The “sci-fi-physics” of self-teleportation

Human teleportation (also called parateleportation) is the hypothetical phenomenon where a human being (more precisely, its physical body) suddenly disappears from a location in space and almost instantaneously reappears in another (usually distant) location in space. This usually happens in a way that is not under the control of the teleported individual, that is, in an unexpected and generally unwanted way.

We can find possible indications of anomalous phenomena of this kind for instance in the Bible. A typical case is that of Philip, who was “kidnapped by the spirit of the Lord” when he was in the vicinity of Gaza, only to suddenly find himself in Azotus, about 50 kilometers away (Acts 8: 39–40).

Many reports of human teleportation can be found in the different traditions of our planet, such as the shamanic and yogic ones. We can also mention the controversial case of the Marquis Carlo Centurion, whose body was seen to disappear before the eyes of those present (in the castle Millesimo, in the province of Savona, in Italy) before being found asleep, a few hours later, in a completely different place.

Another interesting case is that of the Brazilian psychic Carmilo Mirabelli, who was apparently teleported, almost instantly, from São Paulo to São Vicente, two cities distant from each other about 90 kilometers.

Let me also say that I personally know an individual, absolutely trustworthy, who once told me that he had experienced this phenomenon or, if you prefer, to put it in more prudent terms, who is convinced to have experienced it.

As I’m not an expert about these anomalous happenings of human teleportation (see also this interesting article by Kim McCaul), and more generally about spontaneous dematerializations and re-materializations of macroscopic objects, I will not try here to corroborate or refute these reports, which are to say the least highly controversial. Let me just observe that if they would have foundation, that is, if they would not be explainable solely in terms of collective hallucinations, then they would indicate that our knowledge about matter and energy, and more generally about physical reality is still dramatically incomplete.

However, one may certainly wonder if the laws of quantum physics could support this possibility of spontaneous teleportation of a human body, at least in principle. For instance, in the previously mentioned article by Kim McCaul, the author writes:

“Beyond this brief comparison of distinct cultural differences around the same phenomenon [of parateleportation], what should be the working paradigm of the anthropologist in their analysis? In brief my view is that it should allow for an engagement with the experience as a possible reality. I expect there are numerous ways in which this could be construed. Personally, I do not profess any expertise in quantum mechanics, but imagine that this field may offer models that could explain de- and rematerialisation.”

Is it correct to imagine, as McCaul does, that quantum mechanics would provide a possible explanation for the spontaneous self-teleportation of a human body? In relation to this question, a science fiction writer wrote me some time ago, asking if I would be so kind to answer the following puzzling question:

“What is the probability for an individual to suddenly vanish from one place and then, shortly after, reappear in another place, several kilometers away, according to the laws of quantum mechanics?”

He assured me that a famous physicist used to address this question to his students during the exams, so that it had to be a quite simple textbook problem. His interest in the question was that the protagonist of one of his stories had to take advantage of this probability, no matter how small, to transfer his body to a considerable spatial distance, in a matter of seconds.

Inspired by his curious quiz, I reflected a little on the issue, and in the end I decided to collect my thoughts in the form of an article, which you can download by clicking on the link at the end of this text. In the article, as I try to calculate the probability in question, I also offer some elements of clarification on a few important concepts of quantum physics, in particular the key notion of non-spatiality, which I will illustrate by means of a very simple (and for this reason also very incomplete) metaphor.

Regarding the calculation of the “quantum self-teleportation probability,” I will consider two different methods for obtaining an estimate; both will require a certain number of simplifying assumptions, and as you will see some of them are of a sci-fi nature. But despite these sci-fi assumptions, the value I will obtain is so small that it is almost impossible to conceive.

Let me also mention that I tried recently to publish the article in two well-known international journals, dedicated to educational and cultural aspects of physics: the American Journal of Physics (AJP), belonging to the American Association of Physics Teachers (of which by the way I’m a life member) and the European Journal of Physics (EJP). However, considering the very unusual nature of the manuscript, both editors decided not to publish it.

Some of the reviewers enjoyed reading it. One said it reminded him some of the work of Randall Munroe, author of the online comic strip XKCD, when trying to give meaningful scientific answers to somewhat oddball questions. Another reviewer did not like it at all, but for reasons I consider being more subjective (for instance related to my discussion of non-spatiality, which is still considered a too speculative “metaphysical” notion by many physicists, in particular those belonging to the “Shut up and calculate — school of quantum mechanics”)

But regardless the more positive or negative evaluation, all reviewers basically agreed that an article only showing that a probability everyone expects to be almost zero is actually so, cannot be in the scope of journals like AJP or EJP. This also because the value of this ridiculously small probability strongly depends on the nature of the ridiculously crude assumptions one has to make to calculate it.

In part I certainly agree with these criticisms, but in part I also disagree, because I also think that it can be instructive to observe how our attempts to answer (apparently?) non-important, non-interesting, and even non-meaningful questions, can sometimes help us deepen our understanding; in the present case, our understanding about the relationship between quantum mechanics and our ordinary picture of three-dimensional objects, and the fact that microscopic entities cannot be described as mere three-dimensional corpuscles.

The suggestion of one of the reviewers is that the content of my article would be better suited as an informal blog post, or something of that nature. In accordance with his suggestion, I decided to write the present short comment, with a link to the pdf of the article (see below), which I hope you will enjoy reading.


On the quantum “self-teleportation” probability of a human body

Abstract: The probability of quantum relocation of a human body, at a given distance, is estimated using two different methods, giving comparable results. Not only the obtained values for the probabilities are inconceivably small, but assumptions of a sci-fi nature are also necessary to ensure that they are not identical to zero. The notions of ‘non-spatiality’ and ‘superselection rule’ are also briefly discussed.

Download the pdf of the article