Do we die when we sleep?

//Do we die when we sleep?

Do we die when we sleep?

This is something that I think we need to cover in parts. Only because its a little bit of a strange premise but one that I think might have some validity even if only as a fun bit of food for thought. The first thing to move aside is I’m not talking about the literal reality that every moment of life brings you closer to death and, by proxy, means that every moment of life is killing you. That’s just entropy (and the unfortunate reality of Telomeres) and not what I’m talking about.

We’ll begin with Star Trek. Since its inception the transporter has been a big part of the series. Without it most episodes would be considerably longer than they are and in many cases characters would have died very early into the series. I suppose that’s assuming that they didn’t die regardless.


Transporters work by recording every single bit of data that makes up the object that is being transported. Imagine it like copying and pasting a message from one place to another. Lets say I’ve got the word “Platypus” and I want to move it from box A to box B.

[ Platypus ] ~ [box B]
Let’s further assume that box B is such a distance away that doing so with alternative means is time consuming and just not helpful. Sending the Platypus by actual literal teleportation would be incredibly difficult. There are roughly 10^23 atoms in a single Platypus (I counted), sending every single one of those things from one location in space to another nearly instantly requires energy on the scale of stars. It’s a grotesque amount of energy that dwarfs anything we can fathom. We likely will never be doing it unless you find a means to do it that involves some part of physics that we don’t currently understand (or are aware of).

So what do we do instead? Let’s imagine that the entire Platypus is just the letters of its name. We want to break down the information of the Platypus into the simplest possible components. Binary being the obvious choice here.

[ Platypus ] becomes [ 0101000001101100011000010111010001111001011100000111010101110011 ]
You might think I’ve made it even MORE complex but really what we’ve done is convert the Platypus (which is incredibly hard to type, I’ve come to realize) into a bunch of yes or no statements. This means that we can take this information and send it to another place and have that system recompile the binary into the Platypus. Like so:

[ 0101000001101100011000010111010001111001011100000111010101110011 ] becomes [ Platypus ]
We’ve got a problem. There is now two of the very same organism. Everything about it has been replicated. The signal state of every neuron, the location of food in its digestive tract, every single bacteria in and on its body. Even the very hairs all across its body. We’ve created a perfect replication of the original animal. That’s because this is what a Transporter actually is. These machines aren’t actually transporters they are replicators. In Star Trek the dark truth is that the replicators that make their food are the same thing as the transporter. It’s creating an incredibly convincing replica of something. Just like that thing coming out of the replicator appears to be an apple, the people coming out on the other end of that machine appear to be the originals.

Sweet. Wait...wasn't he light brown? Oh well, close enough!

Sweet. Wait…wasn’t he light brown? Oh well, close enough!

What do we do with the originals? This is where Star Trek gets a little dark. The transporter (box A) incinerates the person (or object) until they are nothing but free particles. Presumably these are stored somewhere to rebuild other persons or things. The entire cast of Star Trek only survives for as long as they don’t get killed or use a transporter. What we are seeing are incredibly convincing doppelgangers of the originals. By the end of the season we are seeing doppelgangers of doppelgangers of doppelgangers ad infinitum.

Why would I tell you this? That was one long nerd fest just now, is that really relevant to sleep killing you? Yes, actually, I think it is.

Before we get to the bulk of this argument I need to cover a second topic. I’m about to give this topic far too little explanation and I’m going to be far too simple to give it enough justice. The topic, as you might have guessed, is evolution. Evolution only needs two things to function, time and death. Every generation of animals that reproduce create very close (in genetic terms) replicas of the original but not quite the same. These differences between parents and children are almost insignificant when compared to the differences between Humans and their earliest common ancestor with other primates. Heck the difference between your cats, their parents, and the common ancestor between cats and their nearest cousins is equally insignificant.

It’s like comparing the differences between two models of Ford Focuses and either of those models and the Model T. Even that pales in comparison to the differences I’m talking about, at least all three cars can use gas.

I’m digressing, but if you were some kind of godly creature looking down at the evolutionary timescale you’d be forgiven for thinking that the children of any organism were clones of the parents. Or you’d be forgiven to think that the grandchildren of that organism are as well. For you on this scale you can’t notice those subtle differences that make the new creatures different from the old one. This observation of scale is something important to consider and it ties in strongly with the point.

But what the hell is the point?!

The internet has given us an incredibly beautiful logging tool for people to use. In the past people used journals but I think those weren’t quite as effective as online blogs. You can quickly and easily type out your thoughts and catalog your brain at that very moment in a matter of moments. This allows people to meet themselves in the past and, in some ways, have a conversation with themselves. Anyone who has done this has likely noticed something incredibly haunting while reading over things they wrote twenty, ten, or even five years ago.

Who the hell is this person and why are they writing under my name?

I can’t relate to nearly any previous incarnation of myself that has written before. Sometimes I read over poetry that I’ve written and think “That’s beautiful” and I can’t imagine how I did it. I’ve read stories and forgotten how they ended that I’ve written and been surprised that I came to certain conclusions. This is why its so damn hard for me to write, I tend to forget what I wrote a matter of minutes after I wrote it. Probably a mental problem I should get checked out but at least for now it is helpful.

Because for me I can see something that might not be ultimately obvious to people with better memories. I am not the person I was yesterday, I am not the person I was a week ago, and I’m most certainly not the person I was a year ago. It all follows a logarithmic scale. The closer you are to the current day the more similar you are to the current you. Think of it a bit like radiation. We have a personal half life. I don’t know what the unit of time that the half life covers actually is, it could be a certain number of hours, maybe even days, but I don’t think it is very long.

Each time you pass this line the person that you once were only defines half of your entire persona. Another unit of this time and only a quarter of you is similar to that previous you. The changes don’t need to be dramatic, they can be incredibly subtle but they exist. Just like those generations of people, and the doppelgangers of the transporters, you are so similar that another person (or even yourself) could be forgiven for thinking that you are indeed you.

This line of thinking got me wondering. Just what is dreaming? The common consensus seems to be that dreaming is what helps us store the “important” experiences that we just went through for the previous day. You might have noticed that if you have to do something all day you’ll have incredibly powerful dreams about it. How many people had the Tetris dream? I know I’ve had dreams about while loops.

What if dreams aren’t just harmless storing of memories but an active wiping of the last generation of you? We evolve personally over the course of our lives so much that the child us could not recognize the adult us. I love topics and activities now that past me wouldn’t have even given the time of day. The more “impact” that previous days generation of us had, the more vivid and powerful the dreams we experience.

Perhaps every night we are experiencing the last death throws of the past us. The vital nutrients of their existence stored into that fleshy gray sac in our heads and a new us generated from the combined details of all previous versions of us.

Maybe every one of us is a doppelganger of a doppelganger of a doppelganger. Growing and adapting to our lives through the combined forces of time and death.

The transporters of Star Trek move you through space, the transporters of our brains move us through time. Breaking down the bits of data that make up who we are, storing it, and rebuilding a fresh new us to tackle the next day.

By | 2014-05-24T17:16:34+00:00 May 24th, 2014|Journal|1 Comment