Walking. It can seem, well, rather pedestrian.
But my guest today makes the case that walking can act as a gateway to explore memory, meaning, and what it means to be human. His name is Erling Kagge, he’s an adventurer and philosopher, and we had him on the show last year to discuss his book Silence (that’s episode 433). Erling’s latest book is called Walking, and we begin our conversation discussing the connection between bipedal locomotion and silence and how walking instead of driving can help slow down time and deepen our memories. Erling makes the case that embracing voluntary hardship can enrich your life and how walking can be a step towards that. He then shares why going for a walk can help you solve problems, why most great philosophers were also committed walkers, what the Adam and Eve story can teach us about the need for exploration, and how walking can be one of the most radical things you can do in the modern age.
You’ll want to take a walk after listening to this show, or maybe you’ll walk while you’re listening.
- How walking changes our sense of time as compared to other modes of transportation
- What Erling’s walk to the South Pole taught him about time and perception
- Why you should intentionally make life a little more challenging
- Why convenience isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
- The unnerving statistics about how little the average person moves throughout the day
- Other famous philosopher-walkers in history
- The connection between walking and analytic thinking
- How GPS messes with our brain and navigation skills
- The value of getting lost
- Using walking as a transition point — daily, weekly, seasonally
- What you can learn about a person from how they walk
- What Adam and Eve can teach us about walking and being human
- Why happiness doesn’t mean what you think it does (and the value of pain)
- Erling’s walking recommendations
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- The Adventure of Silence (my first interview with Erling)
- The Magic of Walking at Night
- It Is Solved by Walking
- 7 Ways to Love the Place You Live
- Be a Time Wizard: How to Slow Down and Speed Up Time
- More Footage: Take the “Do Something New Every Day” Challenge
- You May Be Strong . . . But Are You Tough?
- George Mallory
- Call for a New Strenuous Age
- The Tyranny of Convenience
- Hiking With Nietzsche
- Socrates on the Importance of Physical Fitness
- How Navigation Makes Us Human
- 7 Reasons You Should Keep a Paper Map in Your Glovebox
- Arne Naess
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Recorded on ClearCast.io
Listen ad-free on Stitcher Premium; get a free month when you use code “manliness” at checkout.
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Walking can seem, well, rather pedestrian, but my guest today makes the case that walking can act as a gateway to explore memory, meaning, and what it means to be human. His name’s Erling Kagge. He’s an adventurer and philosopher. We had him on the show last year to discuss his book, Silence. That’s episode number 433 if you want to check that out. Erling’s latest book is called Walking. We begin our conversation discussing the connection between bipedal locomotion and silence, and how walking instead of driving can help slow down time and deepen our memories. Erling makes the case that embracing voluntary hardship can enrich your life and how walking can be a step towards that.
He then shares why going for a walk can help you solve problems, why most great philosophers we’re also committed walkers, what the Adam and Eve story can teach us about the need for exploration, and how walking can be one of the most radical things you can do in the modern age. You’ll want to take a walk after listening to this show or maybe you’ll walk while you’re listening. Either way, after it’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/walking. Erling joins me now via clearcast.io.
All right. Erling Kagge, welcome back to the show.
Erling Kagge: Thank you, Brett. Thank you.
Brett McKay: So we had you on last year to talk about your book, Silence. You got a new book out called Walking: One Step at a Time. How is this book, Walking, a continuation of your thoughts in your book, Silence?
Erling Kagge: I think it very much is … A few years ago, I walked alone to the South Pole for 50 days and nights under the midnight sun. I was the first in history. In absolutely total silence. Silence is as abstract as walking is concrete, and it’s very much about inner silence. And somehow, walking and silence belong together.
Brett McKay: Well a lot of times, people, when they’re walking, they’re not at the South Pole like you were. They’re surrounded by traffic, dogs, neighbors. But do you still think there’s a silence going on even when you’re walking around in a busy city neighborhood?
Erling Kagge: Absolutely. It doesn’t have to be. Somehow, I think in a noisy city or a noisy daily life, you need to invent your own silence. You can’t wait for silence to come to you. And I think by walking, it’s so much easier to find this in the silence compared to sitting down or looking into a screen.
