As I was writing the previous remarks on Science I said to myself, 'self, this is a rambling mess' but I wasn't really able to rein it in. It's all part of the process. Sometimes my brain contains rambling messes.
After sleeping on it, I think it's really a rant against reductionism. A rant against the idea that photography can be broken down into small manageable parts which you simply assemble at need. Photography can indeed be broken up. It is useful to break it down like that, in fact. You have to know what the buttons do, after all.
The problem arises when you feel like that's all of it. If you can simply master or purchase the right parts, you will achieve victory. This is the fallacy.
This is the essence of the gearhead, but it goes well beyond gear. It's an attitude that's endemic. It's an attitude I wrestle with myself. I'm a mathematician, for crying out loud. Of course everything can be reduced to a few simple ideas, re-assembled at need into whatever you need! I spent nine years in university being taught, basically, that. I am fairly confident that we all of us suffer from it, not least because the camera companies, the books, the bloggers, and everyone else keeps hammering the idea.
Ultimately, if you want something good, you have to transcend the assemblage of parts. Your knowledge of aperture and composition, together with your Zeiss lens and Phase One body, will get you to a point.
Then you have to perceive something more, and leap. There's an instant when the subject of the portrait smiles just so. There is the moment when you see it, whatever it is. Perhaps it's not a moment but a gradual shift and the moment is really the one where you realize that you've had the answer all day.
John le Carré wrote several novels about a spy named George Smiley. The plots are all, in broad strokes, as follows:
Smiley reads files. Sometimes he goes and had a chat with someone. Smiley reads more files. Then he says 'oh. I see.' And then they go scoop up the bad guy. I love these books.
Photography, all of Art, and I suspect most creative disciplines, works much the same way. You fool around with the parts, often to no particularly visible purpose. Then at some point you say 'oh. I see.'
And then you go make the thing. Or at least you've got your starting point. Maybe you have a false start. But you've got something.