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Making a Real Dune Pain Box

The 1984 film Dune--which I will continue to insist is one of the greatest movies ever made--includes a scene in which the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam instructs young Paul Atreides to place his hand inside the box. What's inside? Pain. Lots of it. Paul must, by his willpower alone, keep his hand there or Mohiam will stab Paul with a poisoned needle held at his neck.


(Video Link)

Surely we have all watched this scene and thought, "I need a device like that box." It would be tremendously helpful in getting to know people, such as on first dates.

Bryan of Hack A Day is working on building a real Dune pain box. His goal is to create "excruciating burning sensation without causing any actual damage." The technical means that he is currently considering is called a thermal grill illusion:

The thermal grill illusion is a sensory trick originally demonstrated back in 1896. The trick is made up of two interlaced grills. One is cool to the touch, and the other is warm. If the user touches a single grill, they won’t experience any pain because neither temperature is very extreme. However if the user places their hand over the interlaced grills simultaneously they will immediately experience a burning heat. This usually causes the person to pull their hand away immediately. It’s a fun trick and you can sometimes see examples of it at science museums.

The thermal grill illusion sounded like the perfect way to make the pain box a reality. [Bryan] has set specific constraints on this build to make it more true to the Dune series. He wants to ensure the entire package fits into a small box, just big enough to place an adult hand inside. He also wants to keep safety in mind, since it has the potential to actually cause harm if it were to overheat.

The project is still in progress. Stay tuned for updates and mind the gom jabbar.


Dune is very certainly one of the great epic films. Regardless of it's flaws, very few world building movies have ever pulled off so unique an atmosphere. The soundtrack was totally critical toward that end. Maybe the fact that I was 10 when it came out helped. My dad and I literally didn't get up after it ended and watched the movie a second time. It really could do with a directors cut that includes some but not all of the extra footage seen in the British TV version.
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