Following his teacher Plato’s emphasis on virtues of physical activity, Aristotle walked with his students up and down the main avenue of his academy while teaching and discussing. Descartes preferred to reflect lying in bed until late in the morning.
ARISTOTLE: Still in bed, lazy bones! It’s half-eleven. Get up, young man. Let’s go out for a walk. I believe in thought and sweat in equal measures.
DESCARTES: Non, non, cher philosophe. My ethereal mind is the essence of my very being, not my bodily senses. I think, therefore I am.
D: It’s Greek to me.
A: The evil effects of a sedentary life are also Greek to you. For starters, it leads to depression. Tell me, young man, why did in sixteen-something you decided not to publish your book, Le monde? Publishers reluctant to give you a hefty advance? Or, were they scared of your discourse on the Copernicus’ heretical idea that the earth is not the centre of the cosmos and moves around the sun. You could have at least self-published an ethereal e-book. A kind of book right up your alley.
D: I do believe in Copernicus, and his view of the heavens is far worldlier than yours. Sure, my heart sank when I heard that under the threat of torture Galileo had recanted his belief in Copernicus. Wouldn’t you be crushed by the image of a frail old man of seventy dressed in a white gown of penitence kneeling before the awful tribunal of the Inquisition?
A: Disturbing image indeed, but not devastating. Depression dulled your mind, and you stopped believing in the truth.
D: Absolument pas. I was convinced of the truth of the Copernican doctrine as I was of my existence. But I had no desire to become a martyr like Giordano Bruno and burned alive at stake for publishing my treatise.
A: A weak decision, young man, no doubt made when lying in bed. My lived experience—not your lying-in-bed kind of experience—tells me that if you had got out of the bed and gone for a long, brisk walk along the canals near your house, the exercise would have pulled you out of your funk. You might have been as courageous as Galileo. When he rose from his knees, he stamped his foot on the ground and muttered under his breath, “And yet it moves.”
D: O philosophe!
A: It’s my personal experience that when I walk with students, they learn faster. Exercise energizes the brain to fire up chemicals that dull pain, lighten the mood, and relieve stress. You can experience this state of bliss only when exercising, not lying in bed.
D: I would rather trust Hippocrates’ medicine chest more than exercise.
A: Well, then binge on Big Macs while in bed and you might upstage Trump in tweeting your brainwork to the world. Like you, he never exercises and tweets his philosophy in pyjamas: I tweet, therefore I am.
D: Still his “evidence-based” tweets drive the news cycle, and their unpredictability is far more fun than the rehearsed utterances of other leaders.
A: Only in a world dumbed down by lazy tweets. If Trump walks five miles before hitting the send button, his country would be great as before. Walking leads to more creative thinking than sitting. As Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”
D: If one applies your silly syllogism to this Nietzsche guy’s saying: Walking boosts creativity. Trump walks regularly. Therefore, Trump is creative. Huh!
A: What’s good for the body is good for the brain. Exercise gets your heart pumping more blood, thus increasing the body’s use of oxygen. More oxygen makes the brain perform better. Your mind is what your brain does. But your dualism—the distinction between the mental and the physical—can not accept it. Can it?
D (getting out of the bed slowly): You mean I would have helped generations if I had said, I walk, think; therefore I am.
A: I see Pluto stoking his beard and whispering: the time we spend sitting is more harmful to the body than the time we spend exercising.
D: I walk, think, stand; therefore I am. Let’s take a turn about the room, mon cher philosophe.
A: Who is the old cobber out there scribing this dialogue?
© Surendra Verma 2017