The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Again

A conversation with a former student, now abroad, who informed me of how all the teachers’ lesson plans need to be written in procedural form and pre-approved by the upper administration, reminded me of the old story of the sorcerer’s apprentice. Tired of fetching the water himself, the master sorcerer enlists the aid of his best apprentice to do the menial task. Thinking he knows more than the master, the apprentice enchants a broom to do it for him. Sadly, though, he does not know how to stop it and soon the place is flooded. Sometimes the “upper underlings” think they know more than they really do, to the detriment of us all.

The mysterious duality that brain physiology imposes upon our perceptions!  While the notion of the hard and inseparable divide between the left and right brain function has been debunked over the past ten years or so it remains that the brain is not symmetric. There are significant differences between the left and right halves–differences in weight, in shape, in appearance and even in the ratio of right to grey matter. And while neuroplasticity is a thing; yes, the brain can “rewire” itself in response to injury and to education, there is a decided selection on the left for processing things in a logical, procedural way and on the right for dealing with things that, frankly, seem to be decidedly quantum-mechanical, governed by things that can only be understood on a more holistic, probabilistic, even whimsical sense.

It’s painful, therefore, to observe, more and more, a growing emphasis, throughout society, on things that appear more left-brained, at the expense of things that best come from the right. Witness the increased de-skilling of the trades and the professions, a thing you see increasingly in my own field as, more and more, everything gets reduced to something “anybody could do.” Everything has to be reduced to an algorithm, a set of procedures or rules, with less and less room left for that wonderful, powerful thing we call “good judgement” or “art” depending on the context. It all makes you  wonder just how many of those apprentices are busy enchanting brooms as you read this. Let’s hope there’s at least a few wiser sorcerers who can undo it.

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2 thoughts on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Again

  1. The cynical subversive element in me wishes to comment: I am not sure if asserting that ‘brain’ and ‘logic’ are required and used by bureaucrats honors them too much 😉

    In my logical and totally left-brained world I feel insulted e.g. by so-called ‘standards’ and ‘guidelines’ written by people who don’t know much about how the real technical world works in their world of paper-shuffling and politics of committees.

    I believe the true reason for such senseless over-regulation is that ‘decision makers’ (businesses, agencies, buyers, employers… anybody with ‘authority’) are afraid to take decisions, be accountable, live with them, and sort out disputes in a hands-on and constructive way. Better to have that paper to cover your ass if somebody complains or sues later. Not that the technical provisions in the paper make sense but you can prove you followed the rules. And all that happens in a world of more and more ‘interconnected systems’ where it is just a total waste of time to try to track down the ‘culprit’. I am spending enough time troubleshooting interfaces between systems (technical and human ones) to know that efforts are always spent better on fixing the problem.

    But I don’t complain – fortunately there are enough people to work with who are bold and adventurous in that respect :-), so that they tell you upfront they are not interested in that official paperwork at all. It’s just shocking how little it takes to be a lone maverick that lives outside the regulated bubble.

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