Brett McKay: Well, one of the interesting things you start off talking about in the book with walking is that it can change our sense of time compared to when we drive, or like on a bus, or train, or airplane. So what happens? What do you think happens when we walk? How does it slow down or speed up time?
Erling Kagge: Somehow time passes much more quickly when you increase your speed of travel. And somehow, when you speed up, if in a car, it’s like time narrows in. And when you slow down when you walk, it’s like time is expanding.
Brett McKay: And it’s counterintuitive because we think, “Oh, well if I can get some place faster, I’ll have more time to do the things I want to do.” But that’s not the case. I mean, in sort of lived experience, like phenomenology, right? You get there fast but then you still feel like, “I had no time. That just went by so fast.” But if you take a walk, it seems to prolong the experience.
Erling Kagge: Exactly. And I think that’s something everybody who walks … that’s the experience everybody don’t share. That’s kind of the great secret all walkers share. That time is prolonged when they walk. It’s like a time machine. And of course, mathematically, what you said is true that if you drive instead of walking, you save time. My experience somehow in real life is absolutely the opposite. When I speed up, I don’t experience anything, everything’s in a rush, and then I eventually get to the place that I want to go to, I don’t have any memories. Nothing happened. But when I walk the same distance, I see things, I listen, I smell things, the environment is changing much more slowly, and it’s enriching my life.
Brett McKay: So walking can not only prolong your life because it helps your health, right? So it’ll help you live to old age. But it can actually make you feel, like on a mental level, an emotional level that your life is longer.
Erling Kagge: Yeah, absolutely. As I said, obviously, if you walk a lot, you will live longer, you will have a more healthy life, your heart will beat in a better way, your lungs works better, you sleep better at night. That’s only half the truth. And my kids, they kept on asking me when they were small … I have three daughters. They kept on asking me, “Dad, why do you have to walk when it’s so much faster to drive?” And that’s a very good question. And I found it very difficult to come up with good answers to that question. And I tried to tell them all these health benefits, but of course that’s only boring to kids. So that’s one of the reasons I sat down to write this book, to write about what kind of wonders your feet can do to you. And it’s kind of a little mystery because in each foot, you have these 26 bones, 33 joints, some more than a hundred tendons. And somehow those feet can become your best friends.
Brett McKay: So you walked to the South Pole. It took you 50 days. Did it feel longer than 50 days? Did it feel like you were there for eternity? I mean that-
Erling Kagge: Yeah, this kind of strange feeling that, on one way you feel like you are there for eternity, and at the same time, you also feel that it’s just this kind of tiny second of your whole life. So somehow, time really doesn’t matter. You’re kind of beyond time when you walk to the South Pole. And that’s not only when I walked to the South Pole. It’s also, sometimes when I’ll do a little bit outdoors here in Norway, and I think you could do it anywhere in the world, that for a few minutes, hours, or maybe some days you escape time, which is a beautiful feeling.
Brett McKay: So related to prolonging this sense that our life is longer, related to that is this idea that walking can deepen memories. And you mentioned a little bit of why you think that is. When you walk, you smell things, you see things, you hear things that you otherwise wouldn’t smell, hear, or see when you’re driving in a car.
Erling Kagge: Exactly. You have this strange bond between slowness and memory, and between speed and forgetting. And I think that’s … just when you walk in the streets, I have a high pace, and I have forgotten something, then I slow down to try to remember what I have forgotten. Or you’re kind of wandering, like if you’re going to walk to the right, or the left, or straight ahead, then you’ll also slow down to kind of focus. So the higher the speed, somehow the less intelligent you are in the present moment and also, you’re forgetting faster and also I think comes down to feelings. Like when I try to walk away from a problem or forget a problem, I speed up to try to forget, but when I walk slowly, somehow I can digest those feelings and go through those feelings.
