attempting to atone for his actions, and eventually comes up with a plan to use Voyager's transporter to resurrect Rinax's victims, as their "patterns" remain in the residual radiation of the moon's atmosphere. He fails, but the attempt redeems him in Neelix's eyes.

In the TNG episode "Relics", the Enterprise comes across a Dyson's Sphere while investigating a distress signal. The ship sending the signal has crashed on its surface, and the away team learns that the transporter on the ship has basically been used as a stasis pod, using the transporter to dematerialize a human (Scotty), then hold them in the pattern buffer indefinitely before their rescuers re-enable the rematerialization half of the sequence to get them back out. However, the imperfect nature of this approach is obvious as a second "stored" person's pattern has degraded too much to save.

So, the thought has obviously occurred to several characters in the canon that transporters have the ability to create life as well as recreate it. But, other than a couple episodes of cloning (such as Thomas Riker, a duplicate of William Riker who joins the Maquis) it hasn't been widely successful, to say the least.

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  • Thank you! I forgot about the TNG episode with the pattern buffers, but I haven't made it to the Voyager episode yet that you mentioned. I was originally talking about the buffers, but couldn't remember the name when I wrote up the question. I guess he stuff that always stuck in my head would be the scripting if you couldn't put heartache into a story. Mar 2, 2012 at 22:31
  • Oops. Sorry for the spoiler then. The episode in question is Season 1 Ep 15 so if you have the series on DVD you should get there pretty soon.
    – KeithS
    Mar 2, 2012 at 22:34
  • @Dez Ohh, the buffers. I have no reference, so I can't put it in an answer, but I do have a vague recollection of the memory used in the buffers being extremely volatile, that's why patterns degrade in just a couple of minutes. They could (theoretically) be write-once-read-once storage, a side effect of the high storage capacity available (as mentioned in my answer).
    – Izkata
    Mar 2, 2012 at 22:58
  • For those of us looking for a computer hardware analogy, storing an entire person in the transporter buffer would be a little bit like trying to store an entire hard drive in a BUS. Yes, the BUS is good for transferring information, but it can't possibly handle the kind of data that a Hard Drive can.
    – Zibbobz
    Apr 2, 2014 at 19:09
  • Scotty was rematerilised only once. He used a feedback loop to keep his pattern in the buffer instead of being rematerialised. So he wasn't brought back to life. In Voyager, the Metrion Cascade transformed the victims into energy patterns which the scientist was trying to reconstitute back into a living being. In both cases, the original patterns still existed and hadn't been "used". In neither case was life (re)created. The transporter doesn't have enough storage to keep an entire pattern for later reuse.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 16, 2020 at 0:38
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The transporter logs are only capable of storing the physical pattern. The neural patterns is so much more complex that in DS9 4x10, Our Man Bashir, it took almost all the memory of the entire station to store only 5 neural patterns.

Storing neural patterns long-term simply isn't feasible, so the transporter logs only contain the user's physical makeup. And even then, not all of the data is stored - in TNG 2x07, Unnatural Selection, the crew had to track down some of Pulaski's pre-aged DNA in order to restore her body.

The implication in Unnatural Selection is that the transporter logs only store the physical pattern of a person the last time the person used it (Pulaski had used the transporter after getting affected by the aging virus, hence searching for a DNA sample). Beyond that, it is nothing more than a record of who did what, when.

In the special case of Thomas Riker, no pattern was stored at all - the transporter beam itself half-bounced off the atmosphere and duplicated before even reaching the ship.

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    If it doesn't store neural data then why doesn't it brainwash transportees?
    – AncientSwordRage
    Apr 14, 2012 at 22:44
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    @Pureferret That's because the pattern buffers are capable of storing enough data to include the neural patterns. But they degrade so quickly, they can't be used for long-term storage. Scotty was the only one who ever managed it, and only out of desperation - it didn't work well enough on the other person for him to survive.
    – Izkata
    Apr 15, 2012 at 0:22
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    I cannae stay in the pattern buffer much longer, she cannae take it sir!
    – AncientSwordRage
    Apr 15, 2012 at 0:24
  • In the DS9 episode you mentioned, it's even more desperate than you imply - Only the neural patterns, the state of the brain for those 5 crewmen, are stored on the station itself. The data on their bodies is stored in Quark's Holodecks, and it's implied that it has to constantly stream their physical bodies' data, or else they'll be wiped from memory.
    – Zibbobz
    Aug 22, 2014 at 18:51
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    From this episode, it seems the data about a person is streamed during transportation, reading and recreating the person packet-by-packet (albeit quickly), instead of reading and transmitting the person all at once.
    – gotorg
    Jun 22, 2017 at 14:35
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The transporter collects both the matter and energy of the individual being transported. As the matter is broken down into subatomic particles, the annular confinement beam ensures that both are collected and contained until they can be reassembled at their destination.

