As an absent minded philosopher Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies of all time. So much there, so many levels of interpretation… an amazing work, and in my opinion an excellent example of Jung’s philosopher stone. And my response to the movie way back when sort of reinforced the road I was already on in life.
Groundhog Day was my first date movie. I had finally summoned the courage to ask a cute redheaded and very no nonsense Catholic girl out. She was on the poetry and prose team and traveled to a lot of the same debate meets I went to. I had often tried to awkwardly start conversations with her during trips, asking her opinions on Bentham and Mill or whether 3rd century Christian interpretations of Ecclesiastes influenced Albertus Magnus’ views on faith…much of which was met with an eye roll and silence, but I was not discouraged. So very early one Sunday, around 4 in the morning cue Leonard Cohen, we were coming back from a debate meet in which I had kept the entire team in boredom having advanced to finals. Very long night stretched into the morning, so in this age before cell phones, everyone was freezing and trying to call their parents to come pick them up on the pay phone in the parking lot, but my parents anticipating the early morning call had dropped my car off so I could just drive myself home. So the cute redhead in question was turning blue in the line for the phone and I managed to find the courage to ask her if she wanted a ride home since she lived a couple of streets over, and she said yes before I finished my question. Very quiet drive, I think ‘turn the heater up’ were the only words shared until I pulled in front of her house to drop her off, and managed to stammer out’ you wanna catch the new Bill Murray flick on Friday?” Now I fully expected a no, but she paused for a second, and then turned around and said ‘sure, but only as friends, this isn’t a date understand?’ And I did understand! Beaming all the way home, I had a friend and a date!
It was a short lived affair however. Groundhog Day captivated my attention so much, my friend who insisted the movie was just a movie, was a bit miffed at my insensitivity in completely ignoring her. It wasn’t personal, I was just having a ‘religious’ experience due to the theme and at dinner afterwards I wanted to discuss it, but she quickly put a stop to that by claiming the movie was sacrilegious and awful, and an insult to her Catholic faith. She was particularly upset by the suicide scenes. Now that took the wind out of my sails and silenced me. She was truly offended by the movie, and yet I had had a religious experience from it. What was a young absent minded philosopher to do? Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about it. She let me down gently, informing me that I was a nice guy, a bit weird, but nice, but I wasn’t Catholic, and she couldn’t date me, and oh could she get a ride to and from school since she was tired of the bus. Life went on.
Today I tend to view Groundhog Day as a physics equation regarding potential. Murray’s character caught in a potential energy well of his own making as it were. Cut off from entropy in the well, revealing the paradoxically nature of discrete and continuous potentiality. Add to that those Renaissance Theories of Human Perfectibility by Simon, and you have an equation in which Murry has to raise his energy levels to the point he can escape the well of his own ego and rejoin the normal space-time continuum.
I recently read a nice little Aristotelian piece in the Quantum Interaction: 8th International Conference from 2.1 Aristotle and QI:
Apparently the assumption that products of the mind are continuous while their mapping to spoken language is discrete goes back ultimately to Aristotle’s Metaphysics. In this, existence or reality is described as the sum total of two components, conceivable potentiality (dynamis) plus observable-measurable actuality (energeia). These are names for the latent vs. manifest capacity of existents to induce change.
As reviewed by Koznjak, (2007) , the first ones to link Aristotle and quantum mechanics were Bohm, (1951)  and Heisenberg, (1958) . In the QI frame of thought, Aerts and Gabora, (2005) used the same insight : a context-dependent property of a concept lends graded existence to it by weights spanning potential to actual existence because certain feature combinations are “less real”, i.e. less typical for assessors. Therefore in our current thinking, existence consists of two layers, potentiality (a continuum) and actuality (a discrete distribution sampling the former). Importantly, one ascribes a field nature to mental experience because of the potentiality layer which we indirectly perceive by the actualized values of events.
The above have familiar repercussions in QI. For localized entities, the state of actuality corresponds to one particular position of an observed particle (or a particular configuration of many particles), whereas potentiality means all possible locations or configurations in superposition. Moreover reality is the state of potentiality before and after observation, something that can be speculated about but not observed. On the other hand, actuality and the constant collapse of the wave function are the same. Phenomena pop in and out of existence: anything in the present is the overlap between the last moment of the future and first moment of the past while being observed, but returns to uncertainty thereafter. This also means a link between potentiality as a continuous experience vs. actuality as its discrete mapping to real, objective existence. Last but not least, expanding on the implications, energy manifest in observed events (such as parole) must go back to dynamics latent in fields (here, langue).
Viewing Groundhog Day through this lens gets you to the joke, the groundhog is a Schrödinger creature, and hints at the power of observation.
Potential is also an interesting word used in terms of human potential. Because like in physics, it has different meanings and outcomes based upon who is using it. An individual’s potential for a sovereign for example, is vastly different than say artist, teacher, or coach. A person’s potential when viewed through the eyes of state is in reference to the value of labor he provides and conformity to existing social structures. Maximizing production while not rocking the boat so to speak. But for an individual of an artistic bent, potential is defined from finding one’s voice, adding something original to the swirl of ideas at work during one’s lifetime. The artist seeks to break free from conformity, in order to set himself apart, and most often isn’t concerned with maximizing production or the value of his labor. The authority he answers to is in that muse of the collective unconscious. But what about teachers and coaches? They often seek to unlock personal potential, but at the same time, stress conformity/harmony for the sake of class and team. A confusing message that says be an individual like everyone else.
At the end of the day, I think we’re all caught within traps of potentiality. Linear existence is a soul cage that cuts us off from different vantage points from which we could observe our lifetimes. For the artist and the quantum physicist, perspective is everything. Groundhog Day is a movie that if you let it work on you, you just might find some new perspective for your own life.