As seen in the answers to In Star Trek, does the original die in teleportation?, transporter technology in The Next Generation reconstructs a person at their destination using, at least in part, their original particles, making it easy to believe that you get the same person at the start and finish of transportation, rather than a copy.

I'm sure I have heard that this was a deliberate change to how the transporters worked in TNG, to eliminate all of the philosophical questions about whether it's still you or just a copy that arrives at the destination.

All references I can find on how the transporter works (both here and at memory-alpha) cite TNG or later.

So, my questions are:

  • Did early transporter technology work in a way that made it less clear whether the destination receives the original or a copy?
  • If yes, was that still true for early transport of humans?

  • If no to either question, is that consistent with how it was portrayed in ToS or is it a retcon?

  • Ooh. Obligatory Doctor Who reference to Heaven Sent.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 23:54
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    In Enterprise (i.e. before TOS) they were hesitant to use transporters not because of this philosophical issue but because they weren't confident they'd arrive on the other side in one piece, so there's one interesting datum. I also checked the ST:TNG "Bible" and while it does have a transporter section, the changes it mentions do not include anything that would affect this question.
    – Ixrec
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 23:59
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    Because it's awesome: CGP Grey talks Transporters
    – Catija
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 0:07
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    "I'm sure that I have heard" seems to be the basis for your entire question. You're operating under an assumption and asking us to explain something about your assumption, without providing any grounds for that assumption.
    – Paul L
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 20:32
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    @PaulL: It is my reason for asking. And given that I was nearly certain I had heard this from an actual official source, I had expected the best answers would actually be able to cite where I had heard this from. If my motivations bother you that much, pretend I asked something like whether the details of the transporter had been decided in ToS and/or about the in-universe history of the transporter. Or I can edit the question if people really think that would improve it.
    – user12616
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 23:12

3 Answers 3


I realize it's non-canon, but the novel Star Trek: Federation addressed this. In this excerpt, Zephram Cochrane is aboard Kirk's Enterprise in the 23rd century, and has recently had his first experience with being through a transporter:

"So, what's a transporter?" Cochran asked, no longer caring how out of touch he seemed. Information was information, and he'd always been a quick study.

"Matter-energy conversion," the ensign answered. She shifted her arm, apparently trying to find a more comfortable position than the sling would allow. "Converts you to energy, beams you to a new location, reconverts, and there you are."

Cochrane felt his stomach drop out of him, and it wasn't the turbolift. He stared at his hand. It looked like the same one he'd been born with.

"Are you all right, sir?"

"That's terrible."


Cochrane was appalled. Had human life become so cheap? So meaningless? "Each time you're converted to energy, you're killed," Cochrane said. "What comes out the other end is just a duplicate that thinks it's the original."

The ensign gave him a wide-eyed look that she might have reserved for a child. "You're thinking about old-fashioned matter replication, sir. In replication, the original is destroyed so that the duplicates can be reconstructed at any time. But the transporter process operates on a quantum level. You're not destroyed and re-created; your actual, original molecules are tunneled to a new location. You're still you, sir. Believe me. We do things differently these days."

Federation was first published in 1994, so well into the run of TNG, but is set (at least partially) during the timeline of TOS.

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    You have my +1. As you say, it's a low-canon source but it does specifically address the question.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 21:12

Per the Star Trek Writer's Guide (1967)


As discussed and described earlier, it is essentially a device which "beams" crew or cargo to and from planet surfaces and/or other space vessels. It converts matter temporarily into energy, beaming that energy to a fixed point, then re-converting it back into its original matter structure. Its range is limited to about 16, 000 miles .

The original is turned into energy and sent to a place along a beam (hence 'beamed'), then recombined into its earlier form. Since the person's matter is sent to the destination, we can surmise that the original does not die, except in the most limited sense that the person was temporarily turned into energy.

For the record, the underlying technology of the transporter did not change between ST: Enterprise and ST: Voyager. It was simply refined and improved upon.

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    Surely Thomas Riker is proof against this, that the transporter chief attempted two transports and both created independent Rikers then the matter will have come from somewhere that wasnt the original Riker. It sounds like there is a conspiracy in Starfleet hiding the truth about transporters.
    – Geneworm
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 22:24
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    This quibble also applies to "The Enemy Within" wherein Kirk and the little horned dog thing were duplicated. There was no indication that either one weighed half what they should, as would be the case if the matter stream were split.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 17:10
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    Interestingly, the choice of phrasing "converted" conveniently side-steps the question of "making a copy"/"destroying the original" so it never comes up in on-screen canon. Avoids disturbing the young folk in the audience. Contrast with "Think Like a Dinosaur" which confronts it head-on.
    – Anthony X
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 22:40

Given the limited explanations in on-screen original series canon "converting matter to energy and back again", and the scientifically real understanding that mass and energy are equatable (E = m x c2), we have to assume that the transported subject is converted to its energy equivalent, "beamed" to its destination, and converted back. The notion of destroying ("killing") the original is entirely hand-waved. Somehow, the subject maintains a continuous existence throughout the transporting process despite everything that occurs; there is no "destroyed original" and "re-constructed copy".

Part of the transporter dilemma surfaces in the TNG episode "Realm of Fear". Barclay describes the process (being "deconstructed molecule by molecule" and converted to "gigaquads of data"). The episode also depicts the process from the perspective of the subject being transported. The depiction seems to suggest that the subject maintains continuity of awareness throughout the process, able to see "phased matter" in "the matter stream".

Remember that Star Trek only got transporters when the original series pilot production costs and schedule issues got in the way of shooting ship/shuttlecraft landing sequences; all the nasty implications and logical dilemmas it raised simply weren't addressed.

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