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In the Star Trek franchise, why do they not use the transporter to extend life expectancy or even cure diseases?

We have seen it done before. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes "Unnatural Selection" and "Rascals" the transporter was used to restore individuals to a specific age. They used it on Dr. Pulaski, when she contracted a disease that caused her to age rapidly, and they were able to use it to not only restore her age, but cure the disease at the same time. It is explained that all they would have needed was transporter records, which they did not have, but at least they had a sample of DNA that they could use. In "Rascals," Guinan, Ro, Keiko, and Picard were accidentally turned into children when using the transporter, and then transported at the end of the episode to restore their ages.

The possibility of using transporters to restore to an earlier age (like restoring a computer to an earlier time) could make doctors obsolete (sorry, EMH - I guess you would have to remain as the ECH). Maybe they could have used the transporter on Worf when he lost his ability to walk. Who knows?

If this was real, I would be using the transporter every five years or so to restore my age and a live longer life and make sure that I would save my transporter records.

Clearly, this has already been done in the Star Trek franchise, so why not do this on a regular basis?

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    I've often wondered this myself. Curious to know if there's a reason these sorts of shenanigans are infeasible. IIRC, neither Pulaski nor the kiddies lost their memories after being restored, so it's not like this process even "undoes" memories formed in the time since the "transportation record" was first made. That's about the only reason i can think of why people might be hesitant to do it voluntarily. – Steve-O Feb 22 '17 at 4:18
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    Related: Why can't surgery be done by transporter? The answers are broadly the same for any question about why the Federation doesn't do some completely obvious thing with their technology that would grant superintelligence, immortality, military superiority, godhood for everyone, etc. – Kyle Jones Feb 22 '17 at 4:49
  • The only problem I can think of is transporter psychosis, a medical condition that was eliminated by the invention of the multiplex pattern buffer created in the 2310s, but then became a problem later in Voyager's "Relativity" when using the temporal transporter. – Thylorion Feb 22 '17 at 8:28
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    Did Picard and Co keep their memories from when they were turned into children? Or when Pulaski was quickly aging? It seems that if the mind is the only thing that stays the same, that eventually it would start failing like normal and any attempts to expand life at that point would be useless and cruel. If not, then why would you want to erase years of experience only to relearn and do it all again? Even if you kept a video diary 50-First-Dates style, you'd still be starting from scratch every time, while leaving the possibility of memory forgery wide open. – DCOPTimDowd Feb 22 '17 at 17:15
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    In "Turnabout Intruder" there was a device that would transfer one's consciousness into another body (or brain). In "Schizoid Man," Data's 'grandfather' was able to transfer his consciousness into Data. If they can do that, I am sure they could find away to transfer anyone's consciousness into a new brain during transport. – Thylorion Feb 23 '17 at 3:28
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Because that would ruin the fun.

Bad response, but kinda the point. The show has to keep up drama, which can be hard in a post-scarcity future; "why don't you just spend money/energy?" sounds like a great solution.

There is one bit I'd wished they did use the transporter for...

According to the Technical Manual, the transporter has a "bio-filter" that can filter out known and unknown harmful bio-signatures from the transporter signal.

It's literally humanoid antivirus! It scans the incoming signal for telltale bio-signals indicating disease life forms and deletes them.

(I always thought it'd be interesting to have somebody run to the bathroom after a transport because the biofilter was set too high and stripped out her gut flora...)

But that points out exactly why the bio-filter isn't a cure-all. It's a first line defense against plagues being brought onboard, but the concept of a "disease organism" is a bit hard to define. e coli on the skin is fine; e coli in the intestines are doing it's job; e coli in the blood is a very dangerous situation. And I doubt the bio-filter can differentiate... here's why:

In my answer to the question Does transporting (beaming out) leave your troops vulnerable to enemy attacks?, the Technical Manual tells us that the "matter stream" in the transporter is an ANALOG signal. Dialog from Scotty and O'Brien heavily imply that the transporter is almost completely analog; you can boost it, filter it, twist it into knots. It's why there's a continuity of awareness while in transport... you never stop being a thing, you just go through a conversion process.

So, the bio-filter can scan for well known "danger signals" and filter them out; it can identify a few "nasty" critters and block them out, but it probably doesn't have the fidelity to carefully snip individual E. coli from specific regions of the body. Transport only takes 5 seconds, a process which is mostly continuous, with only a pattern buffer to delay transport.

