18th March, 15 Comments
By John Watson
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 Afghanistan, 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.
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.
Where to obtain the book
Taz Rai’s book is available from his website at http://www.artofdeduction.com where you will also find a few articles by him including one about the parallels between Holmes and House MD (also mentioned in the book).