A Philosophy of Walking, 1-4
1. What has introduced an invasive "sporting spirit" to the child's play of walking?
2. What does Gros say we escape from, by walking?
3. How did Nietzsche's walks differ from Kant's?
4. How does an expedition change our concept of "outside"?
- Walking is not a sport, but it once was. "For several decades in the later nineteenth century, the favorite spectator sport in America was watching people walk in circles inside big buildings." * Comments?
- "We do not belong to those who have ideas only among books," said Nietzsche, "it is our habit to think outdoors." Do you find your own indoor thoughts more bookish, your outdoor thoughts more natural and free? Do we need more practice during class, to notice the difference?
- Do you find that a long walk (hike, bikeride, or some other personally-functional equivalent) makes you feel more yourself, or less like a self at all?
- Yours please
19-Secrets of the Heavens: Plato, Galileo, and the New Science
1. Plato's realm of geometry and number is called what?
2. What Aristotelian assumption was contradicted in October 1604?
3. Why didn't Bruno doubt Copernicus's proposition that the Earth moved?
4. What made Galileo a Protestant hero?
- "The Bible tells us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go." 335 Why don't all two-world religions accept this and refrain from making insupportable claims about the natural world, in an age of science? Will they have to, eventually?
- How is the "perpetual struggle between Plato and Aristotle" (327) related to the struggle between reason and religion? Can the former be resolved in such a way that the latter disappears?
- "Even when Galileo gave them his telescope... they refused to look." 332 Are there any contemporary analogues of people refusing to risk contamination by the evidence? How would you persuade them to peek (as it were) through the telescope?
- "The Platonist knows appearances can deceive..." 333 So does the conscientious Aristotelian, o course. Does the Platonist also know that reality can elude even the most dedicated search? How do you immunize yourself against dogmatism and false certainty?
- "For Bruno, the earth was a living being." 335 Did he anticipate the modern Gaia Hypothesis? Is it mysticism, or just an expansive (or metaphorical?) naturalism?
- Yours please
I'm a big NDT fan, but all great men have their limitations. His is that he doesn't adequately appreciate philosophy's complementary role in interpreting science's larger social significance. He's not alone, of course. "Why are so many smart people such idiots about philosophy?" Tyson's pal Bill Nye recently got his comeuppance on that score, and laudably is working to reeducate himself.
Their mentor Sagan was entirely respectful and appreciative of the historical and continuing relevance of philosophy (hence, The Varieties of Scientific Experience).
- Comment: "Government by popular consent is not just a good idea, as it was for Aristotle and Ockham. For Locke, it is an inescapable law of nature." 361
- Comment: "In the Newtonian world, the earth was a minor planet of a not specially distinguished star; astronomical distances were so vast that the earth, in comparison, was a mere pin-point. It seemed unlikely that this immense apparatus was all designed for the good of certain small creatures on this pin-point. Moreover purpose, which had since Aristotle formed an intimate part of the conception of science, was now thrust out of scientific procedure... And as for damnation, surely the Creator of so vast a universe had something better to think about than sending men to hell for minute theological errors." Bertrand Russell
- Was Francis Bacon an early enabler of environmental plunder and human alienation, with his talk of "putting Nature on the rack"? 344
- What's your view of Descartes' "ghosts in the machine" and/or tbe omnipotent Legislator? 345-6
- Do you understand Newton's God? Can you explain His ubiquity (how He "endures and is present always and everywhere")? Do you think Newton could? 348
- If 17th century European politics was impoverished by its obsession with "a single man," (351) is ours similarly impoverished by too much focus on the personalities of politicians (rather than political policies, programs, and movements)?
- Is it possible to affirm something more like Locke's vision of the social contract than Hobbes's or Rousseau's, while at the same time rejecting his commitment to "inescapable" laws of nature? Does Locke's toleration extend to those who do?
- Comment: "What Locke says is that a prudent man will act in such and such ways, since otherwise God will punish him; but he leaves us completely in the dark as to why punishment should be attached to certain acts rather than to their opposites." Bertrand Russell
- Yours please
John Locke... Thomas Hobbes...
