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See a Problem?
Holmes is often portrayed as a mechanical logician, but his approach depends more on outside-the-box thinking that, according to modern research, really does help solve problems. When most people think of Sherlock Holmes, they see a paragon of calculating logic: a chilly, computer-like machine with endless powers of reason. In working on my new book Mastermind : How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes , it occurred to me that what allows the detective to attain the heights of deduction that he does is the very thing a computer lacks entirely: the power of imagination. Consider: When Sherlock Holmes is asked to investigate a mysterious death on the shores of a small village in Sussex, he realizes that the cold-blooded, vicious murderer—the victim has terrible weals all along his back, "as though he had been terribly flogged"—is not exactly of the human variety. How does Holmes come upon his solution?
I shall be happy to give you an opinion upon the subject in the course of a day or two. To-day is Saturday, and I hope that by Monday we may come to a conclusion. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify. But I must be prompt over this matter. I had come to the conclusion that he had dropped asleep, and indeed was nodding myself, when he suddenly sprang out of his chair with the gesture of a man who has made up his mind and put his pipe down upon the mantelpiece. James's Hall this afternoon," he remarked.
A three-pipe problem. When asked why this was the case recently, I came up with the off the cuff response that he was full of contradictions. Though a public figure, Doyle was an intensely private man. He carefully cultivated his public image, honing the story of his life in the telling and retelling. Of his father's alcoholism and other close relationships, he is purposefully vague. Whatever the truth, for all his larger than life persona, there's always something inherently unknowable about Doyle. Doyle was caught between the lure of the romantic and the scientific. He was brought up on the sweeping historical romances that were a favourite of his mother and which consequently informed his notion of what great and 'worthy' literature is.