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How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes

There have been numerous representations of Sherlock Holmes. Same stories are told again and again in different ways and no one ever gets bored. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created this character in late nineteenth century. It still remains the most beloved and cherished story of all time. Sherlock Holmes- the clever detective in a funny hat.


One aspect that makes this character extraordinary is his deductive powers. Sherlock Holmes was the first detective story where the clues didn’t appear miraculously to the protagonist. He was the first one to see things, to observe patterns that others could not. Sherlock Holmes first introduced us to the science of deduction.

Today you can find numerous books, websites, blogs that try to explain the science of deduction. Sherlock did not possess supernatural powers. All of the explanations in the books are the result of very systematic methods of deduction that anyone can learn. And yet, anyone who tries this usually fails. The truth is we all are so used to speedy readymade things and automatic ways that we fail to look critically at the reality around us.

Who needs deductive powers when you have Google?

It’s true that everyone doesn’t require science of deduction to survive day to day activities. But that doesn’t mean we abandon critical thinking altogether. People today use their brains like a computer. They turn on the critical thinking part when required. We think only in certain places- Schools, colleges, Workplace. We only read certain parts of the newspaper that interest us. There are occasional exceptions when some controversial issue is in the news or when we have to prove ourselves the right to a friend or colleague who holds opposing views. All other times we shut it down. In Elementary, when Sherlock is training his new companion as a detective he addresses this issue. Bear in mind that the Elementary Sherlock is living in 2012 New York. He tells Watson deduction is not a thinking process but a point of view. You cannot turn it off and on like a machine. You must notice everything around you, even the smallest details. Because the smallest details usually hold the biggest truths.


I personally don’t think deduction is a science. It’s more of an art. Sure you are required to have decent knowledge in almost every field and precise methods to find hidden clues, but that’s not the tricky part of deduction. Observing details is the primary step. The tough part is connecting what you observe and make a story out of it. For this, you are required to make some generalizations. For example, a person’s job doesn’t require working with hands extensively if they have long and polished nails. Here we are making a generalization that people doing manual work don’t indulge in nail art. There can be exceptions to this, but they’ll be minimal. Making generalizations is a straightforward use of probability. While deducing something one is required to picture different scenarios with same inputs. The most probable one is the winner. When all facts are put together in probability, exceptions tend to be minuscule.

Our thought and emotions are not as well guarded as we like them to be. With these deductive skills, you can solve not only mysteries but people too. Any interested party with basic observation skills can predict our personality, our lifestyle. A person’s face, clothing, tastes, private belongings all are projections of his or herself. Once you have been solved your behavior in a particular situation can be predicted.

Deductive skills are useful for million reasons. But we don’t always have time to train ourselves just as a hobby. So here are some tips that you can use to keep your detective side in check –
1. Use all your senses, not just eyes.
Observing doesn’t end with eyes. In many cases, we see Sherlock sniffing the crime scene with utmost concentration.

2. Observing not only what is there but also what is not.
With generalizations, one learns to expect certain things at certain places. For example, in the first episode BBC series, Sherlock distinguished murder from suicide by the absence of a suitcase from the crime scene.

3. Looking for information in unusual places.
If one wants to know more about something we take help of books, media, the internet etc. These all are accepted normal sources of information and hence can be easily manipulated. Here I’d like to use an example from an Indian adaptation of Holmes- Byomakesh Bakshi. In the books, Bakshi likes to read advertisements in newspapers to keep up with recent events. When his companion questions him, he explains that it’s through ads one learns what is truly happening. Ads for coaching classes, gold loans, Matrimonial ads tell us about the general happening of the society.

4. Read.
Not just ones related to your work or the ones you like. Include different unrelated subjects in your reading list. It’s always beneficial to have basic knowledge of various topics. This will sharpen your common sense.

5. Maintain the attic.
Sherlock Holmes views the brain as an attic. He thinks there’s only limited space in our brain and hence only useful things should be memorized. We all have different definitions of useful, but it is a good advice to stop overloading. As an attic is not enough for Sherlock Holmes. We see Sherlock’s mind palace in hounds of Baskerville.


Finally, as Sherlock says- ‘Once you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains however improbable must be the truth.’

Saee Pawar

Written by Saee Pawar

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