How Hiking Stimulates Intellectual Growth

When I'm out in the wilderness a noticable change in mindset takes place where I tend to be able to process complex and abstract thoughts much more effectively and can draw more coherent and less biased conclusions. This shows the extent to which the modern world has control of our minds at a fundamental level.

This may be a bit of a boomer take but I believe this effect largely originates from a few defining elements of modernity, one being technology, another being excessive social stimulation from high population density and another being the excessive amount of duties and obligations that are placed on you. Obviously none of these are present in the wilderness where there isn't even a cell phone signal for miles.

It becomes profoundly obvious how much the industrial world occupies your mind once you actually bother to escape it. I can make an analysis here to attempt to explain the process behind it but I don't think you can fully appreciate the effect until you go out and do it yourself. "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." as an overused Confucious quote says.

In industrial society you are constantly surrounded by obligations and temptations which are more than enough of a distraction to completely shut down the philosophical portion of your brain. These range from the need to do house chores to the dopamine-driven temptation to check your phone for social media stimulation. Your brain finds these superficial tasks to be rewarding enough, and since it has already received rewards it doesn't incentivize using philosophy or self-reflection to achieve a superior fulfillment. These distractions occupy your mind even if you aren't actively partaking in them, if you are aware of the presence of your phone you will constantly have to fight the urge to use it for quick and easy social media stimulation. If you are aware that the dishes need done it is difficult to focus on something less immediate and tangible like philosophy.

High population density and social media technology mean that you are constantly a short distance away from some form of social or psuedosocial stimulation, this makes people tend to focus more on maxmimizing social status, experiencing as much social interaction as possible and generally oversocializing to a harmful degree that increases their agreeability and conformity. Social time necessarily comes at the cost of potential contemplation time and on top of that it builds up personality traits that make the generation of unbiased philosophical and self-reflective thought more difficult. This is not to say that socialization is bad, but that it is generally misused in the modern world.

The obligations and temptations of modernity can be framed in guenonian terms as activity, so we can criticize the modern world using Guenon's dichotomy of action vs contemplation. The relative stillness and inactivity found in nature contrasts the high activity of industrialized living. Nature then encourages tranquil contemplation through its stillness, while industrial society encourages action. Nature only demands your presence while civilization demands your full submersion and participation. More about guenon can be found here.

Excessive activity can be called overstimulation. Overstimulation is at its worst when someone's focus is repeatedly redirected to and from different things, which is common in many jobs and in recreational activites such as scrolling social media. Over time this reduces one's attention span, the brain naturally adapts to the overstimulating environment it's in and optimizes for the ability to redirect focus rather than sustain it. Overstimulation then reduces a person's capacity for prolonging focused philosophical thought. Activites which encourage or require sustained focus such as hiking, meditation, and yoga force the brain to adapt itself to an environment of sustained focus, undoing the damage that overstimulation causes and making you more capable of profound focused contemplation.

These insights are not exclusive to hiking, I think that hiking has merely offered a valuable look into how one might improve their life within modernity to be less subjected to its flaws. Through hiking you can learn the value of disciplining yourself to avoid social media addiction and to set aside dedicated time for contemplation that will improve your personal fulfillment greatly. Lastly, flexing your calf muscle forces blood upwards towards your brain, which increases brain activity. Maybe everything I've described above is actually just the result of having more brainpower while walking (also make sure to work your calf muscles regularly during the day to prevent cognitive decline caused by low brain blood pressure). Whatever the case, you should start hiking.