We are all Detectives! / Elementary, my dear Watson!
I have a simple story that is one of those little observations that gives a person a powerful tool when it comes to solving all the mysteries that life throws at us. When I see all the hair-brained pitches on the internet for concepts that will "make you happy and successful and wealthy" - of course for a small cost - the thought has flitted through my mind that this could be a commercial (rip-off?) winner! But why bother being a con artist when simple common sense is what is on the table.
I listen to CBC a lot and when I pit my "detective" story against many of the pitches I hear being aired by national radio, again, I am inspired by the value of this story.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle was obviously a master at visualizing situations that made sense to readers who were fascinated with the author's insight with regard to detail and how meaning could be associated with the detail. Holmes was pictured as a man who could look around himself and clearly see evidence of importance that the average person appeared to be blind to. He wasn't depicted as having mystical powers. He was simply shown as being observant and thoughtful.
Interestingly, the phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" was never used in any of Doyle's writings. People other than Doyle put the statement together and the fit was so good that an enduring, classic phrase was formed.
The thrust of the Watson statement is that, to an observant and thinking mind, the answer to the mystery at hand is ridiculously simple. The weight of the statement could be expanded by appreciating the inference that most people don’t accurately ‘observe’ nor do they ‘think’!
My contention is that we all have the capacity, and obligation, to be ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and once we accept and build on a few simple facts of our existence, we gain a capacity to analyze and utilize huge volumes of ‘evidence’ that all of us are immersed in. The 'evidence' is there. The detective mind and approach may be missing.
I feel that the tactic of visualizing yourself as Sherlock Holmes with the challenge of solving the mysteries of Life is a powerful analogy that helps to clarify ways of acting that can yield really useful results. Albert Einstein used mind games very effectively to figure out the Theory of Relativity and his theories, radical and unlikely to most minds when he first advanced them, were eventually proven correct by actual physical experiment. Who can deny atomic energy, the hydrogen bomb, or GPS - and you can't blame Einstein's insights for negative uses! He didn't develop the bomb but he did help the Allies to get it before Hitler got it. It will become clear that, in fact, he used the 'Sherlock Holmes' mind game. His 'breakthrough' thinking and theory generation, transformed the realm of personal, daily physical reality! And individually, the Sherlock tactic can even go a long way towards making life, in a world with the power of self destruction, much easier to live in!
A summary of the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ approach, in point form, follows;
**You not only require major clues but you require a broad range of support clues. Most detectives are short on support clue inventory.
**Most detectives use the “Three Clues to Blastoff” approach – one-two-three-Blastoff! An unusual approach to a launch! The approach is not associated with effective planning and ultimate success. Unpredictable, ineffective, aborted, and disasterous launches are inevitable!
**Most detectives are sloppy with regard to building on bedrock clues and are susceptible to mental ‘error viruses’ that they catch from the herd that they live within.
**Most detectives don’t use the essential ‘two cross hair’ tactic of carefully comparing essential preliminary theory with accurate personal observation of the reality they are living in, in order to sort out accurate theory from faulted theory. All action is based, in part at least, on theory – the issue is “Is the theory accurate?” How can you know?
Einstein used mind games very effectively.
GPS without Einstein - "You have arrived at your destination!"
Having stated these points, the job of filling in details could go on for a prolonged period of time – a book could result – but I will try to hit the topic so that there is a hope that casual readers will actually finish this production and gain an applicable tactic. But, as with the need for multiple clues to be organized and connected, to solve a mystery, the Sherlock formula, to be described in its simplest form, requires more than three paragraphs!
The Covid 19 exercise is a wonderful educational test bed where we can all apply the Sherlock Holmes approach and see if it clarifies any issues! It is possible that we are seeing a lot of ‘One-Two-Three-Blastoff!’ moves and a lot of faulted theory and a lot of sickness associate with ‘highly contagious mental viruses that are revealing serious underlying failings’!
So, segment #1 - You not only require major clues but you require a broad range of support clues. Most detectives are short on support clue inventory.
