So, I said I'd tell you about Philosopher's Stone Soup. It went pretty much all year round, except for the winter break, but I only got my act in gear to join it over the summer, so my first and lasting impression of it was of summertime, when we cooked and ate outside, our talk punctuated by the tickle of grass and the long summer shadows, our food seasoned with the scent of citronella candles and environmentally-friendly bug spray.
Philosopher's Stone Soup was a weekly potluck run by Allen and Kit, or, at least Kit was usually there. I'm not sure she was doing much running (she had her own extra-curricular activity, a free-form jam session for the school's many musicians). Except, for most potlucks you're supposed to bring prepared dishes, but for Stone Soup you had to bring ingredients. You could bring anything you wanted, as long as you could get it edible within twenty minutes (no whole frozen turkeys, for example). People would bring flour, zucchini, blueberries, lillies (they're edible), cookies, squirrel meat, and pretty much anything else you could think of.We'd figure out some way to make a single meal out of it. Usually the idea was Allen's; he was a phenomenal cook. Then we'd make the meal, and then over dinner Allen would ask what we wanted to talk about.
It was always a trick question, because whatever subject we brought up he would pick it apart. He was the philosopher of Philosopher's Stone Soup. He'd start out asking clarifying questions and gently pointing out inconsistencies and logical errors, and he'd keep right on going until he had thoroughly demonstrated than we did not know what we were talking about. We put up with this for two reasons. First, we knew what he was doing. You hear about the Socratic Method as though the point of all the questions is to finally arrive at some kind of knowledge, but that isn't what Socrates did, and that isn't what Allen did. Instead, you ended up at the very limits of knowledge. Allen used his sharp mind first to cut through all our assumptions and mental sloppinesses, and then he kept on cutting, kept on pressing us, chasing us out along the edges of what we knew and were sure of, until....
I've read that there was once a culture where they would hold contests on how to define God. First one team would offer a definition, then the other team would offer a better definition, and they would keep going until eventually one of the teams wouldn't be able to respond, wouldn't be able to define God any better. And in that silence of not knowing was God.
Not that we didn't get frustrated with Allen sometimes, but it was impossible to be angry with him, because he was such a cut-up. And that was the other reason we kept coming back. Once, I did get at least half angry and actually called him an eel. I would never, never in a million years, have called one of my teachers names at any other school, but then this school wasn't like any other. Allen just laughed. I think he actually laughed so hard he sprayed out a mouthful of wine, but I might be making that part up. It's hard to remember. But he did laugh.
"One of Socrates' friends said something similar," he said when he could speak. "Called him a torpedo-fish, which is the same thing as an electric eel. Really, I'm honored." He snorted again with laughter. We were all laughing, too. It was infectious, his laugh.
"What did Socrates do, when his friend called him a torpedo-fish?" I asked, trying to get a hold of myself.
"Told him to stop flirting with him," Allen replied.
"I'm not flir--" I burst out, indignant, and everybody erupted in laughter again. Except that Allen fixed me with his incisive gaze and, very calmly, asked me how I knew I was not flirting with him. Then he busted up laughing again. Allen is the only man I have ever known who could do a dead-on perfect imitation of himself.