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YouTube // CGP Grey

The Trouble with Star Trek Transporters

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YouTube // CGP Grey

In the world of Star Trek, the transporter is used to move people and objects from one place to another, "beaming" them around. Various characters on the show (notably Dr. McCoy and Lieutenant Barclay) hate the transporter. So, yes, the transporter is fictional, but that doesn't mean we can't nerd out on it.

One of the core philosophical problems surrounding Trek's transporter is an issue of consciousness and identity: If the transporter takes all the atoms that make up a person, encodes them, beams them somewhere else, and then reassembles them, how can we know that the resulting "person" is the same person who went in? It's easy to argue that the transporter is effectively killing the first person, then creating an identical copy of that person with identical memories in the new location. This brings us to the Ship of Theseus paradox—if you replace all the components in a ship over time, is it still the "same" ship? (In other words, if you replace all the atoms in a person, is it still the same person?)

So it gets messy. In the video below, CGP Grey walks us through the various philosophical (and fictional-technological) problems of the transporter using fun, peppy animation. Set aside five minutes and be prepared to change your perception of how Star Trek really works:

Check out this Reddit thread for a bit more discussion of this stuff.

Side note: This also happens to be an excellent instance of parallel creation, as Jake from the YouTube channel Vsauce3 was working on an extremely similar concept at the same time (right down to the Ship of Theseus business)...but for an entirely different reason. Here's Jake's video:

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Keystone, Stringer, Getty Images
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Einstein's Handwritten Note on Happiness Just Sold for $1.3 Million
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Keystone, Stringer, Getty Images

Albert Einstein was on his way to becoming a household name when he took a trip to Japan in 1922. The scientist had just learned that he would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, and word of his accomplishments was spreading beyond his home country of Germany. In light of his rising stardom, he gave an unconventional tip to his bellboy after checking into his Tokyo hotel: He jotted down a note on a piece of paper in place of giving him cash, saying it "will probably be worth more than a regular tip" in the future. Nearly a century later, NBC News reports, the same note has sold at auction for $1.3 million.

The message, which has come to be referred to as “Einstein’s Theory of Happiness,” looks much different from the ideas about time and space the theoretical physicist is known for. It reads: "A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

Einstein's "Theory of Happiness" letter.
Menahem Kahana, Getty Images

On Tuesday, October 24, the item went to auction in Jerusalem along with a second note reading "Where there's a will there's a way" that Einstein wrote for the bellboy on the same occasion. The first message was scribbled on official Imperial Hotel paper and the second on a blank sheet of scrap paper. Both were signed and dated 1922.

Following a 25-minute bidding war, Einstein’s theory of happiness was claimed by an anonymous buyer for $1.3 million, making it the highest-priced document ever sold at auction in Israel. The second artifact sold for more than $200,000, according to the auction house. It may have taken a while to pay off, but Einstein's gift turned out to be one of the most generous tips in history. Whether it's going to a relative or descendent of the bellboy is unclear; both seller and buyer are unidentified.   

The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which Einstein helped found, was bequeathed his literary estate and personal papers upon his death. Earlier this year, letters on God, Israel, and physics brought in $210,000 at an auction in the Israeli capital.

[h/t NBC News]

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Something Something Soup Something
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This Game About Soup Highlights How Tricky Language Is
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Something Something Soup Something

Soup, defined by Merriam-Webster as "a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food," is the ultimate simple comfort food. But if you look closer at the definition, you'll notice it's surprisingly vague. Is ramen soup? What about gumbo? Is a soy vanilla latte actually a type of three-bean soup? The subjectivity of language makes this simple food category a lot more complicated than it seems.

That’s the inspiration behind Something Something Soup Something, a new video game that has players label dishes as either soup or not soup. According to Waypoint, Italian philosopher, architect, and game designer Stefano Gualeni created the game after traveling the world asking people what constitutes soup. After interviewing candidates of 23 different nationalities, he concluded that the definition of soup "depends on the region, historical period, and the person with whom you're speaking."

Gualeni took this real-life confusion and applied it to a sci-fi setting. In Something Something Soup Something, you play as a low-wage extra-terrestrial worker in the year 2078 preparing meals for human clientele. Your job is to determine which dishes pass as "soup" and can be served to the hungry guests while avoiding any items that may end up poisoning them. Options might include "rocks with celery and batteries in a cup served with chopsticks" or a "foamy liquid with a candy cane and a cooked egg served in a bowl with a fork."

The five-minute game is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but Gualeni also hopes to get people thinking about real philosophical questions. According to its description page, the game is meant to reveal "that even a familiar, ordinary concept like 'soup' is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively."

You can try out Something Something Soup Something for free on your browser.

[h/t Waypoint]

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