Hey all, I’m traveling this week so your comments about how much you love and/or hate Professor Guwara will take longer than usual to go up!


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  • minno

    Welcome to humanity.

  • Kid Chaos

    I’m with Alison on this one. 😯

    • Pol Subanajouy

      Yeah, would kind of garnered a face palm or desk to head reaction out of me, personally.

  • Shjade

    While I got the point of this earlier (as did many who were discussing it in the comments), I do wonder why he chose to rush straight to the stone voting rather than give them at least a minute or two to discuss the ramifications beforehand. This way they already can see the results and have something concrete to discuss, but they’ll also likely feel more defensive in justifying the choices they made. Was that the point? That was probably the point. But I dunno if it’s conducive to fostering open discussion.

  • Ah. I feel like this is a less elegant teaching solution for the Prisoner’s Dilemma but a great introduction to Hanlon’s Razor (and possibly the perils of compulsory voting).

  • martynW

    This is less about deep philosophy than it is about a lot of people not paying attention or just being kind of thick. But of course, as the one woman pointed out, it only takes one thick person to louse up the “perfect solution.”

    Shorter version: the safe and cynical route is to assume most people aren’t as bright as they ought to be.

  • Graeme Sutton

    Now you know that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.

  • Stephanie Gertsch

    Not sure if my previous comment got eaten, but I can tell I went to a Christian university because literally everyone in my class would have put out the black stone. We were pretty boring students… πŸ˜›

    Of course, that doesn’t mean we were necessarily better people: only that the shame of putting yourself ahead of your classmates would have been greater than the shame of failing the class. There were probably more than a few of us who grew up with the fantasy about being kicked out of a class because of our beliefs… (Which does not actually happen. Like, ever. But the fantasy of being a martyr runs strong.)

    I’m kind of surprised not to see more of an even split. It looks like only Allision and the one kid put down black. In my experience college students are pretty altruistic and like the idea of “sticking it to the man.” (Especially when the have reason to believe the consequences are not actually enforceable.)

    That one person seriously couldn’t figure the problem out? Really? Okay, I could imagine there being a couple of people that slow on the uptake in every class… But come on, the setup was pretty simple.

  • EricJStover

    Ah yes, the world is imperfect and people are imperfect for an innumerable amount of reasons.

  • Joshthulhu

    It’s… I mean, I would have hoped the the Prisoner’s Dilemma would have been a “household name” by now, but I’m sadly aware that a lot of people have never heard of it, or have ever even contemplated anything like it. It was distressing in High School, distressing in college, and it’s still distressing now. πŸ™

  • I’ve got to say my respect for the professor has gone up. Alison has been repeatedly attempting to judge everyone in the world to her standards and it’s causing her no end of personal angst. It’s interesting the professor is highlighting how wrong-headed it was to abandon the superhero way because she refuses to accept that being a hero is EXCEPTIONAL rather than the norm. A philosophy which expects perfection and punishes mistakes can only be one which destroy, not help.

    • That’s the best explanation I’ve seen of how to get an acceptable moral message out of this mess.

  • Skralin

    I thought that this was pretty clever. It shows that Alison is willing to practice what she preaches in a way that has very real and immediate consequences that affect her in a form that cannot be solved by punching them.

  • Jubal DiGriz

    If only there was some wise person with the power to tell everyone what the perfect solution is!

    That’s what a true tyrannt would say? What… no…wait a second…

  • Natsumeg

    “I suspected – correctly, I might add – that somebody would do what he did”….uh….doesn’t that make the action worse, in a way? Since she knew she’d be screwing someone over for her own benefit and rationalizing in the rhetoric, “since someone else is going to do it anyways…”. What if she was wrong and she was the only one who put out a white. That would have been an embarrassing gamble. How much did she suspect?

    But I guess I finally see the point, which is that you can’t fault people for being people and not paying attention 100% and making decisions without knowing what’s going on. It was an unfair experiment from the start, though… again…if on the first day of class I saw my professor coming in with an eccentric cane with a flask (of possible alcohol) in it, my attention would be 100% perked. Like this is either going to be a shitshow or one entertaining class.

