Philosophy Friday once again….

Free will. Or destiny? Are we in control of our own lives, or are we just playing out a script already written – by God, life, the universe, or whatever/whoever.

I can’t think of a way that we could prove an answer to this one way or the other. If we try to assert our free will by deliberately doing something unexpected or contrary to character, it could be argued that we were destined to make that self-asserting decision.

Conversely, if we try to prove that our lives are governed by destiny by always going with the flow of events, it could be argued that we have made a conscious choice to go with the flow, thereby asserting our free will.

So I would come at this question from a different angle. Which option makes me feel better? Do I prefer the notion that I am in charge of my own life? Or do I prefer to feel that somebody or something else is running the show? My personal preference is to believe that I am in charge.

Of course, I fully acknowledge that I am never entirely in control – my life will be affected by the era that I live in, the family I was born into, the actions of other people, random chance, and so on. A better way of putting it, then, rather than saying that I am in charge of my life, is to say that I take responsibility for my life. No matter what happens to me, or around me, I am still free to choose how I will respond to it. Even Viktor Frankl* in the concentration camp, with no personal liberty at all, was still able to choose how he would conduct himself.

But other people may find it more comfortable to believe that they have a destiny – that they were destined to play a particular role, do a particular job, marry a particular person. I’ll say it again, different people look at the same world and draw different conclusions, depending on their own unique blend of personality traits.

There was a moment in my life when I thought I heard destiny calling. It was when the urge came upon me to start rowing across oceans to promote environmental and personal awareness. Those of you who have read my book (Rowing the Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean

But over the years I’ve come to see that moment in a different light (different lightbulb!). Before that pivotal moment I had already defined the criteria for whatever my new life direction would be. And I was completely open to receiving an answer. I knew that ocean rowing existed, and had even met a couple of people who had rowed oceans – although it was not something that had appealed at the time.

So I now see it this way: I had tucked all these ideas away in my subconscious, where they had quietly got on with the job of synthesising themselves into a fully-formed answer which, in an unguarded moment, suddenly popped out of the subconscious realm and into my conscious mind. And instantly I knew it to be perfect – because, after all, it was the product of my own desires.

And this, I think, is why some things feel like destiny. It seems as if everything in our lives has been preparing us for this course of action. We can’t quite believe how perfectly it fits us. But the fit is perfect precisely because, subconsciously, we have created it ourselves.

Other Stuff:

I think there is more that needs to be said on the subject of free will and destiny, in relation to our immediate future on this Earth. Tom raised a question that I would like to address in a future blog: What good is free will if we have an aversion to all our choices? But a) this blog was long enough already, and b) I’d be interested to hear from you with comments on the above and how it relates to present challenges. Bring ’em on!

At last the rough conditions have subsided. I am celebrating, and apparently so are the fish. The dorados have been going nuts, leaping and backflipping as if trying out for the Olympics. Maybe they are.

To add to my store of happiness, I got the electrical system working again. The Sunsaver Duo unit was, not to put too fine a point on it, completely buggered. So I have now bypassed it. It wasn’t straightforward – initially my solution did not work. In desperation I started flipping switches, and found that, bizarrely, the batteries will only charge when both fore and aft batteries are turned on. But who cares? It works! Hurrah!

I called Glen, the Australian electrician who came out to the Abrolhos when I had a problem with the system before. I just wanted to ask him a couple of questions about running the system without the Sunsaver unit, but we ended up having quite a nice chat. He told me I was on Australian TV a few nights ago, for having passed halfway and having eaten a TimTam. He didn’t say which of these was the headline of the news item.

Now that the waves have subsided, I decided it was time to pump out the water from the lockers. For a while it was quite useful having it there as extra ballast, but now that the wind has subsided it makes the boat very heavy. My boat is now sitting several inches higher in the water – but mostly on the port side. We are listing. I have redistributed various items but may have to resort to pumping some water back in again. Sigh.

