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86. Mindfulness in the Duniverse during 200 BG TO 10,191 AG

MAR. 7, 2024


Dust off your gom jabbar and join Pete as he whisks Ryan on a whirlwind tour of the Duniverse in this special episode inspired by the release of Dune: Part Two - now out in cinemas across the planet! In this giant sandworm of an episode, amidst the chaos of intergalactic battles and political intrigue, Pete tries to find a moment of zen on the vast sand dunes of Arrakis. Together, in the company of memorable Mentats and formidable Space Nuns, they'll navigate the shifting sands of power, identity, and destiny. Don't miss this epic journey into the heart of the Duniverse, where the only thing more vast than the desert is the depth of the human spirit!

In this special episode Pete and Ryan investigate the universe of Frank Herbert’s Dune, in honour of the release of the movie Dune 2.
Where is the Duniverse? Well, in fact it’s right here – Dune is in fact set tens of thousands of years into the future in our own universe, long after the Earth, or Terra as it is known, has disappeared.
As for a national anthem, there has been a great deal of music inspired by Dune, and the soundtrack to the recent Dune movie by Hans Zimmer is quite something. But for this episode we suggested this tune in the genre ‘future classical’ for the Duniverse National Anthem, called this is called God Emperor by the Russian band, Distant Sun.
Flag wise- during the period we’re looking the dominant faction or house, was called House Corrino and the Encyclopaedia describes their pennant as “white with a gold stripe” which is frankly worse than one of my descriptions of a flag. And it’s a bit boring, so I’ll also mention that the houses also had badges to identify them, and the badge of House Corrino is a golden lion.

National animal – I think this is a no-brainer – the signature creature of the Dune saga is the sandworm, a massive worm with a suckerish mouth like a lamprey, that burrows through the sand listening for the regular footsteps on the sand of likely prey, and chomps it up.
The heart of Dune is the book Dune, written by Frank Herbert and published in 1965, sometimes known as the best selling science fiction book in history, estimated to have sold about 20 million copies.
Herbert went on to expand the universe, writing five more books following the epic story Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune.
These books are supplemented in 1984 when The Dune Encyclopedia was published. It wasn’t actually written by Frank Herbert but was in fact edited by Willis E McNelly. A close friends of Frank Herbert. He gathered together 42 other writers who all contributed to the history and personalities of the Duniverse.
However, it was approved by Frank Herbert and he even wrote the foreword, saying “As the first "Dune fan", I give this encyclopedia my delighted approval, although I hold my own counsel on some of the issues still to be explored as the Chronicles unfold.”
Which he said because he was still writing the sequels so he covers his bases a little, adding “Some of the contributions are sure to arouse controversy, based as they are on questionable sources ... “
The fun thing is that it is written as an in-universe encylopaedia, so it is presented as having been edited by "Hadi Benotto" who is an archaeologist character found in the Frank Herbert novels.
But this includes the encyclopaedia itself being something of an unreliable narrator, as the writers have to cater to their Duniverse-powers that be, giving everyone a bit of wriggle room.
Frank Herbert himself died in 1986 before he was able to write a seventh novel that he apparently had planned
But this was not the end
Frank’s son, Brian Herbert and a guy named Kevin J Anderson picked up the reins of the Dune Universe, supposedly using the notes that were left behind by Frank after he died.
There must have been a heck of a lot of notes – the pair went on to write another 15 books in the series. But rather unfortunately they also disavowed the Dune Encylcopaedia, refusing to let it be reprinted, even to his day and declaring it as no longer canon in the name of the official Herbert Limited Partnership who owned the Dune copyright.
Which must have been heartbreaking for McNelly, who let’s remember was a good friend of Frank Herbert’s and even wrote his eulogy when he died.
So what is cannon if Herbert himself approved the encylopaedia, but his estate has rejected it?
Gom Jabbar, one of the biggest Dune podcasts considers their canon to be Frank Herberts novels, followed by the Encyclopaedia followed by the other books.
But we could also equally say that they are all correct, as the encyclopaedia is acknowledged to be based on potentially unreliable sources – so where we have a discrepancy, we go to the novels instead of the encyclopaedia and put the difference down to that.
Whatever is cannon, the Dune franchise keeps on rolling, and has been made into
A selection of video games, three role playing games, and a card game
Plus on screen there has been Dune - a 1984 movie featuring according to my remembering Sting in a pair of sci fi underpants, A TV miniseries in the year 2000 called Frank Herbert’s Dune, a2003 TV miniseries called Frank Herbert’s children of Dune a 2021 movie called Dune, possibly the most successful of all the other media, directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Timothee Chalamet and winning six Oscars.
And of course the sequel to that blockbuster, Dune Part Two, in cinemas now, which is why we are doing this podcast.
History of Dune
• 19000BG – a podcast is being created – it’s now, on Earth
• 4100-13600: The solar system is colonized, and the population of Terra is eventually outnumbered by 20 to 1.
• 13402 Ceres gains the Imperial Seat after a planetoid strikes Terra.
• 13360 Terra fixed up a bit and set aside as a park
• Then the universe expands as colonisation continues
• The Empire of Ten Worlds is followed by The Empire of a Thousand Worlds – not really an empire because it was so diverse
• 11105 AGE OF PRETENDERS begins when Ceres is destroyed by rebellion, and the Imperial Seat ceases to exist as a single entity.
• What’s happening is that the time needed to communicate meant there was no real identifiable empire possible, until 7593 an the the birth of Tio Holzman, physicist and inventor extraordinaire.
• He discovers the Holzman effect, which basically enable communications across vast distances, making empires possible again, which of course means war is once again on the agenda
• 7562-5022 There are the wars of Reunification
• From there, there are cyborgs who take control
• They develop Artificial Intelligence that in turn gets out of control and tries to dominate humanity
• Then Humanity strikes back in a hundred year war against machines known as the Butlerian Jihad, which we will talk about later
• After the Jihad settles down there’s the usual bickering and empire building
• But in 84 BG it is discovered that Spice, a drug applied to certain people enabled them to make interstellar travel possible, opening up all sorts of possibilities .
• In particular, it leads to the creation of the spacing guild, which is formed on, wouldn’t you know it 1AG.
• It’s really from here we see the universe settling down to a shape we would recognise from the movie and book Dune.
And after that – well, I’m not going to tell you, because if you’re following the Dennis Villneuve films, it hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t want to spoil the future for you.
How it all starts – introducing Dune