Brett McKay: I’ve had that same experience. It’s hard for me to remember car rides with my kids, but I can remember walks that I took with them in my neighborhood or on some hiking trail quite vividly. And what we’ve been talking about really reminds me of research that says when you do novel things, time slows down, because your brain pays more attention and takes more footage of what’s going on around you and that makes the memory seem longer because there’s more footage to unspool later. So that would be the case when you take a walk. You’re experiencing more stimuli that you wouldn’t if you’re in the seat of your same old car just whizzing through the landscape.
Erling Kagge: Yeah, exactly. And I think that’s also about what you just talked about also, to make your life feel longer. Because of course, if you always have a high speed, always doing the same things, driving, looking onto screens, different screens on the PC or you telephone, you’re into social media, checking the news all the time, then it will feel like life is short. And I’m 56 years old so I tend to go to these different birthdays, people turning 60, or 80, or 90 or so, and at least one will do a speech and talk about life being short and all these days, weeks, and years, and they didn’t really understand that was life. And I think it’s a bit sad and it’s about missing this huge opportunity to live a rich life. And then again, as I said, if you sometimes walk through different things, slow down, live a little bit more in the present, not thinking too much, because when you’re thinking, you’re thinking about the past or the future, then life feels slow and life is long.
Brett McKay: So in our last conversation about your book, Silence, you talked about this idea of injecting or putting in voluntary hardship into our lives. So let’s do a refresher. Why do you think it’s important that we do that? And then the follow up question to that is how can walking do that?
Erling Kagge: I’m talking as a Norwegian when I talk about the importance of making life more difficult than necessary. Obviously, if I had been born in poverty in Sudan, it would have been differently. And life is already very difficult. But if you’re born in Norway or many places in the States, you really don’t have to do anything in life, in the sense that you hardly even have to get out of bed in the morning. And mountaineer, George Mallory, who tried to climb Mount Everest in the 1920s, when he was asked, “Why do you want to climb Everest?” he famously replied, “Because it’s there.”
And I think that’s a very good answer because I think what he had in mind was that you really don’t need to climb Everest. You don’t really need to do anything in life. You can always choose the easiest option. I like quite often … and I have to choose between two things, the not very easiest. But that’s quite often mistake because then you also live like an unfree human being because your life is so predestined that you always do the easiest part. And if you’re going to live a free life, you need to process time and you need to choose the most difficult options in life. And when I look on my life, I think it’s almost all the great fun, all excitement that I have been doing, all great experiences in life that have been due to me choosing the most difficult to the easiest option.
Brett McKay: Right, so it’s going back to that idea of memory and prolonging your sense of life. Doing hard things can add to that.
Erling Kagge: Exactly. Because you can sit all day looking onto your phone, but you won’t experience anything. You’re not going to fulfill any of your potentials. If you do the opposite, make life a little bit more difficult, to get up to do a walk … and of course the walk is a little bit more difficult usually than to drive or sit down. But it’s so much more enriching. Doing a little walk is not life-changing, but there’s always something that’s happening. There’s always something that’s kind of adding to your life. And so somehow, I think, and I also try to tell my kids, “If you have to choose between something which is really easy and something which is more difficult, you should almost always try to choose the most difficult option.” But it’s a struggle. So quite often I don’t do it myself. But I think it’s important to keep in mind.
Brett McKay: And you mentioned that idea, when you choose the easy way, when we do that, when we choose convenience, we think we’re being masters of our fate. But you make this case and other philosophers have also made this case that when you choose convenience or ease, you actually are becoming kind of a slave unintentionally.
Erling Kagge: Yeah. I think that’s a very valid point. Like many philosophers have been writing about this. And some have … you need to choose if you’re going to lead your own life or if you’re going to be led by others. And I think if you are walking, for instance, making your own choices, sometimes make life more difficult than necessary, walk a few kilometers extra, getting up early in the morning, then somehow you lead your own life. You’re in charge of your own life. And that’s when life will feel great. And I think the opposite. To choose the easiest option is very much about … in the long run, for instance, that you get … I’m not anti-technology or anti-capitalist, but if you kind of get absolutely addicted to different apps on the mobile phone, you might quite easily feel restless, sad, lonely, and eventually many people came to be depressed from that kind of living. So short term, that’s most tempting. But a little bit longer term, it’s a big mistake.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I think you talked about … You mentioned WALL-E, the movie WALL-E, as an example of that. So in the movie, the humans have to leave Earth because it got too polluted, but then they just become sort of this … dependent on all this technology where they just sit around in these chairs. And it got to the point where they couldn’t walk anymore. They couldn’t do anything. They became slaves to the technology.
