Teleportation, or Teletransportation, is the theoretical transfer of matter or energy from one point to another without traversing the physical space between them. It is a common subject of science fiction literature, film, and television.
American writer Charles Fort coined the word teleportation in 1931 to describe the strange disappearances and appearances of anomalies, which he suggested may be connected. He joined the Greek prefix tele- (meaning “distant”) to the root of the Latin verb portare (meaning “to carry”). Fort suggested that teleportation might explain various allegedly paranormal phenomena.
Fort’s first formal use of the word occurred in the second chapter of his 1931 book, Lo!:
“Mostly in this book I shall specialize upon indications that there exists a transportory force that I shall call Teleportation. I shall be accused of having assembled lies, yarns, hoaxes, and superstitions. To some degree I think so, myself. To some degree, I do not. I offer the data.”
The word teletransportation, which expands Fort’s abbreviated term, was first employed by Derek Parfit (born 1942) as part of a thought exercise on identity.
Teleportation in fiction
The Star Trek transporter, which brought the concept of teleportation in everyone’s living room, two essential stages of the process are dematerialization and rematerialization. The visual effects “were created by dropping tiny bits of aluminum foil and aluminum perchlorate powder against a black sheet of cardboard, and photographing them illuminated from the side by a bright light. […] In the studio lab, after the film was developed, the actors were superimposed fading out and the fluttering aluminum fading in, or vice versa.”
In his book, The Physics of Star Trek, after explaining the difference between transporting information and transporting the actual atoms, Krauss notes that “The Star Trek writers seem never to have got it exactly clear what they want the transporter to do. Does the transporter send the atoms and the bits, or just the bits?”
He notes that according to the canon definition of the transporter the former seems to be the case, but that that definition is inconsistent with a number of applications, particularly incidents, involving the transporter, which appear to involve only a transport of information, for example the way in which it splits Kirk into two version in the episode “The Enemy Within” or the way in which Riker is similarly split in the episode “Second Chances”.
Krauss writes that in order to “dematerialize” something in order to achieve matter teleportation, the binding energy of the atoms and probably that of all its nuclei would have to be overcome. He notes that the binding energy of electrons around nuclei is minuscule relative to binding energy that hold nuclei together.
He notes that “if we were to heat up the nuclei to about 1000 billion degrees (about a million times hotter than the temperature at the core of the Sun), then not only would the quarks inside lose their binding energies but at around this temperature matter will suddenly lose almost all of its mass. Matter will turn into radiation—or, in the language of our transporter, matter will dematerialize. […] In energy units, this implies providing about 10 percent of the rest mass of protons and neutrons in the form of heat. To heat up a sample the size of a human being to this level would require therefore, about 10 percent of the energy needed to annihilate the material—or the energy equivalent of a hundred 1-megaton hydrogen bombs.”
The earliest recorded story of a “matter transmitter” was Edward Page Mitchell’s “The Man Without a Body” in 1877.