A Sherlock Holmes Metaphor
Metaphors are among our principle vehicles for understanding.
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
The brain attic metaphor is well known to Sherlock Holmes fans. And I believe it is a perfect metaphor for helping me understand the workings of the brain/mind.
The Brain Attic is Sherlock Holmes’ (Conon Doyle’s) creative metaphor of our mental processes. Holmes believed that the human brain is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. And there is a chord you can pull to turn the light on and off at will. The attic’s contents are those things we’ve taken in from the world and that we’ve experienced in our lives. We should not forget that any experience could be a new piece of furniture, a new picture or a file to be fitted into an already crowded attic. We can’t control every piece of information that we retain, but we need to be aware of the mental filters that guard our attic’s entrance. What we put into it, and keep it up to date, is up to us. We can turn on the light.
When I am thinking about what I might do, or did do, I can think of the metaphor of brain attic. When I do this I find it helpful. This metaphor reminds me that my cognitive toolkit, my beliefs, assumptions, mental tools, sensory experiences, wisdom, and brain furniture all reside in my mind/brain. That is where mental processes occur.
What Holmes means when he talks about stocking your attic with the appropriate furniture, is the need to carefully choose which experiences, which memories, which aspects of your life you want to hold on to beyond the moment when they occur.
Maria Konnikova in Mastermind, How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes, 2013