Bryan Caplan  

Day Break as Social Experiment

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I highly recommend the one-season wonder Day Break to fans of social science.  It starts as a standard crime conspiracy: A cop framed for murder tries to clear his name.  Then we get the twist: He's in a time loop.  The day after the murder keeps repeating.  The protagonist wakes up every day at 6:17 AM, and only he remembers how the day played out before. 

As a result, his knowledge of the conspiracy keeps growing.  More importantly, though, his effective social intelligence keeps rising.  Through trial and error, he discovers the right way to deal with every other character in the story to repair a seemingly impossible situation.  It's experimental social science on a scale undreamed of even before Human Subjects Review Boards came along and spoiled all the fun.

Some will say that the premise of Day Break is a gimmick.  I say it shines a powerful spotlight on one of the greatest tools of social intelligence: The hypothetical conversation.  How will X react if I put it this way?  How about that way?  Maybe I'd just be better-off talking to Y - wouldn't he respond differently?  In real life, you only live each day once.  But you can make those days better for yourself - and other people too - if you subject the crucial choices of your day to a few thought experiments before you pull the trigger.

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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Robin Hanson writes:

What does Day Break have that Groundhog Day didn't?

Paul Zrimsek writes:

In Groundhog Day, for some reason nobody murdered Andie McDowell.

Marcus writes:

I was going to ask the same question as Robin.

Does Day Break add anything new to the concept which Groundhog Day didn't have?

huth writes:

a similar thing also happened in that movie next. the charater has the abiity to see two minutes in the future and then change the future by acting differently. he wants to talk to a girl, but after making several unsuccessful attempts, he figures out which one works.

Kurbla writes:

I don't know about Ferenginar, but in Federation, the phenomenon is known as temporal causality loop (time loop).

Peter Twieg writes:

Alternatively, for anime fans, it sounds to me like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. Except Day Break is probably better.

Dan Weber writes:

In Groundhog Day, for some reason nobody murdered Andie McDowell.

Question: is it immoral or unethical to murder someone if all events get unwound at the end of the day?

You can also try this for rape or torture, although you probably can't make it a family comedy any more.

Monte writes:


If caught in an infinite loop, wouldn't improving your social intelligence ultimately become a Sysyphean task? It doesn't matter how wise or foolish you are, there's only one way to roll a boulder to the top of a mountain. In fact, an eternally perfect existence, it seems to me, would be alot less exciting than an imperfect one.

Robinson writes:

Hurrah! I knew there was another fan of Day Break out there somewhere.

Bryan Caplan writes:

In answer to the "What does *Day Break* add to *Ground Hog Day*" question, I'd say:

1. It's not a comedy, so it explores the premise more seriously.

2. It lasts longer, so you get a real immersion experience.

We don't really need causality loops.

It seems that government wants to study the Great Depression by repeating it until we collect enough valid data.

Bryan Pick writes:

There are two crucial differences between the Day Break rules and the Groundhog Day rules, but I won't spoil it for anyone. It's an entertaining series -- one good, complete season. A little heavy on the explication, especially early on, but whaddayagonnado.

Thanks for pointing out the series, Bryan.

scineram writes:

There was a similar theme in Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, where she tried gazillion times to steer some conversations in a a certain direction.

William writes:

In answer to the "What does *Day Break* add to *Ground Hog Day*" question, I'd say:

1. It's not a comedy, so it explores the premise more seriously.

You ought to watch Groundhog Day again, because this is way off the mark. When you see Bill Murray's reaction upon waking up the day after his first suicide, it ought to become clear that a movie can be both funny and serious.

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