|First appearance||Dune (1965)|
|Created by||Frank Herbert|
|Traits||Mental abilities that mimic the functions of computers|
A Mentat is a fictional type of human, presented in Frank Herbert's science fiction Dune universe. In an interstellar society that fears a resurgence of artificial intelligence and thus prohibits computers, Mentats are specially trained to mimic the cognitive and analytical ability of electronic computers.
In Herbert's fiction, the Butlerian Jihad results in the strict prohibition of all thinking machines, including computers, robots and artificial intelligence of any kind. This is a key influence on the nature of Herbert's fictional setting. The Mentat discipline is developed as a replacement for computerized calculation, just as the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild take on functions previously performed by thinking machines. Since the Butlerian Jihad, society has considered Mentats the embodiment of logic and reason.
More than simply calculators, Mentats possess exceptional cognitive abilities of memory and perception that are the foundations for supra-logical hypothesizing. Mentats are able to sift large volumes of data and devise concise analyses in a process that goes far beyond logical deduction: Mentats cultivate "the naïve mind", the mind without preconception or prejudice, so as to extract essential patterns or logic from data and deliver useful conclusions with varying degrees of certainty. Their calculations are delivered not as numerical probabilities but as flowing paths, subject to new variations through the influence of new factors.
A Mentat's capabilities can be greatly increased by taking sapho juice, but using it leads to addiction. Sapho is extracted from roots found on Ecaz, and its use doubles or even triples the Mentat's already immense processing power. Repeated use leaves a permanent "cranberry-colored stain" on the user's lips.
To be a Mentat may be a profession in itself, or the discipline may be added to other roles. The ability being rare, those who possess it are prized in whichever role they choose. There are various degrees of Mentat ability. In Dune (1965), Thufir Hawat is considered to be one of the finest Mentats of his time. In the same story, his student, Paul Atreides, becomes a Mentat. In Heretics of Dune (1984) and Chapterhouse: Dune (1985), Miles Teg has an illustrious career as a combined Mentat and Supreme Bashar (or supreme general) of the forces of the Bene Gesserit. In Dune Messiah (1969), Duncan Idaho, the renowned Atreides swordsman, is restored to life as the Tleilaxu ghola, Hayt, imbued with the powers of a Mentat and Zensunni philosopher.
It is also possible to vary the discipline: in Dune, the Tleilaxu create "twisted Mentats" for Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Piter De Vries being the most notable example). These are sociopathic Mentats free from the usual constraints of human morality or instinctual considerations. Piter is, among other things, a sadist, and acts as torturer for the Baron.
In God Emperor of Dune (1981), Leto II outlaws the Mentat order and crushes any renegade training schools he finds. Unlike his execution of historians, done to control his legacy and symbolism, Leto never says why he suppresses Mentats, leaving the reader to conclude that it simply plays a role in his larger purpose of oppressing humanity in order to create his Golden Path. The art is not eliminated, however, surviving through underground schools; notably, the Bene Gesserit preserve the Mentat discipline, assuming that Leto knows of this through his prescience, and approves.
Later, in Chapterhouse Dune, the Duncan ghola speaks to the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Bellonda and recalls his past incarnation from the time of Leto II:
I went to Wallach IX at the Tyrant's command ... My orders were to suppress the Mentat school you thought you had hidden there ... I, a Mentat, forced to suppress a school that trained people the way I was trained. I knew why he ordered it, of course, and so do you. "
Bellonda retrieves the following information from Other Memory:
Order of Mentats, founded by Gilbertus Albans; temporary sanctuary with Bene Tleilax who hoped to incorporate them into Tleilaxu hegemony; spread into uncounted "seed schools"; suppressed by Leto II because they formed a nucleus of independent opposition; spread into the Scattering after the Famine. "
The origin of the first Mentat is later explored in the Legends of Dune (2002–2004) prequels written by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert. During the Butlerian Jihad, thinking machine leader Omnius sees humans as animals, but the independent robot Erasmus argues that any human can become brilliant. Omnius picks a nine-year-old, blond-haired boy who appears to be the wildest and most unkempt of all, and challenges Erasmus to prove his theory. Erasmus calls the boy Gilbertus Albans, thinking that this sounds like a smart human's name. After initially failing to make progress by using a system of benevolence and rewards, he switches to a system of strict supervision and punishment, and the method works. By emulating Erasmus, whom he has come to consider his father, Albans becomes the first to display computer-like cognitive and calculation capacity on the level of thinking machines.
To his own surprise, Erasmus also develops an attachment to the boy; when Gilbertus is about 20 years old, Erasmus performs a life-extension procedure on him without permission from Omnius. Because of Gilbertus' remarkable memory-organizational ability and capacity for logical thinking, Erasmus nicknames him "Mentat", created from the words mentor, mentee, and mentation. During the Battle of Corrin, Erasmus deactivates an explosive trip mechanism in the thinking machine defenses in order to save Gilbertus, thereby dooming the entire machine empire. Afterward, the robot declares:
"Perhaps when all the thinking machines are gone, you can teach your fellow humans how to think efficiently. Then all my work will not have been for nothing." ― Erasmus - Dune: The Battle of Corrin (2004)
In this way the thinking machines are retconned as the creators of the Mentats, who remain the machines' enduring legacy to human civilization. Amidst the fanatical anti-computer culture that took permanent root throughout all humanity, the Mentats thrive from being an accepted substitute over intelligent technology, with the Mentats' actual origins completely unknown to all humans.
The David Lynch Dune film includes a scene in which Piter De Vries recites the following upon drinking sapho juice:
"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."
This mantra is a creation of Lynch and does not appear in the books, though in Dune there is mention that Thufir Hawat has cranberry-stained lips from sapho juice.
The same mantra is also recited by the Harkonnen Mentat Hayt in the beginning of the House's campaign in the Dune 2000 (1998) video game before briefing the player on the first mission.
Other works of fiction
The Marvel Comics character Mantis has been referred to as possessing "mid-range mentat" training since reappearing in the Annihilation: Conquest storyline, and has performed heightened acts of cognition and calculation since (in addition to her telepathic, telekinetic, and precognitive powers).
In a non-canon 'help corner' of the video game BlazBlue: Continuum Shift the "Mentat plant" is a strange, black-colored spherical plant that supposedly increases intelligence.
In the video game series Fallout, "Mentats" are a pharmacological item which improve mental attributes but also present the risk of addiction with every use.
In the John Ringo Novels Sister Time and The Hero, the title of "Sohon Mentat" appears as a rank for high level masters of psychic manufacturing amongst the alien Indowy race. In Sister Time it is referenced as having been drawn directly from Dune.