Frank Herbert’s Dune: The Prescience Trap and the End of Free Will, Part One

Paul Atreides’ prescience, the ability to see future events, in Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ is both a literary device and commentary on science throughout his novel. As a literary device, Herbert uses Paul’s ability to see the future as a way of foreshadowing events in the book. In Paul’s visions, the reader sees the destruction of the House Atreides, Paul meeting Chani and the Fremen, and his rise as a messianic figure. The author also shows how Paul may be the long-anticipated hero of this messianic story, the Kwisatz Haderach, as hinted in the scene with the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam and the Gom Jabbar test. But Herbert also tells the reader another story, one about the danger of living in a deterministic society where freedom gives way to absolute predictability and control. The trap of the prescient as he calls it.

To understand Frank Herbert’s fear of a world where everything is determined and predictable you have to understand the times in which he lived. From the 1940s through the 1960s science was both the boon and a bane of human society. Through science, human beings could increase lifespan, end hunger and disease, and promote peace. Science could also make more devastating weapons and introduce the threat of a technocratic despotic state. Computers, or thinking machines, could orchestrate all aspects of human life and, with their ability to predict future events, create a static society where everything is determined and controlled. Herbert hated this idea, of the loss of free will, so much that in his book he had the “thinking machines” destroyed in a Great Jihad. He also postulated that this folly by the people who wanted to predict the future, to control the fate of others, would not end with that. So in ‘Dune’, Herbert introduces the reader to prescience, and Bene Gesserit’s eugenics program to achieve this goal, and how this could lead to the extinction of humankind.

The creation of the Kwisatz Haderach by the “witches” in the narrative gives the story both the reason for the central character, Paul Atreides, to be the messianic figure in this story and the theme which is the folly of predictability. Paul’s abilities set him apart from those around him through his visions of the future and foreknowledge of things he shouldn’t know. For example, when he knew how to wear his stillsuit for the first time or of his mother’s pregnancy with his sister. His visions of the future weren’t perfect, though. They were not always accurate and could even be open to interpretation as to when he failed to predict Gurney Halleck’s attack on his mother and the death of his first son, Leto. Paul himself described his prescience ability as a man traveling through the desert. When the traveler reaches the crest of a dune he can see for miles in the direction of his destination. It is only when he begins his journey, and climbs down to the lowest part of the dune, that his vision and sense of direction become obscured. Paul could see the future but once he attempts to move in that direction “his vision becomes obscured.” This is an analogy of computer efficiency in Herbert’s day. Computing technology was good at making short-term trend predictions but for predicting anything long-term with any accuracy it was virtually impossible. Like the traveler, the scientists could see their answers on the horizon but couldn’t see how to get there. In the novel, Paul saw an infinite number of scenarios, all equally valid, with the only difference being choosing the one least unfavorable. Instead of leading a conquering army on a bloody crusade under the Atreides banner, he chose the part of the messiah for the Fremen Jihad and Emperor of the Known Universe. Statistical analysts had the same problem, but not so dramatic. They also could see an infinite number of scenarios through the data they accumulated and from those chose the most plausible. If, they thought, you could build a better, faster thinking machine, a computer able to handle more data, then you could eliminate the uncertainty and make a better forecast of future events. Paul in his frustration in not being able to “see” Gurney Halleck’s attack on his mother echoes the same indignation futurists had with computing systems. They, like Paul, wanted a better way to improve their vision of the future, to make trends more predictable, and that is what Frank Herbert saw as dangerous.

Herbert wasn’t the only science fiction author writing stories about “science going amok”. If scientists were to create machines that controlled human society it would mean the extinction of humankind. It is an old trope with countless examples (it is still in use today with the fear of AI and life under the control of the machines!). In ‘Dune’, the electronic machines were replaced by “human computers”, the mentats. Mentats were human number crunchers which is what computing systems were at the time Herbert authored his novel. They perform copious amounts of numerical computations quickly so that the data can then be analyzed and propose workable solutions to problems. It was making short-term predictions by following the trends in the data. The more data that could be accumulated the more accurate the predictable outcomes. A mentat is only as good as the information it was given. It is no surprise that mentat training was part of Paul’s education through Thufir Hawat. Making reliable predictions, to see into the future, was the goal for developing supercomputers. Once you had such a system you can control multiple aspects of functionality, control the fates of others, and eliminate randomness. Control, and the end of free will, is what scared writers, like Frank Herbert, in this genre. But there were limitations in building such a system. There was a need for new programming algorithms and the miniaturization of transistor electronics. An intuitive leap in technology was necessary to create the kind of control in trends for long-term predictions. There was a need to shorten the way.