    • Ran

      > Since she knew she’d be screwing someone over for her own benefit and
      rationalizing in the rhetoric, “since someone else is going to do it

      But she *didn’t* screw anyone over. She correctly predicted that John (and anyone else who put a white stone) would fail regardless of what she did, and she acted accordingly.

      Even if she was only 99% sure that that would be the result, some legitimate ethical theories (e.g., most forms of utilitarianism) would say that it’s better to risk a 1% chance of everyone-else-but-her failing than a 99% chance of herself failing (since there are fewer than 99 other students).

    • Izo

      No, she was just a realist about how some people don’t pay attention when making choices, or don’t think things through, or are going to worry about OTHER people making choices which will affect them badly and hedge their bets.

      • Natsumeg

        fair enough. I think what made me raise my hackles was how she made sure to include the ‘correctly, I might add’, suggesting she either wasn’t completely sure at the time she didn’t just screw over the entire class or she didn’t think what she did was the right thing and was trying to justify her actions to everyone in a way that would maker her seem smart.

  • Balthazar

    Never think everyone thinks like you.

    Don’t overestimate or underestimate your peers, there will be those more intelligent than you, those who are less intelligent.

    And remember life is always “completely stupid”.

    • Christophe2314

      True that. And it’s not like Alison was the smartest here. At no point that she even consider the possibility that someone might play white. It seems the only smart person in the entire class was that girl on the right in panel 5.

      • Izo

        Pretty sure the girl in the hijab was the smartest person in the room, based on her answer πŸ™‚

  • beakerbutt

    Okay, well, c’mon now Ally. He was being a bit of a dick – and as someone who’s your age and still taking these kind of classes AND been The Person Who Speaks Up that everyone secretly is annoyed with I can sympathize a LOT- but you musta seen that one coming. Or at least had a BIT of an inkling.

    I’m now vaguely disappointed, here. She’s spearheading a project with this lack of patience (and foresight)? (granted, all her colleagues up to now have been unbelievable geniuses and can compensate for pretty much anything, so, a college classroom full of average mundanes, e.g., like me…damn, ok, that is a huge jump down. sorry al. i guarantee you half of the class is…either high, been texting under the table while you were talking, hungover or…any other variety of distracted. snapchatting! someone is probably snapchatting this. or snapchatted alison while she wasn’t looking and went ‘holy shit, superhero in my class’ etc. this is not anti-millennial sentiment, it’s just fax. i woulda done it.)

    Guwara, tho, don’t fail those two. Then hatred would be precedented. Jury’s still out for me imo.

  • Jonathon Side

    Sooooo… that’s what? One person who didn’t listen, one who didn’t understand, and a know-it-all who may have understood but because they figured other people would put up white stones, they went for the self preservation option.

    I think. Not sure about the last one, dunno which ‘he’ she means.

  • William Lancaster

    This is a lesson that Allison needs. Mistakes happen, just because you understand what is going on, doesn’t mean that everyone else does.

    On the other hand, Allison’s life has been about putting down the Blackstone and trying to save everyone. This might be the first time she’s understood that people (As in the humanity in general and not in the exceptions of criminals and supervillains) don’t necessarily operate the same way.

    So her worldview just got shaken (Which should happen in College).

    On the third hand, good work College professor, in shaking the world view of the super powered person of mass destruction.

    • That’s not the point of the prisoner’s dilemma. It’s not “always be a dick”. It’s “when everyone cooperates, the benefits are best”. If the professor only shakes Ali’s worldview, and no one else’s, he’s not doing his job.

      • Izo

        I think both of you are making excellent points πŸ™‚

  • Lizzy

    Most professors use a “Prisoner’s Dillema” demonstation as purely a thought experiment, and not ACTUALLY as the grade. If Professor Guwara is truly doing this, then… wow.
    In fact, this is so arbitrary it can reasonably get him fired in this university setting. Especially with Allison in the class, and especially considering Professor Cohen.

