Groundhog Day Plan

A while ago we talked about surviving a zombie outbreak. While zombie events are not only very rare but also completely fictional, it does not hurt to have a plan just in case they happen. As it turned out, quire a few people gave this some thought and were able to discuss different strategies. Today I wanted to talk about one of these other rare, unlikely and fictional events: a repetitive time loop just like the one seen in the movie Groundhog Day.


If you haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favor and go watch it now. Or this weekend with your loved one, your kids or your family. Then come back and join the discussion. Let’s establish some sort of a framework we are working with. First, we do not know why time loops happen. Second, we know that each loop has an exit condition of some sort. The loop in the movie terminated when Bill Murray’s character stopped being a self centered ass and actually started caring about the people around him. Your exit condition may be different though.

It is probably safe to assume that a time loop, being a very subjective experience may be tied to some personality flaw or personal condition of yours. Maybe you need to become a nicer person. Maybe your loop terminates when you finally overcome that paralyzing fear of heights. Perhaps your loop is tied to your fear of commitment. Whatever it is, you can probably assume it has something to do with self improvement or personal growth of some sort. It is not something you can accidentally stumble upon, or fake. Unfortunately it is impossible to tell exactly what will trigger loop termination while inside of it. The general census is that any attempts to better yourself is probably taking you closer to the end condition. What will trigger it however, must be found through experimentation. Good news is that you have all the time in the world to figure it out.

We also know few other things about these loops. First and foremost, you are virtually immortal. You cannot terminate the loop by suicide, or accidental death. Dying will simply end the current loop iteration, and immediately start the next one.

An average loop iteration usually starts with you waking up in the morning. The duration of the iteration will usually be 24 hours, but it may be less. If you decide to stay up for that whole time, you will still wake up once the iteration ends. You will still start the iteration in your bed (or wherever you were when the loop started) no matter where in the world you are when the iteration ends. It is unclear whether or not you will feel the physical fatigue in the morning. It is possible that you will wake up feeling the same way you felt when the loop started. So if you had a good nights sleep, you will feel rested. If you only caught few hours of sleep, you will feel tired. I’m basing this observation on the fact that even if your physical body is somehow destroyed (burned, crushed, mutilated) you still start each loop iteration intact. So I’m guessing that your body is restored to the exact quantum state it was in when the loop has started, with the exception of your memories which are carried over somehow.

Keeping track of time within a loop can be tricky. You can’t use a calendar or notches on the wall to track the passage of days. You could try remembering which day it is but it could easily get confusing. Especially after you got into 3 digit numbers. So you need something more permanent. In the original Groundhog Day script the main character kept track of time by reading a page in a book each day which seems like a good idea, unless you are an avid reader and you would like to read more than that. Still, you could set your limit to be 20 or 30 pages a day, or whatever you are comfortable with and keep track this way. Of course if you are reading books out of order (ie. the interesting ones, rather than systematically working your way from A to Z) it could get confusing too. Anyone has an idea for a good time tracking solution which would work within a loop with some degree of accuracy?

How far can you travel? This question always comes up in the Groundhog Day discussions and I’m not sure if I know the answer. In the movie Bill Murray’s character is trapped in the town by a snow blizzard and road closings. This seems to be by design, since the friendly small town atmosphere is conducive to accomplishing his self improvement goal. I’m not sure if this would be a defining characteristic of every loop. My guess is that if your location is somehow significant to the end condition you may not be able to travel far. Which is not necessarily a bad thing since it narrows down the number of variables you need to work with and gives you a hint as to how to terminate the loop. If you cannot leave, then you know you have to work with what you have around you.

However, some loops may not be localized. In such case you could theoretically jump on a plane and get to many interesting places in the world with few hours to spare for sight seeing, or sampling the local cuisine. Of course if you commit yourself to spending 6 hours on a plane to spend few hours in Europe you are not really working on your self improvement goal. Which brings me to the fun part: diversions.

