Can Anyone Be Like Sherlock Holmes

Ellen Grant
• Friday, 18 December, 2020
• 8 min read

Two new books purport to demonstrate to us more-or-less-ordinary civilians the brainy machinations of the world's most popular fictional detective. It's just past the 125th anniversary of the first Sir Arthur Doyle novel that features the shrewd sleuth, Sherlock Holmes.

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The Scientific Sherlock Holmes : Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics, is by James F. O'Brien, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Missouri State University and a lifelong fan of Holmes, who has given numerous lectures and taught a college course on Holmes and science. This is for the genuine fan of Holmes as a brilliant thinker and literary creation.

The other is Mastermind: How to Think LikeSherlockHolmes, by Maria Konnikova, who writes the “Literally Psyched” column for Scientific American and is a doctoral candidate in psychology at Columbia University. The main idea here is that Sherlock Holmes spent his life in mindful interaction with the world.

Holmes (yes, he's only a literary device, but that doesn't reduce his usefulness as a guide) made a point of observing constantly, rather than simply seeing. To think like Holmes, we must move, insists Konnikova, from passive absorption to active awareness.

She uses many examples from the Holmes books to elucidate ways to be mindfully observant, providing enough dialogue so that we don't need to have read Doyle's novels at all. With practice, we can overcome the automatic wiring of our brains to become more objective in our thinking.

Studies have shown that those who are motivated by their personal engagement in a situation are more likely to make the effort to counteract their autopilot- like initial judgments. We won't engage that fully in everything, but if we want to be more accurate in our thinking, we can manage our wandering minds.

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The train of reasoning ran, 'Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. When Holmes famously quips that the solution of a case is “elementary,” he's not simply dismissing the detective work as easy.

“Before turning to those moral and mental aspects of the matter which present the greatest difficulties, let the enquirer begin by mastering more elementary problems.” “As Holmes admonishes Lestrade and Greg son when the two detectives fail to note a similarity between the murder being investigated and an earlier case, 'There is nothing new under the sun.

Rromer / Flickr In the novel Hound of the Baskerville, ” Holmes assembles clues not just by reading everything he can find, but involving all his senses. “It may recur to your memory that when I examined the paper upon which the printed words were fastened I made a close inspection for the water-mark.

In doing so I held it within a few inches of my eyes, and was conscious of a faint smell of the scent known as white examine. There are seventy-five perfumes, which it is very necessary that a criminal expert should be able to distinguish from each other, and cases have more than once within my own experience depended on their prompt recognition.

REUTERS/Into Kelvins When Holmes is dealing with a particularly thorny case, he occupies himself with another activity, like playing the violin or smoking a pipe. He curled himself up in his chair, with his thin knees drawn up to his hawk- like nose, and there he sat with his eyes closed and his black clay pipe thrusting out like the bill of some strange bird.

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I had come to the conclusion that he had dropped asleep, and indeed was nodding myself, when he suddenly sprang out of his chair with the gesture of a man who has made up his mind and put his pipe down upon the mantelpiece.” Citing psych research, Konnikova contends that the pipe smoking is a way for Holmes to constructively distract himself from his thinking.

Wikimedia Commons Holmes knew how to prevent the mid-afternoon dip: not to lose his energy to digestion. “The faculties become refined when you starve them ... surely, my dear Watson, you must admit that what your digestion gains in the way of blood supply is so much lost to the brain.

For Konnikova, this evidence of Holmes awareness that your cognitive abilities draw from a finite supply of energy, one that must, if you are to sleuth well, be managed precisely. The fictional character Sherlock Holmes could quickly read a situation and come up with a conclusion that explained it.

You'll notice subtle verbal and nonverbal cues during conversations, interviews, presentations, and anywhere else, allowing you to respond more insight fully. Sherlock Holmes and, more recently, the character Patrick Jane on the show “The Mentalist”, make good use of these abilities.