We’ve met Mentats, Space Guild fish men and Bene Gesserit, but what we haven’t met are robots – perhaps unusual for a sci fi.
The reason for that is the same reason we have all these super skilled tradespeople. The main religion of the universe of Dune is codified in a document called the Orange Catholic Bible, and in that is states "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind." which I’m going to use as my link to mindfulness – which in Dune is legistlated to be a uniquely human thing.
The reason the universe arrived in this state was an event called the Butlerian Jihad, which started in 200BG and therefore marks the very start of our time period.
So we’re going back 10,000 years before the events of Dune.
In 200BG, thinking machines are very much part of the universe. In fact, they kind of control the universe.
First of all there were a group of 20 “people” who called themselves Titans and achieved near-immortality by basically implanting themselves into machine bodies, called Cymeks,
They realised computers are really useful, Artificial Intelligence known as Thinking Machines in the Duniverse - even more so, and so they use AI to control and suppress humanity across the universe.
They had a lovely time for a couple of hundred years until – guess what happened with the AI they were using to control the world?
Basically one of the Titans called Xerxes was too lazy to govern properly and gave his Thinking Machine more and more autonomy so it could get on with the boring job of running his part of the universe. Yes, it decided it would do a better job itself?
The machine decides to call itself Omnius, replicates itself and takes over the universe.
Well, actually, being a computer, there actually were many instances of Omnius in various places, but they were also networked to be a single entity.
So for a thousand years, humanity were subservient to the thinking machines. Until 200BG.
Now here there is a difference between what is told in the Dune encyclopaedia and in the Brian Herbert prequel book about the Butlerian Jihad.
Taking the Dune Encyclopaedia’s version, a woman named Jehanne Butler was due to have a baby, but it was aborted on the instruction of the director of the hospital that was treating her. The thing was, that director was an AI.
But worse, Jehanne Butler was a Bene Gesserit and with her supernatural ability to understand her bodies functions, she concludes that the abortion was not necessary, and she is, to put it mildly, unhappy.
From there she investigates and concludes this is just one of many unnecessary abortions carried out by the same authority. She then starts a revolution on that planet, and from there it rather snowballs.
The prequel books tell a slightly different story, Jehanne becomes Serena but it agrees a son is killed by an AI entity, kicking off a revolt against the power of the machines.
In any version it spreads from world to world, becoming a universe encompassing battle and as it spreads, the crusade becomes more and more ruthless.
The encyclopaedia states “Many, many times… the planet was devastated by fighting between two groups of crusaders, each bent of proving the purity of their faith by the magnitude of their cruelty.”
And so proceeds a hundred years of war and slaughter, by 108 BG, the Jihad finished with the complete destruction of all intelligent machines that were originally built by humans throughout the worlds.
And in many ways clears the board, or sets the scene for the powers and factions that arise and eventually lead up to the events described in Dune.
And in one way in particular – we come back to the edict in the Orange Catholic Bible, "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind."
Is this all Sci Fi Ryan? Of course not, AI is a hot topic at the moment and whilst we’re not quite at the Jihad stage, AI is a very real concern.
In 2023 on Earth, Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, who are the people behind the AI ChatGPT, himself stressed the need for regulation in the developing industry, saying in an interview with ABC news, “We’ve got to be careful here,” and adding: “I think people should be happy that we are a little bit scared of this.”
"Alarm bells over the latest form of artificial intelligence, generative AI, are deafening, and they are loudest from the developers who designed it," António Guterres the Secretary General of the United Nations.
But the benefits are both real and very seductive. The Artificial Intelligence Index Report 2023 found that “AI models are starting to rapidly accelerate scientific progress and in 2022 were used to aid hydrogen fusion, improve the efficiency of matrix manipulation, and generate new antibodies.”
And finally Ryan astute listeners would have seen a little literary connection between the Butlerian Jihad and a novel published in 1872 by one Samuel Butler called Erehwon, which despite being published in the 19th century deals with machine consciousness and self-replicating machines.
“There is no security… against the ultimate development of mechanical consciousness, in the fact of machines possessing little consciousness now. … Assume for the sake of argument that conscious beings have existed for some twenty million years: see what strides machines have made in the last thousand! May not the world last twenty million years longer? If so, what will they not in the end become? Is it not safer to nip the mischief in the bud and to forbid them further progress?
He also talks about plants having their own suitability for survival, and I’m including this only so I can quote this great line, ““Even a potato in a dark cellar has a certain low cunning about him which serves him in excellent stead.