As we established, arriving at the end condition will be long and arduous process. It may take you years, or even centuries to accomplish. In the meantime, you are immortal and your actions have no permanent consequences while you are looping. Every morning you start with a clean slate. This means you are free to do anything you want. Needless to say, before you start working on self improvement, you will probably do all kinds of stupid shit that you would never do in other circumstances. For example, you can max out all your credit cards on stupid shit, quit your job, jump out of a plane without a parachute and etc. Depending on your personality you may really take advantage of this freedom, and go wild. But we probably don’t want to talk about fulfilling your primal urges or some dark desires here. This stuff will get old real fast anyway.

There will be a long stretch of time between the time you get fed up with doing crazy stuff for cheap thrills, and the time you get out of the loop. Months, maybe years if not longer. You will have to find some constructive hobbies to keep yourself occupied. Otherwise you might go crazy before you get out. So what long term projects or activities would you use as diversions. The main character of the Groundhog Day used this time to learn to play a piano, and read a lot of poetry and classics. Given virtually infinite amount of time, what would you do?

I’d definitely do some reading. There is a small public library in a walking distance from my house, and a huge, well stocked Barnes & Noble store so I don’t think obtaining books would be a problem. The only inconvenient part is the need to fetch the book back each day day as it will disappear from your house every morning.

I’m not sure about playing an instrument. My musical sense is not that keen and I never had a particular desire to play/create music. Also I don’t own any instruments, and don’t know any good teachers. There is a Guitar Store shop nearby though so I could probably learn that at some point but I’d probably put it on the very bottom of my list.

I’d love to learn a new language – preferably Japanese. And no, it’s not just so that I could watch Anime without subtitles or play imported games but it would be a factor. I’m already bilingual, and speak and write fluently in both English and Polish. I also studied German and Russian but I forgot almost everything about these two languages. The thing is, the Asian languages are so structurally different that it would probably be an interesting and mid opening experience.

I’d try to learn new programming languages and improve my coding skills and generally broaden my knowledge. Since I might be stuck in that loop for centuries I wouldn’t want to get rusty. The problem is that I would not be able to retain any of my work between loop iterations so working on large, time consuming projects would probably be out of question. I’d probably stick to small, solvable problem sets or exercises that could be completed within few hours. I’d probably blow through the whole Project Euler problem set multiple times, with different languages and using different approaches and paradigms. Maybe I could even get a jump start on my PHD. I wouldn’t be able to attend lectures or write a thesis of course but I could possibly learn about the curiculum, the required readings and start going over the required readings and I could probably find professors willing to answer some of my questions and coach me through the difficult parts. It would be a one time favor, every time.

Playing video games would be a problem because I wouldn’t be able to save. I’m usually not the kind of person who plays the game through multiple times. I play it once usually, unless the game offers very rich repeatable experience. So I’d probably try to speed run the games. I’d get them first thing in the morning and then play them till I beat them, or run out of time. Depending on the length of the game this would be like an all day affair so I wouldn’t do that every day. Just some.

What would you do? Let me know in the comments!

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15 Responses to Groundhog Day Plan

  1. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I think you more or less covered it… do some stupid shit for a while, have some fun, then learn something new and useful.

    Could also be a good way to test out people’s reactions to things – if there’s someone you like but haven’t said anything you could find out what happens if you do say something, but without any repercussion or consequence. Or for that matter have some fun by having a good yell at someone you don’t like :mrgreen:

    Games would indeed be a difficulty, as would getting any outstanding work done… the impermanence of anything you make during the loop is just going to set you back to nil at the end of each day.

    If I was going to be going around the loop for a long time, I might try and visit all the cool places I can think of. Would need to be quick at getting myself on a plane for some places, and if it’s the case that there is no flight to somewhere, or it’s delayed then it’ll be that way every time, but worth trying nonetheless.

    If I was going to be in there a really long time I might see how many people there are to meet within a one day radius of my starting point – spend a while and get to know each person… could be cool.

    I guess the “point” is to find things to do that only require permanence in your own memory to be worthwhile, gaining knowledge or skills being one, but there are others too.