In the novel, Paul takes the “Water of Life” and makes his ascension to the level of the perfect seer. Computing technicians were doing the same in a way, through innovations in microchip technology and software, by building bigger and faster computing systems. To Frank Herbert this acquisition of technology was equivalent to Odin drinking from the Fountain of Wisdom and, as with Odin, it would come with a price. Paul drinks, pick the path of lesser evils (according to trend analysis seen as the possible scenarios in his visions), vanquishes his enemies, marries the princess, and becomes the new emperor. But what then, Herbert leaves us to ask? How will history judge us for following the words of the seer and ignoring the warnings of common wisdom (for Chani was wise!). Is the future a paradise of peace and plenty under the rule of the Perfect Prophet? Can a pre-deterministic controlled society, with no free will, end humankind’s problems? Frank Herbert continues his treatise on the scientific folly of predictability in his next three next books culminating with ‘God Emperor of Dune’. (To continue in Part Two)

-A. M. Holmes

Challenge Accepted!

A Pro-Trump Meme from Facebook I couldn’t resist trolling

Challenge accepted. I’ll go down the line of what I love about the Democratic platform (and what the party, Biden, and Harris have committed to) and then any of you Trumpsters can present the Republican’s version (betcha most of you don’t even know). And just like the meme says, INSTEAD OF BASHING DEMOCRATS, WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THE REPUBLICANS.

1. Instead of lying to the people of this country and not take responsibility how about acting like a real leader. When 9/11 happened, President Bush took control and mobilized our nation not only militarily but in political solidarity. We need that sort of leadership to get through the pandemic. Unity, not denial and finger-pointing.

2. Our economy is a mess and shoveling more money into big businesses isn’t doing anything but making the rich richer. We need to get our butts out of the 20th century and come up with new and innovative ideas to move forward. FDR did the same and brought our nation out of the Depression.

3. We have the ACA (Obamacare) and for as many times Republicans tried to repeal it, it remains. So, lets compromise and REFINE IT so it works for EVERYONE.

4. Reform, reform, reform. That’s all Washington has talked about concerning our justice system and all it has amounted to is building more prisons and shoving social worker duties onto our already overwhelmed police forces. What’s a “wellness check” going to do if crimes are committed elsewhere? The bottom line in many escalating circumstances is, we must separate mental/social care to those better trained, and the police to do what they do best -protecting people and property.

5. The scenes of the Western coast burn (due to severe drought), the numerous cat 4 hurricanes, weather patterns changing across the country are symptoms of what is happening around the world. You can continue to deny it, but the reality is CLIMATE CHANGE is here. But what can we do? There is an opportunity here that will not only provide jobs but make America the center of a NEW GREEN TECHNOLOGICAL INITIATIVE by investing time, money, and some of the brightest people to work on it. Fossil fuels, and the economies it supports, are like the diabetic eating only cake and ice cream, eventually, he will die soon than later. That’s what we need to avoid to make America TRULY great again.

6. Putting up a wall isn’t working. It never will and will be seen as a boondoggle someday. We have the technology (drones, motion cameras, etc.) that are more efficient than the old tech of “round them up and ship them out”. What about the ones already here? Let’s come up with a way to integrate them into our country. We’ve done it many times before with the Germans, Irish, Asians, Italians why not now? Canada has the largest number of immigrants and they can handle it by just doing that, handling it.

