“Like riding a bicycle”

I was a kid at Christmas last night.

I finished afternoon office hours at the naked eye observatory (yesterday definitely qualified as one of the “pleasant” days the sign on my office door says will usually find me there, then) and hopped on the bike (I’ve been bringing it to school daily, to shorten the last leg of my commute and to prod my spontaneity) for a quick spin around campus before heading to I-24 for the less exciting ride home.

Our campus has a different feel this year, with the sprawling new Student Center and related renovations. One of those is a new bus/bike lane that now makes it easy to cycle from one end of campus to the other without dodging or nearly creaming pedestrians, and to pop into Starbucks for commuter fuel.

This day, I remembered the Rec Center’s new rent-a-bike program. I thought it was just for students, but to my delight they gave me a bike for the weekend. And a lock and basket and “stylish” helmet too.

As we keep noting in EEA, integrating cycling into our daily routines is one easy form of “activism” for the environment open to us all. “A short, four-mile round trip by bicycle keeps about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air we breathe.” Just ride!

James Garvey, environmental ethicist and editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine, is on a long bike-ride: 1,000 miles across Britain. He seems to be having second thoughts, or at least concerns, about striking the correct balance between mental and physical exercise.

Plato advises a careful blend of physical exercise and cultural pursuits… Neglect the Muses, and you become a graceless brute, but without the rigours of sport, the individual “melts and liquefies till he completely dissolves away his spirit…”

But then

there’s Mill’s claim about intellectual versus physical pleasures – Bach versus back rubs — that the former are “worth more” than the latter, and those who have experienced intellectual pleasures prefer them to mere physical pleasures.

So he asks us:

Are you with Plato and Mill, or anyway the caricatures above, holding on to the idea that physical and mental pleasures are distinct, or do you think, maybe with the long-distance runner [or biker], that the two are intermingled, something not easily divisible?

This seems like an easy one: of course they’re intermingled, every bit as much as mind and body. The very terms are an abstraction. People who think they must choose between them have failed to integrate fundamental aspects of life. Mens sana in corpore sano. Get back on the bike, James. But I’d advise shorter day trips, if the intermingling ceases to please.


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