Wikipedia 10K Redux by Reagle from Starling archive. Bugs abound!!!
Sherlock Holmes is depicted as both a supremely logical thinker and a supernaturally astute observer. What hidden advantage did he hold over his peers? Consider: Holmes observed the world around him in a manner which took into account the most minor details. Those around him seldom detected the same "clues" and when they did, the evidence in front of their eyes was empty to them. Conan Doyle may or may not have consciously given Holmes an unfair leg up over his compatriots - but regardless of intent, that advantage existed. It is unlikely that persons who have not undertaken one form or another of professional investigation will detect how the "Holmes" world view differed from others. It is equally unlikely that it would reveal itself to professional investigators (be they involved in science, law enforcement or private investigation) who have not also made a targeted study of the science of logic and its associated processes. Logic is commonly seen as a study involving datasets, relationships between them, belonging and not-belonging. This view will serve as well as any other to illustrate the synergy which exists between the three most basic elements of successful investigative technique: A) Perception B) Knowledge Base C) Logic One must needs be able to see the world in front of one's nose in order to succeed at an investigative endeavor. And by that, it is meant only to perceive - not to perceive and imbue with meaning and nuance, but merely perceive - to be accurate and complete in perception, to record accurately what is perceived, and to add or subtract nothing. Factually, this may be one of the most rarely developed investigative skills. Although preconception impedes observation, too many investigators of all kinds approach a scene with definite ideas as to what they are looking for, what they expect to see, and what they expect it to mean. Even having viewed a scene initially without preconception, many are incapable of rehabilitating former observations to neutral value once they have assigned a given meaning or interpretation to them. Thus, when new or unexpected knowledge is available to inform old observations, these individuals are handicapped. They cannot look and make new, unbiased observations, nor remove the coloration previously applied to former observations so as to view them in light of newly available knowledge. The oft-overlooked fact is that things perceived do not have meaning inherent in them. That which is perceived must be compared to a knowledge base to determine what relationships exist between elements observed and other known data. The relationships that are available serve to establish what meaning or sets of meanings may be attributed to observed items, facts or circumstances. Take this example: A suspect leaves his house at 8:00 AM and arrives in a neighboring town at 10:00 AM. What are we to make of this? In a vacuum of information, nothing. Now consider that the towns are 26 miles apart. Suddenly, the two hours seems excessive. But the highway between the towns was blocked by a toxic spill cleanup operation for a time. Time explained. But the suspect had foreknowledge of the spill and a helicopter at his disposal... and on and on until all data which would lend meaning to the evidence is gathered. Has the reader guessed by this time what important special advantage Holmes possessed? It was no more nor less than this: His knowledge base encompassed everything that was known about anything anywhere in the world in the Victorian Era. He knew the smell of paralytic poison manufactured from the sap of a tree which grew only in the Amazon Basin. Every single clue in every case he ever worked bore upon some knowledge which he possessed, no matter how remote the source of that knowledge might seem. 'Nuff said? A further, though less important advantage with which he was blessed by his creator was that each clue, on the whole, was subject to only a single interpetation. Multiple datasets in reference to a single clue generally did not exist. The above brings us to the subject of Holmes' logical facility, or "deductive powers." These were generally assumed to be a feature of unmatched native intelligence (Never mind that Watson was made to appear downright feeble-minded from time to time, in order to show Holmes as brilliant by comparison). In fact, anyone of average intelligence or better can be trained to utilize "deduction" on a par with Holmes'. Here's how: First, the prospective investigator should be encouraged to continually expand his or her knowledge base. There should be no off-limits learning. If one is to investigate in the field of medications, reactions and drug development, then the first and most important datasets to acquire would obviously deal with such things as chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, and the like. Other areas of investigative specialty would likewise benefit most greatly from studies of their related datasets. Second, in one fashion or another, the prospect should be educated in the logical concept of "belonging." Taken grossly, this concept could relate to things as obvious as a cooking stove in a living room or, conversely, a kitchen with no stove. Things which ought to belong to a scenario and which are present in the expected condition, receive the lowest importance in investigative observation, and things which are present when they do not belong or absent when they do belong receive first attention. First, of course, one observes the scene and makes no evaluation. Then one evaluates observed elements relative to each other. Lastly, one evaluates observed elements relative to datasets which are not implicit in the scene, but are rather contained in the investigator's head or his reference sources. Such labeling of logical process as "syllogism" are unnecessary to this educational process. Classification of types of "belonging" or "not-belonging" are helpful but not essential. In an investigation where an unknown subject's movements repeatedly seem to take more time than expected, for instance, the classification of this repeated fact as multiple instances of "too much time" might lead the investigator to examine the available facts for things which might explain that one repeating theme. Why does our guy move so slowly? A concomitant observation at various scenes of parallel, narrow tracks occurring 24" apart might indicate the possibility of a suspect who is wheelchair-bound. A synergy exists between personal ability (as in native capacity for data-processing volume and speed, sensory acuity, etc.), perception, knowledge and logic. Increases in the appliciation of each factor can multiply the results available from the application of each other factor. How valuable might the observations of a skilled observer who is a non-plumber be relative to investigating for the source of leaks in comparison to the observations of a skilled plumber? The former might look at a complex of soldered tubing with multiple joints and several leaks, and be able to determine that each leak was at or near a joint. He might make other observations and yet assign no importance to them, owing to a lack of familiarity with subject matter. Having assigned no importance to such observations, he might not be able to call them up in response to queries from a plumber as to what he had seen. The latter might "see at a glance" what the former had missed. E.G.: Were there sanding marks visible at the margins of the solder? Was there green or black coloration in a given pattern on the exterior of the tubing? Were there dark shiny markings, as of dried liquid, at or adjacent to the joints? Were there any little whitish, powdery bumps, especially with a greenish tint? How was the tubing secured? How much evidence of water absorption was there in surrounding wood? The answers to these questions would tell the plumber if hard or acidic water had eaten through the tubing, whether the joints had been "brightened" (sanded) before soldering, whether flux had been used, the age of the tubing, the likelihood of failure due to excessive movement, whether the existing materials would suffice to repair the defects or if new materials (and which materials) would be required, etc. The knowledge base or experience of the viewer can increase sensitivity to various observations and, with all observations in hand, will inform their interpretation. If a skilled plumber makes the same observations, but is hindered by preconception (such as that the optimum repair of all defects is a complete replacement, thus maximizing profit), then he never will find out how the leaks were caused. If an individual knows plumbing concepts but cannot observe, his interpretation of a scene will likewise be defective. What does all this have to do with philosophy? The reader is commended to the various writings of, for example, Bertrand Russell - especially as they relate to observation, interpretation, and the nature of knowledge. In Russell's world view, the very real possibility exists that all human perception is corrupt and that actual or absolute knowledge is impossible. One sees, for instance, a chair. According to Russell, this would be a misstatement. The actual nature of the chair, owing to atomic and subatomic physics, is invisible. Therefore, one does not see it at all. One's optic nerves are stimulated by the effect of reflected light on the retina of the eye, and the signals of the optic nerves are interpreted by the brain to form an image. Even so, it is only an image of the surfaces of the chair facing the viewer. On strict observation, the viewer cannot claim to know that the unobserved portions of the chair exist. Application of such principles as these to the process of investigation help to instill sufficient humility in the investigator so that, with practice, he can apply the first skill of investigation - observation without interpretation. From there, he can apply his observations to a "knowledge" base which, if he is honest, he will admit is mostly data ABOUT things which he has never personally observed. In such a wise, he can begin to build an investigative methodology which which will lead him down fewer blind alleys and toward more true solutions than that practiced by the average bear.