Ph.D. Dissertation

I defended my dissertation in October 2005 and graduated with a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. For my fieldwork I traveled to Chile, prepared the equipment, materials, and supplies I would need for a year alone in the wilderness, and hitched a ride with the Chilean Navy to a tiny remote island on Chile's extreme southern coast -10 hours by water from the nearest settlement. I built a shelter and lived in solitude for the next year - seeing people only once. I journaled daily to record my inner and outer experience. My dissertation is based on my journal and is a first person narrative of the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual effects of deep wilderness solitude. Woven between the months of the journal are interlude essays which contextualize the retreat historically, academically and culturally.

I've posted the dissertation abstract below, and the complete dissertation can be downloaded or read online by following the link. The video and the photographs used in the slideshow, both of which are components of the dissertation, can be found as Photo Galleries and as Solitude Video under the Solitude Project menu. The dissertation appendices give lists of supplies, equipment, and expenses. I hope you enjoy the journey, and I would enjoy hearing how the dissertation touches you. Bob

PDF of full Dissertation (5MB)  - Requires Adobe Reader, click here to download


This dissertation is part of an ongoing exploration of who I am and what it means to be alive. It is an account of one man who lives alone for a year in the wilderness and reflects on his experience. A research question - What are the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual effects of deep wilderness solitude? - motivates and shapes the work.

I develop an innovative methodology of vigilant mindfulness combined with radically honest journal keeping and narrative writing to examine and document my own lived experience in solitude. I extend interdisciplinarity and integrate spiritual practice with academic study, and I share my work with the non-academic community. During the year in solitude I discovered unexpected answers of the heart that emerged gradually through daily living. The more deeply I trusted the process of living and accepted the world and myself as we actually are, the more joy, peace, and wonder I experienced. I believe humans often act in ecologically destructive ways because we are experientially alienated from the natural systems that sustain us. Solitude can catalyze transformations in consciousness that might lead to more sustainable behaviour.

Broadly, a thesis is an invitation to reflect on something from a particular point of view. I use personal narrative to evoke an experience of wilderness solitude and to invite the reader to reflect on how our culture experiences the non-human world, on how we experience ourselves and each other, and on the relationship between direct experience, intuition, insight, and conceptual knowledge. Rather than write only about solitude, I use my edited daily journal to speak directly to the reader from solitude. Reflective essays frame the journal entries, explore various themes relevant to my lived experience, and place my research in a cultural and academic context. Two DVDs contain a movie recorded in the wilderness and a video recording of a public slideshow in which I describe my year in solitude. The recordings bring visual and auditory layers to the dissertation, and the post slideshow discussion adds an interactive element.