7. If there one thing that this pandemic has proven is that when it comes to wifi, we are a THIRD WORLD COUNTRY. Right now, there are Chinese goat herders in western China that gets better connectivity than most of us. What does this have to do with public education?  How many of you have kids who had to, or now, do online classes? Public education SHOULD BE FREE TO THE PUBLIC AND SO SHOULD THE MEANS IT IS PROVIDED!

8. Leadership. Truman once said, “Leadership is the ability to get men to do what they don’t want to do and like it.” Right now, nobody likes doing what needs to be done and avoiding responsibility. We need leadership back in our presidency and as another Truman quote goes, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” If you can’t stand the criticism, the hard work, the advice of others more learned in those areas of concern, then step down and let someone else a try.

Your turn. What’s good about the Republicans? And don’t use single-syllable words and GIFs. Speak up and defend what Trump will do for you. by saying “America will be GREAT and Safe” means absolutely NOTHING if you can’t back it up.


Trump and Pence Want 4 More Years. Let’s Think About This.

Trump at the RNC 2020 Convention in his acceptance speech in Washington DC spoke of dire consequences if Biden wins in November.

Let’s seriously think about this. Trump and Pence are running on the platform that Biden and Harris are going to make it worst for America and that they deserve 4 more years. And yet,

* We have 180,000 plus dead from the coronavirus pandemic (of which they talked of in the past tense at the RNC 2020 Convention) due to this administration’s mismanagement and continued denial.

* Because of the mismanagement of the pandemic this administration has killed the longest-running expansion of our economy (9 years! And yes, it was started by Obama’s Economic Recovery policies after the ’08 recession and not after Trump was inaugurated).

* The present demonstrations and rioting did not just flare up out of nowhere. This is the direct result of policies that would rather SUPPRESS than RESOLVE issues. We have a desperate and angry people in this country and a local police force ill-trained to cope with it. Compassion IS NOT Socialism, but Oppression IS Fascism.

* Finally, Where’s the Wall paid by Mexico? Where’s the Peace Treaty with North Korea? Afghanistan? Where are the benefits of the tariff war with China (have you noticed the grocery prices rise even BEFORE the Pandemic)? Where’s the START Treaty with Russia? Where’s the Affordable Healthcare Act reform Trump promised? The Farm Relieve Bill (which benefitted PROCESSORS AND BIG AGRICULTURAL CONGLOMERATES but not the small farmers) how did that help us? And who benefitted from the tax relief directives? The average worker got a few “Jacksons” while the top CEO’s got thousands of “Ben Franklins”.

Trump and Pence want 4 more years to do what? Stay the course? Buddy, we hit the iceberg and we’re sinking. Fix what they screwed up? You can’t bail a sinking ship with a sieve. The best course of action is to save as many lives as possible through careful thought and planning and taking the advice of those who know what to do. Unfortunately, this captain and first mate wish only to blame others and be first on the lifeboats.

-A. M. Holmes


Transparency in Science

Scientific research, unlike how it’s portray on the screen, is a lot of work spending many weeks in just data collecting. After that, comes the many days compiling and evaluating the research.

I have heard a lot on social media lately about how “scientific researchers are concealing information from the general public” that the scientific community are “colluding to inflate the number of those infected with the coronavirus to embarrass the president”, or that they are just lying about the results. These people say that there is a “lack of transparency” within the scientific community and that everything they say should be doubted. All of this comes from the lack of understanding of how research studies are reviewed before its publication and why peer review is so important.

For science to work there has to be transparency but sometimes you have to wait for the results to be evaluated and peer review. The general public has a problem understanding the last two, especially peer review. When a study is first presented it must be gone over by experts before publishing. This is not, as conspiracy nuts like to suggest, to protect the “Science Oligarchy” but to catch any missed errors in the methodology, data collecting, margin of error, and conclusion. A good study is one in which the data suggest something not quite as expected. If your research supports your hypothesis too strongly, one has to doubt the legitimacy of the methodology, data collection, or conclusion. This is why evaluation and peer review are important. When millions of dollars can sometimes ride on the correct results, it can be devastating to a group if there are mistakes in their study. Sometimes, and the news media like to report on these, some research groups have faked data, or cheated in their methodology to get the results they want. They are rare (100s of thousands of studies are done yearly) because most are caught during the review process. Getting caught cheating carries a heavy penalty. Not only do you lose your job, your reputation as a researcher and options for future work in the science field is permanently damaged.