Sara Gordon – thank you for your kind message. I see that The Climate Project is being rebranded as Climate Reality. I hope this reflects a new sense of urgency – we need it!

Pamela Green – you are too kind. I don’t yet feel worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as Rosa Parks, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King… but I’m working on it! ūüėČ

Aimee – your Solidarity Sunset spent with an Abba tribute band sounds just perfect. I grew up on Abba, and still abbasolutely love their music. Nothing like Dancing Queen to lift the spirits!

Thank you, Mat, Grace, Callum, Fraser & Freya Ellis for the sponsored miles. Mat, how our lives have changed since UBS all those years ago….

Henrik – great to hear from you! I was invited to do the Arctic voyage next year, but at that time I was planning to be on the North Atlantic. That plan has now changed… but now they have filled their speaker slots. But hopefully I will get there in 2013, if not before. Hope to see you then!

Photo: I’m trying to get a photo of a jumping dorado, but it’s not easy. Almost got this one – just a split second after he splashed back into the water. Doh!

Quote: “Sow a habit, reap a destiny”

Quote 2: “We must believe in free will. We have no choice.” (Isaac Bashevis Singer) Haha.

Latest podcast is now available: Episode 44: It’s a Jungle Out There.

Sponsored Miles: Grateful thanks today go to Bonnie Sterngold, Amanda Reader, Julian Hamm, Emma John, Daniel Collins, Sally Phillips, Rolando Cuadrado, Terence Liu, Chris Ferreira, Wayne Batzer, Bruce Gervais, Nancy Bowman, Amanda Atkins and Courtney Elwood who between them have sponsored 22 of the 35 miles Roz has rowed since yesterday morning. A word of thanks, too, to a number of people who have been making monthly payments to Roz for a long time – one of whom is also mentioned today for sponsoring miles.


(Why Roz’s progress is not shown)


  • Roz, an initial thought as I head out the door to confront what awaits … intent on accomplishing a list of tasks that I have chosen to tackle, but happy to know that my¬†subconscious¬†will be tackling your philosophical puzzle. Many an essay or memo or analysis of a problem has been structured deep in my subconscious, dormant for days or weeks, but emerges only to require a bit of fleshing out consciously. I think this somehow relates to your koan. More later!

    Go koan rowing, Roz!

  • Free will is a conundrum. If we have free will, then God is not in control – thus He is not all knowing (if He does not know what we are going to do next) and not all powerful (if He cannot control what we are going to do next). I love the idea of free will just as you say – we are in charge. The opposite is too sad to contemplate, we would be just robots following a script.
    So, if God is not “all knowing”, nor “all powerful” what kind of a god is he? Did He just make the spark of energy to start the Universe off, then disappear? That is not reasonable, and thus the evidence for God goes away.
    We are here, we have our existence to use to our best abilities, then when our bodies crap out, we die. End of story. But it is a beautiful story while it lasts if we make it such, and you are making yours exponentially so!

    I am glad that you finally got some good weather and that you fixed your electrical system, otherwise I would have had to come down there to help!¬† ūüôā¬† ūüôā


    • There is a difference between “cannot control” and “does not control.” God allows free choice even though He could control us. Your conclusion that “the evidence for God goes away” is based on a false pretense and is therefore invalid.

  • What complicates the issue of Free Will is that, while our Will may be free (within limits), our actions are not. They are constrained by the conditions around us, including the free will of other people. In some respect, it comes down to Chaos Theory: like trying to predict the movement of a single drop of rain in a thunderstorm (on or off an open ocean). For example, I’ve been tempted on many a frustrating occasion to throw my hands in the air and quit my job (sound familiar, Roz?), but there are consequences to that decision, not all of which can be known ahead of time due to factors over which I have little or no control. I like planning and predictability, and prefer not to make important decisions where I can’t know the outcome. Unless, of course, events give me no choice (there’s that pesky Free Will question again).

