Stab in the dark: Murderous dreams come true


Q. While the city sleeps through the long dark night, crime stalks the streets. But what if the sleepers are themselves the stalkers? Is sleep-crime very common? –Dr. Jekyll

A. It's more widespread than was originally thought, arising out of sleep disturbance or dysfunction and involving physical harm to people or destruction of property, reports the "Newsletter of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law."

There can be sleep-associated violence during night terrors and sleepwalking, possibly related to incomplete awakening from non-dreaming sleep. Medications, alcohol or other recreational drugs may be the cause, or psychosocial stress the trigger.

And "REM-sleep-behavior disorder" might involve an acting out of dreams, with hallucinogenic overtones. "Sleep drunkenness" can occur during the transition between sleep and wakefulness, when sudden arousal causes confusion and disorientation. This out-of-touchedness with reality can result in serious aggression, even homicide.

Fortunately, most sleep-crime is not so serious, such as someone throwing a sleepy punch; or the guy, as reported in Forensic Aspects of Sleep, who walked stark naked up and down a communal balcony, apparently unaware of his neighbors' presence. He was convicted of indecent exposure.

However, a wife who stabbed her husband 15 times– he survived– claimed to have been asleep, and the charges were dropped. Clearly, the law has a tough time knowing how to handle the shadowy cases of somnambulistic culpability.

Q. What exactly is your "money" and where is it? Could you lay your hands on it? –J.D. Rockefeller

A. Actually, probably not. Economists define money as currency + travelers' checks + an assortment of deposits in banks, ranging from checkable deposits to a highly liquid variety not necessarily removable via checks, says New York University economist Jonas Prager. The deposits are the largest group, comprising funds owed to depositors that banks are legally bound to honor. It's hard for people to accept at the gut level that what they consider their money is fundamentally intangible, electronic blips on bank tapes and not viewable upon demand.

"Yet, the monetary system works quite well, because we have confidence it will," says Prager. Keep in mind that money and wealth are not the same. Money is the most liquid form of wealth, but there are also stocks and bonds, real estate, homes, etc. "Wealth holdings far exceed the total amount of money in the world," Prager adds.

Q. Oh starry, starry night! Can it really be true that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the beaches of the world? –V. VanGogh

A. Imagine each grain is 1mm x 1mm x 1mm, and that there are 10,000 km of beaches, each about 100m in width and perhaps 10m in depth of sand. In this case, you get 10^19 grains of sand (1 followed by 19 zeroes). For the number of stars, take the number of visible galaxies, about 100 billion, and multiply that by 10 billion stars per galaxy, yielding 10^21 stars.

So here the number of stars exceeds the grains of sand by a factor of 100. But this is only for the visible universe. The real universe may be much much larger, perhaps another 10^100–yes, a google times larger. This would mean there are more galaxies (not seen) than the total number of atoms in our entire visible universe (about 10^80)! Strange, but possibly true!