Friday, December 5, 2014

Reader Challenge!

Seeing as I haven't posted one of these in a while, I'd like to give some viewers a chance to make some deductions without offering any assistance or ideas of my own. In order to do that, I've posted a (slightly embarrassing) picture of myself for you all to practice on.

Challenge: Tell me as much as you can about what is going on in this picture. Use any and all tricks and techniques at your disposal.

If we don't get enough responses, I may ask a few leading questions to keep it going.

Happy deducing!

P.S. If you happened to be there at the time this picture was taken (obviously someone was), then please either refrain from commenting, OR be extra careful to support what might be considered unfairly obtained information.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Deduction #8

My interests have been piqued, and I'm excited to present a new deduction for you all.

First, a few more obvious things:
  • College student, age consistent with what appears to be my primary demographic
  • Lives in North America (light sockets are wonderful things)
  • Dorm resident (I have eyes)
Statistically speaking, our student is a freshman (dorm resident), but I think this hypothesis is supported by their general lack of "stuff," as well as the presence of brand-new 120 page notebooks.

Using time-stamps on the picture and the submission website, I can be reasonably certain that our subject resides in the Eastern Time Zone. So far, the area that appears most likely (but only slightly) is near Virginia, as the company whose name appears on the purple and white item on the desk has their headquarters there.

It appears our subject is also interested in Sociology or is at least enrolled in a class on the subject. It's hard to Google the name "Ritzer," without finding the associated books, one of which is "Essentials of Sociology," which this one appears to be. Based on the complexity of the material, I'd say the book is consistent with our freshman theory.

Let's talk about the chargers in the power strip. There's an apple charger there, which I believe is likely to belong to someone other than the subject of the picture, as the picture itself was taken with an Android Phone (metadata) and the laptop appears to be a windows machine.

Okay, time for the desk. Right-handed, tea-not-coffee, weirdness with the green lightbulb in the desk lamp. Subject went out for breakfast prior to taking the picture (breakfast sandwhich?). Right-handed based on mouse and fork. I am interested in the choice of the large mouse-pad, which suggests our subject utilizes the computer for a task for which precise mouse-movement is useful (Photoshop, online gaming, etc.). Key ring has three keys on it, one of which is for the dorm-room door. Of the remaining two, one looks fairly mailboxey, and the other might very well be to an externally facing door, although it's a little unclear. Also, is that a bottle-opener on the other end of that keychain? Finally, I should mention that I'm incredibly flattered by this particular deduction photo, as our subject appears to be perusing my blog whilst taking the picture.

A few more miscellaneous notes - the computer's shape makes me think gaming PC, as does the cord which appears to facilitate a headset that has an attached microphone. Our subject is fairly neat. The bed is made, the shoes are lined up, and the books/notebooks are stacked. That, plus the blanket on the bed and Christmas lights shifts the balance of probability slightly in the female direction, but then we have the gaming PC, the minimalist key-chain, the shoe size compared to national average (barring any scaling mistakes I made), and the type of shoe shifting it slightly in the male direction. I confess to not being comfortable making a for-sure gender distinction, as the evidence here has more to do with how our subject prefers their room than their gender.

This brings up an interesting point about this science. Utilizing averages to determine probabilistically who a subject is (gender-wise or otherwise) will work ON AVERAGE. But simply knowing that the average male foot is slightly larger will not tell you who a person is, or even that they are male if all you are going on is their shoe-size. It will only tell you where someone lies on a bell-curve, once we decide which bell curve we are on. So be very careful with these types of conclusions. The solution (almost always) is get more data. After all, we cannot make bricks without clay.

I'm very interested to see others' opinions on this one, and I can't wait for someone to point out something I may have missed. Happy sleuthing!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Word About Abduction

Abductive reasoning is something that you may not have heard of, but rest assured, of the modes of thought responsible for Sherlock Holmes' brilliance, it is the most important. It combines rigid logical connections of deduction with the fluidity of induction.

Simply put, abductive reasoning is what Holmes uses to do his thing.

Holmes is famous for the line, "Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth." Strictly speaking, this is true. When one has a set of n possible options, eliminating (n-1) of these options will result in one option remaining. What this phrase fails to take into account is how one actually generates this list of n possible options.

The fact is, you CAN'T just make up a list of all of the possible options. Any list of possibilities you can come up with will be incomplete. You can always add things like, "OR, aliens could have abducted him, probed him, then staged his murder to make it LOOK like he was poisoned." There's NO WAY that's what happened, but speaking deductively, you also can't 100% rule it out. That's where abductive reasoning comes in.

