Running with Borgmann
Running may seem an odd discussion point for philosopher Albert Borgmann. Shouldn't a thinker be more interested in, well, thinking than in pounding the pavement? How is such an explicitly physical act possibly interesting to one who contemplates the nature of life, the universe, and everything?
"In the runner, effort and joy are one; the split between means and ends, labor and leisure is healed. … This unity of achievement and enjoyment, of competence and consummation, is just one aspect of a central wholeness to which running restores us. Good running engages mind and body. Here the mind is more than an intelligence that happens to be housed in a body. Rather the mind is the sensitivity and the endurance of the body. Hence running in its fullness…is in principle different from exercise designed to procure physical health.”
While I don't share his excitement, I certainly understand his point. Very few things that humans do, especially in the modern technological world, involve so completely a coordination between the physical and the mental. Most modern technologies are designed to make tasks simpler (see my post on Langdon Winner), but running deliberately eschews technology. [Side note: the only reason I started running in the first place was the release of Nike+ devices, which originally integrated with the iPod nano to allow runners to track pace and distance information by the number of steps they took.] Perhaps by eliminating distractions of technology, running enforces a special focus, but one that involves little more than mind, body, and intention. In my previous post about Borgmann, I briefly discussed the engagement we so often seek in education, especially with regard to technology in the classroom. I do wonder how many students have experienced the kind of singular, extended focus that marathon running demands, and whether they might benefit from such an experience.
“The great meal has its structure. … It has a sequence of courses; it requires and sponsors memorable conversation; and all this is enacted in the discipline called table manners. They are warranted when they constitute the respectful and skilled response to the great things that are coming to pass in the meal. We can see how order and discipline have collapsed when we eat a Big Mac."
Are order and discipline really collapsing in our society? I am not so sure. However, the consumption of fast food certainly has a different goal than does a formal meal. One allows us to think about issues brought up in conversation and connect with our fellow humans; the other allows us to digest sustenance necessary for survival (though the success of a Big Mac in that regard is questionable). The primary concern Borgmann articulates is that technological developments seem to bring us further away from focal practices like running and enjoying great meals. We find it more convenient to drive from here to there and to grab fast food on our way. Rather than spend his time lamenting the current state of society, Borgmann simply argues that we should pay more attention to things we no longer naturally do: we should become engaged with our surroundings and with one another.
And yes, I think I just had a philosopher guilt me into going for a run. Sigh.
This entry is the ninth in a continuing series of responses to chapters from Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, a collection edited by David M. Kaplan, © 2004 Rowman & Littlefield. Other responses are filed in the Philosophy category of blog posts.