Apart from sounding like a fresh-tasting gum, Mentats are the answer to the question – what do you do when you reject the creation of computers, because computers are really very useful.
So if you are banned from making computers that think like people, one solution is to create people who think like computers. And that’s what they do – which introduces Mentats into the Duniverse.
Mentats can increase their powers by taking sapho juice, an addictive substance extracted from the root of the Ecaz tree and you can spot a Sapho junkie by the "cranberry-colored stain" on the user's lips. Although they may also have just been drinking cranberry juice.
But where did they come from. Gilbetus Albans was a slave to the machines but in a Trading Places style bet, one of the AI called Erasmus bet he could make a dirty slave into something much, much better.
He chose, and named, Gilbertus Albans and trained him to think logically, remember huge amounts of data and think, basically, like a machine. Like father, like son.
After the Jihad ends and the AI are all destroyed Gilbertus Albans sets up a new and exciting school to train people like him. This is the start of the order of mentats, who provide not just calculations but also predictions based on the data. Mentat training consists of three stages.
Memorizers. The Mentats are able to memorise vast, although not specified amounts of data, even reproducing whole conversations they had heard including inflections and pauses as if they were a human tape recorder. The encyclopaedia says “Memorizers were able to repeat entire books from recall.”
But how realistic is that? Can people remember like that?
1986 Thomas Landauer conducted a study that, acknowledging various complexities, concluded, “Thus, the estimates all point toward a functional learned memory con- tent of around a billion bits for a mature person.”
Or 125 Megabytes. War and Peace on Amazon Kindle is 3.8 megabytes, so your memory capacity is about 33 War and Peaces.
But that’s hard to visualise and quite hotly debated, so how about a more material indicator. On 21 March 2015 Rajveer Meena of India recited the number Pi 70,000 places. Rajveer wore a blindfold throughout and took nearly 10 hours.
Rather than just blind recall, processor sort and file the information they are given. But at this point they are still not really thinking – they are so literal and uncritical that in one story a group of Processors are trying to find the city's gladiatorial arena and ask for directions. They are told to follow a group who was headed there. The problem was, those people were gladiators, they processors follow them quite literally into the arena, where they are all killed
Hypotheissts is the top level of training where information and organisation becomes predictive based on an understanding of cause and effect. These are the people who go on to become political advisors and lobbyists.
Such as Thufir Hawat, the advisor to the Atreides family in Dune, thought to be one of the finest Mentats in history.
So, can they just predict everything and make life easy and the books pretty boring?
Of course, no. forecasts are only as good as the information inputs, and the more variables you add the more possibilities increase exponentially, so these can’t really be concrete predictions.
But more importantly, the opposition has their mentats as well, trying to predict and confound whatever you’re trying to do, and feeding you duff information to mess up your plans.
And to put the challenges of prediction in context how hard that is – let’s look at the simple question of ‘what’s the weather going to be like next week’
To answer that question, The National Weather Service in the US relies on two four rows of computers each 40 feet long with a combined processing power of 8.4 petaflops, which is more than 10,000 times faster than the your desktop computer.
And what about smart drugs – sapho juice is what the mentats use, but in the absence of Ecaz trees in the Croydon area, we might try some of the following nootropics -- aka cognitive enhancers or smart drugs
First and foremost, we have caffeine, one you’ve doubtless tried yourself.
“One of my favorites is 1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine,” says Dr. Mark Moyad, director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan. He says this chemical boosts many aspects of cognition by improving alertness. It’s also associated with some memory benefits. “Of course,” Moyad says, “1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine goes by another name—caffeine.”
