Guillotine Dream Not Necessarily False

Marilyn is Wrong Copyright © 1997-1998 Herb Weiner. All rights reserved.

Ask Marilyn ® by Marilyn vos Savant is a column in Parade Magazine, published by PARADE, 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA. According to Parade, Marilyn vos Savant is listed in the "Guinness Book of World Records Hall of Fame" for "Highest IQ."

In her Parade Magazine column of September 21, 1997, Marilyn claimed that a reader's story about a man who died while daydreaming in church could not possibly be true because if the man had died before waking up, there would be no way of knowing what he had been dreaming.

Sorry, Marilyn

Eric Hacker <> wrote to point out that the fact that we do not know what the man was dreaming does not necessarily prove that the story is false. In order to prove that the story is false, you'd have to prove that no man ever died in church as his wife was touching the back of his neck. If we were to find a man who died in this manner, we would have no way to determine what the man had been dreaming, and therefore would have no way to determine whether the story is true of false.

A New Story

I've emailed the following story to Marilyn, asking for her comments:

Mr. Daze, a prominent hypnotist, and Mr. Rich, a prominent businessman, are discussing the power of hypnosis. Both men know each other well, so Mr. Rich is surprised when Mr. Daze claims he can kill Mr. Rich using only hypnotic suggestion. Mr. Rich believes Mr. Daze is joking, so he offers to wager $1,000,000 that Mr. Daze can not actually accomplish this claim. Mr. Daze accepts the wager, and they have the agreement signed and notarized. Mr. Daze videotapes the hypnotic session and stores the tape in a safe place.

The next day was a warm Sunday during a long sermon in church. Mr. Rich was dozing beside his wife and dreaming that he lived at the time of the French Revolution and had been sentenced to death by guillotine. As the blade was falling, his wife noticed he was asleep and touched him on the back of the neck, right at the spot where the blade would have struck. Mr. Rich died instantly.

Since nobody knew what Mr. Rich was dreaming, the death was considered routine until Mr. Daze turned over the videotape and notarized agreement to the news media, and sued Mr. Rich's estate for the $1,000,000 he is owed under the terms of the wager. When the news became public, Mr. Rich's insurance company refused to honor his life insurance policy, claiming the death was a suicide. And the district attorney filed first degree murder charges against Mr. Daze.

Mr. Rich's family concluded that a filing a civil suit against Mr. Daze would be unlikely to compensate them for the loss of the life insurance benefits and the payment for the wager, so they argue instead that the death in church was a coincidence, unrelated to the wager. They are currently seeking one or more expert witnesses willing to testify in court explaining "why can't this story be true."

Some Comments

Dick Brunnenmeyer <> offers the following comments: last updated June 30, 1998 by