A little bit of learning

“A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.”

— Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Criticism

This morning I showed up at a doctor’s office for an appointment to have some minor surgery — nothing serious or worrisome. But the conversation with the receptionist was interesting.

“I’m here for my 9am surgery,” I said, telling her my name and the name of my doctor.

The look on the receptionist’s face was somewhere between concern and alarm. “For surgery?” she asked.

Oh no, I thought. Ten minutes until my operation and I’ve gone to the wrong building. We stared at each other in mutual dismay.

“Hold on,” she said, “I’ll look you up in the computer.”

There was a worried pause while she clicked on a few things.

“Oh,” she said, “You’re scheduled for an office procedure at 9am. Have a seat.”

I was left to ponder this odd little encounter. The receptionist had seemed genuinely confused. Was I naive to assume that when a doctor cuts into you with a knife, it’s always called “surgery”?

Let’s try turning it around: If the receptionist — who was, in fact, extremely kind and helpful — had also been more experienced, would she have understood immediately what was going on?

Perhaps we were both suffering from “a little bit of learning”, as so neatly described by Alexander Pope.

By the way, Pope’s poem references the sacred spring in Pieria, in ancient Macedonia. Maybe somebody who is both artist and scientist could be called a “Pierian”. You could look it up. 🙂

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