Wednesday, February 6, 2013

36. Suspicion

“If any little problem comes your way I shall be happy, if I can, to give you a hint or two as to its solution.”
“The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”

In “The Six Napoleons,” Holmes is presented with a number of theories as to why plaster statues of the French ruler are being destroyed around central London. A bungled burglary? A madman fixated on the diminutive dictator? The great detective fears not, and doggedly pursues the culprit, revealing yet another facet of his labyrinthine methodological makeup. What’s more, one finds the lasting legacy of Holmes’s dogged pursuit in the most far-flung scholarly outcroppings. For example, forensic nurses Marion Winfrey and Amy Rex Smith, writing in the journal Critical Care Nursing Quarterly in 1999, link Holmes’s wary way with evidence—his suspicion—as an exemplar of a finely-tuned sense of intuition. As we have seen with our previous examination of Holmes’s singular expertise, the key to Holmes’s deductions is not a matter of finding some evidentiary needle in the proverbial forensic haystack, but rather what he does with the information he already has.

Winfrey and Smith point to the work of Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus, a philosopher and mathematician, respectively. Dreyfus and Dreyfus, in their 1986 book Mind over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer, linked intuition to six overlapping mental aspects: pattern recognition, similarity recognition, common-sense understanding, skilled know-how, a sense of salience, and deliberative rationality. Holmes’s detections have no doubt endowed him with a keen understanding of the repetitive, the similar, and the salient—any seasoned detective has seen the same clue repeated several times, linked it to similar outcomes and motives, and can discern its significance given its relationship to the theory of the crime with its attendant why’s and how’s—but where Holmes, in “Six Napoleons” shines is the remaining three of the Dreyfus six-point schema.

As Inspector Lestrade recounts seemingly mystifying (or, in his estimation, trivial) elements of the crime, Holmes immediately assesses them for some hint of the commonsensical. It is here, under the watchful eye of a streetlamp, that Holmes has his first breakthrough in the case. As Lestrade says: “Well, Mr. Holmes, what are we to do with that fact?” Holmes is quick with his reply: “To remember it — to docket it. We may come on something later which will bear upon it.” Holmes’s holding of most facts at arm’s length—or with deserved suspicion—seem to be the engine driving his intuitive mind. Once it has been determined that the destruction of the statues is purposeful, it is Holmes’s rationality that tracks him back—from owners to makers—and his know-how regarding the criminal underworld that sends him ever closer to solving the crime. 

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