The learning process: Confusion before knowledge

Contributing Writer Contributing WriterJuly 8, 2013 

No, I didn’t Google this at all. This is and has been an idea running around in my head for a long time. Maybe it is just my way of rationalizing confusion and trying to make is sound like a useful stepping stone, rather than the irritatingly emotional terrorist that it can become.

This issue often rears its head when I dabble in technology issues. Like a couple of weeks ago my plasma TV decided to have a 2-inch black bar down the center of my screen. Sorry, the center of its screen. This was going to be trouble if I tried to fix it myself.

I did go on YouTube and saw people pulling their televisions apart and trying to simply describe what I needed to do to fix this. Despite their calm, rational voices and facial expressions, the reliance they had on my mechanical abilities was misplaced. Scratch that idea.

I went out and priced televisions and found that they weren’t as high as when I bought this failed one about a decade ago.

I couldn’t bring myself to abandon my sweet television. So I took the old girl to the repair guy. He told me the price to fix it, and it was more than the price of a new set.

As fond as I was of this TV and the good times she and I had shared, I was fonder of not spending more money.

I know this makes me sound shallow, but this column is about honesty.

Next, I thought to wait for a holiday (or a going-out-of-business) sale for a super-duper, deep discount. Scratch that one, too. I could wait and wait and never be certain that I got the lowest price that would ever be offered.

So I plunged ahead with the purchase, brought it home, set it up — and then decided to read the owner’s manual. You know the one that says, “Before Assembly: Read This Completely.” Well, I’ve never done that before and I didn’t start this time. So there it was.

Now here is where the confusion really started for me. I didn’t have any connections which I could use to run to my ancient stereo amplifier. I have an Onkyo amp and two very old Speaker Lab speakers. They really kick butt! And my previous TV could talk to them through the same stereo cables that have been familiar to me since childhood. Right channel and left channel. Red wire and white wire. Right.

But now we are in a digital age. The sound output was via an optical cable which conveys digital messages.

I am still in analog world. Joe Walsh recently wrote a song called “Analog Man.” A sampling of the lyrics go:

“Welcome to cyberspace, I’m lost in the fog

Everything’s digital I’m still analog

When something goes wrong

I don’t have a clue

Some 10-year-old smart-ass has to show me what to do”

That is where I was: My new television couldn’t talk with my amplifier, and no 10-year-olds were immediately available. My blood pressure was starting to get going as I realized that I had just paid good money to go backward. My previous system worked well. This new deal wouldn’t give me the sound that I had come to enjoy.

The guy who sold me the television now suggested that he sell me a new surround-sound system. Well, I have digital television, but I’m not going to completely sell out to digital. Yet.

But my confusion was now breaking into the frustration zone. How can I hold this where it is and not have it destabilize into frustration, or worse?

Now, I’m not going “zen” on you, but this is a moment which can either disintegrate or originate. Take a breath and remember, “Confusion Precedes Knowledge.” Embrace the confusion; rather than put energy into fighting it, how about calmly stepping into this issue?

So I thought, this isn’t the first time someone has had this problem. There has to be a way of converting the digital message to analog. Well, I found that there was a way. I found a thing called (drum roll) a “converter” — inexpensive at electronic store and presto! Stereo sound!

OK, sometimes confusion doesn’t lead to knowledge. It can lead to more confusion. But knowledge, at least in my case, doesn’t seem to really stick around, unless confusion was there previously.

So now I’m a little confused about my slogan, but it’s close enough and then again, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful.

Scott Candoo, a Tacoma attorney, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on these pages. He and his wife, Susan, live in the North End. Email him at

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