Biology of the Blogger


Que Sera, Sera

Are our fates up to us or are they out of our control? Most people would agree that there are some things we can control and some we can’t. As Tolstoy wrote, “a being uninfluenced by the external world, standing outside of time and independent of cause, is no longer a man. In the same way we can never imagine the action of a man quite devoid of freedom and entirely subject to the law of inevitability.” However, strict determinists would say that “free will” does not actually exist – that all of our actions are dependent on variables completely outside of our control – such as our DNA, where we were born, when we were born, education, who are parents were etc . . .

The last several chapters of “War and Peace” are actually a philosophical discussion by Tolstoy about free will. In the end he declares that the control that the outside world has on our own actions is similar to the motion of the earth – we do not feel the earth move and yet using math and reason we find that it does move. To claim man has free will feels right – just as claiming that the earth is immobile seems right – because we don’t feel the earth moving. But both conclusions are wrong because if they were correct, they would break laws that we know to be true.

It’s interesting that he ends there. Obviously there are many moral consequences of that attitude. For example, can anyone be held “responsible” for committing a crime if free will doesn’t exist? Why make any kind of an “effort” in life if I’m not really responsible for what happens to me? From what I remember of my philosophy classes, the argument is that eventually you will get hungry or have some other kind of desire. And in order to be fed or clothed you will need to take some kind of action. As for criminals – we all want to live in a world that’s relatively safe and where there is justice – therefore, even if free will doesn’t exist we still need to hold people accountable.

So what’s putting me into this rather fatalistic mood? It appears as though my fall on the bike last Sunday is going to keep me from racing at Kansas. My shoulder is still so sore that I can’t sleep on my left side – so, there’s no way I can swim 1.2 miles. I tried to run on Wednesday and even my hip tightened up.

Luckily I’ve had a pretty decent spring with my running races – so it’s not like all of my competitive eggs were in one basket. It’s a bummer for sure – but with everything that’s happened over the last year it’s not that big of a deal.

Next week I start a six-week Anatomy refresher – so that I can have a better chance of success in the Fall. In the end – running and triathlons are hobbies. In my case, they might be hobbies that border on obsession at times, but I recognize that there are things that are much more important in my life – even more important than whether I become a PA – like my relationships with my family and friends.

There was a time 3-4 months ago where it seemed like the foundations of my life were crumbling. I would not want to recreate or go through that again. However, the whole experience has taught me what is strong in my life – both internally and externally.

Fate seems strongest when either something really good happens or really bad happens. In both cases we think about how much luck contributes to our condition. But the same uncontrollable causal elements are acting on us every day – we are just less likely to think about them on a daily basis. Just as we don’t normally think about the movement of the earth as we take the trash out.

So, I’m going to take this time of being injured to see if there are any lessons I can learn. If nothing else it will remind me to be thankful when I’m healthy again.

From Ben’s Running/Triathlon Blog

Tune into this week’s Biology of the Blog for more from runner Ben Ingram!