Walking in solitude provides a chance to explore, quiet our minds, mull over ideas and conceive new concepts. The very act is a counter to the relentless pace of life in modern society where we’re overstimulated and bombarded with information, requests and notifications.
Here are some famous thinkers from history who were habitual walkers.
1. Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, was one of the world’s most famous walkers. An advocate for spending time alone in nature, he famously wrote: “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”
Walking was a creative, mental, and spiritual practice for Thoreau. He often emphasized the importance of walking without a defined goal, a practice any flâneur can resonate with.
2. Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf, famed feminist and literary goddess, was one of England’s most renowned writers for using the stream of consciousness technique. She was also an avid walker.
As part of her writing process, she’d recite her drafts aloud during her daily walks.
Her love for walking is evident in her writing, where it’s a recurring theme across many of her works.
In Mrs. Dalloway, for example, the main character Clarissa walks through London using “interior monologue to represent memory and urban spaces.” The act of walking itself is what connects the characters of the book together.
Her 1927 piece Street Haunting, the narrator dips in and out of the minds of passersby as she saunters down the city streets observing.
A diary entry from a few years later hints more at how she used walking as part of her writing process. As she noted, “To walk alone in London is the greatest rest.”
3. Albert Einstein
In addition to his reputation as a super sleeper (more than 10 hours nightly), Albert Einstein was a devoted walker. Perhaps the combination of the two contributed to his genius.
During his tenure at Princeton University, for instance, he typically walked a mile and a half round-trip daily as he refined his thoughts and theories on quantum mechanics.
4. Charles Darwin
The father of modern evolutionary theory built walking into his intellectual routine. Charles Darwin took three 45-minute walks every day for a large portion of his life.
There was a gravel track near his home in Kent where he’d conduct his ambling, kicking pebbles as he strolled and theorized.
5. Ludwig Van Beethoven
Walking helped fuel Beethoven’s musical creativity. It also fulfilled his love for nature and served as a form of therapy.
He would take short breaks during his workday to clear his mind, and made it a ritual to take a longer walk each afternoon. He’d bring paper and a pen for when inspiration struck.
6 & 7. Socrates & Aristotle
Both Aristotle and Socrates used walking as a pedagogy to process, teach, and learn. Just like Socrates before him, Aristotle conducted his lectures to his students, the peripatetics, while walking the grounds of the Lyceum with his books in hand. The early Greek philosophers inextricably linked thinking to walking.
8. Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche used to walk in solitude to not only clear his mind but to also stimulate it.
To Nietzsche walking was more than mere relaxation, it was where he worked best. He’d bring along a notepad and paper and scribble down thoughts as they sprung to mind.
His maxim “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking” was born out of experience: when writing his works, he would walk alone for up to eight hours a day.
In fact, The Wanderer and His Shadow was written almost entirely on foot.
9. Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant would also take daily walks to reinforce his rigid routines and self-discipline as a scholar.
His ritualistic roaming wasn’t meant as a physical practice, but rather as an escape from his arduous work.
What benefits have you found from walking? Have any other famous thinkers to add to the list?