One way to illustrate the importance of this vital detective resource is to use what initially may appear to be an overly simple example. But it is a very practical and accessible example and its ‘depth’ is typical of any example, seemingly simple or seemingly complex. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity and think that there is nothing of complexity that can be learned through this approach. It can be argued that all of the world’s major problems can be linked to simplistic blunders in this specific area of analysis – namely analysis of ‘tracks’. And ‘tracks’ can be footprints or any other evidence of creative or destructive activity.
My chosen example is something from my back yard that anyone, anywhere, can duplicate in some comparable form - the analysis of ‘tracks”. Tracks are typical of clues. If a detective can locate tracks he has major clues to work with. What is a ‘track’? It is evidence – usually evidence of a creative force although sometimes it can be evidence of an absence of any creative force, and even that ‘non-observation’ may be important to an accurate investigation.
As a general rule, detectives are going to be looking for tracks that can be associated with a living personality – which I would define as a thinking mind linked to creative powers. This can get complicated because there may be a piggyback effect going on. An animal that has had human influence may function in a way that is different from an animal that is functioning totally on its own. Sometimes you may see tracks that are explained by a type of mind that has been fabricated by a far more advanced mind. And the fabricated mind may have been provided with creative powers - powers that have also been fabricated. For example the capacity of a modern car to start in desperately hot or cold weather, adapt to the hot or cold air entering the engine, warm up and stabilize at an optimal temperature, and function smoothly throughout the alteration in engine temperature is a type of observable ‘track’. The simple ‘mind’ of the associated computer has ‘creative’ powers or controls that alters settings in the car’s engine system to accommodate the hard wired physical principles or laws that must be accounted for if the car engine is to operate in the way that the automotive designer, the mind behind the micro mind, desires.
Observing a homing pigeon or even cattle following a cow path at a certain time of day may tell you that human influence is impacting the mind of the creature. The pigeon has been trained to associate a certain location with home. The cattle may know that it is milking time as prescribed by a human and, of more importance to the cow, the time that a human will provide a food supply that is desirable to the cow.
A *point that should stand out is that any front line clue always has a huge number of associated and underlying details – details that in most cases need to be accurately understood in order for the front line clues to make applicable sense and to fit into a broad theory that the detective assembles to explain what is going on. <continued>
Here are two ultra simple "minds with creative powers"! The fabricated thermostat is a simple mind that has the simple creative capacity to turn the electric heater by the toilet on and off based on its "thinking" ability. Even the toilet has a simple "mind" in the form of its float valve which "watches" the water level and turns the water inlet on and off.
Here we have a young deer leading a calf and then the same deer, now older, following a massive bull. If you analysed the tracks and their patterns, would you have a clue as to the dynamics and how various minds and creative capacities, some human, are involved? The fawn was injured in winter and found refuge with the cattle herd that was being confined and fed by a human. The fawn found food and safety in its injured condition. Coyotes did not dare come near due to the longhorn bull. The fawn bonded with a new calf and would lead it out to the pasture, still close to the protective bull. And once the initial stage was set, the young deer hung out with the protective bull until it was an adult and could look after itself. The cattle stayed clumped due to a humanly assembled electric fence and an organized food supply system. The deer adapted to that artificial but designed and human managed reality. The story has a vital history and details that impact the oddity of fresh deer and cattle tracks overlapping!
The story illustrates how 'tracks' can be clues but understanding underlying details may be vital. No one could understand the oddity pictured above simply from the associated footprints. One needs to ask if this story tells you something about the reliability of many excited archeologic stories! Bull shit and fairy tales have great similarity and live on a foundation of swiss cheese and whipped cream!
The short video that is linked, relates how Einstein came up with the radical theory that was ridiculed when he initially advanced it, however application of and testing of the 'theory' proved that he was correct. The video shows how a mind game was used and how the Einstein quote linked to his amusing photo (above), is very relevant to this advance. Einstein had a remarkable mental foundation of experience and skill in physics and math and from that solid, multi-clue base he launched into a process of assembling and connecting clues and arriving at insights based on those clues plus creative thought. He fabricated an unproven theory that could be tested over time. He was a skilled detective! How many people would have guessed the unexpected but correct 'answer'! But luck wasn't involved. It was a case of 'assembling multiple clues'.
