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My favorite TV show by far is the BBC/Masterpiece show Sherlock, but as my previous attempts to write about TV met with little interest, I thought I’d write about what really interests me in Holmes: how he thinks. Indeed, many of my recent posts, I realized, have been about how to think (The Psychology of Mālama ʻĀina, Philosophy as Therapy, Reason’s End, Sovereignty and Mental Models). So it was with great interest that I read Maria Konnikova’s Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, which I heard about from a Big Think video, and planned to read this summer. The book allowed me to muse over my favorite TV show, but also over the workings of my own mind. I found that I’d unconsciously been doing a lot of things right all this time.
THE BRAIN ATTIC
The primary focus of the book is what Holmes (or more accurately, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) calls “the brain attic.” This attic is a flexible, but not infinitely flexible, physical space in this conception: “maybe it has a chimney … maybe it doesn’t,” but according to Holmes/Doyle, a person’s brain “is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose” (Konnikova, 26). From a very young age, I chose my furniture based on importance – to me, there were four domains of important information: literature, philosophy, history and art (actually, that’s an updated version, but basically it was those categories). I know that Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs and Roger Maris hit 61 in a season, but there my sports knowledge ends (although I’ll admit I do know a lot of running stats). At age 9, while others were watching the world series or reading A Wrinkle in Time, I was reading Brave New World. I just had the feeling that this “furniture” in my mind would be of much more use someday than sports statistics or children’s books.
Thinking of the mind in this way is also helpful in reverse, allowing one to do what Sherlock is so good at: “guessing at the contents of a person’s attic from his outward appearance becomes one of Sherlock’s surest ways of determining who that person is and what he is capable of.” If you don’t know what I mean by this, just watch the video below.
This scene was modified from the original in The Sign of Four, but replaced a pocket watch with a cell phone.