Beyond the Words

Between the Lines of "Sherlock Holmes and the Art of Reasoning"

Scattered notes on how to improve your reasoning skills starting from Sherlock Holmes's novels

Published at 5 lug 2024

Between the Lines of "Sherlock Holmes and the Art of Reasoning"

A few days ago, my wife recommended a book on how the mind works, how to reason better, and how to sharpen one’s mental skills. Unlike other books on the same subject, Massimo Polidoro - a famous scientific popularizer - starts from the novels of Sherlock Holmes to address what the mind is, what scientific reasoning is, and what we can do to make the best use of our abilities.

It’s a very interesting book, full of food for thought. Here is the table of contents of the book and some notes. As soon as I have some time, I will organize the notes better and discuss them in more depth.

  • Title: Sherlock Holmes and the Art of Reasoning
  • Author: Massimo Polidoro
  • Original Language: Italian

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Sherlock Holmes and the art of thinking
    • Can you become like Sherlock Holmes? (no, he’s a fictional character)
  1. A wonderful brain
    1. The “10 percent solution” (myth)
    2. An ingenious pudding (the brain is a pudding)
    3. Reason and sentiment
    4. A Stone Age brain (In the last 12,000 years we have gone from caves to space travel. But our brain is still the same)
  2. Elementary, my dear Watson!
    1. A double mind: slow and fast
    2. Watch out for slips
    3. Prejudices and mental traps
    4. A presumption of honesty
    5. To err is human. Luckily
    6. Disciple of experience
  3. You look, but you don’t see
    1. Not so obvious
    2. Limited resources
    3. The filter of attention
    4. We are not computers (burnout risk)
    5. Scarcity is the norm
    6. Full immersion
    7. Choosing priorities
  4. Is the brain like an empty attic? (No)
    1. Limited space?
    2. Memories and oblivion
    3. Like tears in the rain
    4. How to reinforce memories
    5. Emotional memories
    6. The manipulation of memory
  5. The art of deduction
    1. Can we deduce the Atlantic from a drop of water?
    2. Deduction, induction, and abduction
    3. Hypothesis testing
    4. Challenging commonplaces
    5. With feet on the ground
  6. Nothing is more deceptive than the obvious
    1. The case of the ripper (1975-1980)
    2. The curse of confirmation bias (2;4;6)
    3. The importance of doubt
    4. Going beyond appearances
    5. Against conventions
    6. Change of perspective
  7. It is a mistake to decide before having the facts
    1. Observing the obvious
    2. How science works
    3. The importance of the experiment
    4. Sharing discoveries
    5. Defining the problem
    6. Evaluating the evidence
    7. Evaluating alternative explanations
  8. Ten rules for thinking like Sherlock Holmes
    1. Awareness and motivation
    2. Recognizing errors
    3. The ten rules
      1. Let’s clarify our ideas
      2. Let’s consider emotions
      3. Let’s pay attention to information overload
      4. Let’s always evaluate the pros and cons
      5. Let’s learn to change perspective
      6. Let’s detach from the past
      7. Let’s listen to expert intuition
      8. Sometimes it’s worth getting distracted
      9. It’s time to make our decision
      10. Let’s evaluate the choice made
  • Conclusions: the “secret” of Sherlock Holmes (have the courage to be wrong)

Scattered Notes

  • We are not thinking machines that get emotional, but emotional machines that think
  • You see, but you do not observe. That is the whole difference
  • To create a false myth often just a cocktail of cognitive distortions, wishful thinking, and a pinch of truth is enough
  • The brain plans and that’s it, however its agents are numerous and wonderfully organized
  • From an evolutionary point of view, the current human brain is the result of the overlap of three “types of brain”
  • System 1 operates quickly, automatically, instinctively. System 2 uses attention and concentration
  • Halo Effect, first impression bias
  • The individual is necessarily subjugated by an irrationality more powerful than any form of self-control
  • Confirmation bias, hindsight bias, blind spot bias
  • Presumption of Honesty and Error Management Theory
  • As human beings, we are subject to error, it is part of our nature
  • Humility absorbs experience and converts it into wisdom, arrogance is a screen against which experience bounces leaving ignorance
  • Being humble means having your roots planted on the ground. It’s the only way to grow lush instead of withering and dying
  • Confident humility. Because only when mistakes are always new are we learning new things
  • Multitasking is not good
  • Forgetting the details allows us to acquire concepts and imagine the future
  • Knowledge, Observation, Deduction
  • Deduction vs Induction vs Abduction
  • Bias of “it’s always been done this way” and “everyone does it this way”
  • Learning to reason by cultivating doubts
  • The problem with humanity is that stupid people are always very sure, while intelligent people are full of doubts
  • Sunk cost fallacy - it is foolish to persevere in wrong choices
  • Sherlock Holmes’ secret talent is his willingness to be wrong
  • The most painful regrets are about something we chose not to do