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  2. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux Terminalist says:

    Yeah, that’s pretty much well summarized. In terms of games, I actually tend to play more online games like FPS or RTS that don’t depend on “saves”, but it leaves the question if skills like reaction time and such would improve or not.

    I would of course read plenty and meet some people, but the main interest would be as a test bed for plenty of things.

    In TV’s time loops the best are from “Tru Calling”. Although I don’t really like the series the possibility to have almost daily but small (1 day) time loops is really great.
    (Note; in the series, the main character works in a morgue and some dead people “ask her” to save them, so she enters in a day loop until she does).

    In a side note, I’m too would like to learn Japanese, but I should train more written English and Spanish, I lack practice :(

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  3. Tino GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    You touched on this with the discussions on how to keep track of time and the need for short programming exercises: the main limitation really is the lack of ability to carry data over from one iteration to the next. A time loop scenario does not seem so bad at first, but not being able to work on any project that requires data retention longer than a day would quickly drive me absolutely insane.

    Hence, after goofing off for a while and just having fun, I think I would at least try my best to find some kind of solution to that. My first plan would be to study memory enhancement techniques and start the morning with the closest pen + paper to re-fill a “notebook” with ideas so far.

    However, after weeks of little success I would probably give up and try to find spectacular ways of killing myself instead.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Actually this is a very interesting problem: how to implement permanent data storage within a time loop. The only answer is of course in memory. Human memory is actually quite good as permanent data storage. We just suck with retrieval and management of memory.

    Committing large amounts of information to memory with nearly perfect recall is however possible and has been done before. Think back to oral tradition societies and their epics such as Illiad or Odyssey. They survived for many generations before they were written down.

    I’m pretty sure that given infinite time most of us could greatly improve our memorization and recall skills!

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  5. Tino GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    The thing is, most old traditions and new techniques for remembering huge amounts of data deals with static information. You learn the Odyssey once and then you retell it countless times. If you learn pi to 100’000 places (I think that is the record), you probably don’t intend to forget it the next day and learn exp(1) instead, or swap some of the decimals for other numbers.

    However, if you want to get somewhere with your projects you need to work with changing information. If you, for example, are working on a computer program, you will want to change it every day. I wonder how effective the human mind is for something like that.

    I am thinking something along the lines of trying to program in a very terse computer language, and every evening compress the code (preferably with error correction…) and learn the resulting hex sequence. Then the next morning type in the hex sequence, uncompress it, and continue working.

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  6. Ian Clifton UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I think you’re messing with us by posting this topic after discussing something similar not too long ago. Maybe you’re starting the time loop…

    I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the idea of no consequences if I did not know what would end the time loop. Maybe that swearing at someone you dislike is what makes things go again… Instead, I would focus on things like playing the guitar and learning other languages (I’d start with Spanish, since I have a tiny bit of background there, but I’d love to learn a variety–Imagine being able to communicate in 50 different languages!). I’d be too frustrated to do much painting, since I’d always lose what I did (and I enjoy having the creation there to look back on), but I’d experiment with all kinds of art.

    There’s always the option of making money on betting or stocks, but money isn’t a big deal to me now and would be even less so in the case of a time loop.

    The only things that would be useful to do all involve learning of some form or improving a skill. It’d be a good chance to learn the times tables into triple digits, but I suspect I’d be having fun trying out all kinds of random things. Hmm…

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Tino: True. Which is why I probably wouldn’t want to tackle complex programming projects like that. I’d stick to coding marathons and treat the time limit as a challenge. Can I write a compiler for language X in a single day? Can I produce working code of this project before I loop.

    It would be frustrating to keep loosing your stuff, so I guess you need a right mindset. View the lack of permanent storage as a challenge for your creativity and speed.

    @Ian Clifton: Hmm, interesting idea with the betting/stocks. The downside is that it will vanish at the end of the day and you can only win/earn so much in a day. For example, there might be nothing interesting going on at the stock market, and betting on horse races or other stuff like that may only yield a modest payoff because the odds are not that great and there is no major upset that day.

