July 28, 2012

Groundhog's Day Agian! Two Lessons from Phil Connors

Well for those of you dying for the next installment here it is and I think there is some interesting and valuable information.  Along with Camus and the implication of the ending Groundhog Day, which I wrote about in my last post, there is also is something to be learned about life, infinite loops and I even throw in a criticism of Murphy's Law. These things from the movie probably classify better as interesting bar room conversation than deep philosophy, but I guess that's kind of what this blog is about anyway. (If you want a summary of the movie so this makes sense here is a link to my last post)

1. Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence of the Same:

For those unfamiliar with Nietzsche and the idea of the eternal recurrence, I'll give you how he explains it, fairly straightforwardly, in The Gay Science. A hypothetical situation is given, by a demon where,

"This life as you now live it have live it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence--even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and with you it..."

That is the paragraph that most clearly states the problem of the eternal recurrence, but the power and scope of the situation outlined in the paragraph above are created in its limitations. It is the finality and the lack of change that creates the real problem. Now the person stuck in a Groundhog's Day situation is slightly different. Instead of living their life over and over again they are forced to re-live one day.

This can be used as a measuring stick for life with two different measures. The Eternal Recurrence is a measure where the balance of a person's whole life, up to that moment, must be measured and weighed, versus the Groundhog Day measure where each day could possibly be the one you are forced to relive, so each day must be weighed. If you wouldn't want to relive either one then it could be a statement that you aren't living your life in a way acceptable to yourself, but if you are alright with it then you are comfortable with what you have done.

It is clear that Phil Connors (Bill Murray's character) is not taking part in the eternal recurrence because he is able to change what he does each day and isn't forced to live through his choices again, but instead is able to make different choices.The eternal recurrence doesn't apply to Phil Connors, but it does to every other character with one difference.

Everyone else is trapped in a loop where the choices they made that day are the ones they have to relive over and over again, but Phil Connors has the special ability to change that and get them out of the loop. Phil Connors is a superhero in that movie situation where he and only he can save a person from being forced to relive a bad choice, like when he helps the couple that is going to get married get over their cold feet. Yet, his power is extremely limited as he much chooses who to help each day and change what decisions were made, and he is limited by the laws of time and space...which brings up a peeve of mine about the infinite.

2) With the infinite anything is possible!

The infinite causes may paradox's and strange things to be possible, like the hotel that is full but always has room, yet it is important to note that the infinite doesn't make anything possible. Groundhog Day is a surprisingly good example of why that is that is the case. Groundhog's Day has a system in place where the same thing that happened on Groundhog's Day happens again and again, where only Phil Connors can create change. This is a system like our universe, a system built on rules.

In each system change can take place, right now events could take place differently than they had been before, just as Phil Connors can change what happens at any specific moment, but in each case, there are rules that limit the possibility of the things that are able to happen. No matter how long time goes on the speed of light will be a constant and a speed limit for the universe. The hypothetical situation in Groundhog's Day is also limited as Phil Connors can only do so much in a single day and only cause a limited amount of difference, so not everything is possible in that world either, no matter how long it goes on.

There is one slight difference in these two worlds thought, if this universe is eternal, then even some things that would be likely to happen won't if something changes. It could be possible that I will win the Olympic gold in hurdling four years from now, but it is a race that is only run once, so after it is completed it falls into a category where it was something possible that still didn't happen in an infinite universe.

In a side note, this is also something that bothers me when people talk about Murphy's Law, as people often say when something goes wrong, that "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." Yes, if a situation is left for an infinite amount of time with the possibility of it going wrong, then Murphy's Law works. The problem with that is that's not the world in which we live, not everything that can go wrong does, and often it doesn't. Stating it as it is, really just means, that what happened had a chance of happening, which is useless information that doesn't add any additional information at all. It's as if you are saying water is water, but in this case, the person thinks they are saying something intelligent because they are referring to a law.

Anyway, the situation isn't the same for Phil Connors, because he gets a chance to do things over again, making it so anything that is possible could be achieved in the Groundhog Day world if Phil Connors made the choice to do it.

With the infinite not everything is possible, and not even a sure thing like me winning the gold medal in hurdling is guaranteed to happen.

Thanks for reading,

July 17, 2012

Groundhog's Day - Phil Connors is a Pitiable Killer


   Groundhog's Day is one of my favorite films and I can't really put a finger on why exactly that is, but I can think of many reasons why I like the movie so much. I don't think I need to announce that this post will contain many spoilers for the movie, but I just did anyway. This post also ran a little longer than I like to aim for in a blog post so it will be broken into two riveting parts, and I can only hope that excitement can be contained until the second installment is posted.
     Anyway, I first saw Groundhog's Day before I knew what philosophy was and just appreciated how funny, yet the odd tale was, but later I realized how interpretable this film is. There is a lot to think about in this film and I'm only going to write about what I thought about on one a sleepless night not so long ago, but before that, I'll give a brief summary for those unfortunate philistine's who haven't seen the film.

   The movie starts with Bill Murray playing the main character, Phil Connors. He one of the great miserable asshole's Bill Murray has played in his career and also a TV weatherman for a medium-sized TV network doing a segment in a small town for, you guessed it, Groundhog's Day. He ends up getting stuck in a town he hates because of snow and wakes up the next morning to find out that it is Groundhog's Day morning again. The same things that happened to him yesterday are happening again today; He is stuck in a loop which doesn't seem to have an end.
     Phil Connors then goes through a progression of different goals for the day. He just lives it up having fun and gorging himself with food and women, and then gets hopeless and tries to kill himself.After that he tries to find meaning by saving an old homeless mans life, but alas, but as Bill Murray's character repeats each day, this meaning also dies each time at around midnight.
    After numerous attempts at all sorts of things, the right answer is found when Phil stops being the miserable asshole and starts being a genuinely kind and good person. This is the secret and after a day of being a good person he gets the girl, they live happily ever after and it's a good ending...or is it?

    When Phil Connors travels to the next day at the end of the movie it is celebrated with cheers of triumph. Yet, when Phil is kissing the hotel manager out of happiness, one person isn't enjoying the festivities, as when the loop ends the homeless person Phil was staying to save is no longer reborn. In traveling to the next day Bill Murray's character has ironically found the only way to really kill the man he earlier was so desperately trying to save. If he had not closed the loop the man would have continued to be reborn and lived his life forever. Morally Phil Connors might have been in a position to try to stay in Groundhog's Day forever if he knew the consequences of his actions.

   There is another interesting consequence of the loop being closed at the end of the movie. It could be taken further and argued that Phil Connors shouldn't have been celebrating the end of Groundhog's day, and instead been mourning its demise.

   Albert Camus would view the situation that way as he explains in The Myth of Sisyphus. In Camus's  view what matters most is not the type of life lived, but the amount, as the continued struggle against the absurd is what matters. People would argue, as Bill Murray's character surely would, that if Phil Connors doesn't travel to the next day of his life than his life is meaningless because there is no progress or time. The major question than is, is there a meaning of life?

    42 jokes aside, there isn't an external meaning of life that can be found and pointed to and Camus realizes this, making life a battle of living without meaning, or in short an absurd existence. In this battle for meaning the absurd is where one can find enjoyment, even if you are only rolling a rock to the top of a hill for eternity. In fact being able to continue that fight for eternity makes you not someone to be pitied, but someone to be envied. Phil Connors didn't have a rock to push, but he did have the potential to fight against the absurd and reflect on life for an eternity thus making him a hero. Instead through celebrating the ending and closing of the loop he is no longer the Sisyphusian hero, and instead a nice guy and a killer.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic