“A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic.” — Maria Konnikova 1

There is a very interesting Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) video featuring the psychologist Maria Konnikova (@mkonnikova), author of the book Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes. The video is an excellent description on the power of observation versus the cluttered mind.

One might suggest that we as physicians should not just stuff our minds with useless knowledge, which may interfere with our decision-making process, but instead we should strive to stay focused, become more selective when we read, and be better observers when we practice medicine. The creator of the crime stories “Sherlock Holmes” was a Scottish physician, Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, who based the fictional character on one of his mentors, Dr. Joseph Bell.

The Scientific Method Of The Mind:
What Sherlock Holmes can teach us about decision making

In summary, Sherlock Holmes’ mind according to Maria Konnikova understands and appreciates the following:

  1. The importance of what and how we memorize information
  2. System 1 (Dr. Watson, hot, reflexive) vs System 2 (Sherlock Holmes, cold, analytical) thinking
  3. Drawbacks of multitasking
  4. Importance of meditation and creativity
  5. Knowing when to pause and not rush into conclusions when solving problems
  6. Absent information is as important as information which is present.
  7. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
  8. Going back to the beginning to update and acknowledge your errors
  9. Learning should be fun. Ask questions.
  10. Keep being curious. Stay engaged.
Konnikova A. Sherlock Holmes and the infamous brain attic. Boing Boing. http://boingboing.net/2013/01/14/sherlock.html. Published January 14, 2013.
Javier Benitez, MD

Javier Benitez, MD

ALiEM Featured Contributor
Javier Benitez, MD


Medical doctor, tweets not medical advice or endorsements. Interested in #MedEd & technology. Always learning. I'm no expert. No financial conflict of interest.
Javier Benitez, MD