    In a way, Guwara himself is “putting up the black stone” risking his career by doing something so arbitrary in front of Allison to “prove a point” and better the class. He has everything to lose by not “playing it safe” using conventional teaching methods, and everything to fear.
    Unless he has some biodynamic power up his sleeve…

    • Insanenoodlyguy

      It really confuses me that anybody thinks the professor is following through with this. The ethics implications aside, who’s gonna wanna deal with his students next year that all didn’t study the previous perquisite since they already had A’s?

  • Brex

    Well this is weird. Were none of these students actually listening or did the mention of a free A turn off their brains?

  • Kris Dunlap

    The only option is to make the choices for them! Give into the dark side Allison you can label it something else when you’re at the top! It’s for the greater good. Long live the Mega girl empire!

  • Guancyto

    “I sort of stopped listening after he said ‘you’ll get an A.'”

    Strong Female Protagonist, with the most realistic portrayal of college students of any webcomic, ever.

  • Insanenoodlyguy

    But Hijab girl still would have but down a White stone. And there will always be those like her. The fact she was completely correct certainly isn’t going to change her worldview.

    • This is why it’s often played as an iterative game with a strategy of no retaliation until after the opening game(s) or tit-for-two-tats. Because sometimes, in reality, you have to learn to work with the same people over time and you can actually learn to trust them, especially if they show a willingness to attempt perfect play.

  • Insanenoodlyguy

    Allison is always going to have to deal with “a bunch of idiots” for the rest of her life.

    • RaeRae

      Yeah, but who would want to stay in a class with a bunch of people who would throw you under the bus so quickly? Even if other people might do it, at least you don’t have that answer literally staring you in the face every day.

  • Insanenoodlyguy

    I think this is part of why it’s so rushed. If he made this homework, there’d be a lot of “wait a minute, he can’t do this right? Nah, no way he can do this!” The idea was to move fast so there was less thinking about it. But even then, some people just want to win the game. A variation on that one lady: “I know this isn’t going to determine my grade. I also know no way everybody’s putting down a black stone. I’ll put a white stone down. I win! (who cares about that one kid this is just a game)” And in real life, not everybody is going to put importance on things when they really should.

  • Insanenoodlyguy

    She has to take this class. Professor already noted this.

    • James Holman

      Yes, he did. But, she could take it next semester when the normal professor is back. So logically, if she is going to fail because of this, she should drop and take it later. with a different professor.

  • Dagonell

    Sadly, because it’s the diploma and not the actual knowledge that’s needed to get hired in a high paying position.

  • ukulady7

    Really? Because scores of people think so in the comment section

  • Kerrima

    I am so glad I never did philosophy in school.

    I wonder what would have happened if John had refused to put a stone down. “Put one stone on your desk and leave the other in your hand” was the instruction. Not “You must put one stone on your desk.” John would have been complying to the original instruction by leaving one stone in his hand.

    I’m sure the professor would have somehow justified failing him anyway. This particular lesson seems to be targeted and getting under Alison’s skin rather than addressing the entire class.

  • Jake

    Refer to Guancyto’s comment. As interesting as the high brow concepts in SFP are, this is actually more realistic. As a college student myself, I can tell you that this is the likely scenario. at least half of those kids were playing with their phones the entire time, about a fourth were half asleep, probably at least two or three are hungover, and about 60% stopped listening at “A for nothing.” There were probably a few who were paying attention and, like the girl wearing what I’m assuming is a hijab, played out the Prisoner’s Dilemma because they expected someone would screw up. Not only is this realistic, it’s very representative of how the real world actually works in regards to doing good and solving social problems. Most people aren’t inherently evil, they just aren’t paying attention, don’t understand really understand the issues, or they’re cynical and assume because others are like that, that the safest option is following their sense of self-interest.

    Sorry for rambling, I’m thinking this out while I type.

    • Kevin Thomsen

      But then that’s a situation where “”””tyranny”””” is a perfectly reasonable.

      “lol whoops, I wasn’t paying attention so I killed those kids when I ran that red light. you can’t arrest me; that’s the axiom of tyranny!!!! Am I being detained?!”

    • Izo

      Well thought out post!

  • Jake

    He has a strong point, but the next logical question is this, are tyrants always bad? In most cases, yes they are, but there are a select few in which Tyrants done great things and have been positive forces.

