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In Star Trek: The Next Generation, we know that the Holodeck can create replicated food for crew members to eat. We've also seen that holographic characters can exist for a period of time outside the Holodeck before fading away.

If a crew member (who has replicated food created for them) shares a portion with a holographic character, and the holographic character then leaves the holodeck, what happens to the food? Is it destroyed when consumed, or does it drop to the floor as they fade?

Please note that I am posting this on behalf of a very curious seven-year-old.

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Different episodes have treated this topic in different ways. But your question is based on the premise that holographic characters can exist outside the holodeck. They cannot. "What happens to food that a holographic character is holding, who then leaves the holodeck?" The person cannot leave in the first place. To answer your question, the character would disintegrate, and presumably, so would the food or any other holographic material they were holding. In The Big Goodbye, a holographic character walked outside the holodeck and slowly faded. In Ship in a Bottle, Picard threw a book outside and it immediately disappeared. Take your pick, although personally I think Bottle got it right. Imagine the poor guy in Goodbye seeing himself slowly disappear. Pretty cruel if you ask me.

If you are asking about food that the character has eaten, you would not want to think of the food as being digested, like it is for us. Remember that the people are not people, the food is not food, etc. Better to think of them as characters in a video game or other simulation. What happens when they eat food?

I would assume that any real material they were holding would fall to the floor, although that has never taken place in the show. Nor is it addressed if the character can even hold anything real. In Star Trek Voyager, the holographic doctor can manipulate real medical instruments, but it is left unclear if that was a recent development or if it was always available.

The episode Elementary Dear Data has a blooper. Moriarty draws a diagram on a piece of paper, which Data carries out of the holodeck. He should not have been able to do that, as the paper was part of the holographic program.

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    The Big Goodbye is a solid example of "early episode madness" with stuff happening that's contradicted by later episode (like Troi being fully telepathic and capable of speaking to Riker with her mind). Best just to pretend it didn't happen – Valorum Feb 20 '17 at 17:11
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    It's not too much of a stretch to imagine that the holodeck can produce (replicator-style) real, physical objects that can exist outside the holdback. Also, I imagine replication is not a one-way process; if you can make physical objects out of energy, you can recycle objects into a reusable particle soup. – chepner Feb 20 '17 at 17:25
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    @chepner Agreed. I would think any replicated food "eaten" by a holographic character gets recycled as soon as it's swallowed - it's not like a hologram actually needs the nutrition, after all. – Steve-O Feb 20 '17 at 18:04
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    It was indeed The Big Goodbye that prompted my son's question in the first place. He's happy to accept that it was a writing error while certain ideas were still being fleshed out, so thank you for the insight. – Adrian Wragg Feb 20 '17 at 20:14
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    The Doctor can change the strength of his forcefield so that he can manipulate real objects. The same "solidness" must be present for holodeck characters, or else it'd be impossible to touch them, and that is clearly not the case. – Ham Sandwich Feb 20 '17 at 22:15
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The holodeck decides which elements to make out of holograms (with force-fields to simulate physical contact) and which to make out of replicated matter.

Replicators (and by extension the holodeck) are just as capable of disintegrating matter as assembling it. In DS9 we see people putting their used plates back into the replicator to be recycled.

It stands to reason that the holodeck would simply recycle any matter consumed by the holographic characters, so it would no longer be present in the simulation once consumed.

  • This is also reinforced in TNG (I think it was the same 'The Big Goodbye' episode actually), they were concerned about forcing the door as the holodeck would disintegrate the 'real people' too. So it makes sense that anything a hologram eats is just disintegrated +1 – Matt Jan 4 at 15:52

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