Monday, January 31, 2011


Message on sign:
January 31, 2011
Other signs on the Quad

- written in chalk on the sidewalk between Red Square and the Quad: "Did you know? The largest book in the world is in Suzzalo library. Become a UW tour guide"

Opinions expressed:

There are cases when people are being deceived, and they are aware or should be aware that deception is taking place. For different reasons many choose to live a lie:

- the lie is more comfortable or convenient

- it is difficult to admit to yourself reality is not what you'd like it to be

- it is difficult to make people who are lying to themselves aware they are doing so.

Several people asked what the word "complicit" meant. Some thought the sign read: "THE DECEIVED ARE COMPLACENT IN THEIR DECEPTION".

Notable conversations:

- one girl told me her friends advised her not to come up to talk to me because they said I might hurt her

- a reporter from The Daily requested an interview. I refused, explaining that I was indignant at the way The Daily covered the efforts of a man to engage students in dialogue in an article in 1996.

For a complete transcript of discussions with people about this sign (or at least as complete as memory would allow), see here, January 31.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Message on sign:


January 26 - January 28, 2011

Other signs on the Quad:

- "Ban the Bag Showdown High Noon Thursday Jan. 27 Red Square"

- "Yoga Marathon: free lessons"


The sign reminded some people of the Magritte painting of a pipe under which was written: "This is not a pipe

One person was reminded of the song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Some said there wouldn't be any reason not to show it, or that they would show it because it would be ironic to do so.

Some replies to the question: "Why would it not be shown?":

- there are no cameras here

- it's not an important enough story

- they can't make any money or improve their ratings by showing it

- it tells people not to show it so they don't

- it's a privacy issue

- it can't possibly be shown at all because there are some kinds of understanding or interpretations that cannot be expressed or shown in any way 

Of the more than dozen people I asked, none had seen the film Network.

Several people couldn't figure out why the sign wouldn't be shown and agree to go away and think about it and come back and tell me what they'd thought. Some came back but, no one figured out what I was getting at.

To explain my interpretation of the sign, I asked people whether they ever saw criticism of television on television. They said some shows criticize other shows, but no one on TV ever tells you to turn it off, with the exception, according to one student, of Nickelodeon one day a year when they broadcast only a message on the screen telling people to go outside and play. I asked whether any professor ever suggested to them the university was a waste of time. Some professors might say the university was not the right place for some people, but non-tenured professors would be risking tenure if they said something like that. The sign suggests that there are some things that you will not see on TV, and therefore television executives would be motivated not to show the sign for fear the audience would start to wonder whether they're shown everything they should be shown.

For a complete transcript of discussions with people about this sign (or at least as complete as memory would allow), see here, January 26-28.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Message on the sign:

January 24 - January 25, 2011
Other signs on the Quad: 
- "Peace Corps"

- "Please Give Blood"
Notable discussions:

Several people came up when the signs were up and in coming weeks to tell me this message had made their day. One faculty member walked by saying, "Nice sign. Nice sign." 

Many said they thought people are told in our society by various sources that there is something wrong with them: the media, parents, teachers, politicians, advertisers, and others.

Some said the sign suggested we need to think about whether there may be something wrong with us we're not aware of.

Most said the message on the sign would apply to everyone. Some said it wouldn't apply to murderers or thieves, but were not sure where exactly to draw the line. Some said it wouldn't apply to Hitler but some said it would, explaining that it is still possible to do bad things even if there is nothing basically wrong with you.

One person disagreed with the thesis of the sign, saying that he had physical deficiencies that made it impossible to say there was nothing wrong with him. He agreed, however, that it was not my place--or anyone else's--to judge whether there was something wrong with him. I realized that my sign could be interpreted as an implicit assertion that there's nothing wrong with me and I asked myself whether I had any right to assert that.

One person said this sign and the previous one ["DON'T THINK"]  imply that what you know already is enough and you shouldn't worry so much about the things they make you learn in classes and stress out; be yourself, be less conformist.

One guy asked what I was doing. I said I was standing by a sign. He asked if I was guarding it and I asked him if he thought someone might steal it. We decided that someone doing so would be extremely ironic.

Some interpreted the sign to mean it was okay to be gay, or that it was okay to be a woman. The woman who thought it meant it was okay to be a woman used a photo of the sign for a project for her gender studies class.

For a complete transcript of discussions with people about this sign (or at least as complete as memory would allow, see here, January 24-25.

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.

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.