“Prophecy and prescience – How can they be put to the test in the face of the unanswered questions? Consider: How much is actual prediction of the ‘wave form’ (as Muad’Dib referred to his vision-image) and how much is the prophet shaping the future to fit the prophecy? What of the harmonics inherent in the act of prophecy? Does the prophet see the future or does he see a line of weakness, a fault or cleavage that he may shatter with words or decisions as a diamond-cutter shatters his gem with a blow of a knife?”
— Frank Herbert, “Dune“, page 312.
(The Kaaba. Prophecies, prophets, a mysterious black stone enshrined in a huge granitic cube. The “power of religion” is the theme of Dune. But isn’t it the theme here on Earth too?)
Disregarding the unjust competition of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Dune can arguably be considered the first “chosen one” sci-fi novel ever to appear. Luke, Neo, Aragorn, Potter, all of them owe at least some of their powers to Paul Atreides, and, of course, to Frank Herbert. But what really caught my attention right from the start of the book was Herbert’s (sort of) Objectivist tendencies. If I had to pick one single word to represent Objectivism, that word would be “reason”. If I had to pick one for Dune, it would also be… — OK, it would be “sandworms” — but the next choice would be “reason”, as well.
“The experiment was an attempt to discover the ability of birds to deal with numbers. When crows were gathered in a clearing in some woods, one man entered the clearing and walked on into the woods. As soon as he appeared, the crows hid in the treetops; they would not come out until the man returned and left the area. Then three men entered; again the crows hid. This time only two of the men left, and the crows did not come out; they knew that one still remained. But when five men came and then four left, the crows came out, apparently confident that the danger was now over. These birds, it seems, could discriminate and deal with only three units; beyond that, the units blurred or merged in their consciousness. The crow arithmetic, in effect, would be: 1, 2, 3, many.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 105.
(The “crow epistemology”, as Ayn Rand called it informally, is the principle that underlies the fundamental utility of concepts: to integrate a group of concretes into a single mental whole — a device to achieve unit-economy.)
An animal knows only a handful of perceptual concretes, and acts on them automatically. A man, by contrast, goes beyond his observations, he generalizes and identifies natural laws, he hypothesizes causal factors, and he projects alternative courses of action and long-range consequences. Man, in sum, is a conceptual being. That’s the theory, at least; in practice, we see animals all around.