Mentat – human computer

Mentat - human computer

Read/seen ‘Dune’? We’re going to teach you the Mentat technique of problem-solving. Turn yourself into a human computer to achieve impossible aims, from getting the perfect job/boy to writing a novel!

This article in its original form was written by Phil Hine.

The following technique for problem-solving is inspired by the figure of the Mentat – the ‘human computer’ – from Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series. Herbert mentions several aspects of Mentat functioning, one such being “Mentat Naivety.”

The idea here is that when approaching a problem, we tend to be constrained by what we already “know” about it. The Mentat, or human computer, applies his skills to deal with other people’s problems and, as such, this technique seems to work very well when you are working with another person – whether offering them advice on love, or helping them study, or helping them (or yourself) sort out the bills.

In any type of problem-solving for another person, the Mentat is limited by what that person tells them. The Mentat needs data to function, so by assuming a position of naivety, the Mentat questions the other person, in order to gain as much information as possible about the subject under discussion.

You always think you ‘know’ what someone thinks of you, or ‘know’ what you can and can’t afford, or ‘know’ what your project should be about, without actually breaking the topic down to discover the facts behind your hazy guesstimates.

Mentat naivety is all about questioning. A computer is great at processing, but knows nothing. Give it the information, and it will get the answer right. People are rubbish at processing (coming up with the right answer) and always think they know stuff, whereas actually they don’t – they’ve just convinced themselves they know something and it’s holding them back.

Examples of things you ‘know’

  • He likes her, not me.
  • I’m too lacking in confidence to do well in an interview.
  • ‘A’ level history is a huge topic and I’ll never study it in time.
  • I will always be in debt at this rate.
  • I always go for losers.
  • My hair looks crap.

See? This stuff holds you back. You need to stop ‘knowing’, and assume that you know absolutely nothing. You need to become a mentat, or human computer, and ask lots of small questions to get the information you need to break your desire down into achievable tasks.

Naivety questioning is particularly suited for getting to grips with large subjects or problems, particularly when one is unsure about from which point to approach them. It is also useful when attempting to examine areas where the information is “implicit” rather than “explicit” – i.e. where it is assumed that both parties “know” what needs to be discussed, but that that information has not been clearly defined.

Another example of mentat naivety would be of a person approaching you for emotional support with getting a job. In such a case, you need to ask that person (even if it’s yourself) what factors are required for you to get a job. For example:

  • More confidence (so go do confidence-building work)
  • Clothes for interviews (so go get clothes that are good for interviews, but that you’d like enough to wear every day)

  • A CV (so stop putting it off and compile a CV)
  • A better CV (so ask someone who knows you to look at your CV and make it sound… You know. Better. More CV-like. Also, get example CVs off the web.)
  • Discovered the perfect job for you? Want your CV to show you’re the perfect candidate? (Look at the job advertisement to see what they’re looking for, and actually use that language when describing your achievements in a CV made just for them).

Naivety Questioning circumvents a problem area in intervention – which is that when trying to suggest possible courses of action to deal with another person’s problem, one is limited in one’s understanding of the problem. So solutions suggested are often negated by the other person – “That won’t work.” This tends to irritate the person making the suggestions, so that he is reluctant to make further suggestions. This happens because the person with the problem has all the information, and the other person is limited to what they have been told. Also, the person who has the problem is likely to have exhausted all the ‘easy’ answers.

Naivety questioning avoids this loop behaviour by drawing out as much possible information as possible, allowing the problem to be solved by both parties. This latter point is particularly important, as it avoids the situation where one person is “rescuing” another from their problem. Mutual competency is stressed when dealing with the problem, as the Mentat cannot suggest strategies without the expertise and information from the other person.

This technique has multiple applications – from project management to deciding what job, person or lifestyle you want to involve yourself in. It can be used to develop vague ideas into discrete steps which can be easily actioned or evaluated.

Remember: If you want to get the answers to a big problem, the first and most essential step is usually to ask yourself all the right questions.


This is a nice picture of a girl who looks like she probably could be a human computer.