    But even if our decisions aren’t free, is our Will? There are so many influences in our heads, both conscious and subconscious, slamming our mental rowboat this way and that, it may be impossible to know for sure. In the final analysis, we are the sum total of our experiences, both good and bad, and whether we have Free Will is irrelevant. We are who we are, and can be no one else.


  • Ah, but knowing what someone is about to do is not the same as controlling either the decision or the action. And making a conscious decision not to force a person to Your own Will is not the same as being unable to do so. “All knowing” and “all powerful”, therefore, don’t preclude the possibility of Free Will in the individual.

    • So, by your logic Thomas, God is up there watching, “knowing” what we are going to do. So we are just robots following what God “knows” we are going to do. We cannot do differently because God knows the future and we cannot change it. We have no choice because God knows what path we are going to take. So ….we have no real free will!

      • The Angel says to God, “You went and touched it didn’t You? You couldn’t sit by and watch Bob’s kids grow up without a father, could you. You know you just blew a zillion zillion megabyte file and we have to run the program over.”

        If God, upon creating the universe “knew” from the start that Jim was going to jump the curb and crash headlong into the oncoming car and kill Bob (all of this information – i.e. Future #1 – was on a huge memory bank somewhere that God set up), then God could not in the current time change it! If He could change Future #1 then he would have to recalculate the future as Future #2; the future that He knew at the beginning (Future #1) would no longer be possible. God just has to sit idly by and watch it play out. And so it goes, there thus cannot be a God who knows all and also can can change things. It is not possible for Him to change things by us asking Him to change things in prayer, or any other way. We have to be robots fulfilling Future #1 if there is no free will. If there is free will then God cannot know what is going to happen, and thus is not omniscient.

        This is like “can God create a rock so large that he cannot move it”. A god cannot create a universe, know everything that is going to happen, then change it later.

    • Very well said, Thomas. This is more than just a way of looking at things or a kind of philosophy, this is spiritual thinking about human existance. We are more than just our body in this material world. We have a soul and a spirit too which are growing during our lifetime. The body and the hole universe are ¬†more like a coat, but the latter must stay on for many billions of years. We are meant to be the actors of our lives, accountable for our deeds, which is unthinkable without “free will”. For us it doesn’t matter that God knows what is coming out of us, He just gave us enough space and time to act, learn and grow. There is no such thing as predestination, because for God that would be utterly boring. Can people imagine how joyful the heavens are when a human being comes to understanding right out of himself. It’s useless to force him to.

      Roz, row all your strokes with a joyful belief in your goal. You made me remember, I used to row many years ago and wanted to practice it again, bought a single rowing shell for open water and when rowing, I can sent some good vibes in tune with your wavy world.

  • Roz, you probably are not aware of the piece that Jon Bowermaster poste in late last night. ¬†Google Alerts delivered it to my inbox at 5:08 am. It is a wonderful piece, and Jon captures multiple views with excerpts from your blogs on Days 17, 54, 85, 96 and 105. ¬†Here is just the headline and my favorite paragraph … because it simply tugs at my heart:

    Roz Savage Crosses Indian Ocean, One Stroke At A Time
    “Roz has managed to stay (mostly) upright in the past nearly four months and headed in essentially the right direction‚ÄĒwinds and currents don‚Äôt always agree with her own hopes and plans‚ÄĒbut there have been highs and lows. While keeping the electrical system alive‚ÄĒwhich allows her to recharge batteries for everything from the water maker to her satellite phone, laptop and iPhone‚ÄĒthe constant wetness puts it continuously at risk. Without electricity, and the ability to blog or call her mother in England, she would be out there even more alone.”

    Re-reading these excerpts in context with what I know about you, and choices I have made along the way, I am convince conclusively that we have free will to decide the intended course of our lives, and how we respond to the unexpected environment through which we navigate. We have free will in how we navigate and negotiate the obstacles that arise. Our ability to respond creatively and to initiate are how we rise above destiny. Destiny might be the unpredictable events over which we have no control. But our inventiveness reflects our personal choice.