<resumed> To further illustrate the vital reality of this seemingly obvious *point, look at the following photo of a snow covered field. Can you see any tracks? Consider standing and observing this scene with a 5 year old child. You both see the same scene. Does an adult see the scene the same way as the child?
Let’s have two adults and the small child in the observation roll. Would any two adults see the scene the same way? Familiarity with background and underlying facts, laws, principles, details are going to have a major bearing on the analysis capacities of the witnesses / detectives. What is going on here? What has gone on here? What does the small child know about temperature effect and water and its unusual set of characteristics – liquid, vapour, crystals, ice? What does he know about aerodynamics and air and wind and the related effects on snow? What does the child know about types of snow and flake size and moisture content? Is the snow fine and dry or heavy and sticky? How do you explain these variables? What does the child know about sunlight and the angle at which it hits the earth at different seasons and how different colours reflect light differently and react to solar radiation? What does the child know about time of day and season and jet streams and weather dynamics and effects? Why are there no deer tracks? Is it a case of timing? When did the last snow fall and what were wind conditions for the last few days? Is there a food or health issue in the past or present that is impacting deer population? Why no rabbit tracks? Why no coyote tracks? Why no buffalo or elephant or dinosaur tracks? Are these observations of importance to the humans that are observing the field? Is the field going to be planted in the spring? What is the moisture condition of the land? Is there an acceptable snow cover for the time of year?
What is the historic precipitation record? What is the soil type – clay or sand? Is there a drought cycle or a high moisture cycle predicted due to observed factors hundreds of miles away? Will there be a new dump of snow shortly? Weather radar might be able to tell us. How does weather radar work? How do you access the information? Do you have a cell phone? How does it work and do you have reception? Can you afford a cell phone and a data service? Where does the financial capacity come from to buy the cell phone and data service? How do economics work? Why does one adult have a high paying job and another doesn’t? On and on the underlying questions can go. And as I roll these considerations off, it is clear that the 5 year old is in a very poor position to be an effective detective compared to the adults who have had opportunity to build a huge inventory of detailed observations which they can tap whenever they are confronted by a major and current ‘clue’. And the adults have had time to test their observations and information inputs for accuracy – discarding the incorrect information and internalizing the correct – hopefully! Yes - - Hopefully!
Notice the tiny ridges on the snow. An adult can likely explain how that oddity occurs? Why isn’t the snow simply smooth? Why, sometimes, is it smooth? Are the ridges different than an animal track? The ridges illustrate a creative force – the air and wind. And the air and wind are elements of a huge and remarkably stable system that can be seen as being similar to the temperature compensating car engine carburetion system. Just as the car engine, when started, perhaps remotely, doesn’t suddenly rev up and blow itself to pieces, the natural system adjusts and just keeps motoring along - decade after decade after century. But it does have to adjust. The adult knows that this is the case. How does he know this? The child is oblivious to this vital reality and if the child is thrust into a decision making position, his shallow judgments are not going to be very valuable.
So, familiarity with essential support clues clearly varies with age. The tiny child cannot hold a candle to the adults. How much does this capacity vary between adults and are there some adults who have operating styles that make them better detectives because they have far more underlying ‘micro clues’ to work with? Do these Super Slueths have ways of gaining micro clues quicker and also of better quality? And are some adults more skilled at avoiding and eradicating error and internalizing only true facts and accurate theoretic models?
I have a wonderful illustration of ‘how’ and ‘how not to’ approach this challenge, provided by a seemingly unlikely Maestro of Micro Clues and Detective Expertise named Jim Corbett. But before hitting that story, let’s thrash away at the ‘tracks’ issue a bit more.