  • Danygalw

    So Allison’s classmates are a mix of stupid and cynical and wow am I not enjoying this arc.
    (to be fair it’d go a lot easier in not-real-time)

  • Rumble in the Tumble

    1. they didn’t care about the guy with the black stone, and now are trying to weasel out, or
    2. they’re actually that dumb.
    Both options are true are excellent arguments for tyranny :^)

  • Rumble in the Tumble

    There’s “poorly worded”, and then there’s “I’m a lawyer”.

  • Rumble in the Tumble

    Heraclitus had a hard life.

  • RainWall

    Congratulations, Professor. You’ve successfully used a lousy explanation and your position as teacher to undermine your student’s confidence. Good Work, jerkbag.

  • MinorGryph

    I think I see where Allison went “wrong”. It isn’t wrong to assume people will be inherently good and try help each other if convenient, but it IS wrong to assume a group of strangers will join in solidarity against threats to individuals. The first day of class, no one knows each other so there is no social contract.

    Allison might have turned this experiment around if she had put down a black AND given Davenport her white stone. This would placed the risk cost of helping him solely on herself instead of whole class.

    Davenport would then have the choice of putting down a white and saving himself, or trying to help Allison in return by keeping his black. Seeing their exchange may also have guilted the students who paying attention into putting down black stones. Interaction begetting togetherness.

    Ultimately that would still have failed due to people not paying attention, but Allison would have shown that people can stand together without a tyrant forcing them, and that it is worth trying. Instead of losing faith in humanity when EVERYONE chose to abandon Davenport.

  • mroden26

    Mr. Guwara is an incredible character, I am kinda hoping he acts as both mentor and antagonizing force for Allison. I kind of miss that kind of dynamic she had with Patrick. I also hope he is not done in the story

  • Tsapki

    “We are mutinying against you!”

    “On what grounds?”

    “Failure to prevent a mutiny”

  • Tsapki

    At least it wasn’t the Final Solution.

  • Tsapki

    He seems a bit old. Recall, the people with powers were connected to a storm about 20 years ago, which is why all the supers we see are just leaving their teens behind at this point.

  • Monica Gorman

    I totally fail to see how anything Al has said makes her a tyrant. She hasn’t even implied, as far as I can tell, that she wants to force anyone to do anything. Also, you don’t need 100% to make a difference. That’s why the exercise is completely stupid: rules that don’t model real life to accuse Al of holding beliefs she hasn’t hinted at. Yeah, that is stupid.
    A lot of people are saying it’s good for her to have her beliefs challenged in class, but I don’t see how this actually has anything to do with her beliefs.

  • help im a bug

    so, uh, davenport goes and gets the teacher fired? “the professor literally failed me for no reason other than to spite another student”

  • Stephanie Gertsch

    LOL. The philosophy course I was in was actually a four year program and it tended to attract…intense…people. Essentially, pretty much everyone there really wanted to be there. Including the professors. So the chances of people paying attention were pretty high.

  • Soqoma

    Oh yeah, for sure.

  • Kevin Thomsen

    I mean yeah, so I’m really reconsidering my comment. See the paper which had “So now for the second paragraph we will focus on the second part of the paper” that I had to grade

  • Weatherheight

    Astro City and Kurt Busiek.


  • Izo

    What if there’s someone in the class who really dislikes the student who had the white stone taken from him, and would like to see him fail the class?

  • Izo

    Er… libertarians are not anarchists. Libertarians still believe in rules, just the limitation on those rules when exercised by government, in order to preserve liberty of the populace. Just because someone does not want everything ordered for them by the government does not make a person an anarchist.

  • Izo

    Graeme is quoting Spaceballs, therefore automatically correct.


    • Peter

      Aww, i didn’t watch this movie, sorry. I withdraw my objection. Carry on.

  • Izo

    This is hilarious πŸ™‚

  • Izo

    I love that out of the box thinking πŸ™‚

  • Christophe2314

    Yeah, I’ve actually seen several of those, that’s kind of insane.