Scotty could use a pattern buffer to stay ALIVE, but he couldn't make himself younger... or fix his arm.

The amount of data in a human shaped blob of particles is YUUUGE. You're not likely going to be able to keep it in computer memory (another reason transporters are analog; only a buffer is needed, as usually the transport is nonstop). A single human would require more memory than... well, a lot of memory.

So what the transporter does is grab a "template" scan of the transport subject, and uses that scan to "error correct" the transport buffer while it's being filtered and stored. Analog signals tend to degrade over time; the template exists to "fine tune" the buffer to keep a signal "coherent." It's why we're so sad that Scotty's red-shirted friend doesn't make it; too much signal degradation. (More on this thought below!*) So over the years, Scotty's signal was amplified and then re-shuffled with the "template" to keep things in line... and what came out was almost, but not quite, what had originally gone in.

Remember, the scanner takes a look at NOW, stores a compressed version of that, and uses the template to error correct. But it's not a "complete trace."

It's why you can't beam over a pile of bricks when you lose somebody in the beam and just slap their stored template on it. You'd get something which is almost, but not quite, entirely un-alive. It's error correction, not the data itself.

In Rascals, the transporter was able to use an older copy of the "error correction trace" to re-construct the kids as adults. I hate this episode, as a fan of "transporter tech," but that's basically how it works. They beam over from the shuttle, there's a malfunction, the error correction system tries to make everything better but ends up making the main cast kids. They do kid things and then get blended up into particle soup again to reconstruct the adults from old templates.

Note that the adults do NOT remember what the kids did... this episode LITERALLY murders four kids. They were created in the transporter, and they died in the transporter, because the transporter needed their matter to apply the "error correction" template on.

It's possible that the error correction template is some sort of machine learning; maybe the main cast have gone through the Enterprise teleporter that it's really, really good at fixing problems when the plot light isn't lit.

And then using DNA to fix somebody... aaargh So my theory, based on what I've read about transporter tech, is that the intrepid crew were able to beam the patient out and then MODIFY the error correction data using her DNA to remove the disease; when they beamed her back in the error corrector kicked in and "retemplated" the Doc into working order. It's a bit of a stretch, and a very bad way to resolve the problem (because of this EXACT question being triggered by it), but there you go. Writers gonna write.

Merging two people into one, and then splitting them up... GARAGH! The second half makes sense; throw in the original particles as Tuvix, blend him up into particle paste, and then use the error correction filters to spit out the separate crew members. The initial merging, well, that's totally because, if you look right here you can see OH MY GOD LOOK OVER THERE TOM PARIS IS TURNING INTO AN INTERDIMENSIONAL TRANSWARP LIZARD!

Needless to say, to keep my sanity, I try to ignore Voyager whenever I can.

Long rambly answer short: the transporter would never be able to save all the quantum data from all the crew members on board for transporter reconstruction. You'd need some sort of "duplicate" in stasis to use as a template, and that's just creepy horror story time. Instead, the transporter was designed to convey an object via an analog "data stream" so that the object is never actually "disintegrated." It's, instead, converted to energy and converted back. TOS transporters used big heavy duty amplifiers to punch signals through noise. Later transporters added layers of "error correction" on top of the signal stream, which allows you basic filtering of bad bio-data and pattern correction before reintegration. The error correction "fudges" the signal after amplification, filtering out glitches and smoothing over bugs, attempting to give you a clean signal. In the process, a small bit of data, the error correction "transporter trace", is stored in the computer. In general, a trace is only useful for THIS SPECIFIC TRANSPORT, as using an old trace would inevitably "reconstruct" an older version of the passenger, wiping out any changes which had happened in the intervening time. Wouldn't that have been nice for the new Science Officer in Star Trek: The Slow Motion Picture? But by Movie 6 and TNG, transporters had this trace. "The more complete the trace, the more "error correction" could be overlaid on the incoming signal to fix issues during transport, and some clever people in the TNG era figured out how to use that to "inline edit" the matter stream. Of course, nothing in life is free, and this sort of meddling is EXCRUCIATINGLY DANGEROUS. The only time the bio-filter dares step in is during an obvious infection being transported, of a signal it doesn't recognize, in fears of scrambling the subject. And laying a trace on top of somebody, at best, may restore the structure of the patient, and at worse (in the case of Rascals and Tuvix) murder the passengers beaming out to "restore" a backup of the original passengers.

