Frank Herbert’s Dune: The Power of Religion

In his 1965 science-fiction novel Dune, Frank Herbert addresses many social and political issues of the time.  Most importantly, the intersection of religion and politics.  Religion plays a very large part in the novel, influencing almost all aspects of life in the universe, from the political system to the social culture of the Fremen on Arrakis.  It is exploited by the powerful in order to gain control over civilizations.  Additionally, religion begins to corrupt Paul Atreides, the protagonist of Dune, and change his motives as the prophet of the Fremen.  Collectively, they form the entire basis of the Fremen culture on Arrakis, which is completely grounded in religious influence.

Dune takes place thousands of years from now on one of many human colonized worlds, the desert planet Arrakis, a planet which is abundant in a universally sought after spice called melange.  These worlds are ruled by the Great Houses, which includes the House of Atreides, of which the protagonist Paul Atreides is apart of, and their rivals the House of Harkonnen.  The story revolves around Paul and his mother, a Bene Gesserit woman (women trained with special powers) named Lady Jessica.  They are humans from the planet Caladan who move to Arrakis to meet up with Paul’s father Duke Leto, the ruler of Arrakis.  In doing so, the Fremen, natives of Arrakis, believe that Jessica and Paul are fulfillers of a prophecy that claims a Bene Gesserit woman will arrive on Arrakis with a son, who will lead them to terraform the Arrakis’ desert environment into a lush, green world.

After arriving on Arrakis, Duke Leto is betrayed by Dr. Yueh, a House of Atreides member.  Yueh replaces one of the Duke’s teeth with a poison capsule and delivers him to Baron Harkonnen, the Duke’s enemy.  Meanwhile, most of the Atreides are wiped out by Sardaukar, Harkonnen controlled soldiers, but Paul and Jessica escape.  Hawat and Halleck, two other members of Atreides, also escape.  Duke Leto kills himself with the poison tooth, but Baron Harkonnen survives the attempt and escapes. Hawat is captured by the Harkonnens and agrees to work for them.  Paul and Jessica are captured by the Fremen at the order to Kynes, a Fremen leader.  Paul becomes idolized as a prophet by the Fremen, and is named Maud’Dib.  Paul discovers his abilities to see into the future and back in time.  These abilities exceed those of his mother, despite her being a Bene Gesserit.  Years later,  Paul has become a spiritual leader of the Fremen, and his mother the new Reverend Mother.  The Fremen discover that Rabban, the Baron’s nephew assigned to Arrakis, has stopped receiving assistance from the Baron, so they plan to invade and take control of the Arakeen capital.  In order to stop the Fremen, Emperor Shaddam IV personally comes to Arrakis with an army of Sardaukar and Harkonnen.  However, this army is quickly defeated by the Fremen.  Baron Harkonnen is killed by Alia, Paul’s younger sister who was born on Arrakis, but Paul’s youngest son Leto dies during the battle.  Hawat is injured in the battle and dies in Paul’s arms.  Paul decides that the best way to remove Emperor Shaddam IV from power is to marry his daughter, Princess Irulan.  In protest, Feyd-Rautha, the baron’s nephew, challenges Paul to a duel.  Paul kills him, which makes the Emperor agree to Paul’s demands, thus making Paul the new Emperor of the universe.

Religion is used as a tool for the leaders to keep control of the general population and heighten their apparent divine status.  The Spacing Guild, an interstellar monopoly on space travel, abuses religion as a means to keep their control over the universe’s transportation systems.  As Herbert explains in the second appendix:

The agnostic ruling class (including the Guild) for whom religion was a kind of puppet show to amuse the populace and keep it docile, and who believed essentially that all phenomena— even religious phenomena— could be reduced to mechanical explanations. (Herbert, 812)

It is evident that, to the rich and powerful, religion is a scapegoat.  It’s a deceiving method with which to obtain power.  The Bene Gesserit, a renowned order for women, privately uses religious tactics to achieve their status.