    And if you go to a casino, you can only win so much before they kick you out for cheating.

    I’m not sure how big of an advantage it would be considering that you can cash in all your savings and max out all your credit cards if you need to. Depending on the size of your account and your credit this may or may not be enough to pay for most of the crazy stuff you can think off.

    Not to mention that a you can’t always cash in your prize on the same day as you win it.

    Re: bad consequences. That is a really interesting idea. Imagine a spoof on the Groundhog Day theme where the main character does something horrible (eg kills a person, etc..) for the kicks thinking he will just loop around at the end of the day. Then he wakes up, and he is still in jail – or there is still a body on his couch. Ooops!

    Another interesting thing to ponder. We know that while you are within the loop your memories are preserved. What about your general physical condition? For example, can you lose weight by exercising each day? Can you build muscle by hitting the gym a lot while in the loop? Or will you body be reset to the default each morning?

    And conversely, can you eat like a pig every day, do nothing and suffer any consequences?

    If you get drunk every day, would you become an alcoholic? If you did hard core drugs every day, would you get addicted? Interesting stuff.

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  8. Ian Clifton UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    That’s true about the money. Most of what I would want for the day I could pay for, knowing that things would be reset. And I’m not sure it would be worth the hassle of trying to win a lot of money to get a Ferrari or something when you could just rent (or steal?) one.

    I guess I always saw the mind retaining the day but the body being reset. If the body were not reset, then this starts to sound like less of an advantage than otherwise (What do you mean I need to get sleep? If I am run over by a semi in one loop, will I be in pain the next?), but you could work on fitness or some other physical aspect… now that I think about it, Bill Murray learns the piano and his fingers retain the dexterity from one day to the next, so hmm…

    Another thing to think about: What if you knew that time would not go back to normal, that you were permanently stuck in the loop? I think that would start to become a nightmare after X iterations. We can come up with any number of reasons for living (saving people’s lives, making the world a better place, etc.), but they cease to be so meaningful when things are continuously reset with no hope of continuing linearly.

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  9. Tino GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    About the physical body: In the movie, there is a scene showing Bill Murray eating breakfast as a pig, and insinuating that there will be no consequences, so if we discuss the Groundhog universe, I think the body resets.

    I also think that Bill has no idea the loop will ever end, so it may be a bit unfair arguing from the point of view that we know that there is an exit condition.

    I just had an awesome idea; screw programming: over many iterations, track down criminals living within accessible distance. Learn all about their routes etc. You can then spend your days as a superhero, using premonition as your superability! Since you know exactly what is going to happen and when, you should be able to pull off some really cool superhero-like tricks. I could probably entertain myself forever trying to perfect the coolness factor for a specific capture.

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  10. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    It doesn’t really make a lot of sense for memory to be retained but not your physical condition – memories are a part of the brain’s structure, so if your body is reset then your mind should be as well (unless you’re a dualist, I am not)

    But that makes for a really boring film – same starting point to same end point every single iteration (that could be happening already and we’d never know).

    So that’s the other “interesting thing” about the scenario – as the one person who is aware of the loop and some how (illogically) retaining your memory, you are the sole agent of change in the world for that day. You’ve seen it turn out one way, so how much difference can you make in one day?

    @Tino: You would of course be limited in your crimefighting by the fact that they won’t stay beaten any longer than the time until the end of the day – you could get super awesome at beating down one guy, but to practice on the next guy you’d have to let bad guy #1 carry on with his misdeeds.

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  11. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Ian Clifton: Yeah, if the loop did not end at some point, it could become quite tiresome. Especially since you would have no way of ending your suffering. I’m pretty sure it would drive you crazy in the literal sense of the word. As in certifiable crazy.

    At that point I guess you could try to dull the pain by switching the brain off via drugs/alcohol and etc. I seriously don’t know how would I deal with something like that though. That’s why I was talking about repeatable activities that are about you, and give you satisfaction. Learning to play different musical instruments can be very rewarding – it gives you something to do, and something to strive for. Same with learning new languages. It also opens up new un-explored parts of the web to you, and gives you more new books to read (since not everything gets translated into english).