He walked much and contemplated, and he had in the head of his cane a pen and ink-horn, carried always a note-book in his pocket, and as soon as a thought darted, he presently entered it into his book, or otherwise he might perhaps have lost it. He had drawn the design of the book into chapters etc so he knew whereabout it would come in. Thus that book was made... He rose about seven, had his breakfast of bread and butter; and took his walk, meditating till ten; then he did put down the minutes of his thoughts. He had an inch thick board about sixteen inches square, whereon paper was pasted. On this board he drew his lines (schemes). When a line came into his head, he would, as he was walking, take a rude memorandum of it, to preserve it in his memory till he came to his chamber. He was never idle; his thoughts were always working... In the afternoon he penned his morning thoughts. Exercises. Besides his daily walking, he did twice or thrice a year play at tennis (at about 75 he did, it); then went to bed there and was well rubbed. This he did believe would make him live two or three years the longer. In the country, for want of a tennis court, he would walk up hill and down hill in the park, till he was in a great sweat, and then give the servant some money to rub him... Singing. He had always books of prick-song lying on his table - e.g. of H. Lawes', etc, Songs - which at night, when he was abed, and the doors made fast, and was sure nobody heard him, he sang aloud (not that he had a very good voice, but for his health's sake); he did believe it did his lungs good and conduced much to prolong his life. A Brief Life of Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1679 by John Aubrey==
Nice little conversation, but these guys are a bit stiff. They need to move it.
JK's review: http://www.nomadicsojourns.com/bookan... Shaun's take on the book: http://mantlethought.org/content/pen-... The Mantle: www.mantlethought.org
What we do when we walk. By Adam Gopnik
Why people walk is a hard question that looks easy. Upright bipedalism seems such an obvious advantage from the viewpoint of those already upright that we rarely see its difficulty. In the famous diagram, Darwinian man unfolds himself from frightened crouch to strong surveyor of the ages, and it looks like a natural ascension: you start out bending over, knuckles dragging, timidly scouring the ground for grubs, then you slowly straighten up until there you are, staring at the skies and counting the stars and thinking up gods to rule them. But the advantages of walking have actually been tricky to calculate. One guess among the evolutionary biologists has been that a significant advantage may simply be that walking on two legs frees up your hands to throw rocks at what might become your food—or to throw rocks at other bipedal creatures who are throwing rocks at what might become their food. Although walking upright seems to have preceded throwing rocks, the rock throwing, the biologists point out, is rarer than the bipedalism alone, which we share with all the birds, including awkward penguins and ostriches, and with angry bears. Meanwhile, the certainty of human back pain, like the inevitability of labor pains, is evidence of the jury-rigged, best-solution-at-hand nature of evolution.
Over time, though, things we do for a purpose, however obscure in origin, become things we do for pleasure, particularly when we no longer have to do them. As we do them for pleasure, they get attached either to a philosophy or to the pursuit of some profit. Two new accounts of this process have recently appeared, and although they occasionally make you want to throw things, they both illuminate what it means to be a pedestrian in the modern world.
Matthew Algeo’s “Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport” (Chicago Review) is one of those books which open up a forgotten world so fully that at first the reader wonders, just a little, if his leg is being pulled. How could there be an account this elaborate—illustrated with sober handbills, blaring headlines, starchy portrait photographs, and racy newspaper cartoons—of an enthusiasm this unknown? But it all happened. For several decades in the later nineteenth century, the favorite spectator sport in America was watching people walk in circles inside big buildings... (continues)
WHY WALKING HELPS US THINK. By Ferris Jabr
In Vogue’s 1969 Christmas issue, Vladimir Nabokov offered some advice for teaching James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: “Instead of perpetuating the pretentious nonsense of Homeric, chromatic, and visceral chapter headings, instructors should prepare maps of Dublin with Bloom’s and Stephen’s intertwining itineraries clearly traced.” He drew a charming one himself. Several decades later, a Boston College English professor named Joseph Nugent and his colleagues put together an annotated Google map that shadows Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom step by step. The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, as well as students at the Georgia Institute of Technology, have similarly reconstructed the paths of the London amblers in “Mrs. Dalloway.”
Such maps clarify how much these novels depend on a curious link between mind and feet. Joyce and Woolf were writers who transformed the quicksilver of consciousness into paper and ink. To accomplish this, they sent characters on walks about town. As Mrs. Dalloway walks, she does not merely perceive the city around her. Rather, she dips in and out of her past, remolding London into a highly textured mental landscape, “making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh.”
Since at least the time of peripatetic Greek philosophers, many other writers have discovered a deep, intuitive connection between walking, thinking, and writing. (In fact, Adam Gopnik wrote about walking in The New Yorker just two weeks ago.) “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!” Henry David Thoreau penned in his journal. “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Thomas DeQuincey has calculated that William Wordsworth—whose poetry is filled with tramps up mountains, through forests, and along public roads—walked as many as a hundred and eighty thousand miles in his lifetime, which comes to an average of six and a half miles a day starting from age five.
What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them... (continues)
An old post-
Friday, July 10, 2015
Whitman and Proust
6:30/5:39, 72/95. Podcast
Birthday of Calvin and Proust. Two more disparate human types would be hard to yoke. One championing our Total Depravity, claiming infants enter the world already damned; the other luxuriating in the sensual subjective experience of memory and longing. I have no use at all for the TULIP-planter. But Proust, despite our popular image of him tucked away writing in his cork-lined chamber, was actually a peripatetic. There are passages in Memory of Things Past that illustrate the accuracy of a quote the brainpicker featured yesterday:
Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. When we stroll, the pace of our feet naturally vacillates with our moods and the cadence of our inner speech; at the same time, we can actively change the pace of our thoughts by deliberately walking more briskly or by slowing down.
Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre. This is precisely the kind of mental state that studies have linked to innovative ideas and strokes of insight...
Perhaps the most profound relationship between walking, thinking, and writing reveals itself at the end of a stroll, back at the desk. There, it becomes apparent that writing and walking are extremely similar feats, equal parts physical and mental. When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps. Likewise, writing forces the brain to review its own landscape, plot a course through that mental terrain, and transcribe the resulting trail of thoughts by guiding the hands. Walking organizes the world around us; writing organizes our thoughts. How walking helps us think.
French philosopher Frederic Gros's bestselling (in France, of course) A Philosophy of Walking struck one reviewer as missing the distaff half. Gros's subjects are "various thinkers for whom walking was central to their work –Nietzsche, Rimbaud,Kant, Rousseau, Thoreau (they're all men; it's unclear if women don't walk or don't think)..." Well, women have always walked and thought. Dorothy Wordsworth and Jane Austen spring instantly to mind, among Brits. Over here, Margaret Fuller probably walked with Emerson and Thoreau. More recently, Annie Dillard, Rebecca Solnit, Cheryl Strayed... Put this on your research list, S: find us some more walking/writing/thinking women.
I've resisted reading Gros, fearing to discover that he'd scooped me and my dilatory Philosophy Walks project. But if this passage and the reviewer's response is any indication, Gros's take on the subject is not at all like mine.
Rousseau says in his Confessions, when you walk all is possible. Your future is as open as the sky in front of you. And if you walk several hours, you can escape your identity. There is a moment when you walk several hours that you are only a body walking. Only that. You are nobody. You have no history. You have no identity. You have no past. You have no future. You are only a body walking.I've walked a lot over the decades, but I've never walked entirely away from my identity and my history. Or ours. I've never been only a body walking, or an Emersonian "transparent eyeball" either.
Poor Professor Gros "started to look depressed. So, you don't manage to walk much on a day-to-day basis?" What? The philosopher of walking is sedentary?! He definitely should get a dog.
Looks like I'm going to have to write my book. Monsieur Gros has not written it.
I tweeted earlier that the real world awaits our discovery, but should of course have pluralized the statement: there are realities and worlds, new horizons (not just Pluto's) to scope out, implying or at least intending a critique of deconstructionist heavy textuality.
I don't have the time or the patience to work that up, and there doubtless are moves the other side in the postmod-decon language game would make if I did. I'm no expert on that. The whole discussion/debate feels so 'eighties, so Grad School. (I do see the Rorty Society's new call for papers has been issued.)
But the point I want to punch right now, the textual proposition I want to punctuate, is simply that when I go walking, pedaling, and swimming (okay, floating mostly) each morning I'm also looking for real worlds and new horizons. Or refreshed and renewed horizons, minimally. The fact that I almost always entertain some problematic discursive query or concern while in motion, for a fraction of that time anyway, does not alter the fact that a key element of the total experience feels light and non-discursive, in a very good way.
So, my philosophy of walking denies the dichotomy between working and recreating, the dualism of discoursing and experiencing that I think I read in Frederic Gros. I need now to go back and re-read his Thoreau section, with the question before me: does he also take from Henry what I do, viz., a sense of walking as a form of life that straddles the worlds of text and experience? Again, I must pluralize. Texts, experiences, realities are my quarry, not just words and verbal constructs. Something there is, Horatio (and Jacques), that is not merely dreamed up and written in your philosophy texts. That's one of the implications of "more day to dawn."
If I'm right, I must of course use words and texts to tell you about it. That's where this language game gets so tricky, and it's why I'm always wondering about the pre- and post-poetic experience of poets. A poet is, ex hypothesi, a textualizer who draws from a well deeper than words. We all do that, good poets just do it with greater sub-surface dexterity.
If these words mean anything, they mean something real. If real means anything, it means something extra-verbal. That I must use words to point that out and you must use them to take my point may be funny and ironic, but it's not deconstructive. Is it?
We crave only reality
I may have been hasty in detecting deconstructionist tendencies in Frederic Gros's Philosophy of Walking. Overtly at least, he's on the side of immediate experience and reality, against that of the Derridean overtextualizers. Or so it appears, given his sympathetic rendition of Thoreau's famous "rocks in place" declaration of independence from tradition, convention, and cultural inertia. Honest writing must first acknowledge the truth of the writer's own experience. If he cannot tap that well, he has no business writing. "How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."
Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d'appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business. Walden, "Where I Lived and What I Lived For"