Sunday, August 19, 2018

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (2013) by Maria Konnikova, Book Review

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (2013) by Maria Konnikova

Let me help you to grasp Konnikova’s big idea in a very simple way. I try. Here it goes... Maria said that there are two types of brains that we let control our thinking. There is a ‘Watson Brain’ (who is Holmes’ sidekick) and there is a ‘Holmes Brain.’ Now, when we fall under rule of our Watson Brain, we usually think very emotionally, and we rely on correlation (or association) instead of causation (or connection). When we think something relates to something else we automatically think that one causes the other, we are under the control of Watson Brain. Under Watson Brain, we also fall victim to biases and fallacies. And Watson Brain is also fast. It runs on stuff like fight-or-flight. Because it depends so much on emotion, Watson Brain is also very subjective and greatly influence by feelings.

On the other hand, someone who think like Sherlock Holmes is very logical and precise. They find causation. They find out which thing causes the other thing instead of just standard correlation. Holmes Brain also very deductive. One reason many people don’t think like Holmes, says Maria, is because it is more cognitively costly (more brain power requires). It literally takes more energy to think like this. Holmes Brain is also very objective. In summary, Watson Brain are too dependence on emotions, correlation-thinking, influenced by many biases and fallacies, and very subjective; Holmes Brain is tending to be more logical, causation-thinking, deductive analyse, cognitively costly and often objective. “You too can think like Sherlock Holmes,” writes Maria, “you just have to train your brain.” You can train your brain through deliberate thinking and mindfulness. This come with time and practice.

Let me explain three important things that Maria mentions in this book. #1 Biases and fallacies. A bias is a conclusion or automatic thought that our brain has. Most of the time it’s even the stuff that we are unaware of, so you must try to avoid it. And then there is a fallacy, a flaw in logical thinking (I recommend you read The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli if you want to know more about our everyday biases/fallacies); #2 Mindfulness. What is it? In short, mindfulness is keeping your attention focus on what you’re doing right now and on your environments. Maria mentions that mind’s natural tendency is to wonder (or “mind-wonder”). She said that it takes (extra) energy to not let your mind wonder. You must use your focus and will-power to stay mindful. When it come to making deduction, mindfulness is very important; and #3 Always Learning. Sherlock Holmes might appear ignorance of Copernican heliocentrism, but his reply to Watson is actually the key: “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.” You choose what you put in your brain. So, chose wisely. Always stimulate your brain, always learning. Maria says it is easier to stay mindful if you do something interesting (for you), and so Holmes loves to play violin and smoking tobacco. In this way, he stimulates his brain, process information in a peaceful way, able to think in ‘a distant’, and is ready to learn new things again.

So (this might be too simple for a great thought-full book, sorry Konnikova), here are how to think like Sherlock:

1) Don’t let your mind fall victim to biases and fallacies.
2) Try to be as mindful as you can & pay close attention to what you’re doing and the environment that you’re in.
3) Never stop learning. Life can be more interesting if you’re always learning.

In this book, Maria unpacked the mental strategies that lead to clearer thinking and deeper insights. She draws on 21st century neuroscience and psychology to “illuminate Holmes’ most fascinating cases.” She writes at length on scientific method of the mind, the brain attic, the art of observation, imagination, deduction and the important of self-knowledge. There are more that she said in the book that I didn’t put my summary above (Again, sorry Konnikova). For me, this book is not easy to read (I didn’t read this book thru like most of my other books. I paused for about 3 months) but since my fascinated for Sherlock Holmes, frictional character created by Author Conan Doyle, is greater than the task of finishing this book, I finally did it. I read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and some parts of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow before and I found these books are almost similar with ‘Mastermind’ (or ‘Mastermind’ is actually similar with these other books). Some readers fairly commented that this book would be much better if she used a real character instead of frictional character. I agree and disagree. I refuse to comment further. So, if you don’t know either you want to buy or just read summary of this book, I suggest you watch Maria Konnikova’s talks first on YouTube and book reviews online.


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