Sherlock Holmes does not care for your Pink Elephants

Sitting down with the technology journalist Om Malik in the video posted here, Maria Konnikova describes the ways in which the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes still speaks to her, saying that his observant, all-seeing mind and quaint single tasking methods are particularly relevant to the digital age.

Holmes' skill: treating any thought, which requires an initial credulousness to fix the idea, with an appropriate skepticism.

From the New York Times yesterday:

'Holmes’s trick is to treat every thought, every experience and every perception the way he would a pink elephant,' Ms. Konnikova writes. 'In other words, begin with a healthy dose of skepticism instead of the credulity that is your mind’s natural state of being.' This requires mindfulness — constant presence of mind, 'the attentiveness and hereness that is so essential for real active observation of the world.' If we want to think like Sherlock Holmes,' we must want, actively, to think like him.' And practice, practice, practice.

We also have to learn to ignore the superfluous.

Separating the merely unnecessary from the half-truths is a constant need in these digital days, the perfect job for Holmes - or The Onion. If the first step is always one of momentary belief so that the mind can take in the information, it's the second one, the "hereness" of an appropriate and learned skepticism, that is in such short supply. The two options on offer today appear to be a belief of the conspiratorial variety, or a resolute and unmoving disbelief -  despite the evidence.

Watch the video. I'd love to know from Konnikova how Holmes would bring his critcal thinking and its skepticism into the 21st Century, or if what we need instead is merely to be reminded of old skills and "practice, practice, practice."

Maria Konnikova is the author of “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.”