1. Caledonian says

    Granted that it is unlikely that something dodgy would take place in public while being filmed, but the people in the video knew nothing about that man, whether the camera was real, or what might be actually going on.

    Even ignoring the possible risk – why would anyone want to hug a total stranger?

  2. Robert says

    Gee I don’t know, maybe becasue you’re sad and depressed, feeling like the world is a cold and alienating place and that a complete stranger might care could be an uplifting thought.

    Can you really not think of a single reason? What a sad little world you live in. I say that when hugging a stranger isn’t the wierd and strange thing to do, that our race might just be a little better off.

  3. Evan Murdock says

    Because the risks of hugging someone, even a complete stranger, in a crowded public place are essentially nil. The risks of dismissing the great mass of humanity as “total strangers” is very high.

    Fighting that attitude is pretty much the point of the whole exercise.

    I thought it was impressive.

  4. Xanthir, FCD says

    Aw… that’s so awesome. And nod to the others, especially Evan Murdock. He sums up the point of the video pretty damned well.

  5. Caledonian says

    The great mass of humanity is composed of almost nothing but total strangers.

    I can’t help but think that the abandonment of ancient tribal societal structures creates an emotional void in most humans that they try to fill with religion, friendships, and so forth, mostly unsuccessfully.

    Humans seem to be, if not completely, partially group organisms. I suspect the reactions in this thread represent an example of wanting that state.

  6. says

    I am one seriously sentimental sap, probably why I fell for the religious meme for so long. I totally cried my eyes out.

    Very touching … sigh .. if only it could be so.

  7. Mary says

    I didn’t cry (and I’m usually a sap, too), but I did break into a huge smile when I realized Shaggy Hugster had more signs and had made some recruits.

    I’m not quite sure how a petition changed the security guys’ minds — that part seemed like a bit of dodgy editing — but it was still a nice little story.

  8. Skeptyk says

    I cried, too. That was sweet. Without the music, I would have smiled, but probably not choked up and cried. Why is music such a direct hit to our emotions? I have heard some woo-ish notions, and some of them seem to be fantasist leaps off of actual facts, but it is hard to sift the wheat from the woo.

    Thanks for that.

  9. Caledonian says

    Why is music such a direct hit to our emotions?

    Best bet? Human voices change in pitch and timbre when they experience different emotional states. We’re designed to associate certain qualities of sound as guides to emotions, which is likely why some scales sound “sad” and others “happy” to us.

  10. says

    We’re so used to being suspicious of strangers that we automatically suspect ulterior motives. “‘Free hugs’? What’s the catch? Is he going to proselytise? Is he a perv? Am I going to find five minutes later that he’s lifted my wallet?” But unless we can consider the possibility that sometimes there isn’t a catch, we’ll never have a cohesive society – in my humble opinion, anyway!

  11. says

    Okay, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have hugged him. So I’m not touchy-feely, all right?

    But I do think I would have grinned and waved at him.

  12. Icequeen says

    Peter: I think the initial success would have been much higher had the card wielding person been a buxom blonde.

    Considering how girls / women are raised with regards to strange men, it’s interesting to see that he had more female hugs. But then again he doesn’t have a threatening physique.

  13. Mooser says

    I was working at Haight Surplus in San Francisco, oh, long about 1972, when a woman walked in and wandered down the aile in the back where the surplus navy jeans were piled. I walked over and kissed her full on the lips, and said “I get off at six”. She came back (in a TR6) and we drove to her apartment, well, the rest was really something. It improved my life tremendously.

  14. says

    So I’m not touchy-feely, all right?

    I’m not either. But I’d be willing to give him a hug if he’d be willing to let me teach him a few dance moves (which, I’m sure, would necessitate another petition drive).

  15. says


    why would anyone want to hug a total stranger?

    Now I understand — at least a little bit — why you treat those you disagree with so disparagingly.

  16. Coragyps says

    Reminds me of 1969 and dancing in a big circle to The Youngbloods…
    “Come on people now, smile on your brother
    Everybody get together try to love one another right now!”

    Hell, I may have to get a sign myself!

  17. says

    And they say that silent movies are dead …

    If my day hadn’t been too over-stimulating, I’d opt for a bear-hug. Seeing someone like that would make me think that the guy was either incredibly idealistic or doing a psychological study (or maybe both).

  18. says

    Jack, I always thought Shorter Caledonian was: “If everyone were like me, I wouldn’t need to despise you all”.

  19. Caledonian says

    Seriously, what’s the deal with this? I recognize that different cultures imbue certain gestures with different levels of intimacy – kissing between men is a friendly nothing throughout much of Europe but is a definite no-no in much of America, etc. etc. Is a similar difference at play here?

    If he’d been holding up a sign that said “Free French Kisses” I suspect more of you would be incredulous. I tend to perceive hugs as being a very personal thing – not something you do with a random guy for no reason.

  20. Carlie says

    I’d say probaby so. I’ve seen variation even within small subgroups – some friends of mine are completely hands-off, and others will hug anyone who gets within a 20 foot radius. I consider hugs to be only semi-intimate, and adaptable as a social gesture akin to shaking hands when done as most of them were done in the video (arms around shoulders, not complete body presses).
    There’s an interesting article in the NYTimes this week about hand-holding, and how that has gone from a casual gesture to being seen as even more intimate than kissing, just for an example of how physical gestures can be interpreted.
    There have also been a lot of studies particularly on the elderly who are alone (usually widowed) and how lack of touch contributes to ill health and emotions. You’d be surprised how much a hug can help someone’s attitude, even from a stranger.