    Row inventively, Roz!

    • Uncadog…I agree in many ways that¬† ” we have the free will to decide the intended course of our lives”..BUT only if we happen to have been born into a situation that gives us education, freedom and reasonable health. Those who are blessed with such things are the lucky ones who do¬†then may well enjoy¬† freedom of choice?
      David Church

  • Phew! Well, apparently I have one more day’s pardon ūüôā
    “bring em on.” she says…¬†
    I believe in balance. I believe that the human mind is capable of incalcuable, intangible¬†and immeasurable thoughts and therfore possibilities. I believe in positive and negative energies that form those thoughts and processes. I believe that the human mind can make certain events happen and certain events not happen. These are not often¬†direct or linear junctures. However, I believe that they often shape the events that lead to, the event. I believe in practice and in habit,¬†in physical and¬†logical as well as spiritual¬†realms. I believe in a slow and¬†steady accumulation… and then a tipping point.¬†
    I do not believe in blind destiny. We are participants in our future, balanced somewhere between passive and active roles. I believe we are our own and each others role models. I believe in change and variance.
    I believe saying something is much easier than doing it. But it must be thought first, said next, then written, then done. I believe in leading by example. …and I believe in Roz.
    …of coarse, I also believe in Monty Python and Beer, so not sure exactly how serious to take myself…
    Btw Roz, and only to give you another good story (and not to be boastful, but certainly I’ll take some credit for it) Kasey (my 10 yr old daughter) decided to Not go to Disneyland this year, opting to volunteer at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah¬†instead! By the time you read this she will have spent the night in a tent with a pig (all jokes aside).
    Row Roz Row!
    “If the world were to end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree.” ~MLK

  • The extent of free will and hence life choices¬†is surely limited by when you are born, where you are born and whether or not you are blessed with good health. A starving child with malaria in an African may have the will to be a , for example, world famous psychiatrist. But the freedom to achieve that goal is severely restricted. We in the West (the UK in my case) are blessed with health care and education…both allow an element of freedom to choose…and if the will is there , the sky is the limit?? even with limited resources.¬† So, …sadly, free will is not for all?
    Roz..relish your freedom…(the will part is¬† undoubted!!!)¬†fair ¬†winds and happy currents to speed you on your way ūüôā David Church

  • The irony for me is that the more free we feel, the more traumatised we are….Humans can’t seems to cope with too much choice. Just look at the internet…Amazon continues to grow on the back of filtering goods for people.

    Maybe we need to believe we are free but allow filters, allow some delegation of that freedom so that we are not overwhelmed with choices.

    I wonder…whilst you are rowing in a sense you have less choices available than when on consumerised land….maybe it is that which brings the contentment but also the mental questions…without choices your body is making them up for you!

    Keep rowing, think about you each day…

    • On this same
      line of thought….  Sometimes we are happiest
      when we have made the choice to limit all these excessive choices that surround
      us and realize that we don’t really need them; on the contrary, happiness comes
      from fulfilling basic needs and fully appreciating what we already have.

  • For the last 40 days or so I have looked at this blog in gulps. Not having access to the internet every day has resulted in reading several days worth at a time; that has often meant not looking over the comments in any detail so I’v only been getting half the story. I’ll catch up a bit here. For me Solitary Saturday was early Sunday morning in London waiting for a bus to Heathrow for a flight back home. The full moon broke out from behind the clouds for a few minutes, just enough for me to feel part of the effort. Your efforts have been in my thoughts for part of every day.

    A month in Europe has given me a lot to think about on the environmental front; comparisons of behaviors in the US vs those in Europe. Both sides of the Atlantic have their plusses. Most of them are related to how the different cultures implement “free will”.

    I am not going to get into the philosophy of what free will is and isn’t. I’ll simply say that the freedom of choice we have in the “western world” is largely responsible for where the planet is today. It is the fact that we have been free to chose unsustainable lifestyles that have gotten us here. I am going to turn the commonly quoted Einstein idiom “You can not solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” to a little different end than most have used it in reference to our current environmental dilemma.

