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While re-reading the whole original series, I noticed that at the end of God Emperor and repeatedly through Heretics, Frank Herbert speaks of multiple universes.

Example 1:

No Ixian machine can do what we, the descendants of Duncan Idaho and Siona, have done. How many universes have we populated? None can guess. No one person will ever know.

Example 2:

The no-ships had, indeed, seeded those other universes with rot.

Example 3:

... might provide meat for some of the most expensive meals in their universe ...

I have always thought of Dune to play within a single universe. I think this is also necessary for prescience to make sense in the way it is described. Multiple possible futures of the same universe are seen and can be tried to reach or avoid by decisions in the present. Things would always collapse onto a single timeline. As far as I can tell, there was never any mention of a multiverse with parallel timelines caused by any decisions of Paul or Leto II.

Does the author just use "universes" as a substitute for "galaxies"? Or, more generally, bubbles of humanity isolated from each other through the scattering?

  • In the original books there's no explanation how early humanity managed supralight travel before the Guild. – Valorum May 24 '17 at 9:10
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    I think hes just referring to the fact that he spread humanity beyond the knowable, to the ends of whatever is out there. – Himarm May 24 '17 at 12:22
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    Just because multiple "universes" exist doesn't mean they constitute alternate timelines of our own "universe." There's a popular theory about time travel that every choice you make splits the universe in two, but that theory is no more or less "fact" than anything Herbert might have written in Dune. Maybe each "universe" is distinct, with its own past, present and future, and in each universe only one future comes to pass, out of infinite possibilities. Prescience works in the universe you occupy and has no impact on others. Bottom line: it's magic. It works the way Herbert says it works – Steve-O May 24 '17 at 14:09
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    The Golden Path breaks prescience by causing the timelines to diverge in a "new" way. This is mentioned in God Emperor but I don't have a reference handy. (Some of the) diverging timelines can be considered as different universes-- they cease to be causally connected-- nothing in the "home" universe can affect them anymore. That's how humanity is saved from any bad outcome. Essentially all those "new" universes were created by Leto's Golden Path: god-like indeed. – antlersoft May 24 '17 at 22:27
  • The word "universe" was indeed commonly used to mean "galaxy" in older works. By the time God Emperor was published that usage was out of fashion, I think, but perhaps the author wanted the story to feel a little old-fashioned? – Harry Johnston May 25 '17 at 0:41
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Multiverses are a distinct possibility in Dune. From Chapterhouse, we have Bellonda talking about the Golden path. She says this:

"These speculations are useless," Bellonda muttered. "We don't even know if Foldspace introduces us to one universe or many... or even an infinite number of expanding and collapsing bubbles."

So it may be that there are other parallel universes and realities. Nobody in Dune appears to know.

However I think that when they say "other universes" they mean other empires. As in the planets that the Tleilaxu control being the "Tleilaxu universe". From Heretics of Dune:

Taraza's communication burned in Odrade's awareness: "The Tleilaxu plan is transparent: Ascendancy. The human universe must be made into a Tleilaxu universe.

So maybe universe is occasionally just a shorthand for saying "everything group X controls".

  • That last option seems the most likely to me. The rough equivalent of how we might use the term "world" to mean not just a literal a planet, but also in a more abstract sense to describe specific enclosures of knowledge, experience or influence. The "world of academia" for example. – Kris Jan 30 '18 at 16:48

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