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  • Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly

  • one of fiction's most popular characters,

  • having been portrayed by over 200 actors

  • on the screen over the years

  • and having served as the inspiration for other characters

  • such as Batman and Adrian Monk.

  • And it's no wonder why we're so fascinated with him.

  • Yes, his stories contain lots of mystery and adventure,

  • but he's also a character who can make logical deductions from the most scant evidence,

  • and we find that inherently fascinating.

  • We find characters who are hyper-intelligent to be really interesting.

  • And what's better about Sherlock Holmes,

  • he's not superhuman, he is human.

  • Which leads me to the point of this video,

  • because if you're anything like me,

  • you've probably gone beyond simple fascination with the character at one point or another

  • and thought to yourself, how can I think like Sherlock Holmes?

  • You know, without all the sociopathic tendencies

  • and the substance abuses, just the good parts.

  • Well that is what I want to explore in this video,

  • and by the end of it you're going to understand three of the core mental strategies

  • that Holmes brought to his cases,

  • deep observation, skepticism, and probabilistic thinking.

  • (urban music)

  • The first strategy on my list

  • is also probably the most famous one;

  • Holmes is a keen observer of his environment.

  • He doesn't just casually see or perceive his environment

  • like the rest of us; he observes it with scrutiny,

  • taking it all in and storing away details

  • that other people may miss it entirely or forget it quickly.

  • This well trained power of observation

  • allows him to tie together all those small details

  • in order to make conclusions.

  • And this is a skill that's useful

  • not just in detective work, but in almost any field.

  • So here's how you can build this skill for yourself.

  • First, be an active participant

  • in whatever's going on in your life.

  • Try to be as present-minded as you can.

  • When you're having a conversation with somebody else,

  • try to listen actively.

  • Try to formulate questions in your head

  • to dig into what they're saying.

  • And when you're traveling around

  • or going about your business, don't be staring at your phone

  • or otherwise dividing up your attention.

  • Try to be present minded and observe your environment.

  • Like many other cognitive skills,

  • observation is a habit that can be strengthened over time.

  • The author W.I.B. Beveridge puts it really well

  • in his book The Art of Scientific Investigation:

  • Training in observation follows the same principles as training in any activity

  • "At first, one must do things consciously and laboriously,

  • but with practice the activities gradually become automatic

  • and unconscious, and a habit is established."

  • Right now, most of us aren't very well trained in the art of observation.

  • We divide up our attention; we multitask.

  • So again, if you want to get better at this,

  • be as present-minded as you can.

  • And to get specific, I do want to give you

  • one little challenge to take away from this video.

  • Next time you sit down to eat,

  • next time you sit down at a table,

  • don't take out your phone at all.

  • Not only will this force you to be

  • present-minded and not dividing your attention

  • with your phone and whoever's at the table,

  • but it'll also force you to make conversation

  • so that you'll be building your social skills as well.

  • Now, aside from mindfulness, there's one other

  • critical piece to building those observational skills,

  • and that's to gain experience in whatever field that you want be

  • really perceptive and observational in.

  • Experts naturally pick out details

  • that are relevant to them in situations and environments

  • that the average person just isn't going to see.

  • Think about how a,

  • actually I can't say this word, what is it?

  • Traceur.

  • Yeah that, somebody who practices the art of parkour

  • would look at the average urban environment

  • versus how a normal pedestrian would look at it.

  • While you and I would just see

  • roads and sidewalks and buildings and other people,

  • somebody who's an expert in parkour

  • is going to see a lot more, naturally.

  • They're going to see the most efficient way

  • to get from Point A to Point B,

  • whether it's ducking under a railing

  • or vaulting over something, climbing up a wall.

  • And you and I are just not going to see that.

  • Now, this tip is pretty related

  • to another quality that Sherlock Holmes emphasizes a lot,

  • a background knowledge across many different fields

  • that's both deep, and most importantly,

  • according to Holmes himself, well curated.

  • This is a concept that Holmes calls the "brain-attic,"

  • and here's how he describes it in A Study in Scarlet:

  • "I consider that a man's brain

  • originally is like a little, empty attic,

  • and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.

  • A fool takes in all lumber of every sort that he comes across,

  • so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out,

  • or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things,

  • so that he has difficulty in laying his hands upon it.

  • Now, the skillful workman is very careful indeed

  • as to what he takes into his brain-attic."

  • Now, I don't think you need to be paranoid about taking in the wrong things,

  • as the brain is pretty elastic

  • and you're really not going to "fill it up" as such.

  • But you do want to make sure that you're focusing

  • on the most important things for the majority of your time.

  • Most of us have that one person in our life

  • that's a master of useless trivia,

  • but hasn't really put a whole lot of time

  • into developing a useful skill.

  • Don't be that person.

  • Put the majority of your time and energy and focus

  • into gaining useful information.

  • And when you do, learn actively;

  • take notes, summarize what you learn,

  • and try to put it into practice as soon as you can.

  • Additionally, you want to be exploring

  • lots of other subjects that are somehow related to your main subject.

  • Doing this will form lots of additional neural connections

  • and build a really deep web of information in your brain.

  • And memories that have lots of different connections

  • are both more likely to be retrieved

  • and more likely to be combined with the problem at hand

  • to come up with a creative solution.