It allows you to gauge possibility in a slightly less rigid way, while still keeping most of the logical progressions we love about deduction. This mode of thought is what allows Sherlock Holmes to generate his list of possible explanations for how the crime may have occurred, after which point he can apply his rigorous logic and his brilliant detective skills to narrow the possibilities down to a single solitary solution.

How does one apply this reasoning to one's own {cases, life, questions} you ask? Two things above all else benefit a detective in this endeavor - a formidable memory and an abundance of imagination.

Sherlock Holmes manages to generate possible scenarios so quickly partly due to his vast knowledge of crimes already committed. As he is so fond of saying, "There is nothing new under the sun." Thus, he is able to extrapolate possible means, motives, and even weapons - from crimes of a similar nature which have already happened. When he is not able to find a suitable comparison, his mind searches for new and unexpected ways in which events could have transpired. An excellent way to inspire such strokes of investigatory brilliance is to ask one's self, "What if it didn't happen that way?" or "How could this have been possible given X and Y?" or even "If I were the killer...?"

Long story short, the abductive way to find the answer is to create a set of possible options, one of which HAS to be the answer, and keep eliminating things until one reaches a solution. It's certainly not glamorous, but damn if it isn't Holmes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Deduction #7

Another College Student!

This one was fun. Right off the bat, we have a female subject. Evidently she is quite the bookworm based on the stack of Young Adult novels on the right side of the desk. Next we have her name, Annie, which is written on several of the pieces of paper on the bulletin board running the length of the desk. We could talk about her affinity for horses, or the fact that she seems to be a Vikings fan, or the operating system of her computer (Windows 7 I think), but I think I've found something more interesting. A closer inspection of the lanyards hanging just behind the lamp reveal the logo of UST, a Catholic College in St. Paul, Minnesota. That by itself is not a ton to go on. However, once we add the brand-new student ID (still in sleeve) and what appears to be a welcome packet on the desk, I feel quite safe in assuming that you are an incoming Freshman at the school.

Now that we know a little about the who, let's talk about where. Given previous information, we should answer the question of whether this picture was taken in a dorm room. I'm confident it was not. The layout of the room (lamp reflection) suggest single-occupant bedroom. Not only that, but this picture was sent to me about a month ago, a full 10 days before you could have moved in. Based on a few quick statistics from UST's website, I conclude that you most likely are staying in a dorm the first year.

Now for the fun part. The picture was taken with an Apple Device (Ipad) which, as we know from previous deductions, has a nasty habit of encoding GPS data into its pictures. Without going into too much detail, I was able to get a pretty good lock on your location at the time the picture was taken. This type of information would allow someone to, oh I don't know, find the Facebook page for the incoming freshman class of UST, search for the name "Annie," and narrow the search by hometown. Upon doing that, one would discover that you ARE in fact staying in a dorm (the exact one will not be mentioned), and that you were at one point engaged in the process of searching for a flatmate in true Sherlockian fashion. If the cup in your room (reflection in picture frame) is any indication, you must be quite happy about the number and proximity of Arby's at your new location in the dorms.

Happy sleuthing!

Saturday, August 16, 2014


We did it! Ladies an gentlemen, the blogger version of my blog (the original, pre-Tumblr version) has reached over 10,000 views! This is a huge milestone for me, and it has renewed my motivation to continue the experiment and help others improve their deduction/induction/memory skills.

Thanks to everyone who has commented, submitted pictures for practice, and suggested ideas for posts, and practiced along with me! Keep it up!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Deduction #6

Another two-for-one!

Number one - how do we know that these were taken by the same person? Just in case the lighting, decor, and wall coloring were not enough to convince you, we also have the metadata from the picture to confirm that the photos were taken at approximately the same time by the same phone (which by the way was an Iphone 5s) (See a fun little computer trick).

Another interesting thing about this picture's metadata is that it contains some very specific GPS data which supposedly marks the location the picture was taken. Unfortunately, plugging in the data verbatim yields a location somewhere is Kazakhstan, which worried me greatly as there was nothing in the pictures to suggest that as a viable location. In fact, the many English book titles along with the dollar bill attached to your desk might seem to suggest that you live in America. Further exploration of the metadata shows us that the pictures were taken at approximately 11:25 am, but submitted to Padlet about 3 hours prior at about 8:35. If we assume it took about 10 minutes for you to upload the pictures (which I feel is a reasonable assumption given all the data), then via this method we can safely say that you fall into the Eastern Time Zone.

