Seeing, and Thinking, Like Sherlock

From The New York Times:

BookMaria Konnikova’s “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes” may not make you a master detective, as the publisher notes, but it will teach you how to “observe, not merely see,” a prerequisite to thinking like the great man. As Holmes himself says in “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” his work centers on “those faculties of deduction and of logical synthesis which I have made my special province.” If deduction and synthesis are a challenge, learning to observe may be even harder. Ms. Konnikova, a science writer based in New York, distinguishes between the Watson system (the natural tendency to believe what we see and hear) and the Holmes system. Teaching the Holmes system is the object of this book.

The first step is to question everything. Citing the psychologist Daniel Gilbert, Ms. Konnikova points out that for our brains to process something, we must initially, momentarily, believe it. If you hear the term “pink elephant,” you picture a pink elephant for a split second before you “effortfully engage in disbelieving” it. More complicated subjects are far more difficult than pink elephants, of course. Consider the statement “There are no poisonous snakes in Maine.” It sounds plausible, and most of us would just let it go. (In fact, it is true.) This tendency, she tells us, is reinforced by what psychologists call the correspondence bias, by which we generally assume that what a person says is what he believes. “Holmes’s trick is to treat every thought, every experience and every perception the way he would a pink elephant,” Ms. Konnikova writes. “In other words, begin with a healthy dose of skepticism instead of the credulity that is your mind’s natural state of being.” This requires mindfulness — constant presence of mind, “the attentiveness and hereness that is so essential for real active observation of the world.” If we want to think like Sherlock Holmes, “we must want, actively, to think like him.” And practice, practice, practice.

More here.