    I believe that if we are to solve the problems we face some choices may have to be taken away. There is enough denial of the consequences of unsustainable energy and resource use that too many of us will not limit our choices to ones that create a positive outcome. It may not be enough to push industry and government to make alternatives available. We may need to implement more actions like the ban on incandescent light bulbs in the US to get us to make the more environmentally sound choice. 

    I find it interesting that American auto makers need to be forced to a 35 mpg standard for the cars they sell here, when pretty much everything they sell in Europe gets at least 40 mpg. 

    I’ve rambled enough so I will close by saying that unfettered free will is not going to help us out of our dilemma. We need to engender a whole new level of consciousness in masses of people who have the ability to chose to force “the system” to provide the right choices.

    Thank you Roz for rowing to help raise that consciousness.

    Row on.

  • Hi Roz,

    Destiny is sex, race, religion, the stars born under, mother, father, nationality, wealth or poverty, education, thousands of other environmental influences, and dumb luck. What passes for free will are actions based on years and years of delusion filtered through personal prejudices. What is required for real free will is a minute and exacting self-examination of yourself, your motivations and your views of the universe. Then a conscious attention to day to day life with Buddhist like mindfulness. Only when you can spontaneously take a course of action counter to all the logic of your past programming for reasons that only make sense in hindsight can you make any claim of free will. It may be your chance of becoming the wind is actually a little easier. But you’re doing really well so far.

  • Roz, I have come lately to knowing about and following your progress.¬† I look forward to your posts and pray for your safety.

  • Darn, I wish I remembered to tune in earlier to this
    dialogue invited by Roz…here on the West coast, I don’t remember until I see
    Roz’s daily blog posted around midnight…

    With that said, I am loving both Roz‚Äôs ‚Äúsoup‚ÄĚ she has laid
    on our table this Friday and each of the heartfelt responses…so I guess I will
    throw a few more ingredients into that soup…

    I guess I draw much of my thought about freedom from the
    reality of the Creator (as presented often by North American indigenous folks)…the
    Creator has blessed each of us with the same power‚ÄĒas co-creators inviting us
    to dance with that power that speaks through all of creation… and with
    seemingly a bit more consciousness about our creativity that other creatures,
    we can choose to grasp that creative urge…but how to carry it out? While knowledge
    has its place, I like to think that the fundamental force in our universe is
    love or giving or community (that fundamental urge to live in harmony)…the
    overarching value that we  long for and
    hopefully directs our daily creative urges…so very simply we are invited to the
    dance of life which invites constant creativity, which realistically ebbs and
    flows as we listen ever more carefully to one another and all that surrounds us
    from our neighbor, to the wind, to the water, the sky and that whisper from the
    Creator in our souls that touches our spirits…

    Roz gives no greater example as she carries on her daily
    dance, and creative journey, in many ways unpredictable from moment to moment,
    but focused with a sense of purpose and belief in her special gifts as a rower,
    a thinker and a creator…and in this context the Creator is not concerned with an
    all knowing power, but rather just smiles and whispers and marvels at how all
    creatures great and small dance a whole new day each day‚ÄĒthus a new creation
    story is told every moment of every day… and we bob and weave, bounce and maybe
    fall at times, but sooner or later find that dance rhythm where we choose to
    embrace and cherish each day, the dialogue that it presents, and the movement
    it calls us to ever mindful of our most basic urges to love, to give, and be in
    harmony with our neighbor big and small on this earth and in our universe…so as
    co-creators, freedom is a given as we explore our creative urges we are invited
    to develop and offer and use to build a peaceful and wholesome planet … wew…enough
    said for now…

  • Good morning/afternoon/evening Roz,
    StinsonBeach here.

    If you ever e-mail me that quote is my present signature! Interesting, no?