The Bene Gesserit, a very prestigious self-proclaimed secular order, hypocritically uses religious practices in their teachings, which in turn gave Bene Gesserit members a prophet-like status among the Fremen.  Lady Jessica, for example, fulfills a prophecy that she and Paul are the saviors of the Fremen.  Hawat says to Duke Leto “Yes, my Lord. They’ve a legend here, a prophecy, that a leader will come to them, child of a Bene Gesserit, to lead them to true freedom. It follows the familiar messiah pattern” (Herbert, 163).  Herbert explains that “The Bene Gesserit, who privately denied they were a religious order, but who operated behind an almost impenetrable screen of ritual mysticism, and whose training, whose symbolism, organization, and internal teaching methods were almost wholly religious” (Herbert, 811).  Near the end of the novel, Jessica is promoted to Reverend Mother of the Fremen.  In order to do so, she must drink a poisoned liquid, a liquid which she makes safe by using her powers.  She effectively cheats to pass the test, elevating her rank in the Fremen society, and simultaneously gains more respect from the Fremen.  After the ceremony, Jessica says to herself, “Let the people drink of it and have their awareness of each other heightened for a while. The drug is safe now… now that a Reverend Mother has changed it” (Herbert, 580), acknowledging her newfound position in the Fremen society.  By becoming the Reverend Mother, Jessica also inherits the memories of the previous Reverend Mothers, which in turn provides Jessica with knowledge that will grant her even more power over the Fremen.

The influence of religion is not exclusive to the Fremen natives and also begins to corrupt Paul once he develops his sixth sense to see into the future and back in time.  He slowly becomes more and more absorbed in his newfound ability.  The more immersed he becomes, the more he begins to see his new powers as divine origin and how the Fremen prophecy must be true.  As Gurney Halleck says to the Lady Jessica, “‘Why is he doing this? Does he think to get himself killed and achieve martyrdom? This Fremen religious prattle, is that what clouds his reason?’” (Herbert, 781).  Paul becomes arrogant and selfish after obtaining his powers, going so far as the completely refuse assistance from his mother, whom he has looked up to.  He says to her “‘I want no special advantage for this one,’” followed by, “‘Step back out of my way’” (Herbert, 781).  While some of his confidence is certainly true, a good portion comes from his arrogance as a result of his figurehead status among the Fremen.  Jessica claims that “[she] found no covetousness in these faces. They were held at a distance by the religious ferment around Paul’s leadership” (Herbert, 690).  Paul’s status with the Fremen has granted Paul a great power, and he knows it.  It obvious that Paul takes advantage of this power to control the Fremen society, eventually using his influence on the Fremen to overthrow Emperor Shaddam IV from power and claim the throne for himself.

The structure of Fremen society is heavily built upon religion, which is both a major strength and a major weakness of the Fremen culture.  As Kynes’ father explains to him, in Fremen society,

‘Religion and law among our masses must be one and the same[.]  An act of disobedience must be a sin and require religious penalties. This will have the dual benefit of bringing both greater obedience and greater bravery. We must depend not so much on the bravery of individuals, you see, as upon the bravery of a whole population’ (Herbert, 444).

To the Fremen, religion is the foundation with which their entire culture has been built on.  To commit a crime against religion is to commit a crime against the Fremen people.  The Bene Gesserit exploited this, launching the Missionaria Protectiva, a program designed to reaffirm religious beliefs in cultures so the Bene Gesserit could take advantage of them.  As Lady Jessica says to herself, “So our Missionaria Protectiva even planted religious safety valves all through this hell hole. Ah, well… it’ll help, and that’s what it was meant to do” (Herbert, 459).  The strength of the Fremen society is also its weakness.  Religion unites the people, but it also provides an outlet for exploitation, as can be seen with Missionaria Protectiva.

Religion is the strongest part of Fremen society, but also its greatest weakness.  It is exploited by power organizations such as the Space Guild and the Bene Gesserit.  Most importantly, religious beliefs of the Fremen have the power to influence non-Fremen, such as Paul Atreides and Lady Jessica.  With this knowledge, the Fremen are susceptible to outside influences, and really never make choices for themselves.  They believe themselves to be an independent civilization, yet they are controlled by outside forces they are oblivious to.  Until the Fremen break free from their bonds to religion, they will forever be puppets to a greater power, even if that power is one of their own.

Works Cited

1.  Herbert, Frank (2003-08-26). Dune. Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.


Discovering Dark Matter

Original Article from


On April 3, 2013, scientists announced results from their massive particle detector, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), that had been surveying space from the International Space Station for over a year and a half.

The particle detector was designed to measure cosmic-ray particles in space.  Over the course of 18 months, AMS detected billions of these particles.  Finally, AMS picked up a signal that is likely to have originated from dark matter, which makes up over 75% of all matter in our universe.  The signal AMS picked up came from about 400,000 positrons, or positively charged electrons.  Even thought positrons are the anti-matter counterpart of an electron, scientists believe that these positrons may have been created when particles of dark matter collided with each other.  However, dark matter is not the same as anti-matter.


