At the end of in TNG : Lonely Among Us, Data states that Picard's...

"...physical pattern is here....his energy has moved into the transporter relays by now."

I've been reading a lot about how the transporters work. There's mention of a life force, there's mention of a matter stream, there's mention of sub-atomic particles, there's mention of Heisenberg compensators to adjust for motion, etc. It's very confusing to me. But just when I thought I kind of understood it, at least in theory (after all it is science FICTION), this episode really confused me.

What exactly was Data putting back together? What is the "energy" he speaks of? How does that differ from the physical pattern? Are we talking about a soul?

If you are saying that the energy is simply some sort of kinetic energy, nuclear energy, deals with covalent bonds, or something of that nature, could you please explain why a substitute of the same type of energy wouldn't work?

Also how did the pattern stay in place? Wouldn't the transporter have simply transported it whether his energy was present or not? After all it will transport inanimate matter.

  • because the transporter can do whatever we need it to do from week to week, until we need it to not do that
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 19:17

2 Answers 2


In-Universe answer: Remember that matter is truly energy and vice verse. Matter certainly has a specific pattern. So a possible in-universe answer is that Data meant that they've got Picard's physical matter pattern saved (from his last beam-out to the cloud), and although they lacked the normal matter stream, Picard (or the cloud entity) injected the energy that his matter was originally comprised of into the "Transporter relays".

Out-of-Universe answer: You are trying to see consistent canon where the writers of the show were more interested in drawing out a tense moment. I'm not sure of the value of spending an inordinate amount of time trying to understand a non-real technology. The writers themselves did not always attempt to keep that technology consistent across all of the Star Trek series or even absolutely consistent within episodes of the same series.

I would suggest reading several posts in the SciFi StackExchange by @Tango, as he possessed the internal-only Writer's Technical Guide for Star Trek: TNG. He quotes passages from the this internal "bible" for the Transporter: What is the difference between the transporter and the replicator?, Why can't transport be initialized when shields are up?, and in particular Do the Star Trek Transporters use Energy or Matter?.

Especially in his last post I cited, you'll see several examples where the writer's ignored the guide for the sake of plot. I would also read http://www.trektoday.com/reviews/tos/lonely_among_us.shtml.

Based upon the information from the Writer's Technical Guide above, and the script of the episode (http://www.st-minutiae.com/academy/literature329/108.txt), the writer's likely in-universe reasoning was:

  1. Picard's beamed out was into an energy-state rather than a matter-state (although that is not supposed to be a capability of the Transporter and its "matter stream").
  2. Because the beam-out was energy not matter, his physical pattern was left in the "Pattern Buffer", which normally would get flushed out by the matter stream.
  3. The Pattern Buffer's "8-minutes before degradation" limitation had also not yet occurred.
  4. To beam-in Picard from the cloud, something has to take the place of the missing matter-stream that would normally exist during any beam-in or beam-out. Picard no longer has any matter ... its all energy. Since Picard's beam-out was energy-state, his beam-in also had to somehow be energy-state.
  5. So the writers invented the "Transporter Relays" (which are never mentioned again). These relays were able to accept and store Picard's energy-state (rather than his matter-stream). Either Picard (or the cloud entity) pushed Picard's energy-state into these relays.
  6. Now the reversal of process can occur ... the energy is converted back to matter and combined with the Pattern Buffer to restore Picard to his human form. Of course, as mentioned before, supposedly the Transporter works with a matter-stream, not an energy-stream, so how the Transporter gained that capability to convert energy to matter is left to the fog of TV-magic.
  • That didn't answer my question. Of course matter has energy present, but throughout the series there is an attempt to keep the technology & how it works consistent. I never quite understood why the writers didn't just have the transporter be a device that took a person or object's molecular pattern and reassemble it elsewhere. What is with this additional energy? I completely disagree that the writers didn't attempt to keep it consistent, and I think that's why they were vague a lot of the time about how the transporter functioned. It's a shame since they are such an integral part of the show.
    – JMFB
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 11:17
  • See edits above
    – cybermike
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 13:00

You could think of it as the soul, but I think it's better described as his mind.

A few times, we've seen direct or indirect references to energy beings being mental energy without physical form - just like Picard had become. In particular, what I'm thinking of right now are the Wisps from ENT 2x18, The Crossing. They were energy beings that could inhabit human bodies, and in doing so would displace the human's something, turning their mind into an energy being.

As for what that something is, I think it's likely to be equivalent to their katra, the neural pattern that makes up their being. The Vulcans have some mysticism surrounding it, and it's translated as the living spirit, but transferrence works by synaptic pattern displacement, something which can be completely duplicated through technology. So the katra isn't a spirit/soul as we think of it in real-life.

What it looks like happened was, Picard's neural pattern was restructured/strengthened so that it can survive without a host body, similar to the Wisps. And since neural patterns are so complex and take up so much memory to store long-term, it effectively acted as his life-force.

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