Needless to say I was quite confused about your location. Especially after I noticed that the bottom left corner of your mathematics textbook on the desk. "Chapitre 3." Not a phrase you'd expect on the East Coast of the United States. But it did give me something to go on. Either the girl to whom this room belongs is home-schooled by french parents OR the language of the area in which she lives is French. If we assume the second, then certain parts of Canada meet 2 of the 3 location stipulations - must be in Eastern Time Zone, and must speak French and English fairly commonly. The only outlier seems to be the GPS coordinates. After considering the options, I decided that the balance of probability rested with the notion that somehow the GPS data must be wrong. So I set out to find out HOW wrong.

As it turns out, when Iphone pictures are transferred, either through certain apps or image editing software, the GPS data is altered, resulting in the + and - signs being cut off the front. For those of you unfamiliar with latitude and longitude measurements, the signs allows the reader to ascertain which hemisphere will be used. Without them, the numbers in the GPS field could refer to exactly 4 locations in the world. (++, --, +-, -+). After looking at the possible locations, I found that one of them is a house in Montreal.,-73.8,10z

In the interest of not giving away this person's address, I've truncated the data so as not to deliver such a precise location.

Now onto the fun stuff.

Tentatively, I'm going to say we have a fairly well-rounded, bi-lingual, christian, right-handed female near her early teens with medium to long hair, living in an upper middle class household.

Well rounded based on the piano, soccer ball and packaged assumption that she's either a fan or a player (admittedly weak), and all of the books with titles in two languages (bi-lingual). The religious pictures on the top left part of the book shelf (combined with an over 80% Christian population in Montreal) says Christian. Right-handed because the notebook and pen are placed to the right of the textbook, and all of the writing utensils on the desk are to the right side. Female should be a pretty easy one at this point. We've got the shoe and dress on the desk shelf, various figurines on the bookshelf, and a hair clip on the desk top. Speaking of the hair clip - we can eliminate excessively short hair cuts as our subject would have little use for this type of clip. Upper middle class household based partly on the style of the bookshelves, the price of the matching sets of the various book series, and the local neighborhood property values (easier to find when you have the subject's location).

The only one I'm not super comfortable with is the age of the subject. I managed to find that textbook online, and it appears to be for cycle 1 of the secondary education program in Canada, which I believe equates to upper middle school/ early high school in the USA. In addition, the books on the shelf (the ones I recognize) are young adult titles (Ex: Hunger Games, Caster Chronicles). But something seems off. Either this room has been recently cleaned, the age of the subject is actually higher than I suspected, or this is one organized teenager.

My big question is this - "What is written on that dollar bill?"

If you have any questions, critiques, or violent disagreements, please comment or send me a message. If these are your pictures, please respond and let me know how I did, and be sure to clear up any mistakes I may have made.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mind Palace - Organization

Hey guys. Since my last post, I've been hard at work tweaking my mind palace so that it functions at its maximum potential. in light of that, I'm going to do some more posts on how to organize and maximize the efficiency of your mind palace.

For those of you looking for an update, I've now permanently stored the following data in my memory palace:
  • The order of the U.S. Presidents (and some of the vice presidents... still in progress)
  • Rudyard Kipling's poem, "If"
  • An excerpt from "Hunting Season" by Beau Taplin
  • The name and year of every movie to win an Academy Award for Best Picture
  • A few debit card numbers (mine, that is)
  • The order of a specific deck of playing cards (used for magic tricks)
  • All of the locations of the above data relative to my mind palace
If the last bullet point seems a little circular, rest assured that it's not. It IS, however, what I would like to discuss with you today.

(Warning: Meta-Thinking Paragraph Ahead)
You see, having a lot of knowledge and being able to utilize it are two completely different concepts. While having a functional memory palace in which to store specific types of information can be / is incredibly useful, it's only useful insofar as you remember where you put everything. In other words, you can know that you know who the 19th president was, but until you actually go into your palace and pull Rutherford B. Hayes out, you don't actually know who the 19th president was. If someone came up to you and asked what data you've put away in your mind palace, how would you go about answering their question? In short, while it is very easy to know things, soon one discovers that the harder problem is actually to know what you know.

This is one of the main problems with utilizing the memory palace method to permanently store lots of information - no doubt something Sherlock Holmes would have had to deal with fairly early on in his exploits. Rest assured, there is a solution. For the purposes of this post, we're going to refer to it as The Index. Thus far, I have experimented with 2 variations which we'll call web and map indexing.

What is an index?

