Archive for the 'Logic' Category

Art of Deduction Review

Thank you to the Doc:

Review written by John H. Watson

Twitter:  @JohnHWatsonMD

About the Book

Most of the books that I chose, or am asked to review, are pastiches or books by authors who have studied the many adventures Holmes and I had together. Recently there have been a few books looking at specific aspects of Holmes’ ability as the first consulting detective.

The most recent of these is entitled “The Art of Deduction” by Taz Rai and is a detailed analysis of Holmes methods against several well-known text books on logic and deduction.

It is a very well-researched book which quotes frequently and accurately from my stories to present the key skills that anyone wishing to emulate the Great Detective will need to master.


Rai tells me that in writing the book he began to realise the possibilities if the average person could acquire even a modicum of the skill possessed by Holmes. In many of our adventures together the most complicated problem turns out in the end to have an absurdly simple solution. Rai suggests that we can all learn from Holmes and that with the application of a little logic, rationality and observation, we can solve problems in our own lives without resorting to help from others.

Rai wondered as he read my reminiscences if it was possible to deduce and learn to think the way Holmes does. This triggered the idea of writing The Art of Deduction. He read all my stories again plus several books on logic and philosophy. He also conducted a survey to see what Holmes fans wanted and the result is the four parts that comprise his book.

He suggests that although everyone has a vague notion of logic, by reading my stories about Holmes cases, you can begin to understand what its benefits are. He believes it is important to read and understand logic and how Holmes uses logic in his work. If Holmes is thought of as a superhero then his superpower is logic, Rai suggests. He also believes that because we can relate to Holmes as being human also it is  possible for us to attain some measure of his amazing gift. Many exercise in the gym to build muscles, lose weight, etc. and he suggests that the same approach can be applied with logic and deduction in the mind. Holmes is an example of what one can acquire, but to get there is not necessarily understood.

The book is in four parts.

Part One – A Study in Sherlock

The many facets of the personality of Holmes are analysed including the rationality of his approach to a case eschewing emotion, superstition, irrationality, and fallacies. His use of evidence, the scientific method and the acquisition of useful knowledge is discussed. We then look at his methods of abstraction and distraction, his immersion in lengthy chemical experiments, and then his intense concentration. Finally his vices.

The section draws on A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Abbey Grange, The Copper Beeches, The Norwood Builder, Silver Blaze, The Valley of Fear, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Mazarin Stone, The Man with the Twisted Lip and The Yellow Face.

Part Two – A Case in Logic

This looks at the science of logic and Rai suggests that if you read these pages you will be able to infer the possibility of a Niagara or an Atlantic from the knowledge of a single drop of water (as Holmes suggests in A Study in Scarlet). The heading of the one of the sections in Part One – Five Pillows and an Ounce of Shag – would be an appropriate setting for reading this section.

Again Rai draws heavily on the Canon to illustrate the application of logic including A Study in Scarlet, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Copper Beeches, The Yellow Face, The Sign of Four, Silver Blaze, The Norwood Builder, The Boscombe Valley Mystery and His Last Bow.

If you have ever wondered what the difference is between deduction and induction, what categorical propositions, categorical syllogisms, disjunctive syllogisms and the inductive force are then this section should make it all clear!

Part Three – The Observation Ritual

You see but you do not observe must be Holmes most common admonition, of me at least. This section deals with the need for acute and meticulous observation of detail. This is about turning the familiar saying about not being able to see the wood for the trees on its head and carefully observing the trees, branches and leaves before jumping to conclusions about the wood.

In this section he draws on The Norwood Builder, The Blue Carbuncle, The Stockbroker’s Clerk, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Reigate Squire, The Sign of Four, The Golden Pince-Nez, The Dancing Men, The Resident Patient, The Valley of Fear, The Speckled Band, The Yellow Face, and of course, A Study in Scarlet, with the unforgettable “You have been in Afganistan, I perceive”.

Part Four – The Sign of Holmesian Deduction

This section takes two of our cases – The Beryl Coronet and The Musgrave Ritual – and looks at how Holmes brings all his skills to bear on a particular problem.

As with most of our adventures, they follow a common pattern. The client arrives at states the nature of the case. Then there is the initial analysis of the problem from the facts known at that point. This indicates the need for further investigation before the denouement.

Epilogue – Real World Application

The final section gives us a real world example and takes us through the same stages as in Part Four.

In Summary

Even after many years working alongside Holmes on innumerable cases, I still struggle to apply his methods and get the results he can so easily obtain. Perhaps this is a question of innate ability coupled with intense practice. He has dedicated his whole life to it and perhaps that is what gives him the edge.

Nevertheless, this book is a very thorough analysis and maybe, just maybe, the application of the principles as Rai has laid them out may make it possible to emulate Holmes. I would be interested to hear from anyone who gives it a go and achieved some measure of success.

Finally, as you can see from the cases that are listed above (and I may have missed some), the book draws on many of our cases and it may be instructive to pick out those that Rai calls on more than others and read those ones alongside Rai’s book.

About the Author

Taz Rai is a young Business Graduate living in Australia who has given up his day job to focus on his love of writing and on someone he clearly admires. He first read about Holmes when growing up as a child and Holmes’ logical approach appealed to him. He says he doesn’t have a favourite story (his book is full of examples from all over the Canon) as he says each story showcased something new about the character of Holmes.

His favourite Holmes and Watson portrayals are,  predictably in these modern times , Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Their portrayals, particularly Cumberbatch’s thinking or maybe I should say deducing machine, must serve to illustrate how difficult in practice, even with the aid of this book, it would be to emulate Holmes.