Erling Kagge: Yeah, exactly. And the reason I mention this movie, WALL-E is … one reason was because I saw that my kids … and it made an impression because Wall-E is 18 years into the future. But a little bit of what’s happened in the movie’s happening with us today, that we walk less and less, and I think that’s a mistake because we are walking species and it’s like Homo sapiens have always been walking in the sense that it was not we, Homo sapiens, who invented the possibility to walk on two legs. It was the other way around. It was a possibility to walk on two legs that invented the human beings. And we have all of this, being exploring by walking, by doing something physical, by experiencing … that’s the basis of all our knowledge and development of our brains. But today, we are the first generation to start to sit more and more, move less and less, and eventually, like in Wall-E, we hardly walk at all. The way we move, as I said, is by motorized vehicles. And then it’s a question, will we still be Homo sapiens if we don’t walk anymore?
Brett McKay: And yeah, the statistics are pretty dismal. You highlight this fact that … It was very stark. You compared the physical activity of children who are going to school to physical activity of people in prison. And people in prison, on average, get more physical activity than kids at school.
Erling Kagge: Yeah, that was one of the things that really surprised me when I did research to my book. I asked myself what people in society spend the least time doing outdoors. And I thought that would be people in prisons. And that’s hard to find statistics, but in England I found it. And it appeared that one quarter of all kids in … 40% of all kids in England, they spend less than one hour doing outdoors a day. And actually one quarter of kids in England, they don’t do any outdoors at all during the average day. So it was a bit sad to see that it’s kids that spent doing the least time outside their homes in society. And that’s a very tough start on their lives. And it’s a very unfortunate start because they’re not going to be qualified to have a great life later.
Brett McKay: So you’re a philosopher besides being an adventurer, and you like to walk, and you are part of a line of philosophers who also were walkers. So who were some of these other famous philosopher walkers that you’ve encountered in your reading?
Erling Kagge: It’s surprising the many philosophers who kind of kept on walking. Of course, Socrates, Kierkegaard … they were street philosophers that just walked the streets in their cities, Athens or Copenhagen, to talk to people and see what was happening around them. And of course, Nietzsche famously said that he could not think any great ideas without been walking. And it’s also even reflected in our language. In the English language, just like in the Norwegian language, like we say, you move, and you’re being moved. And motion, emotion. And if you go to Silicon Valley today, you’ll see people walk a lot. They have meetings and they’re walking. And one of the reasons, they’re inspired by Steve Jobs of course because he was a keen walker and he told his kids, “No way you’re going to use too much products from Apple. You need to move around. You need to live a healthy life.” And of course, the possibility for becoming a new Steve Jobs by walking is not great. But it helps a little bit.
Brett McKay: I mean, what do you think the connection is between thinking and walking? Why do you think all those philosophers … Like even Aristotle, he was a walker. His followers were called parapetetics. It’s like “walking philosophers”. What do you think is going on there, the connection between walking and analytic thinking?
Erling Kagge: I think all walkers throughout history have had the same experiences, in the sense that as soon as they get up on two legs and start to walk, their heads clear up. They’re thinking more clearly. Ideas are coming to them. It’s super good for their creativity. And fortunately, scientists have started to study this phenomenon. And in 2014 at Stanford University in US, they tested people in terms of creativity, like giving them things to do while sitting down and giving them things to do after they had been walking for 15 minutes. And creativity, they increased 60% by only walking for 15 minutes. And of course, it doesn’t last for days, but it lasts for a few hours. And then you need to do another walk. So like Darwin when he was working really hard, he had this walking path. So whenever he kind of didn’t manage to think any further, didn’t manage to write, he got up, he walked his walking path, 10-15 minutes, came back to his office, and then his head was working again and he could do his work.
Brett McKay: So I guess the takeaway there is if you have a big problem, a hard problem you’re trying to solve, maybe instead of thinking harder about it, just go outside and talk a walk.