An artists impression of dark matter in the universe.  Source:  Star Talk Radio

Dark matter emits no light, therefore it can’t be detected with telescopes.  In addition, the amount of dark matter in the universe seems to significantly outweigh the amount of regular matter in the universe.  Physicists believe that dark matter is made of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), which seldom interact with regular matter.  Because WIMPs are thought to annihilate each other, similar to dark matter, the reaction would leave behind a positron and an election.  Scientists can links these positrons to dark matter because they match predictions for dark matter created positrons discovered by PAMELA.  Positrons from dark matter should be found with energy levels higher than 10 GeV (gigaelectron volts).  Not only were these particles discovered with energy levels above 10 GeV, some particles had energies of up to 250 GeV, lending further evidence to dark matter annihilations.  Additionally, these positrons don’t come from a single source in the sky either, they originate from all over.

AMS has detected over 6.8 million positrons and electrons so far.  Even though AMS will continue to collect data, scientists will not be able to tell if these come from dark matter or another source, despite the evidence.  Another suggested theory is that these come from pulsars.  In fact, scientists actually intend to learn more about dark matter at home, via underground experiments right here on Earth.

The Channel Islainds Archipelago

Off of the coast of my hometown, Ventura, in southern California, lies the Channel Islands Archipelago.  The archipelago contains eight different islands, five of which are part of Channel Islands National Park, split into the Northern Islands and Southern Islands.  The Northern Islands include Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa islands, extending from Santa Barbara to Ventura counties.  The Southern Islands are composed of San Clemente, San Nicolas, Santa Barbara, and Santa Catalina.  The Southern Islands stretch down to Los Angeles county.

The islands geologic history dates back 100 million years and is a direct result of plate tectonics in the area.  Until roughly 30 million years ago, the location of the Channel islands was the location of two tectonic plates, the Farallon Plate and the North American Plate.  As the two plate collided, they were destroyed over time by subduction.  A marine basin formed and over millions of years, the sediment that washed off the coast collected on the basin, forming the early base for the islands.  Once the Farallon Plate was completely gone, the Pacific Plate moved in and began to rub against the North American Plate.  This created the famous San Andreas fault in California.  The orientation and size of the islands is a direct result of the Pacific Plate coming into contact with the North American Plate.  The entire above surface portion of the islands has risen within the last 5 million years.


A map of the Channel Islands, showing both the Northern and Southern island groups.  Source: Wikipedia.

Some of the islands are a result of volcanic activity that took place underwater.  Anacapa and Santa Barbara islands, for example, are composed almost entirely of volcanic rock.  Evidence of this comes in the form of ‘pillow lava’, or lava that originated underwater.  Fossilized shells of oysters and other marine species can be found among the pillow lava.  The volcanic activity responsible occurred between 19 to 15 million years ago, a period in which lava covered a large portion of the area containing the Northern Channel Islands.  Evidence shows that the original islands created from these eruptions and outpouring were significantly larger than the islands that exist now.  Some claims even state peaks as high as 5,000 feet.  ‘Volcanic bombs’ have been discovered at nearby known volcanic regions, the Conejo Volcanics and Santa Rosa Island Volcanics, supporting the idea of much larger islands.  These islands, however, likely eroded very soon after volcanic activity stopped on the islands, leaving the islands we see today.

The rocks on the Northern islands are mainly composed of sedimentary rocks made of shale and sandstone, remnants of the era when the islands were formed.  The existence of round pieces of rhyolite in the sedimentary layers indicates that the islands originated near San Diego, and have since rotated 90-100 degrees since.

Information obtained from Wikipedia and the official Channel Islands page at the National Park service website.

Hubble at Home

Chances are you have seen at least one deep space image from the Hubble Telescope.  This pictures are amazing to be sure, but these amazing photos are actually made quite easily using Photoshop, a custom program called FITS Liberator, and three different grayscale images.  The official instructions from the Hubble website are available here, but I will briefly explain them to you.

The three grayscale images are all identical photos except that the wavelength of each photo varies.  Below are the three photos of the “Pillars of Creation”, part of the Eagle Nebula, that I used:




After converting the files using FITS Liberator, the photos are then imported into Photoshop and manually all inserted into the same file, each as a separate layer.  After sorting the files by wavelength, highest to lowest (top-down), each layer received a “color action”, with the first being red, the second green, and the third blue.  These can be applied manually, but I downloaded a pre-made one here.  After manually adjusting the default settings for each action, the combined (not merged) photo now looks like photos you have probably seen.

