‘Dune’ Discussion Question: Week #2

The second discussion question for this summer’s SciFri Book Club selection, “Dune.”

Welcome to week #2 of the SciFri Book Club’s Dune discussion! Hopefully by now you’ve cracked the cover of Herbert’s ecological opus, and if you haven’t, well, there’s no time like the present. Seriously. This thing’s a doorstop.

Last week, SciFri Book Club member Kim Stanley Robinson asked us to think about how Herbert’s “Duniverse” might reflect our world today—or, as he put it, “What do you see in the book that is a funhouse mirror reflection of our world right now?” (See that dicussion question here.)

Ecologist and Dune fan Jeb Barrett had this to say about Dune’s contemporary relevance:

Our week #2 question comes from SciFri Book Club member Sara Imari Walker. As an astrobiologist and theoretical physicist, Sara’s been having fun thinking about how some of the more “sci-fi” aspects of Dune might be explained with modern science.

In particular, she’s curious about the mystical sisterhood known as the Bene Gesserit, which appears early in Dune. Chief among the women’s powers is their ability to inherit the memories of previous generations of “Reverend Mothers,” giving them a view far back into humanity’s past.

Here’s one question that Sara says she’s been “rolling around” for a few weeks:

Could the Bene Gesserit’s powers be real based on what we know from modern science?

“There is some scientific basis that part of our genetic material, at least, is coming just from female ancestors,” says Sara. For example, “the DNA in your mitochondria—which you have in every cell of your body—only comes from your female ancestors.” But how memories might figure in, she’s not so sure.

Adds Sara, “It is interesting to think that many of the Bene Gesserit’s powers might have some basis in science and that humans could outpace advanced AI even in the distant future, much like the Bene Gesserits and Mentats take the place of advanced computers in Dune.

What do you think? Could the Bene Gesserit’s powers be real? Respond in the comments below, or on Twitter using the hashtag #scifribookclub. And see what your fellow Book Club members are saying on our RebelMouse page.

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About Annie Minoff

Annie Minoff is a producer for The Journal from Gimlet Media and the Wall Street Journal, and a former co-host and producer of Undiscovered. She also plays the banjo.

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