  21. says

    BTW, this being the blog of a biologist, I’m surprised there’s been *no* discussion in the comments so far regarding the physiology of hugs. I’ve been out of the field for some years, but I seem to recall research to the effect that hugs cause the release of oxytocin, and decreased blood pressure. Also, of course, research to the fact that little human babies in orphanages who lack human contact fail to thrive. C’mon guys, let’s get geeky here.

  22. freethought says

    What about a sign “FREE EYE BABIES”?

    Is that punishable by a stoning or a burning in the coming KKKristian America?

  23. says

    Very cute.
    Most of that was filmed in Pitt Street Mall, Sydney. With bits in Martin PLace and Darling Harbour. Took me a minute to be certin. I’ve never seen the Free Hug man….will have to hang out there more often.
    See, us Aussies are a friendly bunch.

  24. says

    C’mon guys, let’s get geeky here.

    I’ve always been a fan of Lund, Uvnas-Moberg, et. al’s work myself. I wish someone would fund *me* to demonstrate that animals like to be petted :).

    [1] Lund I, Ge Y, Yu LC, Uvnas-Moberg K, Wang J, Yu C, Kurosawa M, Agren G, Rosen A, Lekman M, Lundeberg T. Repeated massage-like stimulation induces long-term effects on nociception: contribution of oxytocinergic mechanisms. Eur J Neurosci. 2002 Jul;16(2):330-8. Erratum in: Eur J Neurosci. 2005 Sep;22(6):1553-4. Ge, Y [added].

    [2] Lund I, Lundeberg T, Kurosawa M, Uvnas-Moberg K. Sensory stimulation (massage) reduces blood pressure in unanaesthetized rats. J Auton Nerv Syst. 1999 Oct 8;78(1):30-7.

    [3] Uvnas-Moberg K, Alster P, Lund I, Lundeberg T, Kurosawa M, Ahlenius S. Stroking of the abdomen causes decreased locomotor activity in conscious male rats. Physiol Behav. 1996 Dec;60(6):1409-11.

    [4] Kurosawa M, Lundeberg T, Agren G, Lund I, Uvnas-Moberg K. Massage-like stroking of the abdomen lowers blood pressure in anesthetized rats: influence of oxytocin. J Auton Nerv Syst. 1995 Dec 5;56(1-2):26-30.

  25. says


    I tend to perceive hugs as being a very personal thing – not something you do with a random guy for no reason.

    Have you no sense of fun? Clearly the guy with his sign is making a statement about that very fact. You can choose to see him as just some “random guy” or as member of your own species. Note that human beings have an awful lot in common from the get go.

  26. Caledonian says

    You can choose to see him as just some “random guy” or as member of your own species.

    False duality. One category subsumes the other. With a sufficiently broad interpretation, they’re completely identical.

  27. says

    I wish someone would fund *me* to demonstrate that animals like to be petted :).

    Haha! Well, I can’t complain, as someone funded me for a short time to demonstrate that people like eating junk food. The late Sen. Proxmire wouldn’t have been a fan….

  28. says

    Well, false dichotomies aside, Caledonian, he seemed like an okay guy who simply thought “Free Hugs” was a cool thing to do. By the video, he obviously wasn’t a skethball, and giving him a hug didn’t hurt anybody. I, in most cases, like to give my fellow human beings the benefit of the doubt. And by the video, this guy was completely legit.

  29. Rollando says

    Cute, simple and harmless. A neat way to get people to open up. And a way to meet people you do not know. Judging a few recipients, it looks they really needed a hug. Cool!

  30. craig says

    Made me cry, but then I was already on the verge of it anyway so I dunno if that counts.

  31. James Cheshire says

    Took me a moment to figure out that this Juan Mann was different from the VDARE Jaun Mann.

  32. says

    Caja: LOL!!

    Beautiful, beautiful video. I cried, too, and can’t seem to stop. Yes, I would have had a moment of skepticism, and, yes, I would have closed the latch on my purse, but I would have hugged him. That’s a pretty good price for such a precious commodity, one that’s as essential as air for human beings.

  33. impatientpatient says

    I think this is the first time I ever cried while visiting Pharyngula. Not something I expected today, or ever. Thanks PZ for the video!!

  34. says

    Even ignoring the possible risk – why would anyone want to hug a total stranger?
    Well, why not?
    Wasn’t it Rollo May, who postulated that human beings, when ‘out of touch’, begin to crave some sort of contact, until it builds into violence?
    We’re tactile creatures, as well as visual ones.
    I wonder if you’d get the same response in a mall in the ME.
    Ummm…do they have malls in the ME?
    Be that as it may, we always seek out excuses not to rub shoulders w/our fellow species. We blog, order our groceries delivered, we become more & more isolated from others. Sure, we’re all alone in our skulls.
    But we’re not all alone in our world. That counts for something. Not a lot, but something.
    So let’s reduce the level of isolation a little bit more, shall we?

  35. potentilla says

    Ummm…do they have malls in the ME?
    So let’s reduce the level of isolation a little bit more, shall we?

    I can’t work out whether that’s meant to be a joke or not. Try a little Googling on “Bahrain” or “Dubai”, for instance.

    Re Caledonain’s views, note how few people getting hugs from Juan Mann are adult males; and that’s in a location (Pitt St Mall) in which the probablity that an adult male walking past is gay and/or not conservative, strait-laced or suspicious is much higher than average.

  36. says

    I can’t work out whether that’s meant to be a joke or not.
    The former, yes, the latter, no.
    Contact’s not always about sex or violence. Sometimes, it’s just that: contact.