Dune Part Two: Paul’s Prescience – Math Or Magic?

Paul Atreides can see the future in Dune books and films, but is this spice induced foresight a sort of strange magic? Or something more . .

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Posted: March 26, 2024

In the Dune Novels by Frank Herbert, and more specifically the recent films by Denis Villeneuve, we witness Paul Atreides quite literally see the future, in visions of events that often play out later in the film or indicate a certain future of where the story will go.
As sorcerous and fantastical as this ability seems, there may be a more complicated explanation of this ability, how it is related to spice, and how Paul witnesses visions not just of the future, but of many POTENTIAL futures, the clues to which may also lie in the books. . .

Prescience In The Dune Universe:

Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”

Dune – Space guild

Dune – Space guild

Prescience is already an established concept within the Dune lore, with the use of spice melange and its hallucinogenic properties being directly related to the prescience that is employed by the Spacing Guild.

After the Butlerian Jihad, a war against oppressive AI “thinking machines“, all computers were destroyed, and a religious tenet was employed that barred the use of any machine that was able to perform calculations.

However, this would also prove severely limiting for space travel, which relied on these computers to chart courses and predict landings for safe travel through the stars.

A solution bore itself through the discovery of spice melange, of which consumption allowed the Spacing Guild Navigators to perform “advanced calculations”, i.e. see into the future which course would lead to the safest path possible for their ships.

This will be our first clue into how prescience works and what exactly spice melange does to the human mind. 

Dune – Bene Gesserit

Dune – Bene Gesserit

The Bene Gesserit is an Order of ‘Witches’, led by a Reverend Mother, a woman who, with the help of spice, can unlock the memories of their female ancestors, but is limited from male memories. They have existed throughout the history of Dune manipulating bloodlines between Great Houses to one day produce the ‘Kwisatz Haderach‘, the male equivalent of a Reverend Mother, who will be able to view the genetic memories of all his ancestors, as well as see the future.

Prescience: Human Supercomputers

Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.

Dune Mentat

After the abolishment of all computers and calculating machines post-Jihad, a Mentat Order was established which comprised of and produced people who were capable of and devoted their lives to performing complex mental arithmetic within mere moments. Paul is also trained as a Mentat since childhood, although this detail is omitted from the films, it establishes the fact that by the beginning of the story, Paul’s mind is already capable of advanced logical ability.

Added to the fact of his abilities as the Kwisatz Haderach, giving him access to the information and memories of all his ancestors, his exposure to spice once arriving on Arrakis intensifies the speed of his brain to such a level that it allows him to calculate and predict the future via his ‘dreams’. The closest example we have of this in real life is the use of supercomputers which compile data and predict the weather through the Weather Forecast.

In that sense, Paul is quite literally a human supercomputer.

However, there is another theory/argument that would state that Paul’s visions are not at all computational projections, but his mind has reached a stage where he can transcend 4th-dimensional space and time, which allows him to project his consciousness into the future and witness its events.

As scientific as it sounds, the ability itself can be just roughly described as straight-up magic.

The Flaw Of Paul’s Prescience: Multiple Futures

To know the future absolutely is to be trapped into that future absolutely.

Dune – Paul's vision

Dune – Paul’s vision

Let’s paint a picture in our minds: Imagine yourself in a singular room made entirely of tiles of reflective mirrors, from the walls, ceiling to floor. Now imagine holding up a mirror of your own and, looking through it, you will notice an endless chain of overlapping mirrors reflected with your own.
Now, looking around the room and choosing a single mirror to focus on, reflecting its infinite path. it’s its chain. Focusing on this single mirror, all other mirrors, all other paths remove themselves entirely from your vision.

This is the flaw in the foresight that Paul Atreides possesses.

Throughout the first and second films we witness Paul have visions of multiple potential futures that his mind predicts: Jamis teaching him fremen ways, Duncan Idaho surviving and fighting alongside the fremen, and Chani burning. 

This can be related to the Uncertainty Principle: At the quantum level, a single point in space- a particle can be viewed as indeterminate, where its position may be predicted statistically with large enough data and computation, but its actual position may never be known with perfect accuracy.

With the countless forces that come into play, the randomness of a particle, and as such, the complexity and randomness of Dune, will always result in many different outcomes whenever you measure it. No matter what method you use or how accurate your instrument is, the instrument is Paul. 

But once measured, its unpredictability and randomness are eliminated, the position of the particle is fixed. Once you focus on the path in the mirror, all other mirrors are gone, and from there on, your path is fixed.

When Paul views the future through his dreams, either by highly advanced pattern-seeking or transcending space and time itself, he always views many different possibilities, and by moving forward with them, he measures time, thus setting his reality on a fixed path.

And in the case of the story of Dune, Paul’s actions pave the way for a galactic Jihad by the Fremen, conquering the galaxy. . .

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