    Anyway(z) it is not an either/or proposition. Life/reality is an equation. Nothing is or happens in a vacuum…& you are the pivotal point, the nexus, in it all. Without you nothing exists. Oh, we can do the “sophistry dance” on that, but just give it the room it needs to surface & it is beyond question. Allow the paradigm shift & you’ll be surprised at how everything just kind’a falls into place. Ok, enough w/ the BS.

    Hope someday we can have a “pint” at Smiley’s in Bolinas.


  • Hi Roz,
    i’m a bit behind on reading this one but love the
    comments and input.
    The flow from ‘yes we do’ to ‘no we don’t’ to ‘it’s a
    matter of perspective’ and ‘it doesn’t matter’¬†are such great grist to the mill
    that, like UncaDoug, i could ponder this for an awful long time and decide that
    i simply don’t know.
    Which i don’t. Nor do i think that anyone else does.
    Or that it matters Рbut it does matter whether we each individually think that
    it does because our actions day-to-day will often hinge on our approach to this
    question (think suicide bombers to philanthropical benefactors). And it is the
    combination of individual and group actions that determines our reality. Any
    thinking that attempts to separate us as individuals from a society context is
    doomed to fail at some level, as we do not exist in a vacuum (no, not even you
    Roz, rowing in the middle of a vast ocean). And so i probably fall into Eric’s
    camp of seeing activity as more important than attitudes.  
    The question of free will is filled with so many
    conundrums that it is quite possibly one of the best imponderable ever devised
    by philosophical theologians, and that is the context in which i interpret the
    question. It is one posed either by those arguing for a religion or spiritual
    approach – or those arguing against either of these outlooks. Thus i see the
    question itself as being not so much irrelevant, as redundant.
    It becomes
    redundcant if we each attempted
    to know ourselves as individuals, and to judge our worth on the impact
    our activities have on the entire human
    race. If we are predestined to follow a
    given pathway then every person acting in this way will turn out to have been following the correct pathway. If it turns out that we have
    complete free will then it would be handy to interpret that free will from a far
    wider perspective than our immediate
    Personally, i am incredibly comfortable in seeing
    human existence as a temporary accident on a irrelevant rock in a boring corner
    of the Universe. One that can be wondrous, horrific, exciting, fulfilling or
    despondently hurtful depending on the
    accidental circumstance of your birth,
    family, health and demographic. To that extent i totally agree with
    Eglise and somewhat with Thomas F Brown but Rocky has me navel-gazing to the
    tune of that “if a tree falls in the forest does anyone hear” song. i guess it is a¬†question for a different Friday¬†as to
    whether the world exists independently of our awareness of
    But¬†hey, i’ve
    been wrong before so i’m all for¬†predestination,
    Monty Python and beer washed down with a four-book Douglas Adams trilogy. And
    maybe¬†Pascal’s¬†Wager as a finisher. ¬†

  • “And this, I think, is why some things feel like destiny. It seems as if
    everything in our lives has been preparing us for this course of action.
    We can’t quite believe how perfectly it fits us. But the fit is perfect
    precisely because, subconsciously, we have created it ourselves.”

    This is the most profound and wonderful thing I have fresh in my mind. Roz, you have just pinged a lightbulb; a consciousness towards my own destiny. The irony being that ‘I can’t quite believe how perfectly your comment fits’ where I am. Of course!

    Sorry that I have only caught this blog upon completion of your epic adventure. But you see, you’re still doing it even when you’re not doing it!

    Congratulations on every stroke.

  • no matter what you choose, it was designed by how your were raised and your personal influences and experiences. You don’t really choose, you already made the choice when you were 10 years old and that lady said “BLAH BLAH BLAH” and you saw the little girl across from you cry… or because captain crunch ripped your mouth apart… every decision you will ever make is based on something from your past. that’s not choosing. We have no free will. And if you choose to go against your “typical” decision making process, that too is based on your experience. It just means you were destined to challenge yourself, or the universe. It means nothing. Except that you have no free will ūüėČ haha

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