Time and time again

One of my favorite movies is “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray. It is an old movie now; maybe you could call it a classic. The lead character - Phil Connors - relives the same day - February 2 Groundhog Day, over and over thousands of time. No matter what he does during the day, he wakes up in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania at 6:00 am on February 2 to a clock radio playing Sony and Cher “I got you babe” and nothing has changed.

Nobody except Phil has any memory of the past experience. He gets to move to the next day only after he gets the endlessly repeating Groundhog Day just right. He starts making better connections among the people of the town fitting into their lives and helping them. Finally he feels he has done the best he can and the next time he wakes up it is February 3. I saw the movie dozens of times and probably read too much into it, but the reason I like it so much is that it made me think about pursuing excellence.

Way back in my classical education days, I was enamored with the Stoic philosophy. I read Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" in Greek class (although mostly on the English side of the Loeb Classic, I admit) and studied how Stoicism influenced Western thinking in general. What I took away was that you accept your task, do your duty, not expecting necessarily to get credit or even to succeed. You cannot control what happens to and around you, but you can control your response. It is more complicated than this but IMO "Groundhog Day" tends to follow the outlines of Stoicism.

In the end, it is not so much about what Phil does as what he becomes. He realizes that perhaps he cannot change the things that happen around him, but he can change and improve himself; control his own responses to the circumstances and in that way find his own place and control his own destiny. When he achieves excellence, and lives the perfect day, he can move to the next step.

Life can be like "Groundhog Day." That is probably why the movie makes sense to many of us. We go to assignments in different places but lots of things are the same. I often had the feeling that I am reliving the same experience. I do the same things and apply similar strategies and sometimes I feel like I have not really made any progress. Things seem pretty much the same after I leave as they were before I arrived. Each time, however, I hope that I can learn something and do better next time. I always joke that it is better to be lucky than smart, but joke or not it is true that much depends on circumstances.

You have to adjust to the environment and its particular opportunities and threats. Sublime plans executed by superb teams can fail in an unfavorable environment and poorly planned and executed plans can succeed when things are just right. You have some control in that you can sometimes choose the environment where you will act, but not always and things will change, often in unexpected ways. Today's royal road to success may be tomorrow's perdition highway.

This upcoming February will mark the 20th anniversary of the movie "Groundhog Day". When I look back at Watchblog posts, I sometimes wonder if we are not living in some variation of it.

Posted by Christine & John at January 13, 2013 9:29 PM
Comment #360383

I’ve never seen “Groundhog Day,” but I’d probably like it.

As for ruminations about time, most of the natural world that surrounds us is cyclical. We see it all the time without thinking about it: a clock dial, the phases of the moon, the change of seasons, the movement of the planets, the swirl of stars around galactic centers, the effect of rotation upon movement in the coriolis effect, and so on.

In Western thought, we see everything as both linear and dualistic. It appears in our logic, as a digital clock, in assumptions about life and death, heaven and hell, the chain of cause and effect, Cartesian philosophy, “Cogito Ergo Sum,” and more. This is one of the reasons Hegel made such splash way back when. He posited that thesis and antithesis resulted in synthesis.

In Eastern thought, everything is seen as cyclical. Logic is fourfold. Life and death and life and death interweave through reincarnation, from moment to moment, from life to life. Consciousness itself constantly creates and recreates itself within an impermanent and therefore illusory realm. Our sufferings and longings come from a desire for permanence in an imperment world. “Groundhog Day” is literally true.

Just some vague ruminations. I like writing about it within a science fiction context, but the reading audience for what I write is practically non-existent, assuming my writing was any good in the first place. Yoga teachers like talking to me about that kind of thing. Most people, though, not much.

Posted by: phx8 at January 13, 2013 10:19 PM
Comment #360409


I think there is an audience for SciFi talking about cycles and time. I have always enjoyed SciFi because of the metaphores. Good SciFi makes you think.

Way back in college I had a book called Anthropology through Science Fiction. Probably out of print but worth reading.

Re Western thought. It is a little richer than that. We have the linear view that fits much of our things, but we also have more like you are talking about in Lucretius and Spinoza.

A good recent book re is called Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt.

Posted by: C&J at January 14, 2013 4:48 AM
Comment #360417

I never picked up on all that in Groundhog Day. I just thought it was a guy figuring out how to turn the knowledge of what’s goint to happen from mind-numbing repetition into scoring with girls. I wanted to be him.

Posted by: Schwamp at January 14, 2013 2:21 PM
Comment #360421


I may have taken more from the lesson than the lesson had to teach. But I think that is how lots of things work, sort of like Ode to a Grecian Urn.

Posted by: C&J at January 14, 2013 2:55 PM
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