  • As the famous investor and partner of Warren Buffet Charlie Munger said,

  • "The first rule is that you can't really know anything

  • if you just remember isolated facts"and try and bang them back.

  • If the facts don't hang together on a lattice-work of theory,

  • you don't have them in a usable form."

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  • The second mental strategy of Sherlock Holmes

  • that we're going to cover today is skepticism.

  • The Athenian playwright Euripides once wrote that

  • "Man's most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe."

  • And Sherlock Holmes brings a natural skepticism

  • to every case that he faces.

  • He listens to his clients or observes the details

  • of a case or a crime scene deeply and scientifically,

  • but he also compares what he's seen and observed

  • to his current model of reality and all of his background knowledge.

  • But on the other hand, as studies have found,

  • most of us can't help but instinctively believe what we hear right when we hear it,

  • especially if we're put in stressful situations or we're put under time pressure.

  • Not only that, but our brains also rely

  • on lots of different little cognitive biases and heuristics, mental shortcuts

  • that are very useful in many different situations,

  • especially as the human species evolved,

  • but that can also lead to incorrect decision-making and bad thinking.

  • For instance, we tend to weight

  • the information that is available to us much too heavily,

  • that's called the availability heuristic.

  • We also tend to believe things

  • if we know a lot of other people believe them,

  • the bandwagon effect.

  • And we also rely heavily on stereotypes.

  • In fact, a recent study in The Journal of Criminology,

  • which I think Holmes probably would have read,

  • found that certain physical traits are correlated with sentencing decisions.

  • This being despite the fact that logically,

  • we all know that our physical appearance

  • has nothing to do with whether or not we committed a crime.

  • And that isn't even the half of it.

  • Environmental factors that you wouldn't expect

  • also have the ability to really influence our decision-making.

  • For instance, prospective students

  • that visit a college campus on a cloudy day

  • are more likely to enroll in that college

  • than if they did on a sunny day.

  • And people who are affected by seasonal affective disorder

  • tend to make more risk-averse decisions with their money

  • during the winter months than they do during the summer months.

  • Now with all these natural flaws in our thinking,

  • how can we actually think objectively?

  • One powerful strategy comes from the author Maria Konnikova,

  • who wrote the book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes,

  • which was, as you might guess,

  • one of the big inspirations for this video.

  • Her advice is to actively work

  • on noticing what is priming your thoughts

  • and influencing your decisions.

  • As she states in the book, "A prime stops being a prime

  • "once we're aware of its existence.

  • Bring any attention at all to the priming mechanism

  • and you'll likely find the effect go down to zero.

  • When we're aware of the reason for our action,

  • it stops influencing us."

  • And as we'll add on to that piece of advice,

  • make sure that when you come to a conclusion,

  • you can point to the logical deduction

  • or the observable evidence that caused it.

  • If you can't, then it's a good sign

  • that you're relying on one of those cognitive biases

  • and that you should probably work through the problem a little bit more deliberately again.

  • (urban music)

  • Finally, Sherlock Holmes' ability to make deductions and solve cases

  • hinges on his ability to think in terms of probabilities.

  • What is most likely to happen?

  • When Holmes is working on a case, he thinks

  • like a scientist, and he uses the scientific method,

  • forming hypotheses as he goes along

  • and testing them against new data as it's discovered.

  • And since that data is almost never 100% conclusive,

  • he generates many different hypotheses,

  • and then he tries to figure out which one is the most likely candidate.

  • Now, this probabilistic thinking is also called inductive reasoning.

  • While deductive reasoning uses certainty and sound logic

  • to reach conclusions that are 100% true,

  • inductive reasoning asks what is the mostly likely answer,

  • given the facts?

  • And again, since most complex problems in life

  • usually rely on incomplete information,

  • you need to be able to use inductive reasoning

  • just as much as you need to be able to use deductive reasoning.

  • Now if you want to see this probabilistic thinking in action

  • one of the Holmes stories, "The Sign of Four," has a great example.

  • It starts when Dr. Watson hands Holmes a pocket watch

  • and asks what he can deduce from it.

  • After looking the watch over for a few seconds,

  • Holmes replies with quite a lot of information, actually.

  • That the watch was originally owned by Watson's father,

  • then passed down to his elder brother.

  • Also that his older brother had certain periods of his life

  • that were prosperous, but spent most of it in poverty

  • and probably ended up dying of alcoholism.

  • Now, this deduction turns out to be extremely accurate,

  • and at first Watson is offended,

  • thinking that Holmes had actually dug into his personal life

  • and that he was being a charlatan, but Holmes insists

  • that he didn't even know Watson had a brother until looking at the watch.

  • All of his deductions were based on

  • the observations he gained from the watch and probabilistic thinking.

  • Now if you're curious about all these details

  • I highly recommend going and reading the story.

  • Since it is public domain, you can read it for free.

  • But for an example, he does note

  • that the alcoholism deduction came from the fact that

  • there were scratches around the keyhole, and a sober man

  • would have never put scratches around the keyhole

  • because he wouldn't have missed the keyhole when trying to open the watch.

  • And moving away from the realm of fiction,

  • if you want a more practical example,

  • I've found that probabilistic thinking can actually help you find things that you've lost

  • a lot more quickly than the most commonly recommended solution