If you've ever been to a library, you should know the answer to this question. An index is a system of organization, usually taking the form of a list (often alphabetized). How does this apply to us? The short version is this - we're going to make a mind palace containing everything we know, AND where to find it.

The Web:
In experimenting with the web index, I created a small room (think elementary school classroom) and painted the walls all different colors and lined them with bookshelves of different kinds and various decorations so that no two walls were even remotely similar. On the bookshelves, I placed tiny trinkets - things that would remind me of the specific information stored within them - as well as a reminder of the location where the information was stored. (Ex: A picture of President Obama standing in front of my old home would tell me that the U.S. presidents were stored in that home.) I had one trinket for every chunk of information I had logged away. One problem I ran into with this method was that it quickly became difficult to store information, especially literature, on the bookshelf with other similar data. In order to fix this issue, I would recommend creating tiny rooms hidden behind the bookshelves to serve as the set of loci (Latin word for locations) rather than the bookshelf itself. The method functions like a web in that while there are no expressly visualized pathways to your various mind palaces, they ARE connected through your trinkets, making each trinket a vital link to the information you want to remember.

The Map:
The thing about map indexing is that it doesn't actually exist. Sure, I gave a name to the concept, but the essential bit here is that we're just making a bigger mind palace. Rather, we are combining all of our existing mind palaces into one gigantic cobbled together neighborhood of mind palaces. For a more in-depth look at this idea, check out "The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci" by Johnathan D. Spence. Old-school mnemonists used to use city blocks, or whole cities, as mind palaces, making the amount of information you can store as large as the city in which you stored it. Then, we can rename houses, blocks, or even streets to segment the data you are storing (Ex: The "head trauma" room in the "Emergency Medicine" house on "Science Street"). The tricky thing about this method is that in order to effectively use such a large area, one must be either very familiar with the area or very willing to make up a lot of the missing details on their own. One more difficulty is that even if you use a neighborhood you know well, odds are that you don't know the layouts of all the houses. But really, there's no reason to use those houses, is there? One could simply use the layout of an old neighborhood and plant all of the houses one has known or lived in to create a new neighborhood full of memory storage space.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Mind Palace - Putting it Into Practice

Previously, we've discussed the basic structure of a mind palace and what it's used for. Today, I'm going to discuss some basic encoding methods, and the building blocks for creating your own.

But first, a little history...

The practice of using a person's visual/spatial memory to organize non-visual non-spatial data has been around since the ancient Greeks. In its simplest terms, a Mind Palace utilizes images to organize and store information for later retrieval. The ancient Greeks and Romans used this system, also called the method of loci (meaning places/locations), for remembering anything from names of soldiers to important speeches. In fact, the expression "in the first place" refers to the technique of placing talking points in a mind palace (First thing you want to say goes in the first place in your mind palace). The method of loci was also used very often for everyday knowledge - something that, today, you could simply look up in a book. The first "books" were more like very lengthy scrolls with no chapter headings, page numbers, and little to no spacing or punctuation. This meant that in order to efficiently use a book as a reference, much of the organizational data would have to be stored in one's own head. Today, there is less of a need for a mind palace, but it can still be a useful technique for reliably internalizing everything from a list of names to a phone number to a shuffled pack of playing cards. A detective today using a mind palace filled with crime solving information would be able to have infinitely more data at his fingertips without the dependance on technological devices to access the information he needed.

Now for encoding....

The first thing you need to remember about encoding data into a mind palace is that it's not an exact science by any means. There are an infinite number of ways to encode information, and very little information can be coded verbatim. Mind palaces are most useful when the data can be easily broken down, only the general idea is important, or you're working with small, simple data to begin with. Rest assured, any data can be encoded, but not all data can be encoded quickly. As there is no one-hundred-percent right way to encode data for use in a mind palace, I'm just going to give you a few rules of thumb which have served me (and several unnamed international memory champions) quite well.

