The title pretty much says it all. I cannot find it in the glossary. And being a native German speaker does not help either¹.

The old woman studied Paul in one gestalten flicker: face oval like Jessica's, but strong bones . . . hair

From Dune, Book 1, chapter 1

¹If it helps anybody, the German noun Gestalten means forms, shapes, figures, while the verb gestalten means to shape, to create.

  • 3
    It's a long time since I've read Dune, but possibly related to the English use of "gestalt" given here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gestalt
    – user8719
    Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 21:25
  • 1
    I've read Dune many times but don't remember this word coming up. Exactly where is it used, and what's the context? Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 21:29
  • I'm with you there on the use of foreign words. For me, "landsraad" stood out. But there's also things like "Combine Honnete Ober Advancer Mercantiles" where he seems to change languages mid-word. Oh well; you just have to live with it and go with the flow, if you want to be able to read the books.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Dec 29, 2013 at 9:03
  • @Mr Lister: It’s not that I complain about the foreign words in general. In most cases it’s either clear from context what they approximately mean or that you do not need to understand them or they are in the glossary of the first book. However, in this case neither is the case.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Dec 29, 2013 at 16:58

2 Answers 2


This word is used again (and explained more extensively) in an excerpt from the fictional 'Mentat Handbook' seen in the sequel to "Dune", "The Children of Dune"

"You will learn the integrated communication methods as you complete the next step in your mental education. This is a gestalten function which will overlay data paths in your awareness, resolving complexities and masses of input from the mentat index-catalogue techniques which you already have mastered. Your initial problem will be the breaking tensions arising from the divergent assembly of mentat overlay integration, you can be immersed in the Babel Problem, which is the label we give to the omnipresent dangers of achieving wrong combinations from accurate information."

Essentially it is referring to the mentat ability for the subconscious and the conscious to simultaneously receive and process information, and to sort and sift that information by likelihood.

  • 3
    Great find! May be worth tying it to Gestalt English concept mentioned in Jimmy's comment above. Commented Dec 29, 2013 at 5:37
  • Ironically, I was about 25 pages before that quote when I asked the question. Though the excerpt does not try to explain the term in my opinion, but rather only uses it; together with said comment by Jimmy Shelter, I now have a rough idea what Herbert meant with the term.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Dec 29, 2013 at 17:04
  • As I recall it, the ideas of gestalt psychology were in fairly common currency at the time Herbert wrote Dune. I don't think he was trying to be cryptic with the reference; he expected his contemporary readers to understand. Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 5:23
  • It's worth mentioning that "Gestalt" is an actual, real world technique of (psycho)therapy: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gestalt_therapy Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 10:05
  • @ShivanDragon: That was what the content of the comment by Jimmy Shelter (which was deleted for some reason). Anyway, it would be nice if somebody who is more proficient about this than me could work that into the answer.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 15:45

I think 'gestalten' here means the meaning of the original Gestalt psychology: looking at the whole. So in my interpretation it means that the old woman [Gaius Helen Mohiam] recorded all the details of Paul with one look.

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