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Reason like Sherlock Holmes

"...when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"

Sherlock Holmes, in The Sign of Four (by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)


Open to all students entering Grades 8,9,10 in 2022-23

This course will help students become familiar with the reasoning process of detectives, historians, lawyers, and doctors in a fun way, by studying some of the Sherlock Holmes short stories.

Sherlock Holmes, the iconic detective character created by Arthur Conan Doyle, solves crimes that usually lie beyond the grasp of Scotland Yard (UK’s police).

Considering that history deals with the past, investigating a murder or theft is as good as historical inquiry – what a professional historian does. There are some differences between a detective and a historian though. Holmes asks for (and gets) testimonies of people connected with the crime. He also gathers evidence of all kinds. In contrast, a historian usually has no access to testimonies of people who are long dead and gone. (S)he must go by evidence and hence the inference could be very tentative. The evidence becomes flimsier over decades and centuries. So, a historian should be always willing to change his/her inference if new evidence arises.

Besides, the reasoning of Holmes is like the kind of reasoning that doctors and lawyers employ. Though Holmes uses the term ‘deduction’, is it deductive reasoning (like the one we use in Mathematics) at all? How strong are Holmes’ inferences? Are there holes in Holmes’ reasoning? What could be alternative outcomes for a detective story involving Holmes?

We will take up a few short stories of Arthur Conan Doyle and unpack the reasoning process of Sherlock Holmes at every important step. The participants will be given stories to read in advance so they will come prepared for the ‘unpacking’ session. They will also be directed to YouTube videos of the stories to get a visual perspective. We will also discuss the failures of Holmes where he is unable to prevent a crime from taking place. Or, occasionally, faulty reasoning, leading to wrong inferences.

More than a century after Doyle, crimes continue to happen based on Sherlock Holmes stories. We will deal with specific instances where a real-life incident in the 21st century followed an episode involving Sherlock Holmes.

Start building your reasoning muscles by joining this course!

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