  •  Make it Simple:
    • Most of the time, a person who uses a mind palace won't be remembering anything much more complicated than a shopping list. It's important to remember that less really is more. There's no point in telling yourself a long story to remember every single thing - you might as well just memorize the list by reading it over and over again. A good rule of thumb is that whenever you're trying to remember a list of distinct objects, simply place comically large versions of the objects in various loci in your mind palace (Ex: eggs, cheese, and fruit can code to a giant egg on your porch, a huge wheel of cheese on your couch, and a massive fruit basket on your bed).
  • Use Relationships:
    • Sometimes, you'll be at loss for what images to place in your mind. My advice to you is to quickly think about things which are related to the item you wish to memorize, and use those instead. As an example, let's say your girlfriend gives you a list of things to pick up - one of these things is hummus. You don't know how to visualize hummus - but you know that it falls into the category of Greek food. Instead of trying in vain to place hummus in your mind palace, you place a Greek temple filled with food in there instead. This will remind you that you are looking for a Greek food item, which will send you back to hummus.
  • Homophones are Your Friends
    • In a pinch, words that sound similar may also be substituted quite easily, leading to quicker and easier memory storage. A great way to think about this technique is to imagine trying to memorize a list of names of people you've never met. Let's say one of the names on that list is "Kanasha". If you're like me, this doesn't evoke any useful images right off the bat. What I would do in this situation is visualize a few old people sitting around a table playing Canasta (if you don't know what that is either, then you may want to find a different image), and use that.
  • More than Just Your Eyes
    • In the case that you find yourself working with kind of a vague image, remember - YOU HAVE 5 USEABLE SENSES. You're not limited to just your eyes. You can also use touch, taste, smell, and hearing to enhance the images you've placed. Let's say you don't have a very specific idea about what a tuna looks like. You know it's a fish, but beyond that, you're lost. You do, however, know what canned tuna smells like. Why not imagine a sort of generic fish, then add in the idea that it smells like a tuna sandwich? Bingo.
  • Make it Weird
    • Nothing hurts a mind palace more than banality. If you want to remember things, for the love of all things cold and rational MAKE THEM MEMORABLE. Think of it as if you were telling yourself a story as you walk through your mind palace. It'll be much easier to recall if you know that it's Darth Vader is waiting for you down the hall as and not your old boss from the previous year (unless you had a really exciting boss). As a general rule, make your images as large, crazy, wacky, lewd, crude, or otherwise weird as you can. You're brain is hardwired to remember those things BETTER, LONGER, and EASIER.

If you're interested in continuing your education in the area of mind palaces and tricks involved, I highly recommend reading Josh Foer's book Moonwalking with Einstein. It's an excellent read and is invaluable in  expanding one's knowledge of the mind's potential (not to mention, it's where I learned much of what I know about these techniques).

As always, I appreciate your input. Your feedback is incredibly valuable to me. If there's ever a topic you don't understand, something you need clarified, or you'd like to suggest an idea for a post - send in a comment or drop me a message and I'll do my very best to help. Happy memorizing!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Training Regimen Available!

It is my great pleasure to tell you that I have begun posting the exact training regimen which I use, rather than vaguely alluding to it as I have been. I will be adding more training games as we go, but the two that are up at this point are the most fundamental to the training process.

If you're viewing this on Tumblr, you may also reach the training regimen page through here.

If you've never tried any of the deductive exercises in the past, I highly recommend you give this a shot. It starts off slow, but it can be surprisingly fun.

I hope you find these exercises as helpful as I do, and I hope you enjoy training with me!

Again, here's the link to the page  ---> Training Exercises

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Where to Look - Hands

            A) Left Palm                                 B) Right Palm

                              D) Right Back

A person's hands tell us a lot about them. What they do,where they've been, how they act, and what they're feeling - all fair game if you know what to look for. Today, we'll be examining a pair of hands, and the conclusions one may draw from them.

       C)  Left Back

Gender - There are very few reasons why gender must be deduced from someone's hands alone (perhaps only their hands are in view in an important photograph). That being said, it may still be useful to you down the road. For starters, look at their choice of watch - this person chose a definitively masculine watch. This preference, in addition to the hand-dryness (seen on palms), the state of their cuticles (seen on backs), and the scars from cuts (right palm and right back) push the balance of probability towards male. Keep in mind, as with all of our deductive exercises, we are rarely 100% certain - we deal in probabilities. In this case, the odds are clearly in favor of the gender being male.

Handedness - This is a much more regularly useful deduction to make. The first thing we can look for is, again, the watch. Most of the time, right-handed individuals will wear their watch on their left hand, as it tends to get in the way when they write. This statistic is not as strong in left-handed people, due mostly to the fact that the widely accepted "correct" way to wear a watch is on the left hand. Still, a watch on the right and is a good indication of left-handedness, and vice versa. Other things to be aware of are the scars on the right hand. This would seem to indicate right-handedness in the same way that a worn out tire would suggest more use than one with a lot of tread.

Habits - Zooming in on the fingernails would show no jagged edges. Do not make the mistake of blindly assuming this person doesn't bite their nails. Indeed they might. The only thing this tells us it that they have not very recently (within a day or two).