Psychologist Maria Konnikova wrote a book, Mastermind: How to Think LikeSherlockHolmes, in which she describes two central skills of Sherlock : observation and deduction. Young children, on the other hand, take in everything studying their surroundings and often asking so many questions they drive adults crazy.

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Holmes doesn't necessarily remember more than the rest of us, but he recognizes connections many people miss. It would be of great value to regain the curiosity we had as children about all the different types of things we want to learn.

Working on increasing our daily attention to the environment and striving to regain that childlike curiosity will send us in the right direction. Mainly, this meant buying into Holmes theories of deductive reasoning, paying attention to the meaning of all the details that surrounded me, and reading the news for crimes and mysteries.

Originated by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the 1887 novella, A Study in Scarlet, hundreds of writers across the centuries have penned stories featuring Holmes and Watson. Numerous adaptations and reimagining have been created, with stars like Robert Downey, Jr., Sir Ian McLellan, and Benedict Cumberbatch each putting their own spin on Holmes character.

On top of Sherlock Holmes, I've spent most of my life eating up detective stories: Agatha Christie, Nancy Drew, Paul Austere, Mary Higgins Clark, the list goes on and on. I have a strange habit of accidentally memorizing information, especially phone numbers, which comes in handy a lot of the time.

Filled with a changing cast of characters, there were millions of deductions to be made, particularly in my longer commutes from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Every time I stepped on the train, I'd start playing what I labeled in my mind as “The Deduction Game,” where I'd examine a person near me and try to decide where they were going, where they were coming from, what their life was like, etc.

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“I deduced that the pair of older women gabbing had just finished a book club meeting together. The two suit-clad bros behind me discussing their buddy's poor real estate decisions obviously worked in the Financial District.

The young girl sleeping on her mom's shoulder was coming home from an overlong extra-curricular activity uptown. But this week, as I tried to glean what I could from deductions, it meant that I had to pick up my eyes and really look at the people I was sharing the world with.

This whole week, I couldn't stop thinking about David Foster Wallace's “This is Water” speech, in which he urges his audience to pull out of auto-pilot and pay attention to the world around them. People often draw connections between this way of thinking and the factors that influenced Wallace's suicide a few years later.

But, as Wallace says, “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unseen ways every day.” While Holmes and Watson's adventures deal with complex puzzles and sophisticated murders, the reality of crime is far uglier.

Instead of promising a romp through London, reading the news made me feel upset and helpless. Though I didn't catch any murderers or uncover any secret societies, there was one big success of this whole experiment: After a whole week of playing The Deduction Game, my head is filled with characters and scenarios that I'm just itching to write about.

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If it “does literature a great disservice” to carve off bits of it, then how does that not apply to, say, the film version of 12 Years a Slave, which is (inevitably) quite selective in its use of its (public domain) source material? I certainly wish that Brian Amarillo had never gotten his clammy oven mitts on Wonder Woman, and that DC Comics hadn't decided to make a mess of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen.

(For examples of this line of argument, just scroll down through the comments in this National Post story about the legal battle over Sherlock Holmes.) Tom Stoppard, for instance, took two minor characters from Hamlet and put them at the center of his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in order to contrast major tragedies with minor ones, and think about the way even stories in the margins can matter.

Similarly, in Longhorn, Jo Baker retold Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the Bennet family servants in order to think about the way that class erases some people's stories. Numerous fan-fiction stories take characters like (ahem) Holmes and Watson and put them in homosexual relationships, revealing and reveling in erotic tensions denied or buried in the original work.

Along the same lines, Alan Moore and Melinda Debbie's Lost Girls turned Wendy of Peter Pan, Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz, and Alice of Alice in Wonderland into rutting bisexual fantasies in a pornographic fever dream. Rick Riordan's massively popular Percy Jackson series makes extensive use of Greek mythology, including appearances by Hera, Zeus, Poseidon, and numerous other figures who, of course, are carved off from their original context.

Noah Blavatsky edits the online comics-and-culture website The Hooded Utilitarian and is the author of the book Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Mars ton/Peter Comics, 1941-48.

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