The Pillars of Creation photo I was able to create in Photoshop:

Eagle Nebula

The Photo NASA created:


The Pillars of Creation are just a small segment of a giant stellar cloud, or nebula, called the Eagle Nebula.  The Nebula is located close to 7,000 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Serpens.  This is an actual star forming nebula, unlike the Crab Nebula, where the term nebula is actually misused.  The Eagle Nebula actually contains known active star-forming regions, including the Pillars of Creation.

Here is a photo of the Pillars of Creation overlayed on the whole nebula, with other notable landmarks overlayed as well.


Exploring the Final Frontier

JJ Abram’s 2009 reboot of the beloved Star Trek franchise has been one of my favorite movies for some time now, and I am not alone in this. Critics and fans agree that this film is not only a great Star Trek film, but a great summer blockbuster, period. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s a (detailed) synopsis. Spoiler Alert!

The Stardate is 2233.04 and the Federation vessel USS Kelvin is surprised to find an enormous future Romulan ship, the Narada, emerging from a black hole. The Kelvin’s captain is murdered by the Romulan Captain Nero (Eric Bana), and his ship is destroyed by the Narada. 800 crew members manage to escape including Winona Kirk (Jennifer Morrison) and the newly-born James T. Kirk (Chris Pine). George Kirk, however, sacrifices himself to save the crew members.

Fast forward to Stardate 2250, and the adolescent Jim Kirk meets Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood). After a brief conversation, Pike convinces Kirk to join Starfleet. On board the shuttle to the orbiting Starfleet station, Kirk meets a distressed Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban). Three years pass when Earth receives a distress signal from Vulcan, and all cadets are assigned to their respective ships. Kirk, after being “grounded” from accusations of cheating by Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), is brought aboard by McCoy. Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), Ahura (Zoe Saldana), and the Enterprise arrive at Vulcan after the rest of the fleet, which as been destroyed single-handedly by Nero.

After realizing the connection between Vulcan and the Kelvin incident, Kirk rushes to the bridge and attemps to prevent the Enterprise from meeting the same fate.  The Enterprise arrives at Vulcan, and Captain Pike is taken hostage by Nero, who is lowering a drill into the atmosphere to create a tunnel to the planet’s core.  Kirk and Sulu destroy the drill, but not before Nero can launch a black hole device into the center of the planet.  Krik and Sulu are brought back to the Enterprise along with most of the Vulcan High Council, including Spock’s father.  After attempting to attack Spock, Kirk is sent to Delta Vega, where he meets future Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg).  Kirk and Scott “beam” back to the Enterprise, where Kirk once again confronts Spock on the bridge.  After attacking Kirk, Spock relinquishes command of the ship to Kirk, who was promoted to First Officer by Pike.

The Enterprise, now under Kirk’s command, returns to Earth to confront Nero and the Narada.  Spock and Kirk beam aboard the Narada and fight their way to future Spock’s captured Vulcan ship.  Spock leaves in the ship while Kirk searches for Captain Pike.  Once outside the Narada, Spock taunts Nero into leaving Earth, where he is ambushed by the Enterprise.  The Vulcan ship, which contains the Red Matter, is driven into the Narada after Spock, Kirk, and Pike are all brought back to the Enterprise.  The Narada falls to the ensuing black hole.  The Enterprise barely escapes the black hole and returns to Earth, where a recuperating Captain Pike officially hands the Enterprise over to Kirk.  Future Spock watches from the balcony above.  The film ends with the classic Star Trek closer: “Space, the final frontier…”.

Many of the film’s science technology is straight from science fiction, but many of the technologies are hypothesized.  Early in the film, the Narada emerges from the future through a wormhole.  The Enterprise and other Federation ships are also capable of multiple factors of Warp speed, resulting in faster-than-light travel.  From a purely acceleration based perspective, achieving FTL speeds in impossible due to electromagnetic fields breaking down.  However, it is possible that the Enterprise runs on technology similar to the hypothesized warp drive that NASA is currently speculating.  The technology bears similar resemblance to that of Star Wars.  Both have futuristic laser-based weaponry, FTL travel speeds, and a myriad of different alien species (all of whom conveniently speak English.