A look at their fingertips, when examined closely, show a discrepancy between the amount of skin on each finger. Notice that on the right hand, the fingerprints are easily visible, whereas on the left, the skin seems smoother and shinier. This would indicate that the subject performs an activity which regularly removes surface skin from the fingertips of only one hand. This would be a great time to ask if the subject plays guitar, or perhaps the violin. A yes to either question would give us more evidence that the subject is right handed, as the finger positions on either instrument are usually performed by the non-dominant hand.

Another interesting place to look is the pinkie nail on either hand. Having a longer-than-average nail on the little finger is an interesting observation in that it is a potential indicator of many different things. One fairly benign option is that it is used to clean out the ear and/or nose quickly and discretely. On the other end of the scale, it is used by some as a convenient place for resting certain powder-esque drugs before snorting them up one's nose. And somewhere in the middle, some cultures view a long pinkie nail as a sign of wealth or social status. Be careful, for nothing conclusive may be said about this observation without further evidence.

Random Deductions:

While many of the following facts may not present a solid conclusion one way or the other, remember that in day to day deductions, you are not limited to just someone's hands. The following list is simply to get you thinking about things which you may be able to confirm either by asking or deducing from further details.

  • Military Experience - on a digital watch, you may notice that the time is set to 24 hour format. This is a great way to shift the balance of probability toward or away from military experience. Military time is an odd system to have to get used to, and most people don't unless they have a reason.
  • Income - Notice the watch (brand, material it is made of, number of scratches, etc.). This can help to narrow down someone's income. Be wary - many people give watches as gifts, so this may not be a sure-fire indicator.
  • Recent Reading/Writing - Look for ink stains/smudges on the fingertips and the palm-heels (area above the wrist opposite the thumb). This may give an indication that your subject has been writing/drawing/reading a newspaper recently.
  • Beyond Ink - Be on the lookout for any odd discoloration as a result of grease, stamps, etc. which can tell you a lot about your subject's recent activities (Ex: half washed off stamp could mean they went to a club the night before).
  • Fear/Temperature - The color of the skin on your subjects hand can tell you if they are scared or simply cold. In both situations, the body pulls blood away from the skin and sends it to the vital organs and major muscle groups. This will result in the person's hands looking paler and feeling colder. To decide whether your subject is scared or cold, try shaking hands with them early on to establish a control.
  • Diet - Trembling hands can be a symptom of a fight-or-flight response, not eating enough, or a reaction to a stimulant (caffeine for example). Be sure to check for additional details before assuming they're starving themselves.
  • Rings - Rings are about commitment. Obviously, a ring on the left hand ring finger tells you who they’re committed to. While some rings are worn for fashion or sentimental reasons, be on the lookout for promise rings, engagement rings, or class rings, which you can use to narrow down where they’ve been.

I hope you enjoyed the first of many "Where to Look" posts. As always, if you have any comments or questions about anything on the blog, be sure to comment or send me a message. Your feedback is important and much appreciated.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Deduction #5

New deduction practice! This time, I’m going to turn it over to you. In the comments section, post your conclusions AND the observations that led you there. You must defend your choices. Deduce as much as you can about this person (I’ll jump in if necessary). Good luck!

Better quality version of this picture available here.

Tumblr Joins the Fun

Ladies and gents, this is to let you know that from now on, everydaydeductionist will be available on both Blogger and Tumblr. This is in an effort (mostly) to get a few more viewer submissions and, let's face it - more viewers. So, with that in mind....

If you're reading this on blogger, feel free to go about your business. You may want to check out the parallel version on Tumblr ( just to see if you like the look of it better, but for the most part, nothing's going to change.

However, should you be reading this via Tumblr, rest assured that I'll be working to migrate the older posts over as soon as possible. From now on, both blogs will post simultaneously. For now, feel free to check out for previously posted info, deduction practice, and access to the training regimen I discuss.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Differential Diagnosis

....aaaaand we're back folks!

My sincerest apologies for being gone for so long. School got a little hectic and this got away from me. Now that summer's officially begun, I thought I'd begin anew with a fresh perspective on the science/art I've been discussing thus far.

One of my favorite shows of late has been House M.D.. For those of you unaware, Dr. Gregory House is the medical version of Sherlock Holmes. He uses the rules of logic in combination with his astute observations to diagnose patients who have other doctors stumped. This has led me to another interesting way in which to view deductive exercises.

For the foreseeable future, I'll be attempting to cast a medical light on my deductions. The reason for this is incredibly simple - the act of deducing someone's personality, their recent whereabouts, their career, etc. can all be boiled down to a differential diagnosis.