Bene Gesserit
Officially formed in the years after the Butlerian Jihad, where the Mentats turned to logic and what might be called the computerisation of people, another group turned to what might be termed supercharged humanity.
They are the Bene Gesserit, an religious-like order of women who for generations developed their own mental skills, whilst at the same time using genetic matching and encouraging certain matches to help steer key people in humanity.
Their goal is to create the Kwisatz Haderach, which is essentially a male born child who has the powers of the Bene Gesserit, which is generally restricted to women in a process carried out over ten thousand years.
But rather than logic and emotionlessness like the Mentats, the Bene Gesserit embrace intuition, honing their mental powers to give them effectively superhuman gifts
They would train to control their bodies, learning to control body temperature or slowing her heartbeat, moving one muscle at a time to become super aware and super in control of their physicality.
And they would train their minds, but not in pure logic like a Mentat. In contrast the Encyclopaedia says they learn that “a sentence means more than the meaning of the individual words, that it includes the physical activity which accompanies the act of speaking. The observer, therefore, must be able to "read" and "register" the gestalt of the speaker, ….and must be able to synthesize all these channels instantly in order to understand completely what actually is being "said."
This made them excellent politicians and as a group they were often behind the scenes, meddling and influencing events to serve the people they worked for, but also furthering the aims of the Bene Gesserit themselves
The Bene Gesserit have a great focus on controlling the self and remaining calm, and to aid this they have the famous chant known as “the litany against fear” a chant to retain your control in the face of great danger
“Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past me, I will turn to see fear's path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
This litany is particularly important in life or death situations and what we might term mindfulness is a key aspect of being what the Bene Gesserit considered human.
In fact, they even had a test for what they considered humanity – which in this case meant an ability to wilfully overcome animal instincts.
In this test, a poisoned needle is placed against the subjects neck. Then the subject puts their hand in a box which causes them agonising pain. The instinct is to withdraw the hand and end the pain, but you have been told if you remove your hand, the needle will be plunged into your neck and you will die.
So the test is the ability to retain control when your animal instincts are crying out to do otherwise.
So is this litany, this use of mindfulness to overcome pain and fear a fanciful science fiction idea?
Perhaps not.
In the paper An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: Theoretical considerations and preliminary results by Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D.
“The practice of mindfulness meditation was used … to train chronic pain patients in self-regulation. The meditation facilitates an attentional stance towards proprioception (the sense that lets us perceive the location, movement, and action of parts of the body) known as detached observation.”
Or to put it another way “I will permit it to pass over me and through me.”
“At 10 weeks, 65% of the patients showed a reduction of ≥33% in the mean total Pain Rating Index and 50% showed a reduction of ≥50%.”
In addition a second study led by Fadel Zeidan, who actually sounds like he might be a character from Dune, compared mindful meditation to a control of nothing, but also a placebo cream, and a group taught fake mindfulness practices.
They found that “All cognitive manipulations (mindfulness meditation, placebo cream, sham mindfulness meditation) reduced pain intensity and unpleasantness ratings compared to the control group. Importantly, mindfulness meditation was significantly more effective at reducing pain than both placebo groups.”
So it appears that the Bene Gesserit may be on to something after all

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