    Helping people and making the world a better place would be ultimately disappointing. The best you can hope for is to find a way to make your personal life as pleasant and frictionless as possible.

    If you are stuck in that loop long enough you will learn how to avoid arguments with friends and family (or that one argument that they were planning to have with you that particular day) and diffuse them with a word or two. You will know all the right things to say and do to make it a perfect day – as perfect as it can be for you and hopefully for others. At some point this becomes a rote – a reflex, so you go though your days without any social friction with everyone being super-nice to you, and helping you out with whatever you need them to do that day.

    You will also eventually master a method of wooing that un-attainable dream girl you were so hopelessly in love with. You know all the things she likes, you know all her turn-off’s and turn-ons. You know the exact hot buttons you need to hit, and you can do the whole routine in 30 minutes flat and then she is yours. But it would be like dating that guy from Memento – only she doesn’t keep any notes. Every day, this is a first date for her – which probably means she would be on her best behavior and wouldn’t do all the annoying things that a girlfriend could to. But I’m pretty sure this kind of relationship would get a bit frustrating and draining after a while.

    But I think the key to stay sane is to do constructive things that do have permanence – and that means investing in yourself. Learning new skills. Reading a lot. Practicing skills you already posses and improving them. I the temporary loop-world you inhabit those are the only things that can give you a sense of permanence and forward momentum.

    @Tino: Heh, the superhero idea sounds fun but I agree with @Matt` in that it would likely get old after a while.

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  12. Tino GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    @Matt: I think you have to see playing superhero as a game and have fun doing it, rather than define it as a useful activity that puts criminals away. In the latter sense it sure is meaningless.

    When I watch the batman movie, I do not feel that the enjoyment is somehow deprived by the fact that the joker will be free the next time I watch it. In the same sense, there is no reason to feel bad about criminal A roaming free the day you take on criminal B.

    Also, why not try out being a supervillain? I wonder how far one could come taking over the world in one day, if one got to try and re-try over and over again.

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  13. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Tino: Yeah, but Joker was AWESOME with capital A and capital WSOME. Heath Ledger made that movie. Also he is no longer around so there probably won’t be any Joker in the next Batman movie anyway. :(

    I guess if you did the superhero thing just for shits and giggles and you didn’t really care whether or not they go free it could be less frustrating. Then again, it probably would be hard to keep yourself so detached.

    What if, for example you are trying to stop a bank robber who usually shoots a security guard as he is making his escape. Throughout you iterations you get to know this guard and find out he is a really nice guy. He has a wife and little 3 kids. You even get to know them too. It is easy to imagine how you could get obsessed with saving that guy each day to spare his family the pain.

    On another crime scene you meet another innocent person who dies, you get to know them and etc.. Sooner or later you realize you can’t possibly save everyone and you must make choices. It could drive you crazy!

    Oh, and the Supervilain idea is interesting. :P How would you take over the world in a day though?

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  14. Tino GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    @Luke: You know the security guard will live again tomorrow. His kids will see him going to work as usual. Why worry so much about people dying, when everything is repeated anyway?

    But ok, pain is still real. So maybe I see the point that it will be hard to detach if I discover someone subjected to horrible torture, unless saved by me. On the other hand, if this has happened on just one of the iterations, I could possibly distance myself from it by reasoning “it is just the same thing happening again”. Just like re-watching batman doesn’t make the crimes of the joker any worse; they are just the same crimes, like this is the same torture, re-imagined over and over.

    Taking over the world: everyone has a price. Be it the right threat (kidnapped children) or the right carrot (promise of a night with a special girl). Just figure out everyones price by trial-and-error and make sure to efficiently delegate the extortion and bribing. Maybe see if you can get a world-wide nuclear war started, just for the fun of it. But then it would be a bit of a shame if that happens to coincide with your exit condition, I guess :)

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