  • And thus tit-for-two-tats is a better strategy in an environment with an error rate >0%. But he’s not trying to teach decision theory, so I’m not sure that it’s relevant?

    • Santiago TΓ³rtora

      Imagine a prisoner’s dilemma with Alison on one side and the rest of humanity on the other. Alison needs to learn not to expect perfection from mankind lest she turn into a supervillain.

  • Right. Also, the formal term for someone with the power to dictate the outcome of a vote is “dictator,” not “tyrant.” More to the point, the voting method and propositions themselves were arbitrary and unfair, so it’s hard to say that the addition of a dictator to a system where everything has already been artificially constrained to be arbitrary and unfair would actually add any wrong.

  • As I recall, she attends The New School: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_School

  • How about a majoritarian system? How about a system where the participants get to choose the propositions they’re voting on rather than only being allowed to make those choices the person in charge lets them make?

    The real world requires a unanimous vote for almost nothing; requiring unanimity in multi-participant Prisoner’s Dilemma-type situations becomes increasingly unrealistic and unfair to impose as an arbitrary constraint as the number of participants grows. Even in non-voting situations modeled in this way, there’s usually a practical limit to how much value a bad actor can actually extract from the system, so if a sufficiently large majority attempts a perfect solution, they can still come out ahead.

    • Demonlogan

      I didn’t see this comment before, and I’ll fire back now with “I don’t know what a majoritarian system is, but it sounds like they’d still be super-boned since only two other people end up shown to realize what Best End would have been, and they’d still have played it safe.” And where’s the “reality” or “fairness” in that second system? Everyone would choose their own thing, and nothing would be proven whatsoever.

      Consider that this is a learning environment. If you don’t know what you can expect people to do in an unrealistic situation, how can you dare ask them what they’d do in a realistic situation? It’s what you are in the dark, not what you are onstage having had 3 hours of makeup applied, live in front of a studio audience.

      • A majoritarian system is one in which the majority rules. (Your standard 50%+1 vote.) And while I’m not going to hold up American-style democracy as being a shining example of functionality, I’m pretty sure that we at least have figured out a system where the people and legislature can figure out their own propositions to vote on rather than having them handed down by a supreme authority figure (whether via Queen’s Speech or Professor).

        You said that he made things fair. I said that he didn’t make things fair, he made things deliberately unfair in a system where he could functionally dictate the outcome by presenting an unrealistic situation requiring improbably fast voting on a situation without any discussion or even time to carefully read and understand the proposition. While that occasionally happens in real life, it’s usually grounds for complaints of unfairness when it does.

        • Demonlogan

          I’ll stand by what I said having pegged it. Figuring out what they themselves want to vote on was a non-positive in my description of it, due to everyone not “wanting” the same thing. It’s like putting a elementary schooler in high school and telling them to pick who they want to be in x amount of years, not everyone will want to be the same person or do the same thing.

          And I said he made things fair concerning justification in the second given choice. Initially the “choice” was not a choice at all, but a question; “do you seek power do you want to pass this class, y/n?” The revision made things fair concerning ability and reason to choose with the caveat of “if you all do the same thing as him, you’re all good, if you don’t, he doesn’t make it.” A “fair” choice in both options being options instead of one being “the obvious choice.”

  • But real-life systems can generally survive a certain percentage of free-riders or even active exploiters; making the vote have to be unanimous to achieve the best outcome is unrealistic.

    • Ryan Gauvreau

      Generally. I’d be the first to say so. But sometimes they don’t, and this exercise seems like it’s intended to present Allison with a worst-case scenario, or at least a glimmer of it, so that she knows what she might do, and what she must *not* do.

  • But the participants not discussing it means that it can only model a limited set of interactions. For example, in a democratic government, we get to have the marketplace of ideas prior to a vote to see which idea won.

  • It exists in a variety of forms, and it’s called Hanlon’s Razor. It is a philosophical razor, not an axiom per se.

  • Peregrin

    I can’t agree with this. First of all. The classroom here is a small sandbox, and Guwara’s little game a tiny microcosm. What anyone chooses to do, or even whether they choose to act at all, they cannot escape the consequences of the world. We are all, indeed, in this together, whether we like it or not.

