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"SF looks towards an imaginary future, while fantasy, by and large, looks towards an imaginary past."
- Frederik Pohl

Pain Box  
  A small box which induced pain into the nerves of the hand.  

In Dune, the Bene Gesserit tested ordinary people to find the humans, the ones with sufficient emotional intelligence to rise above a merely animal existence. One test was by pain and observation.

From the folds of her gown, she lifted a green metal cube about fifteen centimeters on a side. She turned it and Paul saw that one side was open - black and oddly frightening. Paul slowly put his hand into the box. He first felt a sense of cold as the blackness closed around his hand, then slick metal against his fingers and a prickling as though his hand were asleep...

"What's in the box?"

"Pain." He felt increased tingling in his hand, pressed his lips tightly together. How could this be a test? he wondered. The tingling became an itch... The itch became the faintest burning... It mounted slowly: heat upon heat upon heat... . The burning! The burning! He thought he could feel skin curling black on that agonized hand, the flesh crisping and dropping away until only charred bones remained.

It stopped! As though a switch had been turned off, the pain stopped... "Take your hand from the box, young human, and look at it." He fought down an aching shiver, stared at the lightless void where his hand seemed to remain of its own volition. Memory of pain inhibited every movement. Reason told him he would withdraw a blackened stump from that box. "Do it!" she snapped. He jerked his hand from the box, stared at it astonished. Not a mark. No sign of agony on the flesh. He held up the hand, turned it, flexed the fingers. "Pain by nerve induction," she said. "Can't go around maiming potential humans. There're those who'd give a pretty for the secret of this box, though."

From Dune, by Frank Herbert.
Published by Putnam in 1965
Additional resources -

The box slowly induced the feelings equivalent to heat sufficient to burn his hand to ash. Pain was the axis of the test; the Bene Gesserit wanted to see which way he turned.


(Pain box from Denis Villeneuve's 2020 film Dune)

In Heretics of Dune, also by Frank Herbert, this item is called an agony box.

For an earlier use of the same idea, see the pain-producer from Edmund Hamilton's 1928 novel Crashing Suns, as well as the pain canopy from Fritz Lieber's 1943 novel Gather Darkness.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Dune
  More Ideas and Technology by Frank Herbert
  Tech news articles related to Dune
  Tech news articles related to works by Frank Herbert

Pain Box-related news articles:
  - Raytheon Creates Pain Box From Dune

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