STRANGE BUT TRUE- Go away! Banish dream demons with a note


Q. Many of us are plagued in our dreams by villainous pursuers, scolders, tormenters. Often, the same shadowy figures "revisit" us again and again. Is it possible to write a letter to these ogres pleading for surcease? –M. Shelley

A. You can write one and forward it to the ogre who has come to life in your psyche, says Charlottesville psychologist Robert Van de Castle, author of Our Dreaming Mind, who recommends the following sort of message: "Dear dream power, Tonight when the bully comes to cause me trouble, I will refuse to run or be intimidated. Instead, I will walk right up to this menace and demand to know what he wants."

You might actually write your message on a piece of paper and seal it in an envelope, then place it under your pillow. Try this for several nights and see if the message gets through, emboldening your psychic spirits to regain control over more negative aspects. Making actual life changes, such as leaving a bad job or taking up karate to enhance assertiveness, may also assist in your dream repair.

Q. If you had a large scar makeup-painted on your cheek, would strangers you meet treat you differently? –Q.E.Queg

A. Make that: What if you just thought you had a large scar? When Dartmouth researchers tricked women volunteers into thinking this (by surreptitiously removing the paint–"Okay, now I'll just apply moisturizer to keep the makeup from cracking"), then sent them out to interact with strangers, the "scar"-bearers believed they were being treated more distantly and patronizingly, says David G. Myers in Social Psychology. But neutral observers could see no treatment difference compared to a control group.

In a classic blind-date study, men who on first phone contact thought they were conversing with "attractive" women (false photos were used) rated them as friendly and sociable, but men talking with "unattractive" women rated their phone personalities down. The kicker was that objective raters set up to watch the women converse– unbeknownst to the men– agreed with the men's assessments!

In other words, the men had elicited from the women behaviors expected of them– the classic self-fulfilling prophecy come to romance. Moral: In social life, we not only reap what we sow, but we sow what we think we might reap.

Q. Bingo is a game of luck, not skill. But is there anything you can do to better beat the mobs flocking to the hall, so you can take home some of their hard-earned money? –J. Doe

A. Not much except to stay away from them by psyching out "hall turnout."

Suppose 1000 people show up, each paying $1 for three cards and going for a payout of $500. You're looking at pretty bum odds: You've got 1/1000 chance to win $500, meaning your three cards are really worth, on average, 50 cents ($500/1000).

But paying $1 for an "expected" return of $.50 is no way to get rich. You can up your chances (and likely take) by watching your cards more carefully, but this won't help much. You need a bigger strategy. You need to find a hall that will stick with its advertised prize(s) regardless of turnout, then go maybe on a bad-weather night.

For example, imagine a dismal turnout of 200, and the hall sticking with its $500 prize. You now have 1/200 shot at $500, so your three cards (for a buck) figure to an average expected pay-out of $2.50 ($500/200)!

Any gambler anywhere in the world would be happy to go for that one. But you'll need to work at finding the right hall, studying turnout patterns, looking to end-of-the-month money blues or to competing events– whatever crowd-control angle you can figure.

Q. Beyond the safe cocoon of Earth, how hostile an environment for humans is "outer space"? –R. Asimov

A. Dark and fierce– the most unforgiving Himalayan peaks are nursery-school friendly by comparison, says Bob Berman in Cosmic Adventure. Invisible apple seed-sized meteorites streak through the void at speeds 20 times faster than bullets, able to puncture a space suit like a knife and pass through a body as through a cloud of fog.

The sun's searing ultraviolet rays would burn exposed skin within seconds, cook it to carbon in three minutes. The sunward side of an unprotected body would heat like a microwave to 250 degrees F while the shady side rapidly froze to minus 240, "cracking" the skin into solid ice.

Take a space entourage near Jupiter, and the cyclotron-level radiation would sterilize all living tissue. Near a star, bodies would immediately blister, char and then vaporize. Near a white dwarf or neutron star, "tidal effects would rip one's skeleton to pieces."

But most of space is simply dark and cold, where a person, of mostly water, would turn into a block of ice that, if struck by drifting debris, would "shatter into pieces, perhaps dividing itself along internal 'fault structures' defined by organs and tissues."

Q. If angels really existed and could fly, from a structural standpoint what would they have to look like? –L.U. Cifer

A. Assuming angels weighed like a person and their muscles generated power pound for pound like those of an eagle or pigeon, they would need a chest four feet thick to house muscles big enough for flight, while to economize on weight, their legs would have to be reduced to mere stilts, says biologist J.B.S. Haldane in On Being the Right Size.

Aerodynamically, an angel twice the height of an eagle would need to fly 50 percent faster than the eagle to stay aloft. Actually, large birds remain airborne more by soaring, balanced on a rising column of air, than by wing- flapping. And even soaring only works up to a point. "Were this not the case eagles might be as large as tigers and as formidable to humans as hostile airplanes," sats Haldane.

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at