Here are several recent Sars-Cov-2 vaccine studies. all you have to do is find where to look and read them. Oh, and most news media reporters do not have the time nor the technical know-how to figure out what these studies mean. These are the two leading vaccine studies most heard on the news lately. if you follow me you’d know I share the stuff.

For the Oxford-AstraZeneca study, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31604-4/fulltext#seccestitle80

For the NIAID-Moderna study, https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2022483

-A. M. Holmes


Do You Know What White Privilege Means?

[Before I changed my surname to Holmes I was Gonzalez. I immigrated to the U.S. in 1969 when I was 6 years-old. -A. M. Holmes]

If you’ve never felt like crying when you were a child because you didn’t look or act like the other kids and they made fun of you, then you don’t know what White privilege means.

If you’ve never felt angry because the “funny” characters on tv shows and cartoons look and sound a lot like you, then you don’t know what White privilege means.

If you’ve never felt intimated or scared when a stranger, who is White, yells at you; calls you names; threatens you with bodily harm, for no reason other than because of who you are, then you don’t know what White privilege means.

If you’ve never experienced all of the above, then you have no idea what White privilege means or what racism is.

What You Should Remember On November 3rd, 2020

“Trump will attempt to start or buy a media company that can compete with Fox News and do battle with everyone else.” This is what Timothy L. O’Brien wrote in a Bloomberg Opinion article on June 7th, 2020  (https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-06-07/trump-s-ugly-week-reveals-how-he-wants-to-be-remembered).  I see this as a strong likelihood because if there has been one constant in the Trump administration it’s that everything centers around him. If you have any doubt of this just remember this, he has publicly referred to himself as “the Chosen One”. His arrogance, his megalomaniacal view of self-worth, lacks any justification. Donald J. Trump is a farce of a man with no substance.

This administration has given us no peace treaty with North Korea or Afghanistan. We have no trade agreements with China, Japan, the European Union (though NAFTA has been tweaked it still cannot be called “NAFTA 2”), or OPEC. “Law and Order” President? No reforms in gun control regulation at any time in the foreseeable future despite the school and public mass shootings. On the global scene, North Korea is still a “rogue” nation, the Taliban is leaving peace talks, and we have no SALT Treaty with Russia. Healthcare? Despite the over 50 attempts to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act by the GOP, Trump has not come up with a replacement (he does want to make changes to Medicare and Medicaid by allowing coverage through private insurers and cutting government spending). Immigration reform: increase in arrests and still pushing for a costly and mostly inefficient wall (there are alternatives in technology like the use of drones that would be more efficient and less costly).

Then there is what he has done. He has rolled back EPA standards and regulations almost to pre-Obama (even pre-Bush) times benefitting pollution producing industries like coal and petroleum. His Farm Relieve directives he signed to help farmers in the trade tariff war he created with China benefitted mostly the Big Agribusinesses and suppliers than small farms. He has increased funding to the Defense Department which mostly benefitted military manufacturers. Trump has stepped on state’s rights by rolling back interstate commercial transportation taxes. Talking about taxes, he has given tax credits to the wealthy and corporations with the idea that it will get to the regular worker (“trickle-down” has never worked before it will not work now). Oh, and he has bullied, insulted, and threatened everyone who has seen through incredulous scams. I can continue with the other debacles, “Russiagate”, Covid-19, George Floyd Protest, but why? We all saw it. His lack of leadership in any situation is very self-evident.

When November 3rd comes around I want you to remember the last 4 years and ask yourself this, must we allow this petty, shallow, self-gratifying man-child to serve another four more years?  I hope your answer is no and that you vote for Joe Biden.

Donald Trump’s June 1st strolled from the White House to the steps of St. John’s Church for a staged photo-op. Moments before Washington D.C. police tear gassed peaceful George Floyd protesters to make way for the president’s entourage of White House administrators, secret service personnel, and chosen media.