Erling Kagge: Yeah, and that’s sometimes the beauty of walking, that you don’t even have to think about that problem. And that’s also another … A lot of the big questions in history of philosophy can come up to answers to questions you haven’t asked yourself. And Socrates was battling this question. He felt it was a stupid question, but he did manage to come up with a good answer because Socrates’ idea was that we’re thinking with our head, of our brain only. But then, as all walkers have experienced, you’re not only thinking with your head. You’re also thinking with your whole body, also thinking with your feet. And that’s the reason why you don’t have to be aware of what’s going on in your mind, but you come back from a walk and suddenly you sit with two solutions to problems you didn’t even know you had.
Brett McKay: Diogenes, the famous cynic philosopher, he said, “It is solved by walking,”.
Erling Kagge: Exactly. Beautiful quote.
Brett McKay: It is. I’ve got to hang it up on my wall in my bedroom. So another aspect of walking that you hit on in the book is getting lost. And we live in a world where it’s almost impossible to get lost now thanks to GPS. There’s always that blue dot on Google Maps that knows exactly where you’re at. What happens when we can no longer get lost? What do you think happens when we can no longer get lost anymore?
Erling Kagge: I see the great advantages of Google Maps, but I also really dislike it, so I’ve taken it off my phone. And the same reasons … I think one reason is because I saw this study that actually, we people, we have become less intelligent the last 10 years thanks to all these apps, because we don’t do maps anymore and we don’t do navigation anymore, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, that slowly makes us dumber. And so that’s one side of it. But also, just not being able to get lost anymore. I don’t think it’s good for anything. And I remember when I was a kid, I was hiking in the forests and I got lost all the time. And of course, it’s a great experience not to know where you are, you get a little bit worried, and you start to wander, and you really have to think. You have to be creative. It’s healthy for you. And talking about it, I remember when I was maybe 7 years old and my brother, Gunnar, was 10 years old, and we were out hiking in the forest close to where we were living in Oslo, and we got a bit worried because we lost our way, and we tried to find our way back home. And then suddenly, my brother said with a big smile, “Ooh, I got lost here before. So now I know where we are.”
Brett McKay: Now I think that’s a very profound idea, that if you really want to know where you are in life, you have to get lost.
Erling Kagge: Exactly. I think it’s a really great experience to kind of start on zero again and take it from there. So I think that’s a dimension of daily life that we’re losing because we have Google Maps. And if you’re wondering about something, we don’t really need the knowledge or need to think too much because we believe we can find the answer in a second by Googling it. And that’s very practical, but it makes our life slightly more poor.
Brett McKay: Do you purposefully try to get lost when you take walks sometimes?
Erling Kagge: Yes, absolutely. I … off in the mountains and the forest, but also in the big cities. When I get to a new city, I like to walk the city. I like to see the city in slow motion. I like to see the city from a different angle than other people. Like two friends, myself, we walked through all of LA a few years ago, from eastern LA down, Cesar Chavez Avenue, into Sunset Boulevard, all the way to the ocean. And what’s interesting was that everybody who travels in LA, tourists and Angelenos, they will sit in a car, they will see their city through the windows, and it’s like seeing the city on the screen, on the video, on the TV. But when we walked and we saw the same stuff, same matters, but we saw it over longer time. We saw the city in a totally new way. And sometimes we got lost, other times not. But that’s the way to see LA, especially because nobody else is walking. More or less, the only people who walked in LA were drug addicts, or prostitutes, or insane people. And that also gave it an extra interesting dimension.
Brett McKay: Well you said you got stopped by the police a few times who wanted to know what you were doing. They were like, “Why are you walking, you weirdo?”
Erling Kagge: Yeah. Yeah. I actually read about the police being a bit upset about people walking through particular areas in LA and I thought maybe it was kind of a joke, but way east in LA, we were actually stopped by the police and they were suspicious because we were walking. So it had to be something wrong, something strange. But as soon as the police understood we were three Norwegians exploring the city, they asked us if we wanted to take photos together with them.
