Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Thaumaturgical Doyle

Did Sherlock Holmes possess the supremely brilliant mind that Conan Doyle was so anxious to have us believe he did? In this brief excerpt from a longer article on THE RAP SHEET (December 28, 2011), we see that James McCreet is quite frankly dubious:
There was always something slightly fishy about Sherlock Holmes' remarkable deductions. As Doctor John Watson himself often said, they seem easy after they've been explained, but impossible without Holmes' indulgent revelations. The impression is that if we could just learn to see like the Great Detective, we could emulate his powers.
In fact, Holmes' skill lies not in his method but in the narrative structure of Arthur Conan Doyle's now-famous stories. Like an illusionist, the writer asks us to look at the false hand (Watson) while the real hand (Doyle) is busy doing the "magic."
McCreet's skepticism notwithstanding, others point to Holmes's reasoning abilities as the epitome of detectival skill:
Doyle's puzzle plot stories are on the direct line that leads to the Intuitionist writers of the 20th century. . . . [Stories such as "The Naval Treaty"] display the ingenious plots that are the hallmark of the later Intuitionist school of Chesterton, Christie, Carr and Queen. Holmes also solves the cases by the methods to be used by the Intuitionist detectives: insight into the central aspects of the mysterious situation, combined with logical deduction. There is much emphasis on how Holmes solves the cases through pure thinking. The finale of "The Man with the Twisted Lip," where Holmes comes up with his solution through a night of pure thinking, seems paradigmatic of later Intuitionist writers. So does the use of logical deduction in "Silver Blaze" and "The Naval Treaty." In these works, Holmes shows how clues embedded in the tale logically imply that one and only one of the suspects is guilty of the crime. This approach will also be much used by later Intuitionist authors. — Mike Grost, A GUIDE TO CLASSIC MYSTERY AND DETECTION ("Sir Arthur Conan Doyle")
. . . we can conclude that Sherlock Holmes knew well the new probabilistic theory of scientific reasoning, and applied it, as his own method, to his criminal investigations. Moreover, since the major advocates of this new theory were also expert[s] of symbolic logic, we may conclude, in all probability, that Holmes knew Boolean symbolic logic as well. On the total evidence, the balance of probability is that he was a very good logician. — Soshichi Uchii
If Sherlock Holmes had written his textbook on the art of detection it would likely have been a textbook on theseology, that is, a textbook telling us how we should go about looking for clues and how to follow them. Many people can reason but not many can solve crimes. Sherlock Holmes may be the greatest reasoning machine in the world, but he is also the only consulting detective that the world has ever seen. If anyone should write a textbook on theseology he should. — Tyrone Lai (whose book, THE ART OF DETECTION, is online HERE)
Remember: When you're playing The Grandest Game in the World, it's no fun if you don't follow the rules.

- YouTube video clip: 3 minutes 46 seconds (which might or might not still be there by the time you click on it).

Category: Detective fiction

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