The Bright Side of Confusion

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I am not currently confused but I have been thinking about confusing things. Not things that currently confuse me (although they might if I thought about them too much), but categories of things that are confusing. Such as

Things that confuse me:

How many cups are there in a pint? I think two.  How many pints in a quart? I’m guessing two.  How many quarts in a gallon? Is that also two? I don’t think so.   If the answer really is two for all of them, then why don’t I trust my answer? I have to look it up every time. Which doesn’t always help:

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No way I can remember that. I think it might not be right, also.

Things that confuse other people that don’t confuse me:

In my little town, our grocery store is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. We love having a grocery store here, so we try to shop there a lot.  For reasons unknown to me, the store closes early on Saturday and Sunday.  (Could be a lot of good reasons. Football might be part of it. Or church attendance. Not sure.  But this isn’t actually the confusing part.)  On Saturdays, they close at 6 p.m. On Sundays, they close at 5 p.m.  My husband can never remember which one is which, and he’s not alone. I figured out a mnemonic for it–I was born in 1965, so 65, so 6 comes first on Saturday and then 5 on Sunday.

This list actually isn’t very long.

Oh–I can absolutely still sing the Big Mac jingle perfectly. I did it for a class just this semester. We were looking at the Crying Indian PSA & I wanted them to also see a typical 70s commercial, so I showed them the McD’s commercial where people try to, and fail to, sing the jingle. I asked my students at the end if they thought I could do it & they looked skeptical, so I did it.  They seemed pleased. One of my proudest teaching moments, I tell you.

Things that would be less interesting if they weren’t confusing:

This is actually what got me started thinking about things that are confusing.  There’s that saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But usually, when people bring it up, they reference it as if it’s impossibly confusing.  Often the phrase, “how does that go?” is part of the conversation.  So people start making up variations, “The friend of my enemy is my….” or “The enemy of my friend is….” I think the fun of bringing it up is the automatic variation, the sense of uncertainty, which is appropriate when you’re thinking about enemies and friends and not sure which is which.

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Wikipedia is partly certain about it SANSKRIT, but then not sure CITATION NEEDED which seems appropriate to me with this.

 

(Now that I think of it, the McDonald’s commercial was probably aiming for this category, but since I can sing it so easily, I’m now wondering if there’s really anyone who can’t.)

And then I thought of “feed a fever, starve a cold,” which, when you say it, you almost always have to say “or is it….” and you trail off. I feel like this is from a Listerine commercial, anyway. (Which makes me wonder if the whole point of advertising is to pretend to answer a question that people are confused about, about which people aren’t really confused. Or wouldn’t be, if you didn’t put it on a commercial.) But my point is, if we knew for sure, we wouldn’t do it anyway, because when you have a cold, you usually have a fever, and if you have a fever and you’re hungry, you should probably go ahead and eat, and if you’re into intermittent fasting, you probably should take a week off if you’re sick. Maybe intermittent fasting is what made you sick.

And finally, that whole first-cousin once-removed, second-cousin twice-removed conversation that my family has periodically. The point is not to figure out the family tree. The point is to start talking about extended family and give ourselves an out at which point we can stop talking about extended family, and “I can never remember how that works” is a great way to cease and desist. One year we had a fun tangent, in which my Gran’mommy started talking about double-cousins. She meant when someone has a cousin by blood and by marriage, and we all knew what she meant, but Southern Illinois is southern enough we’d all heard jokes and hints and rumors about double cousins, and it was all related to incest, which of course isn’t funny.  Except that once, pulling into our family reunion, Mom told my brother and me that some of the cousins we would see that day were far enough removed that we could safely date them. I don’t think we asked “how many times removed?” I just remember making barfing noises together, a rare moment of sibling harmony for that time period.

I’m trying to think of more things that allegedly or certainly confuse us, that we’d enjoy less if they weren’t confusing.  Any ideas?

2 responses to “The Bright Side of Confusion

  1. “Everybody knows” that the square root of two is an irrational number (that irritated the Greeks beyond measure. Can one measure irritation?)
    The proof technique usually constructed in capstone math major seminars is a demonstration of the truth of the contrapositive to the clumsily expressed assertion: “If the square root of two is a number, then it is an irrational number.”
    That contrapositive is “If a number is not irrational then it cannot be the square root of two.” If one accepts that any “not irrational number” must be a rational number then it is a matter of arithmetic to show that no rational number can be the square root of two.
    But by this stage one has brought so much machinery into play that the inexperienced mathematician usually ends up memorizing the steps of the proof (Iplejaleejunse to the flag ovthe YouNightedStaysuv America…) and waits for a moment of literacy to beget illumination.
    For me…. I received the light on the truth of the contrapositive statement Long Before I understood just how that necessitated the truth of its parent statement.
    But you know. The square root of two just plain IS irrational, don’t argue with me and eat your beets.

  2. So think this would fall under the category of things that confuse other people that don’t confuse you 🙂 Love the steps of the proof.

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