A Mentat was a profession or discipline that was developed as a replacement to the computers and thinking machines following the Butlerian Jihad that banned the creation of machines in the human mind's image, just as the Spacing Guild and the Bene Gesserit took up similar functions.
The first Mentat
Gilbertus Albans displayed the first cognitive thinking and computer-like calculation capacity necessary for a Mentat.
In the aftermath of the Butlerian Jihad, computers and other forms of thinking technology were banned due to the OCB's commandment against thinking machines ("Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind") and, at the same time, the anti-AI laws had been placed in effect; the punishment of owning such AI device or any kind being immediate death. Human computers, also known as Mentats, trained as replacements to the mechanical thinking technology, just as the all-female Bene Gesserit and the Guild of Navigators took up the same functions that had been previously covered by the Thinking Machines prior to the Jihad which banned all thinking technology.
Impact of God-Emperor rule
Along with the Spacing Guild and the Bene Gesserit, the rise of Leto Atreides II to the title of God Emperor brought with it new problems for the entire Mentat order. Leto's extremely long life, coupled with his goal to realize The Golden Path in order to ensure humanity's survival, saw him hoard the Spice Melange seemingly without much concern for short-term problems.
During the 3,500-year rule, the Mentat order formed a nucleus of independent opposition. They, like many other groups, were dispersed in the Scattering. Mentats were outlawed by God Emperor Leto II and any renegade training schools crushed.
The art of being a Mentat was not eliminated, however. It survived through underground schools. The Bene Gesserit preserved the art, assuming that Leto knew of this and allowed it.
Use of Mentat
Mentats were used extensively by the Great Houses, primarily as political advisors before the rise of God Emperor Leto Atreides II to the throne. Thanks to their vast memories and ability to organize huge amounts of data they often provided valuable insights that would otherwise be lost. Limited Mentat training was also used to augment individuals destined for other political or military roles.
Mentats were also used, to a lesser extent by the Bene Gesserit. Though unlike the Mentats employed by the Great Houses, all Bene Gesserit Mentats (like Tertius Eileen Anteac and Bellonda) were pre-conditioned Reverend Mothers.
The role of Mentat required a certain degree of mental ability and strict mental conditioning. Though not all Mentats were of equal ability, all were typically able to guarantee employment with one of the power brokers of the Known Universe.
Unlike computers, however, Mentats were not only human calculators, since in addition to immense mathematical skills, Mentats also possessed the exceptional cognitive abilities of memory and perception, which were the foundations for supralogical hypothesizing, strategizing and tacticizing (skills in which the Mentats surpassed even those of the pre-Butlerian Jihad Thinking Machines). Thus, Mentats were able to gather large amounts of data and devise concise analyses in a process that went far beyond logical deduction: Mentats cultivate "the naïve mind", a supralogical mind without preconception or prejudice, one that can extract the essential patterns or logic of data and deliver, with varying degrees of certainty, useful conclusions. The hypothesizing, strategizing and tacticizing of highly skilled Mentats (like the first Duncan Idaho ghola, or Miles Teg), when provided with sufficient data, allowed for the deduction of probable future outcomes, akin to prescience (though with somewhat less clarity). This ability saw many military commanders and political leaders (such as Paul Atreides, the Duncan Idaho gholas and Miles Teg) undergo some form of Mentat training. Thufir Hawat was one of the few individuals whose innate Mentat abilities were immense enough for him to be an exclusive adviser to House Atreides, with even the Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV fearing Thufir's Mentat capabilities.
The ability to become a Mentat was a talent limited to a small number of people; thus, those with the discipline were prized in whatever role they choose. There are also varying degrees of ability. Moreover, a Mentat's capabilities can be greatly increased by taking sapho juice, but using it leads to addiction. Sapho is extracted from the root of the Ecaz tree and its use doubles or even triples the Mentat's immense processing power. However, repeated use turns the user's lips a shade of red.
Mentats were required to operate within an ethical framework, which for some purposes was not desired. Thus, the Bene Tleilax were known to condition some Mentats to be 'twisted'. These Twisted Mentat individuals, such as Piter de Vries, were able to supralogically hypothese, strategize and tacticize trends free of any ethical restraints or limitations.
The Mentat Mantra (From David Lynch's movie as well as a game made by Westwood)
"It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of Sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion."
Exclusive Mentat Advisors
- Paul Atreides, Mentat Duke of House Atreides, later Kwisatz Haderach and Emperor
- Miles Teg, Mentat Bene Gesserit Bashar
- Duncan Idaho gholas
- Tertius Eileen Anteac, Mentat Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother
- Bellonda, Mentat Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother
Behind the scenes
The exact origin of the Mentat's order is outlined in Frank Herbert's Chapterhouse: Dune novel and it is attributed to Gilbertus Albans. In the Legends of Dune novels by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson Albans was trained by the thinking machine, Erasmus.