This movie didn’t address any pressing social issues when it was released in 2009, but there is a notable amount of discrimination in the movie between races.  Aliens in the Star Trek universe are, for the most part, depicted as highly intelligent, highly advanced civilizations most capable of speaking fluent English, and capable of FTL travel speeds.  Spock experiences a significant amount of racism (if you can even call it that) due to his mixed heritage of both Human and Vulcan species.  McCoy calls him a “pointy-eared bastard” on multiple occasions and the entire Vulcan planet is destroyed by Nero, who showed no remorse for his mass genocide.

Does Science Still Matter?! Of course!

Granted, this article is from 2003, but it still baffles me.  Human civilization is the way it is because of science.  Light bulbs were created using chemistry.  Buildings can stand tall because of engineering.  Humans have a 30-year-longer life-expectancy because of medical advancements using scientifically created drugs, yet some people have the audacity to question the ongoing relevancy science?

I know it’s no secret that science has been following out of favor in terms of the allocation of government funding, but that’s necessarily a bad thing.  To use NASA as an example, their funding has been cut down to $50 million a year, a mere fraction of the budget the administration received in its heyday during the 1960s and 70s.  In speaking with senior NASA engineer Tim Van Sant this past spring, he admitted to me that NASA’s progress with new and existing projects is only slowing.  He also told me that private corporations like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic have made significant headway towards goals that NASA has been working towards in half the time.  Even many scientific advancements of old were made without government funding.  Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone or the Wright brothers’ airplane are the building blocks for commodities that we take for granted today.  Scientific breakthroughs have been continuously enhancing the quality of our lives for centuries, yet Creationism and Intelligent Design are on the rise once again.  I’d like to see the supporters of these go one week without their car or precious smartphones.  So why don’t the public want the government working to enhance their lives even more?

The problem is that the general, uneducated (I use that word very loosely) public are frankly afraid of science.  As in most situations, the public views the bad outweighing the good.  As far as they are concerned, cell phones and television may as well be a gift from the heavens since at the moment global warming and animal testing among others are the byproducts of scientific research.  I won’t deny that these problems exist, and these problems will be fixed, but with science.  In many people, myself included, religion and similar beliefs (*cough* astrology *cough*) is being forced out and replaced with science.  It frightens the public.  They are stuck in this middle-ground between choosing to believe what they were raised to, or believing what science is telling them to.  As a response, they go with their gut.  They want the science, but they want it done behind the scenes with private corporations.  After all, what’s out of sight is out of mind.

The private industry is the future of scientific research, which in my opinion is by far the best way to go.  The important research will be conducted by companies who are more financially stable than the government, have better researchers than the government, and who don’t have the enormous liability of the government.  Whether or not the public will come to accept this truth remains to be seen, but regardless, they will have to deal with it.

My Life Before, During, and After Colorado College

Hello!  My name is Jarrett Kong, yes that’s actually correct.  I am an 18 year-old Chicago-born of Chinese and European descent, hence the Kong last name, though you wouldn’t know looking at me unless I told you.  I grew up in Southern California in a medium size city called Ventura, about an hour north of Los Angeles.  I’m an avid tennis player and won a few tournaments before I left for high school.  Unlike most kids I knew, I attended a private boarding school in Ojai, California called Thacher, where I spent my senior year researching and studying all types of astronomy and space related sciences, eventually focusing on modes and methods on space travel.

Space Shuttle Endeavor flying over my hometown.

From then on, my interest in void we call space has only deepened, and I spent many an hour this summer reading encyclopedias, books, and web pages to enhance my understanding.  Using our own personal telescope, I could observe the moon from my house, and attended a public gathering to look through the telescope of a NASA certified researcher.  Ever since, I’ve desired to major in a subject that would allow me to work in that field, either on the business end or research end, so long as its space related. Therefore, my potential majors are astrophysics for the research side, or economics for the business side.

I chose Life in the Universe as my top choice FYE because I am convinced that this class will help me determine if I really want to work within space and astronomy, or deter me from them all together.  Even if I decide that working in the field of astronomy and space isn’t for me, I know there is no way I will find this class a drag.

Many consider space and astronomy to be the least understood aspect of the our lives.  That being said, I find the deep space elements to be the most intriguing and fascinating, because they are unknown.  Pulsars and quasars, binary-star systems, black holes, and nebulas are perfect examples.  They are some of the most awe-inspriing of the great mystery that is the universe.  It’s truly amazing that these actually exist, as they seem to come straight from a Jules Verne sci-fi novel.  The universe is a subject with endless questions, each with answers waiting to be discovered by scientists.  That scientist might just be me someday.  That’s part of what makes it exciting.

Horsehead Nebula

Horsehead Nebula