In the real world, I am a professional student. That basically means I get paid (not much, mind you) to sit around and think, and then write papers about what I think, and then tell everyone else how smart I am because of all the things I think. It's a pretty sweet gig for lazy bums such as myself.
As a graduate student in a field that is constantly beset with identity crises and inner political squabbles, there is a lot of debate regarding theory versus application. On one side you have the supporters of applied science who think theory is for those people sitting in an ivory tower who just want to make a living sitting around thinking. On the other side you have the critical theorists in their posh armchairs who think that applied scientists are not asking the right questions, and because they do not reflexively consider their research, they are not actually contributing to the field of knowledge.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I believe theory is important to understanding a lot of what we do, why we do it, and the best way to do it. At the same time, if we rely completely on theory, it will never match the reality of what we do.
Why have I rambled about academia in a blog focused on healing in WoW? I assure you, I have my reasons. Anyone who spends any time over at the ElitistJerks forum knows that there are plenty of WoW players out there who love the mathematical side of playing this game. They can come up with an equation for anything, and tell you exactly how you should spec, exactly what gear you should be wearing, the precise rotation for your spells, and every single enchant and gem you should use. With greek symbols and wws reports as their weapons, they will easily strike down any n00b who insists that lolsmite is a viable spec. That is why they are unabashedly Elitist Jerks.
Somewhere along the line, "playing a game" transformed from doing what you enjoy for the pure fun of it, and applying for another job, where you beef up a resume that includes every talent point, gem, enchant, and your specific spell rotation. We've been told exactly how we should play this game, and if we don't do it the way the math and theorycrafting says we should, then we obviously need to learn2play.
The problem with theory is that behind the healer, or the DPSer, or the tank in the raid is an actual, real-life, human being. You can't bot everything. Sometimes my index finger gets itchy, and I hit Circle of Healing, when I know damn well that the tree over there just cast Rejuvenation. Talent points were intended to take basic classes and give the players flexibility to match their playstyle. Sometimes when you get so bogged down by how you should be playing, what spell the math tells you you should cast at this exact moment, you forget all about the fact that the character you are playing is a representative of you. You can come up with all kinds of ideal stats and situations in which you should use and do such and such. But, in the heat of the moment, you may do something different, and all that math you so meticulously researched is pointless. It is based upon you using the exactly proper sequence in an ideal situation.
The Value of Theory
All that having been said, theorycrafting is incredibly helpful in many situations. I used to be so concerned about having the exact amount of haste, crit, and spellpower that EJ insisted was necessary. I spent so much time doing the math, I forgot the entire point - to be a better player. So, now, I don't worry about the exact numbers. I read up on the theory, get an idea about what works best in different situations, and try to get in the general vicinity. I have a rough goal of around 2k spellpower, a certain amount of haste, and a certain amount of crit. I used to gem everything for spirit, but now with the changes to mana regen and other facets of class changes, EJ tells me I should gem for intellect instead. As much as it pains me to loosen my grasp on that spirit stat, I now gem and enchant for intellect when it makes sense. And if I hadn't read so much theory about what stats are best for priests, I would have always stacked mp5. I would still be gemming for stamina like I did with my Primal Mooncloth set back in BC.
Understanding concepts is more important than memorizing numbers. Knowing that spirit is a decent stat for mages and warlocks in addition to priests and druids makes me not hate my lockly friends for rolling on gear I want. It reminds me to keep divine spirit on them as well. Knowing that a good balance of SP, mana regen, haste and crit is more important that memorizing the number I "should" achieve before progressing past Naxx25.
I wouldn't understand the concepts if I didn't read the theory. But I'm still going to keep my Lightwell. And I'm still going to forget to cast Guardian Spirit a lot of the time. Even before the changes to downranked heals, I never bothered downranking. I'm still in the habit of bunching my heals and then taking breaks in an effort to regen my mana - even though, in theory, I know that isn't very useful anymore.