Brett McKay: So you talk about in the book the idea that walking can serve as a way to transition from, in our day, going from work to home, or even it can, on a larger scale, might even help us transition from different parts of the year. How does that look in your life? How does walking serve as a transition point?
Erling Kagge: Today, it does it by … I live in a city and I work in a city. So I spend time walking, for instance, back and forth to my office. It takes about 30, 35 minutes each way. And just by walking, I see sometimes quite a lot of the same houses, quite a lot of the same people, the same streets every day. But I could tell by the faces I see that are changing, not a lot, a little bit every day. I can see people who are happy, can see they’re unhappy. I can see how they feel, if they’re in a rush. And it’s nothing kind of fantastic which is happening when you’re walking to your office, but it’s all the small details that tells a big deal about daily life, tells a big deal about the people that you’re actually living in the same city with, and also transforms you from … like from me having three kids at home, it’s so much noise, there’s so many things to do. And instead of rushing to the office, I walk, and then I get into a different mood and I get ready for a new life every morning to get to my office.
And if I’ve been driving, I will save some time of course on my watch, but I have brought the daily life from my home into my office, which would make me much less effective at the office. I think now that you actually need a little bit of time. You need to move slowly to get into a different ritual, a different mood, before you get to the office, if it’s possible for you. But I think, again, people tell me all the time, “I’m so busy. I don’t have time. Blah, blah, blah.” But your reality is an average Norwegian today would spend around four hours doing social media every day and we live in this country, probably like in the States, around 82-83 years time. And that, again, means that we spent 13 years of our lives, day and night, doing social media. So when people tell me that they’re too busy, they don’t have time for walking, they don’t have time for that, they don’t have time for silence, I think they are underestimating themselves.
Brett McKay: So you mentioned when you walk, you see people. You can see if they’re happy, if they’re rushed. And you can tell a lot, not just by the way someone’s face looks about what they are, what they’re going through in life, but also just by the way someone walks in their life, you can tell a lot about a person, how they walk.
Erling Kagge: Yeah. And I find that very interesting because, of course, when you walk down the street, you see the faces only for a few seconds and that can tell a little bit. But to me, it’s too brief, too short. But when you look at people how they walk, you can watch them for 10 seconds, half a minute, even several minutes if you walk the same direction. And that again tell you a lot about what the people are, what kind of lives they’re living.
Like a guy on the streets where I live, he’s an army officer. And the army officer, he walks in a particular way. He’s kind of this confident, kind of filled with self-confidence. He walks up the streets, and then I will get into the city, I see these hipsters that have a different kind of gait. And then again, you see some beggars. And their daily lives somehow inscribed into their bodies and also inscribed into the way they’re actually walking. Like a beggar, somehow in the life of a beggar that’s kind of inscribed in their gait. So they don’t get away from it. So the way people walk is very much kind of based up on their lives, their social status, and of course, it’s the genes. So when I look at my daughters when they were one or two years old and learn how to walk, they kind of just still walked the same way.
Brett McKay: No, I’ve noticed that. When I read that section, I started thinking about how I recognize people. And one way, like if you’re in a crowded area where it’s hard to see faces, like at a park for example, and I’m watching my kids or I’m trying to find my kids, instead of looking at faces, I look at the whole body of these kids to see how they’re moving and I can spot my kid by the way they move their body.
Erling Kagge: Yeah, exactly. And I think you can spot it in kids, but I also think it’s kind of interesting to watch people walk to guess what they are thinking, what’s going on in their mind, and it’s also … I read this report that the police … Now, of course they have to depend on finger prints in their investigation for the case, but now they’re starting to analyze how people walk. And I think eventually that would be at least or maybe even more accurate than fingerprints to identify people.
Brett McKay: And talking about this idea of how walking or the way we walk changes the way … Depending on how we feel, you can always tell someone who’s really tired from just life, right? So it can be a beggar, or it could be just someone who’s really stressed out at work. But you said that you notice that there’s a difference between the tiredness of someone who’s just world-weary and the tiredness of someone who just got back from an invigorating hike, that there’s a difference between those type of gaits.
