Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
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The New York Times bestselling guide to thinking like literature's greatest detective
No fictional character is more renowned for his powers of thought and observation than Sherlock Holmes. But is his extraordinary intellect merely a gift of fiction, or can we learn to cultivate these abilities ourselves, to improve our lives at work and at home?
We can, says psychologist and journalist Maria Konnikova, and in Mastermind she shows us how. Beginning with the “brain attic”—Holmes’s metaphor for how we store information and organize knowledge—Konnikova unpacks the mental strategies that lead to clearer thinking and deeper insights. Drawing on twenty-first-century neuroscience and psychology, Mastermind explores Holmes’s unique methods of ever-present mindfulness, astute observation, and logical deduction. In doing so, it shows how each of us, with some self-awareness and a little practice, can employ these same methods to sharpen our perceptions, solve difficult problems, and enhance our creative powers. For Holmes aficionados and casual readers alike, Konnikova reveals how the world’s most keen-eyed detective can serve as an unparalleled guide to upgrading the mind.
Holmes, is a dangerous policy. Before you know it, your mind will be filled with so much useless junk that even the information that happened to be useful is buried so deeply and is so inaccessible that it might as well not even be there. It’s important to keep one thing in mind: we know only what we can remember at any given point. In other words, no amount of knowledge will save us if we can’t recall it at the moment we need it. It doesn’t matter if the modern Holmes knows anything about
Holmes realizes that the story is merely that. They are not to look for a fleeing schoolmaster, wherever the destination may be, but for the schoolmaster (no modifier necessary) and the boy, and not necessarily in the same place. Everyone interprets the missing man as somehow involved in the disappearance, be it as accomplice or instigator. No one stops to consider that the only available evidence points to nothing beside the fact that he’s missing. No one, that is, except for Sherlock Holmes.
reassuring hand on it, and say, just as it’s about to leap into action, Hold off a minute. I think we should look at this more closely before we act. To see what I mean, let’s go back for a moment to Holmes—specifically, to his reaction to Watson’s overly superficial (and unengaged) judgment of their client in “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder.” In the story, Dr. Watson demonstrates a typical System Watson approach to observation: judging too quickly from initial impressions and failing to
of the flaming-red hair, leaves Holmes after telling his story, Holmes tells Watson that he must give his prompt attention to the matter. “What are you going to do, then?” asks Watson, anxious as ever to know how the case will be resolved. Holmes’s reply may come as somewhat of a surprise: “To smoke,” he answered. “It is quite a three-pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.” He curled himself up in his chair, with his thick knees drawn up to his hawk-like nose, and
understand every detail” from His Last Bow, “The Adventure of the Red Circle,” p. 1272. “That razor brain blunted and rusted with inaction” from The Valley of Fear, chapter 2: Mr. Sherlock Holmes Discourses, p. 11. CHAPTER EIGHT We’re Only Human On a morning in May 1920, Mr. Edward Gardner received a letter from a friend. Inside were two small photographs. In one, a group of what looked to be fairies were dancing on a stream bank while a little girl looked on. In another, a winged