    Second, when you examine the motives of the students participating here, most of them actually were trying, in their own way. Those with a limited understanding of the rules did not succeed due to that. The one girl who understood the rules and still chose only to help herself out of the class did so by weighing the risks carefully and deciding that they were too great for her to bear, *considering factors outside of that sandbox*.

    Third, Alison is not being a tyrant in her philosophy. She knows full well that not everyone is as invulnerable as she, and that not everyone can make the same choices that she can, and that not everyone can participate in the same ways. I don’t think Guwara gives her enough credit.

    • Demonlogan

      … Think you kind of may have missed the point there. This isn’t a “greater scope” scenario, this is a “situational” scenario.
      And in this scenario, they were, as observed, not “all together.”
      In Alison’s axiom, everyone’s trying to “do good.” Not “survive,” not “climb to the top of this corporate ladder,” “do good.” Now, that’s a shady, vague claim, since it covers giving a stray dog food to repelling an alien invasion to settling schoolyard arguments. In this case, in her mind, it was “keep Davenport from failing.”

      Again, they were, judging from the result, not in-sync.

      Uh, hmm… No, no, as illustrated on 39, no, she’s not so aware, as invulnerability extends to financial status and not everyone is as secure as she is. She expected full well for everyone to hit the black stone, and on this very page she expresses disbelief that everyone didn’t. All due respect, Gurwara is giving her exactly as much credit as necessary in this learning environment.

  • Sergio Le Roux

    What I find odd is that none of the students is smart enough to realize that the offer is not possibly “legit” and put a black stone just to be a smartass.

  • Demonlogan

    By “the whole class,” I was referring to “all of the students in the class, hence rearranging the wording.

    Again, we’re still thinking with our, “he would be fired for this” hats instead of “huh, that’s a learning environment.” Note, he can’t provide the other option either without being fired. The purpose was “imminent threat, racers hit the gas now” not “Alright, aliens are invading, what do you do in the next 60 seconds and how will that help you survive the next 10 days?”

  • Tylikcat

    It’s really best read when you’ve already been through calculus. I’ve mostly seen it used in doctoral programs (though it’s still used in a few undergraduate programs, rather famously, though again for student who think they have already had calculus.) It’s *really* worth the effort.

    Later in life, Apostol decided that we couldn’t afford to take an elitist approach to mathematics and went on to work on (with many others) such projects as The Mechanical Universe, which teacher calc based physics, assuming no previous knowledge of calculus or really, anything else. The aim there is to make it as accessible to everyone as possible. Which is an entirely different approach, but one I also support (maybe even more – Apostol’s Calculus may be a private joy, but math education is a public one. Er… which is why I’m working in Neurobiology and then probably moving to MechE. Look, maybe I’ll teach math the next time I try to retire.) There’s a series of videos that I’ve never gotten around to seeing, but I’ve lent out my copy of the book more times than I’m sure of right off.

  • RaeRae

    Just because a huge number of people would do it, doesn’t mean they aren’t horrible. One person “wasn’t paying attention”, no excuse. Another person, even though it’s obvious this grade wouldn’t hold up with any administrator, did it because she didn’t know that, and we are supposed to feel bad for her? They can’t even pretend they are decent intelligent people for a few minutes? Selfish people are selfish, but that doesn’t mean you need to deal with a classroom full of them every day.

    And unless she’s a philosophy major, she doesn’t need to retake this course. Study philosophy with another teacher, one that isn’t quite such a dick, and find some better classmates.

  • Monica Gorman

    “the axiom could be interpreted as a prescription for enforced cooperation” Sure, but it could be interpreted in lots of ways, and picking the interpretation most likely to lead to a dramatic shut-down of a student instead of asking the student what she meant is intellectually dishonest.

  • Eric Betz

    I have not been to college, but I think the point at which he failed as a professor is the point that you could fail the class on the “First day” by getting one question wrong.

    That’s pretty much bullshit

  • Eric Betz

    I have not been to college, but I think the point at which he failed as a professor is the point that you could fail the class on the “First day” by getting one question wrong.

    That’s pretty much bullshit