Posted on Mar. 19th 2012 11:08 AM | by MagicRai | in Deduction, General, Logic | 4 Comments »

House and Holmes

If you’re a fan of House M.D. and Gregory House’s fantastic wit, intelligence and deductive, problem solving ability, you may wonder whether he takes anything from the classic literary detective Sherlock Holmes. Both are excellent problem-solvers, rational minds that are faced with mysteries deemed unsolvable by even the more experienced members of their chosen profession. The similarities between Dr. House and Mr. Holmes don’t end there, by any means.
House has a cushy job at Princeton Plainsboro, heading the “Department of Diagnostic Medicine,” a department formed solely to accommodate his own particular band of genius, and taking around one case a week. House is too intelligent to be put to work on the run-of-the-mill medicine, and is handed only the bizarre and intriguing cases, which would have often resulted in the patient’s death, were it not for the medic’s talents.
Holmes, in the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, is a “consulting detective,” working, like House, on cases that are an absolute mystery to ordinary detectives. Both characters use narcotics, are portrayed as unemotional, form excellent deductions in moments of idleness, and deliver them with a sense of drama. The links between the two are abundant (House/Holmes and Wilson/Watson; the character of Sherlock Holmes was based on Joseph Bell, Doyle’s lecturer at medical school; House’s patient in the series’ pilot is named Adler, after Irene Adler from “A Scandal in Bohemia”), and the two characters teach us many valuable lessons about logic, rationality and deductive reasoning.
A particularly great moment from the House series which displays his deductive talents in a humorous (and Holmesian) fashion comes from series six, in an episode entitled “5 to 9.” The episode centres on House’s boss, Cuddy, who has to deal with her general day’s problems throughout the episode. In one memorable scene, an employee who Cuddy fired for stealing from the hospital reveals herself to be unemotional, cruel, and utterly sociopathic in a private interview with Cuddy. Later, she is stressed from her day, and finds herself sat next to House. She has the slightly scary meeting with the employee playing on her mind, and asks House what he thinks of her. He bluntly states “She’s a sociopath.” Cuddy is shocked, and asks how he knew. He responds, “I didn’t, but have you seen the way she opens the mail?”
To anyone familiar with either House or Holmes, this is likely to raise a smile. What the characters teach us is that the minutest details, properly reasoned from, can tell us intimate details about a person or situation. House is able to tell a sociopath from how she opens a letter, and Holmes is frequently able to tell what people have been up to from a quick look over their clothes. He utters a similarly mind-blowing deduction when he first meets Watson in A Study in Scarlet, “You’ve been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”
Just as Holmes brought deductive reasoning and rationality forward from Edgar Allen Poe’s Dupin, House M.D. proudly takes the torch into the 21st century, giving the students of deduction and logic a modern hero that they can be proud of. The Holmes stories are timeless and classic, and House’s medical mysteries are destined to become the same. Logic never goes out of fashion.

Posted on Jan. 23rd 2012 10:05 PM | by MagicRai | in General, Logic | 1 Comment »

Sherlock and Rationality in Modern Times

In July 2010, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s spectacular new television series, Sherlock, aired in the UK.  The three 90-minute episodes gave the public a much needed reminder of why Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are so timeless, and why his greatest character is still a hero in modern times.

Benedict Cumberbatch takes up the legendary role, with Martin Freeman in tow as Dr. Watson, and the pair are thrust into 21st century London, taking up their residence at 221B Baker Street.  Holmes is infused with his usual intelligence, charm and charisma, and makes his deductions with characteristic ease.  The series truly brings to light how rationality and logic are still valid today, and shows how elements of Holmes’ character can be of a benefit in the modern world.
Rationality, as Holmes displays throughout the classic stories and modern episodes, is much misunderstood in today’s world.  Holmes himself comments in “A Study in Pink” (the first episode of the BBC series, a play on the title of the first Holmes story A Study in Scarlet), “I am not a psychopath, Anderson, I am a high-functioning sociopath.” This perception of the rational mind as cold, unemotional, and therefore somehow evil pervades into modern times, perhaps left over from society’s deeply irrational past (even in Holmes’ time, brandy was used as something of an all-purpose cure by medical professionals).  The truth, as Sherlock so elegantly reminds us, is that a rational mind, undeterred by emotional consequences and well-schooled in deductive reasoning, can accomplish a lot.
The sad truth is that in the modern world the general public’s irrationality is often manipulated.  Whether it is a completely unjustified scare-story in a newspaper, politicians making unfeasible promises or pseudo-scientists trying to sell you homeopathic cures, people are trying to exploit you all the time.  Sherlock Holmes, thanks to his mercilessly rational mind, is able to see through mystery as if it wasn’t there.  His careful unpicking of the cipher in “The Blind Banker” (the second episode of the TV series, based loosely on the Doyle story “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”) serves as a perfect analogy.  There are coded messages coming at you all the time, and just like Holmes, you have to make your own sense of them, and see the truth behind the mystery.
Holmes makes these skills seem fantastical, but the truth is they are absolutely attainable.  Rationality is as easy as asking questions, and thinking in terms of evidence, rather than conjecture.  The original Holmes stories are beautifully-aged gifts to the student of rationality, and Sherlock presents them in a modern and humorous package.  For more information about Sherlock Holmes and rationality, see Taz Rai’s eBook, The Art of Deduction.

Posted on Jan. 10th 2012 9:28 PM | by MagicRai | in Deduction, General, Logic | 1 Comment »