How Star Trek's Replicators May or May Not Work

One of the great games the internet gives us are deep discussions of hypotheticals, in which every point of view adds a new dimension to something that doesn't matter at all. The future envisioned by Star Trek includes amazing technologies, some that have been developed in real life since the franchise first aired in 1966. But we also know that most Star Trek technology was designed to make filming or storytelling easier. The transporter, the universal translator, the holodeck, the tricorder, and the replicator were all shortcuts that we nevertheless became fascinated with.

Take the replicator. This amazing bit of machinery eliminated an entire kitchen staff, and allowed for instantly-made food of any diner's desire. But was the food good? How can a machine define what any diner will prefer at any given moment? And how could any crew member who doesn't find his meal perfect ever trust a transporter to work perfectly? Star Trek characters occasionally complain that replicator food is not as good as the "real thing," meaning home cooked food. But if the machine replicates a meal using the exact chemicals down to the atomic level, what makes the difference?

While there are many factors involved in the enjoyment of a meal besides the ingredients (texture, temperature, hunger, nostalgia, etc), people keep coming up with ways to explain how a replicator can reproduce all those factors -or debunk those possible abilities. You can read a deep dive into the Star Trek replicator at Otter's Rock, and another discussion it inspired at Metafilter. You'll see an example of a thoughtful explanation of a couple of points in this comment, which is fascinating but also illustrates the concept of "overthinking a plate of beans."

#StarTrek #replicator #overthinking      

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