Thursday, January 2, 2014

Mastermind by Maria Konnikova

The subtitle of Mastermind is How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.  Those of us who grew up reading the Sherlock Holmes stories know that his forte was announcing conclusions that seemed far-fetched and contained information that no one could know.  Yet, once he explained how he came to his conclusions, it became clear how he logically went from point A to emerge down the road at point F or M.

Maria Konnikova, a psychologist and journalist, breaks down the Holmes method.  She contrasts the Holmes method which is cool, logical thinking with that of poor Dr. Watson, whose thinking was impulsive and prone to emotional connections that led him to false conclusions.  The most important analogy of the book is that of the mind being an attic for knowledge that lets one store and process facts to reach correct conclusions. 

The book is organized around this concept.  In the chapter, Stocking The Brain Attic, she talks about how to make observations and most importantly, how to prioritize the observations into those that are unimportant and those which could be important and should be stored.  While one should observe everything, it is not possible to store everything.  But a well-stocked attic is necessary for providing the raw elements to draw on when processing thoughts.

In Exploring the Brain Attic, the focus is on creativity.  Once all the observations and facts are noted and stored away, the next step is to imagine all the possible ways in which they can be combined.  Creativity and failure are necessary steps in science and in logical thinking.  If there are ten possible combinations of fact, nine of them will be failures.  Those interested in learning to think logically cannot be thrown by those failures; they must be examined to determine what made them such. 

In Navigating The Brain Attic, the thinker finally comes to deduction.  They take the ten combinations and examine each closely, discarding those which aren't supported by all the facts.  At the end, one explanation, no matter how improbable, should remain, and will be the truth.   Finally, in Maintaining the Brain Attic, Konnikova talks about the importance of lifelong learning and constantly stretching the mental muscles. 

Readers who are interested in learning to think more logically will find this an interesting study.  Most of us will be embarrassed to realize that our Watson system is usually on full alert, no matter how logical we see ourselves as being.  True logical thinkers are few and far between, but it is a skillset that can be learned and used by anyone.  This book is recommended for Sherlock Holmes fans and for those looking for a way to improve their logical thinking skills.

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