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Sherlock Holmes Blog

After reading A Scandal in Bohemia by Arthur Conan Doyle and “Do You Think Like Sherlock Holmes?” by Maria Konnikova, I have concluded that mental alertness is essential to succeeding at scientific methods of detection and investigation. Without mindfulness, it is difficult to be observant of crucial details.

In A Scandal in Bohemia, Sherlock Holmes receives a mysterious note from an unknown visitor who seeks his help. In it, he writes that he will stop by 221B Baker Street, Holmes’s place of residence, that night. Holmes and his friend, John Watson, attempt to decipher the stranger’s identity based on the note. They observe that the paper is strong and stiff, and most likely expensive, and conclude that the anonymous correspondent must be well-off. Holmes traces the logo on the paper back to Germany, and then, more specifically, to Bohemia. Even further, Holmes reasons that the stranger is German, based on his sentence construction. These are all examples of document analysis.

Watson and Holmes owe the success of these sharp observations to deep-rooted concentration, freedom from distraction, and mindfulness. In “Do You Think Like Sherlock Holmes?” Konnikova explains the importance of cognitive vigilance, constant awareness, and strategic allocation of attention in making an effective analysis. The feasibility of an observation also depends on one’s ability to make objective, rather than subjective observations, and to differentiate the former from the latter. Recognizing useful information from among one’s perceptions is particularly important in research. For example, in the late 1800s, a simple observation greatly changed the field of forensic science and crime investigation when fingerprinting proved to be a more accurate and reliable method of detection than anthropometric measurements. In Conan Doyle’s stories, Holmes is able to make keen and instrumental observations due greatly to his unfailing ability to distinguish the crucial details from the incidental ones, although, in reality, it is less so an ability and more of a mindset, and as Konnikova states, it is achievable with practice.

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