Here's an example to illustrate my point:

Let's say you see a man in a suit walking into a hotel. Our job is to deduce his career. If we are viewing this exercise as a differential diagnosis, it may first be helpful to get an idea of what he is not, thereby excluding several incorrect guesses before they're made. "Construction worker," for example, while still potentially possible, is definitely not high on the list. We can begin to set aside careers like school principal and restaurant manager  - jobs which do not require much movement outside their place of business. Keep in mind that we do not yet have enough information to completely exclude those options, although we can label them as "less-than-likely."

Now we need to build a list of other observations (symptoms). Closer inspection reveals that the man is wearing cufflinks. This is sufficient to eliminate most if not all of the employees at the hotel - a uniform would not include cufflinks. This means that if the man works for the hotel, he is probably upper management or some other salary position. Furthermore, the man is wearing a bluetooth device suggesting that he is frequently on the phone. Finally, you notice that the briefcase he is carrying is a bit deeper than average. While you're not sure what to do with information, you believe it is a clue to determining the contents.  

Patient History:
It is at this point we can borrow from the medical line of thinking and get a patient history - did the man come from his car? Which door did he enter? Was he greeted by anyone? If so, how? If the man's car is out on the hotel driveway, he's probably a guest using the valet (upper management would have parked in a more permanent location). If the man was greeted by the doorman with a cheerful, "Welcome, first time guest!" Then we have our answer right there.

Let's assume that the doorman ignored the man entirely, and his car is nowhere to be seen. He could still be a guest at the hotel, which would leave quite a bit of wiggle-room in our diagnosis. Let's run a test. One of the most important things to remember about tests (medically and deductively) is that you should first form a hypothesis for testing - you need to have an idea of what you want to find out. In this case, we want to determine whether the man works at the hotel. An easy way to do that is ask him a question a guest would probably not know the answer to. (Ex: "Excuse me, how many rooms does this hotel have?") If the man answers immediately, we can infer that he works at the hotel, and is responsible for running the hotel, or perhaps in a non-customer service department (accounting).

Let's assume that our test was negative - the man has no idea how many rooms the hotel has. This means that it's very likely he's a guest. It is at this point we can use one of the most valuable tools to both deductionists and doctors alike - time. In many cases, the best thing to do is wait for new observations (symptoms) to present themselves. Let's say that after a few seconds, another man walks into the hotel and you observe a meeting between your subject and this new man. They greet each other with a handshake and our subject tells his associate his room number and hands him a business card. Now we can be sure that he's a guest. Furthermore, you can begin to form the strong hypothesis that he's here on business. Now all that's left to do is determine what business. Finally, as the men sit down at a nearby table, you see the subject reach into his briefcase and hand the other man one of many small rectangular cardboard boxes inside. The man turns it over, and you see the label - it's some sort of medication.

The Whiteboard:
There's nothing wrong with writing your ideas down. Even if you choose not to, you should be trying to maintain two separate lists.t  One list contains the information you've gathered (symptoms, strange behaviors, environmental information which might be relevant). The other list is your "top 5." This is a constantly changing list of possible explanations for the observations you've made. In a medical scenario, this would be a list of the most likely diseases causing the symptoms. In this example, this would be a list of professions which your subject might have. The list does not have to contain exactly 5 options (in fact, the more the merrier). The important thing is that you're updating it with every new piece of information you get.

Putting it all together, we have a man who carries medication in his larger-than-average briefcase, may travel occasionally for work, is frequently on the phone, meets his clients one-on-one, and by the state of his cufflinks and suit, appears to be doing well for himself.

One very likely diagnosis is that the man is a pharmaceutical representative - someone whose job is to introduce prescription medications to doctors or even hospital administrators by handing out samples. The other man could be a doctor who may eventually prescribe this medication. A test for this hypothesis my simply be to ask him if he is indeed a drug rep, or any other question which, if answered correctly, would confirm your choice.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and there will be many more. For the most part I will post with the same regularity which I had prior to my break. As always, feel free to submit photos of people and places for deduction exercises.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mind Palace - A How To

Welcome back. Using a mind palace to store information is a bit like tricking your brain into working like a computer. In order to create a mind palace which will function effectively, you're going to need three things. You'll need a place, data, and an encoding method. Your place is a bit like a hard drive - it's the place where all the data goes. More importantly, it's the place where all the data is stored, waiting for you to need it, at which point the data will be right there where you left it. The data is a little trickier to think about - it's anything. Absolutely anything that you need to remember can be data (phone numbers, playing cards, people's names, etc.). And how will you remember it? You'll need an encoding method. If your place is your hard drive, your encoding method is your software. It's what allows your to translate the data into something that your brain (hard drive) can understand and store away for later.