If you were to transport a dead body, you could re-assemble the matter, but the energy – specifically the "life energy," or neural energy – would not be present.

Theoretically, you could transport all of the physical elements of a human body, and then apply the transporter trace, which is effectively a set of reassembly instructions, and reproduce the body – but without the energy component, they'd still be dead.

In Thomas Riker's case, where a second annular confinement beam was employed, I imagine that both the matter and energy were diminished in each subject, resulting in a weakened physical condition for both subjects. Obviously they both recovered, and William's condition was probably attributed to the interference they experienced during transport.

Meanwhile, Thomas recovered because Riker was a badass. ;-)

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  • Not, it was not about transporting the dead body. If transporters take some living person apart, and later restore him, why couldn't they do the restoration part again from that saved information?
    – vsz
    Mar 3, 2012 at 17:33
  • For the same reason that they couldn't do it with a dead body. Like I said, you could theoretically reconstruct a person's body from saved information, but without that energy, you'd still be left with a dead body.
    – Ty Morton
    Mar 5, 2012 at 21:30
  • No, it's not the same. When the transporter is used normally, the body is disintegrated and then rebuilt. Using your logic, only a dead body would appear at the destination even in the normal use.
    – vsz
    Mar 6, 2012 at 5:38
  • No, because when transporting a live person, the neural energy (for lack of a better term) is contained with the particles of the matter stream in the annular confinement beam.
    – Ty Morton
    Mar 9, 2012 at 21:17
  • No, it's not matter that gets streamed. Do you have any source for your claim?
    – vsz
    Mar 10, 2012 at 7:10
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Why hasn't anyone mentioned Picard in TNG "Lonely Among Us"? In that it established that there was some "non-matter" component that was also needed. Picard beamed out his "energy", and then when he realized he wanted to go back to being human, he somehow ([sprinkle magic fairy dust]) to "load" his energy pattern back into the transporter buffer.

So does this mean that (at least TNG) writers were dualists? (If I am remembering my intro cognitive science class correctly)

Now, I don't know quite how that squares with "Relics" where Scotty preserved his matter pattern in the buffer for 75 years. When he came back, he was still sane, so I presume his "energy pattern" wasn't actually conscious for 75 years, twiddling its phantom thumbs while slowly losing it.

Or perhaps it was conscious - and having a jolly time just roaming around the universe(s?) having fun for three quarters of a century. Scotty was smart enough with quantum mechanics to somehow leave a part of it in superposition "in the buffer" in case someone found the ship and tried to re-materialize him. Then the Enterprise came along and activated the transporter, when his "energy" was off exploring M-33 galaxy a cool 3 million light years away (give or take). Or maybe he (it? two-spirit?) was off in that strange blue-zone.. where-ever..

He was having fun with some energy-alien-girl off in the blue zone, and just enough time (probably somewhat less than the Planck time) to think “Oh DAMN - NOT NOW” and “say” (think, transmit, soul-transfer, whatever) a tearful goodbye and say “I’ll be back - maybe..” to her (or whatever..) off in the blue-zone, and then “quickly” (Planck-time-wise) collapse his wave-function back to the Jenolan. (“DAMN I FEEL WOOZY!”).

Edit: Ah, I see there is a question about "Relics": "Why Did Scotty Not Go Insane?" (Why Did Scotty Not Go Insane?)

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  • 2
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Can you be more clear about what your answer to the question is? Are you saying it won't work because there's something ineffable missing? That seems to be the point of your first paragraph, but then you go wandering off into some Scotty fan-fic...
    – DavidW
    Nov 15, 2023 at 15:37
  • Ah, "Scotty fan-fic", that's what this is...
    – FreeMan
    Nov 15, 2023 at 16:52

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