A METAPHOR TO LIVE BY

The Sherlock Holmes Brain Attic

The brain attic metaphor is well known to Sherlock Holmes fans. And it was a metaphor I wrote a blog about seven years ago. This is a revised version of that blog. You can never get too much of Sherlock Holmes. And I believe the brain attic is a perfect metaphor for helping us understand the workings of the human mind. 

The Brain Attic is Sherlock Holmes’ (Arthur Conan 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. 

The human mind is said to be a gold mine and a rubbish heap. And said to be…a scientist, artist, a simple recording device, a smart computer, a movie screen and/or a good magician. The human mind is where human consciousness exists. And human consciousness is still not yet understood by today’s science. 

When I am thinking about what I might do, or did do, I 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.

The brain attic metaphor gives us another way to look at the human consciousness, and a possible way to understand something science can’t explain. 

“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

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2 Responses to A METAPHOR TO LIVE BY

  1. Marianne says:

    I like this metaphor. I don’t remember it from your past blog. One problem I see is that experiences or memories I would just as soon discard keep coming back to the surface. I would be glad to get rid of some times I said something that hurt someone, or regrets for not risking an experience, or didn’t learn enough, etc. But maybe those thing surface to help me learn something. Life can be exhausting sometimes.
    We will see you in the next two months while we are out there.

  2. A Random Reader says:

    Nicely put!

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