The Mind’s Eye Of A Detective
“The eye sees in things what it looks for and it looks for
what is already in the mind.” Scientific School of Police, Paris
My favorite story about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on a camping trip demonstrates the importance of my theme. As they lay down for the night…
Holmes: “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see.”
Watson: “I see millions of stars.”
Holmes: “And what does that tell you?”
Watson: “Astronomically it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically it tells me that God is great and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?”
Holmes: “It tells me that somebody stole our tent.”
Dr. Watson was so interested in something else that he failed to notice the missing tent, but he also failed to notice that he failed to notice. Does that sound familiar?
The Paris Police School apparently trains the eye of a detective to avoid that mental-visual trap of seeing only what it looks for, only what it pays attention to. If you learned to see like a detective, like Sherlock Holmes, you would pay attention to what you don’t pay attention to. Holmes apparently can gaze at a crime scene and see it without prior theories of prejudice, and refrain from jumping to conclusions ahead of his perceptions. He keeps his mind and his options open.
Dr. Watson has been likened to System 1 Thinking (automatic, fast, effortless, often unconscious). Sherlock Holmes to System 2 thinking (controlled, slow, effortful and usually conscious) as defined by Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, 2011. (See my blog: A Two System Mind, 12 – 17 -13.)
Here is how to think with the mind of a detective:
- Stop jumping to conclusions.
- Notice what you fail to notice.
- Avoid seeing only what you are looking for.
- Pay attention to what you are not paying attention to.
- Stop seeing with prior theories of prejudice.
- Don’t assume anything is the way it is.
- Avoid using only System 1 Thinking.
- Keep your mind open.