Instead of a pristine field of freshly fallen snow, with its massive load of underlying information, let’s dive into an even more complex ‘tracks’ world! The important aspect of my string of examples is an appreciation that any major ‘track’ or clue is a tip of an iceberg of connected facts or laws and events. And if you have several major clues, each one has this same underlying mass and inevitably the underlying data is interconnected and has overlapping areas. As a result, an incredibly complex situation exists and the detective is up against a challenge. Good detectives don't have the simplistic mind of a 'one trick pony'.
Whenever anyone does anything, they make a string of decisions that are based on theory – or perhaps it is better to say ‘theories”. And those theories are fabricated guesses that they MUST MAKE if they are to move ahead even though they are operating on ‘guesses’. What you see in front of you involves theory. You think you know that there is an exact correlation between what your eyes and brain detect and what is really out there. Is it possible that somehow something has garbled the accuracy of your vision system? You theorize, based on past result that the answer is “not likely”. But running on theory is a moment by moment reality. Your see tracks across the snow covered field. You theorize that the foot prints look like they were made by a deer. You don’t see the actual deer but you theorize that he is close at hand. You theorize that due to the condition of the hoof prints in the snow that the deer passed very recently. You theorize that the size of the print tells you something about the size of the deer. You may theorize, based on the distance the hoof prints are apart and the exact pattern, how fast the deer was travelling. You 'think' you know 'answers'.
Recently, a neighbour 'thought' that he saw a wolf only a mile from the snow covered field pictured earlier. Cougars have also been reported in the immediate area. So I see a large foot print on my property. Could it be a wolf? Could it be a cougar? What are the implications if it is one of those animals? How do I know that the large print isn’t a large dog? Apparently skilled trackers have trouble telling an individual wolf print from that of a comparably sized dog. But secondary clues often help. Wolves tend to be on a mission and travel in a somewhat straight line while dogs tend to wander off a straight course. They frisk and play and explore and sniff and dig – not so a wolf. Again, smaller, secondary clues become important if an accurate assessment of a major clue is to occur. <continued>
<resume> Some people may know this wolf / dog detail from personal experience. Some may have read about the detail, such as myself. Is the information accurate? Is it wise to note it and remember it? When evaluating tracks, knowing accurate details of the agent that made them, can be a huge help in gleaning information from the clues that are actually in front of you. Speculation and theory, based on solid underlying clues, are like climbing ropes and solidly fixed rock pins, as the detective climbs to a summit where he can see the exact layout of things. Rock pins don't work well in sand or slush - or hot air - or bull shit!
Here are more examples of foot prints and little stories that go along with them. Again, the point being stressed is the importance of the detective being provided with a large supply of quality, underlying clues that clarify and verify the importance of the major clues. Information quality/accuracy is vital as are accurate theory concepts that a detective might acquire from others as well as via personal fabrication. Incorrect underlying ‘facts’ or incorrect underlying ‘theory’ can result in a major clue being completely misunderstood.
The photos below show cougar tracks. Once again, the posted 'track' info illustrates that the importance of additional knowledge or clues that must be considered when making accurate sense of the major 'track' or 'major clue'.
When I was a child, our family had visitors from Eastern Canada who had two young sons my age. We took the family to a neighbor's farm to see a cow being milked.
We are talking 'an old school, personal milk cow, hand milk situation'. The Eastern kids were smart and enthusiastic but they were on unfamiliar territory. On seeing the cow, one of the boys exclaimed "A camel!" The parents obviously had taken the kids to the zoo! And the other boy, prior to the milking operation beginning asked "Can I turn the crank?" He had picked that idea up somewhere, even though it wasn't applicable in the current situation!
The children were living and learning and gathering basic information and getting incorrect information that was in their minds, corrected.
The incident was talked about for years and likely added slightly to the westerner view that easterners are short on a few basic clues!
Of course, easterners also have unique cards in their minds and experiences! No one holds all the cards, it seems. But it is nice to have as full a hand, and mind, as possible.
Now, let's look at a couple of 'track' clue situations that involve theory and speculation where incorrect theory of incorrect 'facts' can have an important impact on evaluating the basic clue.
