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Scotty won’t beam us up any time soon

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Question: Forget Star Trek trivia. Let's pop the really big question: When are we Earthlings going to get our first ride in a real transporter, as in "Beam us up, Scotty"?

Answer: As described in the "Next Generation Technical Manual," a transporter "locks onto the target, scans its image, dematerializes it, holds it in a pattern buffer, then transmits the matter stream.""Transporting" a person, based on current scientific knowledge, has some serious problems, says Lawrence M. Krauss in "The Physics of Star Trek."

Consider that you would have to code for each and every atom in the person's body, specifying its location, energy levels of its electrons, its relation to nearby atoms in making up a molecule, etc.

Making many simplifying assumptions, you can calculate you would have to store in the pattern buffer something like 10 million billion times more information than is in all the books ever written. Just for one person.

Put another way: The largest commercially available computer single hard disks today store about 10 gigabytes, or 10,000 thousand megabytes, of information. Assuming about 4 inches per disk, you'd need a stack of them that would reach a third of the way to the center of the galaxy -- or about five years' travel in the Enterprise at warp 9!

I am, of course, talking here only about beaming down. Beaming up adds the requirement of acquiring this information from afar, using a powerful telescope. I've crunched some crude numbers on this, too: You'd need a lens much wider across than the Earth!

And I haven't even addressed how deconstruction before transmission would require heating up the person's matter to a temperature a million times hotter than the sun's center, in a machine that uses more energy than the whole world now uses and that the buttressing computer science would need to be advanced about 1,000 billion billion times beyond where it stands today. Nor have I explained to you why transporters violate current known laws of quantum mechanics, with implications one can only dream about.

Question: Everybody knows the rap on fast talkers. So why don't they slow down? Maybe then people will believe them more.

Answer: Oddly enough, it works the other way. Researchers taped TV and radio ads, then speeded them up electronically by deleting minute 1/50th-second segments throughout. This left voice pitch and other acoustical features the same, while speeding up the presentations 25 percent.

Surprisingly, listeners now rated the speakers higher on knowledgeability and sincerity, says Hope College psychologist David G. Myers. Normal talk rates of 140 to 150 words per minute can be more than doubled with little or no loss of comprehension. So maybe slow talkers -- 110 wpm or less -- fail to hold an audience's attention or allow listeners more time to formulate silent counterarguments.

Whatever the reason, rapid-fire talkers like U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who spoke in bursts of up to 300 wpm at times, have been rated as some of the best communicators.

Question: If chimpanzees toted around their own tool box, what might they put into it?

Answer: Start with a hammer-like stone or wooden club used to crack open hard-shell seeds and nuts, say Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan in "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors."

Next throw in various sticks for digging up roots or poking around in animal burrows and knotholes or for raking in fruits otherwise out of reach. A long grass stalk or reed may serve as "fishing rod," stripped and whittled to size for inserting into a termite tunnel, then withdrawn with care so as not to shake off the teeming catch.

Now round things out with a few leaves for sopping up drinking water or for use as toilet paper or handkerchief, twigs for cleaning teeth and finally, some stones, because chimps love to throw missiles and would wing them at gawking zoo visitors if so armed (lacking stones, they hurl feces instead).

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.