Thursday, January 6, 2011


Message on sign:


January 3-January 6, 2011

Other signs on the Quad: "Seattle Superstar Search"

No one came up to ask for help until a few weeks later. Several people asked whether there was some catch. When I said there wasn't we talked about whether it is possible for someone to be genuinely altruistic. Several said that economics teaches that even people who give gifts are being selfish since they derive utility from doing so. In psychology classes students are also told that truly altruistic behavior is not possible. 

Several people wondered how it was possible that I could help with any subject, for example a language I had never studied. I suggested that there were certain universal techniques to learning that anyone could apply to any subject. For example, I could have the student describe the structure of the language they study or tell me as much as they know about the subject they're having difficulty with, the idea being that if you can find a way to explain something you know to someone who's never studied it, you know that subject well. After that, I would study the subject together with them, the idea being that two heads are better than one.

I learned a month later that people had talked about my sign and some had thought it was a joke or that I was goofy or insane.

As of six weeks later, I have worked with three people. Two of them I was able to help at least somewhat and the other I couldn't.


On February 22 a woman came up to me and said she'd photographed each of my signs and had been following me since my "FREE HOMEWORK ANY SUBJECT" sign. Here is a rough excerpt from our conversation:

She: I've been following you since your sign: "FREE HELP WITH HOMEWORK ANY SUBJECT" because I was worried you might be here to take advantage of some of the women from other countries who might be too trusting.
Me: I think people in other countries know they can rely on their intuition to tell whether a person is good or bad--by that person's facial expressions and the way they speak...
She: That doesn't always work.
Me: Look, I realize there are some sociopaths who are able to lie convincingly...
She: Like Ted Bundy. No one ever suspected him and look what he did... 
Me: But aren't people like that one in hundreds of millions?
She: I don't know.
Me: Do you think I'm psychotic?
She: I don't know.
Me: People in other societies trust and consider a person good until he's done something bad.
She: Our society is different.

I suppose American society is different. A girl of Mexican parentage said her American friends had told her not to come up to talk to me because I might hurt her. She decided not to take their advice because she remembered what her father taught her: "Respect all people before you meet them, and after that your respect for them will go up or down."

WARNING: Should I ever exhibit psychotic behavior, please report me immediately to the proper authorities.

For a complete transcript of discussions with people about this sign (or at least as complete as memory would allow), see here, January 3-6.


  1. i like this. i think im gonna do something similar back at university next year. i could learn a lot from others and i might even be of some assistance to them too. thank you

    1. I wish I could convey to you the pure joy of actually DOING something—maybe misguided, perhaps ultimately pointless—KNOWING that your intentions are pure, that you truly INTEND good.

      You cannot imagine how uplifting it is to perceive positive reactions in the form of comments or just facial gestures. It enriches your life beyond measure.

      The conversations that were struck up were fascinating in a way even a stenographic transcript of could not come close to conveying. It is fantastic to sit back and listen in silence to two strangers engaging in an openhearted exchange of genuine thoughts and true emotions, not for the sake of getting a better grade or proving they’re smarter than the other person, but solely for the sake of the desire to share and hear interesting thoughts.

      More power to you. If you try something similar, you won’t regret a minute of it. I’ll give you any help I can if you wish. I would be just as happy to have you go it completely alone, so that you could know that, for better or worse, everything you did was solely of your own creation.

      I would love to have you keep in touch. If you’d like to Skype, I’m available to you any time of day.

      P.S. Incidentally, check out the great creative photography idea Joe had. See the Raw Data transcript for February 24, 2011 (4:55-5:10pm)

  2. simple way of making us understand the strategies were really innovative and helpful.. Thankyou.
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