Thursday, January 20, 2011


Message on the sign:
January 18-January 20, 2011

People interpreted the meaning of the sign in different ways:

- "The university doesn't want you to think"; "Don't be deceived into thinking you're learning something at a university"

- "Don't think about things"; "Don't question"; "Do as you're told"; "Obey"--as if the sign were an allusion to the film "They Live" (the equivalent sign in the film reads: "No thought")

- "Don't think too much"; "Be mellower"

- "Don't think so much that you don't act"

- "Don't get bogged down in overthinking"

- "Don't just assume things"

- "Please come up and talk to me"

- it is a call to meditate

- it is a Zen koan

- it has some undefined political message because it is being shown in an area where many political signs are displayed 

- it is part of a project or study for a sociology or psychology class

- I am a fool and/or possibly dangerous nut case 

- it means many things at the same time

- it is meaningless

Some faculty members suspected the sign was sarcastic or satirical with respect to the university. One seemed offended when I responded that the sign was a mirror in which people see their own ideas reflected back at them.

One man was apparently offended by the sign as he walked quickly by, pointed at the sign and said angrily: "Can't insult me" and didn't stop to answer the question: "Do you think I was trying to?"

Some people seemed annoyed that I refused to state what one interpretation I meant the sign to have. I asked many people: "If I interpret the sign in one way and you interpret it in another, does that make me right and you wrong? Or vice versa?"

Surprisingly, no one suspected the sign might be part of a guerrilla marketing campaign. One can imagine seeing gradually more and more "DON'T THINK" signs around until they are eventually changed to read: 'DON'T THINK. GOOGLE". Should Google run with this idea and launch such a campaign, they should be aware that I will instantly retaliate with "DON'T GOOGLE. THINK".

Postscript: Today--June 27, 2011--I saw someone wearing a T-shirt that said: "Fuck Google. Ask me".


Some of the purposes of standing with the sign include:

- to hold up a mirror to people's minds so that they might see reflected and exposed in it their own notions, attitudes and values

- so that people would ask themselves why they're being told not to think so that they might ask themselves whether there may be some things they're not thinking about enough

- to suggest by means of the ambiguous and/or paradoxical nature of the sign that there are at least some things in life that cannot be easily classified and filed away mentally

- to accustom people to the idea that it is possible to live with ambiguity so that they might avoid overstructuring their lives and leave room for the spontaneous

- so that people might contemplate the idea that there might be value in not thinking, in turning off the incessant chatter inside the mind as enlightened masters have called upon people to do over the millennia

- to suggest that, in the absence of any response to the sign, people do indeed not think

- to suggest that there exist many very different forms of consciousness that are wrongly grouped under the single heading "thought" 

- to set up a situation in which the nature, shape, generation and spread of the meme "Don't think" is in the final analysis determined not by its creator but by its perceivers; even if the creator were to insist the message has one meaning, the meaning read into it by its perceivers can become the dominant one(s)

Notable conversations/events:

- one student told me his friend said to him: "Want to do something brave? Let's go up to that guy on the Quad with the sign."

- a delegation of four Japanese men was being given a campus tour. The guides pointed out the tree under which I stand. The men asked what was written on the sign. The guides told them. They asked what the sign has to do with the tree. They were told it had nothing to do with the tree. They asked what the sign meant. The guides couldn't say. Undoubtedly this delegation will return to Japan and tell everyone that there are people in America who stand under trees telling people not to think, and nobody has any idea what they mean...

For a discussion of this sign on the blog <>, click here. Comments by posters #28 and 34 are the most interesting. The latter wrote:

"By writing about it and asking us to write about it you’re promoting thinking about it exactly contrary to the suggestion thus pointing out the contrariness of the ordinary human, etc. as a philosphical or ironical or artistic point in a highly subtle and ironical way that to explain step by step takes all the joy out of it. IOW he’s forcing you to be the unwitting agent making performance art to display cluelessness.

That’s what it made me think."

Other signs on the Quad:

- "Boot Sodexo Out of Husky Stadium; Sodexo stole $20 million from schools and was convicted of price gouging". This sign was in the shape of a boot.

- "Peace Corps"

- a woman in sneakers, a black skirt, and black sweatshirt, hood covering head and head down, walked by several days in a row holding a doll of a small child with red paint on it to look like blood and carrying a sign which on the front read: "[in red ink] NO WAR [in black ink] NOT OUR CHILDREN NOT THEIR CHILDREN". On the reverse the sign read: "Free Bradley Manning". Here is a sign of her carrying the sign at a protest march in towntown Seattle on March 11, 2011:

For a complete transcript of discussions with people about this sign (or at least as complete as memory would allow), see here, January 18-20.


  1. I think I thought all those things but I didn't know it until I read them here - so probably didn't think them at all. What does this mean?

  2. I think you could have thought of a better sign.