Erling Kagge: There’s a huge difference. And when I walk in the streets and see people hard down who are tired, it’s kind of a sadness quite often when you see them. They’re life is tough. But then, when you go, for instance, on a hike in the forest, it’s interesting to see … maybe you can even see the same people … other people, when they start out on their hikes, they also look quite often a bit tired, a bit restless, not that happy. But I think almost everybody I see returning from a hike, they look happy. They are smiling. And I think that’s just, as I said, that you move and you are being moved. And Hippocrates, the father of the modern medicine for more than two thousand years ago, of course he said that walking is the best medicine, but he also said that if you’re in a bad mood, go for a walk, and if you’re still in bad mood, go for another walk. And that holds up I think for everybody, at least everybody I know about.
Brett McKay: It is solved by walking.
Erling Kagge: It’s solved by walking. Exactly.
Brett McKay: It’s solved by walking. You talk about the story of Adam and Eve and that the story of Adam and Eve is a story about walking. What can Adam and Eve teach us about walking and being human?
Erling Kagge: Quite a lot I think. I remember when I went to school, I learned about Adam and Eve, how Adam was tempted by Eve, and how they were chased out of paradise as a dramatic story. But today, I look at it very differently. I think everyday life in paradise, they lost one single very important thing and that’s excitement. They didn’t have any excitement at all. Life was very, very boring. So of course it was tempting to try an apple from the tree of wisdom, as Adam did. So I think they were fully aware of what they were doing.
And I don’t think they were chased out of paradise. I think they actually walked out of paradise voluntarily because they were fed up. In that way, of course, even Adam became the world’s first wanderer, so the first explorers by leaving paradise, and as I said earlier on, making their lives much more difficult than it had to be. And in that sense, I think Adam and Eve, they’re kind of role models because I think I’m struggling with it and I think most people I know, they are struggling with it, that life quite often can be very unexciting. And you need to find excitement in your life and then you actually have sometimes to leave what you’re doing, walk away, and do something differently.
Brett McKay: Right. The Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, he had to take a walk. He had to walk out of the Shire and make life a little bit harder for himself. In this book, you talk about … you mention this guy … I’m going to probably not get his name right because I think it’s Norwegian. Arne Næss?
Erling Kagge: Yeah, your Norwegian is improving.
Brett McKay: All right. It has improved since last time. He has this idea … He created a formula for happiness.
Erling Kagge: Yeah, I think Arne Næss was a leading Norwegian philosopher and made this formula for happiness, and it’s like happiness equals a big part of glow and the glow that you’ve thought about fervor or joy, but then you also need in life … you need pain. You need a little bit of bodily pain and you need mental pain. So you’ll notice a combination between glow that can be multiplied by itself or more on one side and then pain on the other side. And I think that’s something which is very easy to forget in daily life, that you think you should only have pleasures, you should only have happiness. I talk to kids but also grown ups that say that, “All I want to be is to be happy.” And then they forget that it’s a meaning with pain. And it’s not possible only to be happy. So pain was given to us as human beings as a very important thing and also important … it’s the only way you can actually feel happiness is that somehow you relate it to pain in life.
Brett McKay: So this goes back to your idea of putting struggle into our lives. And another philosopher, Peter Wessel Zapffe, he wrote a book on the tragic and he said that when you take shortcuts in life, you rob yourself of that happiness or that you rob yourself of the opportunity to be human when you take a shortcut.
Erling Kagge: I think so, because as I said earlier on, at least for most Norwegians and most Americans, it’s possible to make life super simple, super easy, throughout almost every day. But that, as Zapffe says, or the Norwegian philosopher says, then you’re not living a life as a human being. You’re living a very dull life. You’re living a very unfair life because it is obvious what you’ve come to choose because you’re only going to choose the easiest option.
And the free man, he processes time, and he processes choices, and he is key to fulfill his own potentials. And I think that’s super important, because I think in one way, all this talk about happiness … I think happiness is a bit overrated in the sense that people like to have happiness from minute to minute and that’s not possible. It’s very naïve. And I don’t enjoy freezing, I don’t enjoy pain, but it’s an important part of life.
