– Bruce Long
Many Ancient Greek Philosophers were peripatetic: they would walk about a lot whilst thinking, and whilst talking, and whilst arguing, and whilst – thinking some more. The Peripatetic school was founded by Aristotle. It was an actual school of philosophy – which the Greeks were apt to establish as a general rule in their spare time, and lots of other times. Academies were central to the philosophical life of Athens and Ancient Greece.
Now, with the current available data from neuroscience and the health sciences about the benefits of walking for our general health and wellbeing – especially our cognitive health and neurological health – the practice of the Peripatos is prescient. I tis not the first time that Greek philosophers have been amazing with their prescience and insight. The earliest heliocentric theory of the solar system was not that of Copernicus – but came from the amazing Aristarchus of Samos. We have records of Aristarchus only in the writings of Plato, but his theory is thereby verified. It only has to be stated to be amazing.
So was the brilliance and strength of the Greeks due to the peripatetic habits of their philosophers, statesmen, and educators? If current findings about the neurological benefits of a good walk are anything to go by – then perhaps they really did have a way of gaining insight that has been lost to us. Perhaps Aristotle was just as surpassingly brilliant as we think he was.
In any case – there is an obvious overlap here with the philosophy and praxis of urban planning. Recent research in Japan connects the increased longevity and healthy lifespan of Japanese people to consumption of fish and tofu, and also to the fact that all Japanese children walk to school. Recent data from studies about what is important for the health and wellbeing of inhabitants of planned urban and city spaces strongly indicates the importance of greenspace, convenience of access to infrastructure for saving personal time, shortening or elimination of commute times, and walking distance environments that allow all destinations to be reached by walking throughout the day.
The objective is to achieve a highly connected or permeable set of connections between locations of interest and necessity. The upshot is that walking throughout the day adds up to a good exercise routine, and is cognitively and psychologically healthy also. What better thing to think about when walking between urban locations than the philosophy of urban planning and how it benefits people – or perhaps to imagine Aristotle and Aristarchus walking with one and discussing the via contemplativa (the life of contemplation).