A guy and a gal are at a paintball field (my own) and want to cross a pasture area to get to a strategic location. They jump a fence and immediately see a track on the ground. It is a large hoof print and the couple pauses.
The couple are at least sufficiently experienced to sense that the track has meaning and importance relative to their decision options. The gal looks at the track and immediately says "My grandparents had a gentle old milk cow and it made tracks just like this. Let's keep going." They round a bluff of poplars and confront this!
Moments later the scene has become this;
Underlying information that was faulted meant an obvious clue was not correctly appreciated! (This is only an illustrative story - the real bull is actually rather tame as is illustrated by our being able to get his photo with mask and undies!)
Now, another scenario. Robinson Crusoe was a story book character but Defoe's book was based on a certain amount of factual information. Crusoe finding foot prints on the island on which he was marooned is a well known event in the story.
Crusoe was pictured as having underlying information. He knew that the footprints likely belonged to humans who were cannibals. Despite his lonely circumstances, he didn't rush home and make tea in preparation to meet welcome company - he did rush home and fortified the place! He knew the individual who made the foot print was BIG and he theorized, accurately, according to the book, that the Big Individual was not friendly!
When I was around 10 - 12, I went to a Sherlock Holmes movie with my parents. It was 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' and the 'hound' image portrayed burned a vivid image in my young mind. Consider all the programming that children encounter today with the quality of animation and every conceivable image creation that a massive 'entertainment' industry spews out, non stop.
At some point, likely not long after seeing the hound movie, I was tenting in our farmyard and got out of the tent to go to the bathroom. Suddenly, out of the darkness a dog came running and was all over me. He was a super friendly mutt and not working me with his jaws or straining for my throat, but I did not have as happy a reaction as the tail wagging dog that must have been lost and was desperate for human company! The following fabricated image was likely closer to the imprint that was stored in my mind than was actual reality.
Consider how a young child might react to the images of 'tracks' that I will show you in a moment. Say that a child has lived in a city apartment, his parents have taken little interest in reading and talking and explaining to him, the parents may come from a long line of similar parents, and the media has been the little fellow's central mentor. Let's toss up some potential 'track creating animals' that the boy thinks exist, based on his media education.
What about animal images that the child believes, accurately, exist, but not in the location where he lives?
In a moment I will lay a story on you where a child confronts a situation where his programming creates a terrifying experience for him but in the end, the incident has a dramatic impact on the rest of his life. He learns to use the hard logic of experience to knock ingested error on the head!
So, in photos A to D, all taken in my back yard, if our media child was brought on site and interviewed, what do you think he could tell you, of value, about the 'track clues' that he would see? Would he be confident about the size and shape and temperament and direction of travel of the agents that created the various tracks? Would he be able to accurately comment on connections between the various tracks? Would he see something like the patch of grass as being a type of track with a connection to a vast machine, an aspect of which is providing the light necessary for the production of the photos? Would he see the camera as a type of 'track'? Would he see the vehicle tracks as a vast story on the development of technology and manufacturing methods and an economic system that includes tire plants and oil wells and fuel distribution facilities and educational institutions and various problems? Can he guess the age of the drivers of the vehicles by the tracks on the road? Would he see connections between the patch of grass and all the other 'tracks'? Would he see all the details in the photo as an interconnected 'whole' or as a bunch of individual little stories with minimal connection to each other? If he can generate accurate comment, how does he do it? Where did he collect the 'micro clues' that let him accurately analyze the clearly visible 'tracks' that are under his nose?
It is my contention that if a person does not see a complex web connecting all the dots in these four simple photos of backyard 'tracks' he is not in a good position to be an effective detective in all sorts of day to day issues, many of which, if botched, can create all sorts of hell for the himself and those around him.
A large inventory of accurate 'micro clues' is vital for the Maestro Detective. How does he go about securing them and refining them?
To some, who have actually read this far, my next Sherlock push may seem unlikely, but it contains elements that are vital for all successful detectives of Life!