Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The secrets behind Sherlock Holmes

By Luke Kristopher Davis

So you have stumbled upon this blog... accident? I think not. From the fact that you're reading this tells me three things, you have become slightly obsessed with the BBC series Sherlock Holmes, you have developed this obsession from your amazement of the main protagonist and this is due to his eccentricity, his intelligence and his ability to out boast and wit any mortal being on earth.

This tells me one more thing about you; you have thought about being like Sherlock and adopting his methods of 'deduction' and his ability to solve the most tangled mysteries.

Well, I am not Sherlock so my efforts just then might have been some degree less impressive than the Holmes himself. He may be a legendary fictional detective but are his methods explicable, employable and can they be  honed to surpass that of ordinary humans?

Here we shall explore and try to explain using modern science, rules of day-to-day experience and good old logic and common sense Sherlock's methods of investigation.


In our everyday life we travel to places, common and uncommon, to fulfill some sort of purpose or to gain some sort of enjoyment. Now, to get to each place we must travel and this can be done using many means of transport, private or public. So every time we go to a place something along the way or at the place might be recurring or slightly different, it is these continuities and differences that Sherlock observes and systematically records so that they can be used as information or evidence in a key clue to an investigation or to a general fact. 

For example in the first BBC episode of the new series Sherlock is able to input the code into the safe. He is able to do this from an observation: he observed Irene Adler's body measurements (chest size, waist, legs). You may wonder that just from pure sight one cannot infer precise measurements of a figure, but if you are shown lots of measurements of bodies and people over time then your brain will be able to predict from experience what measurements a body has, well only if you tell your brain to store it. Sherlock in 'The Reichenbach Fall' encounters Moriarty in his own living quarters, Moriarty whilst talking begins to tap on his knee, this Sherlock (consciously or unconsciously) observes and then uses this to solve what a particular (ending up meaningless) code is.

You may wonder why such an expertise in observation is necessary then your right it isn't. It does help in making you more competent about people (through observing mannerisms and gestures and fitting that with certain personality traits etc.), it helps with your navigation when your sat nav dies or when you are in a new obscure place (observations of key objects or structures help make a path).

This trait definitely helps in academia where observing patterns, disruptions and then systematically memorizing them then applying this memory to problems or cases etc. As you guessed, this definitely will up your game in the field of law and crime. Observation will make you more aware and hence will encourage your brain to learn more and faster. It is all fun though.

So:  1. Take notice of regular patterns and/or differences in environment. 2. Observe traits in people 3. Try to remember certain aspects of your observation to ease recall. 4. Don't go crazy observing like a paranoid man suspicious of anything outside of himself. 


"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth"

Observation on its own is like a bicycle without wheels: useless. In order to make use of your newly acquired skills of observation you must have a system which will organize them (tends to be your brain) and system which relates pictures to assumptions to facts. This is called empirical induction or more commonly called science.

This method requires you to use past experience(s) and apply them to the problem at hand taking general assumptions into account. A simple example is this:  You observe that all the swans you have seen are white and that when someone shows you 5 birds of different colours and says that they are swans you say they are wrong for that reason and for other reasons. Pretty basic reasoning.

In the 'Reichenbach Fall' episode we see Sherlock at the scene of a kidnapping, he first observes that the boy kidnapped reads spy novels and uses an assumption about human behaviour (one based on prior experience and factual literature) that the boy will try and employ similar spy techniques in the novels. So Sherlock looks for hidden messages of some sort which could have been done in a certain amount of time. He sees Linseed oil (i think it is linseed) and recalls it's ultraviolet reflecting properties and hence discovers the message.

His technique seems to be so unique and outside of the box, but he is (quite sharply and efficiently mind) using his very well recorded past experience and facts and applying them rigorously to the problem at hand. Using the logic in the quote above... if you rule out that which could not have happened, you are left with only that which could have happened. 

This technique is used in modern science but it could also make everyday life much more easier and efficient, try to make decisions rationally. It may sound trivial but most of us are led astray by emotions, short term pleasures, incorrectly applied logic etc. (we are human)  but sticking to fact will pay off.

1. Be as objective as you can 2. Be prepared to encounter an anomaly (moriarty). 3. If there's no evidence then there's no conviction. 4. It doesn't matter who says it, if it's wrong it's wrong.


Mr. Holmes may have an addiction to solving cases and this addiction may have something to do with his slightly autistic love for puzzles in any form. Despite this, Sherlock is extremely productive. He is always feeding his brain with new information, new challenges and new places. This will ultimately make him better at methods 1 and 2 but also it will keep training his brain to become sharper, smarter and subtler. Without any case on the go he roams around his quarters like a bored child on sugar after finishing every game he owns.

If you keep yourself occupied with articles to read, puzzles to solve (less so in our age), writing, exercise, societies, making films, inventing, drawing..... anything that stimulates your brain and challenges you.

You have to live and breathe for productivity and be prepared to push yourself to the max.

1. Do lot's of challenging and fun stuff!  2. Employ your newly acquired skills and knowledge as much as you want (any skill and knowledge you acquire) 3. Repeat  steps 1 & 2 till death. 


Just when you might have become too eccentric/ crazy/ intelligent you might need a laid back doctor with a blog to bring you back to the real world!

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