As one science fiction nerd to another, I can’t tell you how sorry I am to write this article. So many of our favorite imagined future worlds involve the ability to simply zap ourselves from place to place without the hassle of, you know, actually getting there.
And while that would have been awesome for skipping things like traffic and daily commutes and drives where your young children are falling asleep and you really, really still want them to take a nap, you have to admit – you’d miss road trips.
They’re the best.
According to scientists, though, you won’t ever have to choose between that days long drive to the coast and a simple teleport onto beach in time for sunset, because based on all of the physics we currently know, it’s just not gonna happen.
The biggest roadblock is a fundamental concept in physics – mass. Everything has mass, and nothing made of matter can travel faster than the speed of light. Even if you could teleport, then, it wouldn’t be instantaneous. It would still take time for your mass to move through space and time.
That’s not the dealbreaker, though, except for using teleportation to get yourself into space. To kill the dream of teleporting from place to place on earth, we need to look at what is being transported and how.
First up, the how: despite what it shows in the movies, we don’t have a way to pass particles of matter through solid materials because they interact too strongly with the atoms inside.
Then, there’s the matter of energy.
No matter how small the space you span, moving between two points requires energy – and the amount of energy required to disassemble a body, then reassemble it at the other end (if it existed) would cost more than using actual rocket ships to traverse the same distance.
Scientists have worked out a way to transport information, called quantum teleportation, but it’s essentially copying the configuration of one electron to another. It looks like you’re transferring particles from place to place, but they’re actually putting a mirror image at the other end.
And while electrons are simple, the average human being contains around 1028 atoms, and the configuration of every person – DNA structure, bones, skin, et al, is too complicated to try to copy from one place to another. Not only that, but the assembling of that complete, complicated person on the other end would add infinite more work to the entire process.
Some researchers believe it would require 1042 bits to transfer the information in our brains alone, and on top of that, there’s the ethical quagmire questioning whether the person would be the same or new, since they’re not the original edition.
Quantum teleportation, then, was never meant for people, and there’s nothing that physicists or any other scientists know to be true that would lead us to believe there will ever be a mode of teleportation that could work for people.
So you and I are just going to have to dive back into those science fiction novels, television shows, and movies and get our fixes there.
It’s better than being broken down into a billion pieces, then put back together as someone new, who will obviously be the evil, bizarro version of you.
What else could happen?