(* The death of Scotty's Friend. I always thought this was unnecessarily melodramatic; a cost saving measure to not have to pay for another speaking role for a whole episode. Unless Scotty built his "regeneration device" to prioritize his own signal over his friend's, why would two signals, held in the same buffer, suffer different levels of degredation? I always thought the story would have been told better if Scotty's friend had stuck around as a reminder/balance for Scotty... Scotty is stuck in the future, everything is strange, and all the future people think he's a fossil, but at least Red Shirt thinks he's cool. But that's me...)

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    Wow, that was a great book! When's it going to be published? – Hydra119 Feb 23 '17 at 7:07
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    HAHA, @Hydra119, yeah, if Star Trek were real, I'd totally be a transporter tech. There's a lot of information scattered over a ton of stuff related to the transporter, and the writers have occasionally used it like a magic wand. – Zoey Boles Feb 23 '17 at 15:45
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    I don't always read walls of text, but when I do, they're usually Star Trek related – DCOPTimDowd Feb 23 '17 at 16:50
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    Hydra119 - I don't see why you would say that about such a short answer. – M. A. Golding Feb 24 '17 at 4:18
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    I know you said you avoid thinking about VOY, but in S03E20, Ensign Kim is infected by a retrovirus that alters his DNA during an away team mission. The biofilter successfully removes the virus, but the DNA alteration remains. Not sure if that supports your statement or not, but it does seem relevant. They restore his full human DNA without use of the transporter (as far as we know). – RDFozz Jul 17 '18 at 19:08
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Maybe because Starfleet doesn't want to push its luck in getting people to believe that transporters don't kill you (see discussion here and here for example).

It's easier for people to maintain this belief if the new person that's created at the destination of a transport is identical, or essentially identical, to the person that's disintegrated into oblivion at the source. If the new creature would occasionaly come out different than the old one, it would be much more difficult - psychologically - to maintain the illusion of a single continuous existence before and after the transport.

Of course, one could argue that continuous existence is illusory anyway, and that our past selves are just as "dead" as our pre-transported selves; but it's difficult to really accept this premise without literally going insane. If the past self relative to the present moment is physically quite different than the present-moment self, this is also psychologically problematic.

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According to the theory that most episodes of an episodic TV series happen in alternate universes of their own, separate from the alternate universes other episodes happen in, the answer would be that most episodes are not sequels to episodes in which transporters have been used to extend life and restore youth.

Such techniques are unknown in most episodes of most Star Trek series because most episodes are not sequels to episodes in which transporters "magically" extended life.

Of course there are many alternate universes in which there is a lot of work going on to develop transporter based immortality. But there just aren't any episodes set in such alternate universes.

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    Is that theory cannon in any way? It sounds like a very artificial mechanism to explain away inconsistencies between episodes. – einpoklum Jul 15 '18 at 11:05
  • It's true that, in Star Trek, there are episodes where that explicitly happens (VOY S02E21, "Deadlock"; Voyager is split into two versions of itself, with events transpiring differently in the two versions; one version of the ship is ultimately destroyed, with "missing" crew from the other version sent over to survive). That said, assuming that certain episodes take place in alternative universes without being explicitly told this is so (tempting as it may be) would destroy the very concept of "canon." – RDFozz Jul 17 '18 at 19:19
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because you would be reset to that exact point in your life. You would lose 5 years of your life memories. "Who is this woman? she says she is my wife" kind of thing. The dna thing was explained differently in they used it as a way to heal someone. It's mentioned a few times in the show that the transporter filters out foreign life forms and diseases so clean dna could be used as a pattern match. The transporter does NOT generate a person based on their dna, although it could be presumed to merely store some kind of compressed code. This is explained loosely in the episode in tng where scotty is stuck in a transporter buffer in the episode "Relics". It's clearly a pattern with redundancy in it. Who is to say though that some other race is not using it just for the purpose you proposed?

  • Is it shown that this procedure causes you to lose all memories back to the point you were reset? – amflare Jul 17 '18 at 19:15
  • pretty sure. However I DID manage to find evidence of the transporter being used in an accident that made some crew young while keeping their memories. It didn't work the same way though. It would be hard to explain it, but it was this TNG episode: Rascals. – John Lord Jul 18 '18 at 2:38

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