Brain Food #817: Learning through repetition and inversion
Groundhog Day, Backward Day, and moving forward
Thoughts of the day
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This week contained both Groundhog Day, which takes place on February 2nd every year, and Backward Day, which takes place on January 31st, but only in the US. The former gave birth to a film about a day that repeats itself, while the latter is about a day that asks us to do things in reverse order. Interesting that those occur as we transition towards the second month of the year; the January Blues feels long, yet we have devised ways (and days) to make the month feel longer.
In the Groundhog Day film, the normal passing of time is removed, and the main character finds himself stuck in a time loop. But, through this endless repetition of days, he finds meaning and, eventually, himself. Learning from repetition can also be an act of gaining self-knowledge. I once read somewhere that the best writing ideas come from the things you mention to others repeatedly. If you are looking to see what ignites your curiosity, pay attention not only to what repeats itself in your life, but also to what you tend to repeat to others. They are the ideas that are willing to stay with you.
Conceptually, both days are about doing things regardless of the norm: a day on which time does not matter, or a day on which things are not done in the order or manner they are supposed to. Challenging the norm is one of the purposes of art and science; to ask the ‘what if’ that can give birth to new perspectives.
In reality, we cannot reverse or loop time; we can only move forward. But we can learn to see time, and our role in it, in a different way. As Andy Warhol said, “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
Piet Mondrian’s New York City 1 painting was famously hung upside down for 75 years. On the left is how the painting was displayed, and on the right is how it was intended to be seen. Whether the experience of the viewers changed or not, or whether there should actually be a right or wrong orientation for the painting, still remains a mystery, perhaps one that time will not resolve.
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