Frank Herbert’s Dune is the biggest-selling science fiction story of all time; the original book and its numerous sequels have transported millions of readers into the alternate reality of the Duniverse. Dune and Philosophy raises intriguing questions about the Duniverse in ways that will be instantly meaningful to fans. Those well-known characters—Paul Atreides, Baron Harkkonen, Duncan Idaho, Stilgar, the Bene Gesserit witches—come alive ...
Frank Herbert’s Dune is the biggest-selling science fiction story of all time; the original book and its numerous sequels have transported millions of readers into the alternate reality of the Duniverse. Dune and Philosophy raises intriguing questions about the Duniverse in ways that will be instantly meaningful to fans. Those well-known characters—Paul Atreides, Baron Harkkonen, Duncan Idaho, Stilgar, the Bene Gesserit witches—come alive again in this fearless philosophical probing of some of life’s most basic questions.
Dune presents us with a vast world in which fanaticism is merciless and history is made by the interplay of ruthless conspiracies. Computers have long been outlawed, so that the abilities of human beings are developed to an almost supernatural level. The intergalactic empire controlled by a privileged aristocracy raises all the old questions of human interaction in a strange yet weirdly familiar setting.
Do secret conspiracies direct the future course of human political evolution? Can manipulation of the gene pool create a godlike individual? Are strife and bloodshed essential to progress? Can we know so much about the future that we lose the power to make a difference? Does reliance on valuable resources—such as “spice,” oil, and water—place us at the mercy of those who can destroy those resources? When gholas are reconstructed from the cells of dead people and given those people’s memories, is the ghola the dead person resurrected? Can the exploitation of religion for political ends be reduced to a technique?
Fans of Dune will trek through the desert of the Duniverse seeing answers to these and other questions.
Duncan Idaho lies on the floor of a Harkonnen no-chamber on Gammu, twitching in agony, mind in turmoil. He remembers being raised by his sweet mother. She was tortured and killed by the Harkonnen beasts... and simultaneously he remembers a second childhood, also his, being reared on Gammu and trained by the Bene Gesserit witches. His memory is like double-vision, meshing and splitting. Worse still, he remembers dying. He died on Arrakis, fighting off nineteen Sardaukar so Paul and Jessica could escape. Where am I? When is this? You can hear his thought screaming from him, Who am I?
His question is our question. Is this Duncan the same Duncan Idaho we come to respect and admire in Dune? Does a ghola clone, its original memories reactivated, bear the same relation of personal identity to its original self as people like us do?
Gholas present us with special problems to do with their identity. And this particular ghola is very special. The Tleilaxu have printed something extra on his genes: as well as the memories of his original self, this Duncan also carries hidden inside the memories of all the serial Idahos from Hayt to the last Duncan who served and betrayed the God-Emperor. The Bene Tleilax have primed these serial memories to reactivate in the Duncan when he has sex with an Honored Matre. (It works, too. Talk about a rude awakening!) When all those lives explode into his consciousness, and he successfully assimilates them, is the final Duncan, Duncan? It seems pretty far-fetched – even for great science fiction like Frank Herbert’s – that a clone alive centuries after its original and crammed with consciousness of the experiences of so many, many lifetimes is the same person he has always been. Frank Herbert treats whichever Duncan is before him in the Dune saga as Duncan. We believe that, despite first impressions, he has very good philosophical reason for doing so.
The Ghola in the Machine
In the Dune saga, a ghola is a clone created from cells that have been collected from a corpse and cultivated in an axolotl tank. More than just clones, gholas are a re-creation of a person’s body after death. The mere creation of the flesh does not bring with it the relation of personal identity, however. In Herbert’s Duniverse, a ghola original consciousness can be reawakened, with all its memories intact and available to the ghola, becoming a fusion of the ghola and the person he or she was created from. The reawakening occurs always through a profound, extremely painful, and usually highly personal crisis.
The Bene Tleilax, a civilization of xenophobic, religious zealots who are geniuses of genetic engineering, are the exclusive creators of gholas. The Tleilaxu’s great secret is that they believe their work is ordained by God. They think of the genetic code as “the language of God.” Their suspiciously homely, elfin looks aside (which may be insultingly manufactured to placate), most of the bad press they get results from the fact that they run traffic in products like slaves, organs, and genetic engineering to anybody who can meet their prices. The Tleilaxu horrify others because the bodies of sentient persons are to them merely the raw material for their genetic trade.
Careful though! The Bene Tleilax aren’t mere businessmen. They traffic with the mainstream Imperium for their own ends – chiefly, a religious belief in their predestined ascendancy that reaches its climax in Heretics of Dune, only to fail. What then do they want with the gholas? The first ghola we’re introduced to is Hayt, a genetic recreation of the Swordmaster Duncan Idaho. This ghola cannot access his memories, and the history that precedes his introduction in Dune Messiah indicates that the Tleilaxu have not yet managed to induce the memories of the original in gholas. Gholas are at first a minor side-project for the Tleilaxu.
The ghola Hayt is given to Emperor Pau
l Muad’Dib by the Tleilaxu. The gift’s surface purpose is clearly a façade, but even Paul Atreides can’t see that the ghola is meant to kill him at the prompt of a command implanted in him under post-hypnotic suggestion. The assassination attempt fails. But, as the Tleilaxu hoped, the stress of attempting to kill someone who was deeply loved in the ghola’s previous life breaks the mental barrier between the ghola’s consciousness and the life-memories of the original. The ghola who knew himself as Hayt recovers the memories of the original, reassuming the identity of Duncan Idaho.
Plans within plans: the assassination attempt does not succeed, but now the Bene Tleilax have new leverage. Paul’s beloved concubine Chani has just died. The Bene Tleilax can, if the grieving Paul wishes, replace her with a ghola complete with her original memories; a singular political bargaining chip!
Paul-Muad’Dib’s son, the God-Emperor Leto II purchases a series of Duncan Idaho gholas with restored memories of the original Idaho. Leto II requests them over a period of 3,500 years, both for his breeding program and for their company. Only the memories of the original Duncan Idaho are reawakened and available to them, presumably because all of the gholas, of whom there are hundreds, are created from cells taken from the same physical body, the corpse of the original Duncan Idaho who died in battle in Dune.
Late, in Heretics of Dune, the Bene Gesserit become consumers of the Tleilaxu’s Duncan Idaho gholas. The last of these Duncan gholas recovers his memories, but also recovers the memories of all his ghola incarnations. The capacity of gholas to recapture past lives changes the nature of the Tleilaxu Masters themselves: Masters grow gholas of themselves in axolotl tanks. Every Master is “recreated” upon his death with recovered memories, accumulating many iterations of knowledge and experience. This confirms what we and the Bene Gesserit have long suspected: the Tleilaxu really wanted a virtual immortality out of their minor side-project of making gholas.