Appeared in the New England Writer's Network Magazine, autumn 1997
copyright© 1997 by Robert Rose-Coutré

The Philosophical Model
By Robert Rose-Coutré

If your name is not Gupta, do not enter the field of philosophy. If you like everyday, easy to pronounce names, study anything but philosophy. If you like neat, sanitized, nice-smelling rooms, stay away from philosophical thoughts. If you like libraries well-lighted, orderly and Dewey decimalized, steer clear of rooms holding Anaximander. If you need answers to follow inquiry, go elsewhere.

Stark, dank, musty rooms contain the most poignant philosophical tomes, on cobwebby, grimy oak bookshelves. The subtlest, deepest, most complex and perplexing thoughts ever conjured rest in overcast rooms profoundly draped in brown spider webs under names such as Anil Gupta, Nuel Belnap, Hans Herzberger, Saul Kripke, Alfred Tarski, Jaakko Hintikka, Gottlob Frege. Philosophical reading is preceded by ritualistic rummaging through cluttered tables, chairs, and floor, then as a last resort, rifling through the disarray of books lingering on the neglected shelves.

Laypersons think philosophy is for finding answers, sorting out the human condition, organizing the universe. They think truth ascribes some sort of meaning. Philosophers know one truth, that their studies do not pursue any of these fantastical objectives.

Philosophical study relocates the universe from a physical place into a hypothetical mind, hypothetically your mind. Then it remixes your universe beyond recognition, though making it a much more fascinating place in the process. Forget primitive notions such as a line between physical brain and conscious mind. You are a modal schema. You find the human condition not a place to sort out, but a place to build ever-more interesting thought engines and diagrams. These are not for sorting out anything, these are an end in themselves, and they are beautiful in their crystalline illusiveness. The other universe, the one that contains stars and planets, is far less interesting.

Opening a volume, getting used to your thinker of choice for the day, or the year, or your lifetime, takes some work. The writing is either cryptic, lugubrious, jargon-laden, convoluted, self-important, or all of these at once. Extracting the actual thoughts is an extravagant yet stimulating puzzle. Interpreting the thoughts is not the point, and can never be achieved with certainty.

Much of philosophical writing is one philosopher interpreting and agreeing and/or disagreeing with the thoughts of another philosopher. This internal and infinite cycle of agreement, disagreement and modification is a series of loops into which each student must determine his or her own most comfortable point of entry.

The revelation which eventually occurs is that one is in a labyrinth. That is the first step towards success. Actually gaining some sense of the color and tone of the arguments is a laudable accomplishment. Having some idea what century one is in is a major victory. Determining what the philosopher is arguing against is further than most professional philosophers ever get. Achieving any understanding of the point of contention brings you to the top of the heap, the coveted point of saying, I see what Belnap is trying to do here.

No one ever determines for sure whether Belnap or anyone else actually succeeded in agreeing or disagreeing with Gupta, and no one ever determined if Gupta's arguments worked in the first place. That was what Belnap was trying to do. But then perhaps Gottlob Frege said all there was to say before both of them. Or rather not Frege, but Tarski. It doesn't matter.

Meanwhile, twenty-seven other philosophers have writings in the scattered books on the table interpreting Frege, while a dozen more each address Gupta and Belnap, others reinterpreting what Belnap meant in interpreting Gupta, and why Jaakko Hintikka suddenly brings up Sherlock Holmes the dog that did not bark.

Belnap adds another layer upon Gupta, out of which Hintikka digs through the piled on convolutions of interpretations, disagreements and modifications with his own convolutions, interpretations, disagreements and modifications. What did Frege say in the first place? Gupta and Belnap become a chicken-and-egg salad with Hintikka's Oracle-dressing on a bed of Tarskian crumble crust. Endless esoteric spices of jargon ensure the original flavor will be increasingly difficult to taste when one enters the obscure nooks and crannies of semantically constructed philosophical minds on a Saturday night.

Finally, your latest revelation is that the best of all possible worlds is not a social question, but a diagram. Your mind at once enters and becomes a diagram of schemas. You begin playing interrogative schema games. You swerve in and out of models of reality throughout the centuries. Which is reality and which is model? But wait, for a minute you lapsed back into thinking reality ascribed a meaning. The only meaning is your own personal schema.

Rain is poring against the windows. You have been at that table for about thirty-six hours. Back down to earth, you realize that the only philosophical model into which you can truly immerse your existence is right where you are: in the stark, dank, musty, overcast room draped in brown spider webs, fingering through tattered volumes slipping over the ledges of grimy oak bookshelves.