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I've read parts of the book and seen both David Lynch's and Denis Villeneuve's films, but I've not seen a concrete description of how exactly mélange enables space travel.

The David Lynch film mentions that spice enables Spacing Guild navigators to "fold space", while the first few pages of the Dune mentions that it's a psychoactive substance that enables Guild navigators to find safe passage for space travel.

So is it then a fuel of sorts which enables FTL space travel, or is it an intelligence-expanding substance that allows for superhuman computation?

I'm interested in seeing actual excerpts from the books which I can look up and read.

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    I think it allows the navigators to sort of see into the future to plot a safe route. I need to find the appropriate quotes.
    – mwarren
    Nov 5, 2021 at 9:00
  • Only an analogy - but in the Andromeda tv series FTL travel is a lucky pilot picking which FTL network path to take with lots of 50:50 chance right or wrong nodes along the way. Computers are bad at it so a human has to "navigate" the slipstream network. I don't think Dune rules something like this out - but it is probably more just avoiding rocks with precognition. andromeda.fandom.com/wiki/Slipstream Nov 5, 2021 at 23:26
  • I never read all the sequels to Dune, but my memory of the first book is that it never talks about folding space. My impression was that the heighliners are just moving through space faster than light, which means they can't see any rocks etc. that are in the way, so the Navigators use their spice-induced pecognition to avoid them instead. Herbert did change quite a few things about the world between Dune and the later books, and that might be one of them. If so it would be interesting if answers comment on that difference.
    – N. Virgo
    Nov 6, 2021 at 3:17
  • I also note that in the 2021 movie the heighliner appears to contain a giant wormhole. There's a brief scene where you can see another planet on the other side of the heighliner's entrance.
    – N. Virgo
    Nov 6, 2021 at 3:35

3 Answers 3

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The Dune sequel books expands on how the navigators perform their function.

Essentially, the ships have a Holtzmann (the same person behind shields and lasguns) drive which is used to "fold space" and allow instantaneous travel. However, this is apparently quite a dicey affair, and ships can easily end up in places unknown or even destroyed.

Navigators imbibe huge quantities of spice which then provides them a limited prescience (compared to Paul's and Leto II's abilities) which allows them to see the potential futures for the ship when folding space and to pick the one that will safely get them to their destination.

The 1984 movie and Sci-Fi mini-series don't really make this so clear, and it could appear that it is the navigators themselves who are folding space.

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    And by "imbibe," you mean "inhale". Nov 5, 2021 at 17:13
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    The 1984 movie even explicitly contradicts the books, all the time, including this - in that one, the navigators are doing the folding. The Sci-Fi mini-series is the same as the books in that the navigators just do the navigating, but it does confuse things a bit by mentioning interstellar travel is impossible without the navigators, which isn't true (though it's probably meant to be hyperbole). Which should be obvious given that there were no navigators before humans started harvesting spice on Arrakis.
    – Luaan
    Nov 5, 2021 at 17:47
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    @Luaan i don't really see it as a contradiction - it's just not clear what the navigators are actually doing
    – HorusKol
    Nov 5, 2021 at 22:24
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    @T.J.L. fair enough - I'm fairly sure that Herbert himself uses the phrase "safe path", but it is meant in terms of potential futures rather than through space itself. The "safe path" is the future where space is folded such that the heighliner arrives at the correct place.
    – HorusKol
    Nov 5, 2021 at 22:28
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    @Luaan: Indeed, the navigator in the tank, a humorless creature, explicitly says, "I have folded space." I could see the ship's energies being needed but perhaps in some subtle way nudged by the vast minds, probably far more than merely prescient but now of transhuman intellect, their physical brains far larger than those of humans, into folding space "correctly" -- the navigator directs the ship's energies -- there is actual psychokinesis, not merely a choice made by someone prescient -- the navigator is not operating controls, it is interacting with the field of the Holtzman Drive.
    – releseabe
    Nov 6, 2021 at 2:19
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At FTL speeds you can't see things coming in realtime, The Spice, Melange allows Guild Navigators to see the future (it lets lots of people see the future actually) the Navigators use this knowledge of the future to see the crashes their ship would have had and plot a course that misses all of those events. Without that foreknowledge FTL ships run a decent chance of running into things like stars or planets before they notice they're on a collision course. This was not always the case but it has been for thousands of years by the time of Dune.

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    Can you find the quotes to back this up?
    – OrangeDog
    Nov 5, 2021 at 11:06
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    @OrangeDog That will take some time, most of the information about how the universe works isn't in Dune, it's in Paul Atreides musings to Stilgar in Dune Messiah and what Leto II tells his sister in Children of Dune where we learn that the worms are not native to Arrakis and his protege in God Emperor of Dune when he explains the life cycle of the Shai-Hulud and how he has perverted it for his weird immortality. I'll have a look but it won't happen tonight.
    – Ash
    Nov 5, 2021 at 11:17
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    @OrangeDog There is no specific part to quote for this. But a lot of this is explained in the Battle of Corrin book, where the usage of spice for space travel is discoverred (or in The Machine Crusade, don't remember well) Nov 5, 2021 at 12:12
  • "it lets lots of people see the future actually" Does it? I was under the impression that generally required a lot of Spice. More than most people could possibly afford. Nov 5, 2021 at 12:35
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    If the Holtzmann drive is a folded space device as described, it doesn't actually transit the distance between locations. There's no risk of hitting anything, because the ship never actually moves across normal space.
    – T.J.L.
    Nov 5, 2021 at 17:19
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Within Dune, the Spice Melange provides those which inhale it in large quantities an extremely limited precognicence, which enables the Navigators to utilize the Holtzman effect (something that is incredibly dangerous as without computers or navigators there is like a 75% change for the ship to simply be lost forever), to fold space and time, effectively traveling FTL.

Originally, humans utilized computers to calculate the Holtzman effect, but given that the Imperium in Dune no longer uses computers, they've been forced to utilize the Navigators and their precogniscense.

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