And a few weeks ago, I had this problem with my appendix. Actually it ruptured. It was super painful. I had to go through surgery, I was staying in a hospital, and I was weared down. And I got out of the hospital and after a few days, I started to feel good again. I started to feel healthy again. And that’s a great feeling, this disease, this weakness eventually leave your body and then you feel strong again. And I think that’s one of the best feelings ever. And if it hadn’t been for the problems with my appendix, I wouldn’t have had that problem. And of course, the same with freezing. It could be terrible, but then again, then eventually you get warm again, that’s the best feeling.
Brett McKay: And walking is a way you can add a little bit of hardship into your life on a regular basis.
Erling Kagge: I think it’s important actually to walk from A to B because it’s practical it’s good. But sometimes, I advise people to the … except I cannot advise anyone … to try to do some really long walks every now and then. Go on for hours. Get really tired. Wear yourself down. And not because there’s those health benefits, but because it’s a beautiful feeling. And eventually, at least that’s my experience, when you get tired, you kind of stop thinking. You’re just experiencing the whole situation. And then again, when you eventually make it back home, you can relax. It’s a tremendous feeling. You maybe have a shower. You have something good to eat. And that food, of course, has never tasted better than it does after you have actually been on the long walk.
Brett McKay: All right. So you can walk in the city. Do it as frequently as you can. You recommend also taking a really long walk every now and then. Any other walks you recommend or that you’ve done, like walking at night or walking in bad weather? Like, just walk whenever?
Erling Kagge: Yeah. I think it’s quite … Like my kids, they say, “We don’t want to walk because it’s raining.” And that, again, is a huge misunderstanding, because I think quite often, things look more interesting and more beautiful when it rains. And also, maybe you get a little bit wet but when eventually you get into house again, you get a beautiful feeling of drying up and getting the heat back. So I try to walk totally independent of the weather. And in a few weeks, I plan to walk with two friends, just walk Broadway in New York from Up North down to Downtown Manhattan. Just walk it at nighttime. It’s nothing big. It’s free. It doesn’t cost any money. I’m just doing it to see the city in the dark, to see what’s happening in the dark throughout the whole lights. And sometimes the expedition is just about learning about all the people and of course learning about myself.
Brett McKay: One of the interesting arguments you make in the book is that the slowness of walking can actually be counter-cultural.
Erling Kagge: Absolutely. I think also because so much in our society is about speed. You have to hurry up all the time. Everybody says they’re short on time. They have to go from A to B in high speed. They have to be on the phone all the time. They have to check the news three times every hour, although nothing has happened. You have this super restless attitude throughout the whole society. And of course the government is very much about speed. They want it to speed up because we’ve got to create gross national product. Businesses would like you to speed up because they would like you not to consume, so either you should hurry up from A to B, or you should sit down and consume. And the educational system is also very much about speed because to go through school at the quickest as possible to become a good taxpayer. All this is good, has good sides, but it’s also kind of a little bit negative to our daily life. So in that sense, I think to walk today has become one of the most radical things you can do.
Brett McKay: Yeah, it can make you free, right? So it’s an act of rebellion in a lot of ways.
Erling Kagge: Yeah, exactly. It can make you free, but it’s even a little bit anarchistic in the sense that if you take the metro, or drive a car, take a plane, whatever, someone else is deciding your speed, deciding where you can stop, deciding what you can see, what you can do, et cetera. But if you walk, you do it at your own pace. You can stop whenever you like. You can look around you. So in that sense, it’s not a huge anarchistic thing of course, but it’s a tiny anarchistic movement to be walking.
Brett McKay: Well Erling, where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Erling Kagge: I think when I wrote a book on walking, I tried to make it really short. I spent a year and a half to write those few words because my idea was that people could spend one evening, maybe two reading my book. And if they want to learn more, they shouldn’t necessarily Google me or walking, but they should go out walking themself and maybe find their own South Poles.
Brett McKay: I love it. Well, Erling Kagge, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Erling Kagge: Thank you.
Brett McKay: My guest was Erling Kagge. He is the author of the book, Walking. It’s available on amazon.com. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/walking where you can find links to resources where we delve deeper into this topic.
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