1) A Palace - A mind palace is a place. It can be any place you'd like (your house, your friend's house, your work, even your city). It can even be made up (although I'd advise using "real" places until you've got some practice in). The important thing is that the place does not change - it could be sunny, rainy, whatever - but the building itself, the architecture, does not change. This is very important, primarily because you will be "filling" your place with things, and those things WILL change. It's best to have some element of constancy to anchor the variable things on. Finally, you need to pick a route within your mind palace - a specific path you follow when walking through. It doesn't always have to be the same route every time, but when storing/recalling the same set of data, you must walk along the same route. This will become more clear as we go on. I'll post some more tips on optimizing the efficiency of your mind palace once we have a good understanding of how to use one.

2) Data - In order to store data in a mind palace, you'll need to figure out exactly what it is you are storing. Typically, you'll want to avoid storing multiple kinds of data in the same mind palace (there's no law against having multiple palaces - in fact, it's highly encouraged). In my first experience using a mind palace, I was memorizing a shopping list full of random items. I've since used it to remember a deck of playing cards in order, a list of names of people I'd never met, and even a list of landmarks in ancient Rome for a quick cramming session. The reason I'm telling you this is so that you understand the importance of knowing your data. you can't remember something you've never seen. You have to hear, see, touch, taste, or smell it. You can't memorize a shopping list that you can't read. Make sense?

3) Encoding Method - This is the crux of the mind palace. This is how you turn your hard-to-memorize data into something your brain can use. In order to do this, we'll be converting all of your data (names, numbers, playing cards) into images. Those images will then be "placed" in your mind palace, just like we did in Part 1 of this topic. Then, by walking through your mind palace along your pre-defined route, you can remember which images you placed where, which will then be decoded into the data you originally stored. How do we decide which images to use? The secret - it's all about using your imagination. Your brain very efficiently processes and stores very specific kinds of information - the funnier, weirder, and (in some cases) sexual your images are, the easier it will be for your brain to remember them. For example, in order to remember that the first thing you need to do in your day is call Peggy, you might imagine a pirate with a wooden peg-leg yelling into a cell phone. It sounds silly, but it gets the point across.

To demonstrate, let me take you back over the mind palace we created in the introduction.

We started at the front door, where we found a doll-house, which reminded me to tell you that you need a place to store the images. Then, we step inside to find a giant playing card with things written on it, which reminds me to tell you about the kinds of data you can store in a mind palace, and give you some examples of what you can use it for. Then, as we get into the next room, we see the bank of computers with the large flash drive - this is the part where I talk about the encoding method, which converts images into things that your brain remembers better. The other two images refer to the science of mind palaces, and remind me to tell you about where they came from (history). They also remind me to talk about how to maximize the efficiency of your own mind palace, and the different encoding methods you can use.

But that's for another post. Later!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Deduction #4

This deduction marks an important milestone for this blog.

I learned quite a few things from this picture. Most of them were not facts about the owner of the bookshelf, but creative ways of finding information and, more importantly, confirming it.

For starters, I am a huge Dan Brown fan. In fact, I own all of his novels. The thing is, I didn't recognize the ones on your shelf - at least I didn't at first. That's not the American cover art. Based on that, and the AA driving manual/practice book, I feel same in assuming that you are the first non-American to submit a picture to my blog, and for that I am immensely grateful. Add the interesting fact that the picture arrived on the submission page approximately 7 hours after it was taken (time zone difference), and I deduce that you live in the UK (the Doctor Who books helped too).

Next, let's narrow down physically who you are. I'm operating under the assumption that you are male based on your interest in role-playing games (bottom shelf on the left), your music (metal, if I'm not mistaken), and your ownership of lighter fluid and accessories for a bee-bee gun. That being said, you could also be a statistically uncommon female, but the balance of probability says otherwise. You are almost certainly Caucasian (30 SPF sunblock in the UK), and you are a swimmer( although whether it's for a club, your school, etc. - I cannot be sure).

Based on your literary interests and the books referencing eating on a budget, student cooking, etc., I'm placing your age somewhere in the university range. It's likely that you live in a small apartment/flat (terminology is fun) for two reasons: The first is that, while I am unfamiliar with dorm living over there, I would assume that bringing your own bookshelf is hard to do. The second is your bike pump. There are many places where a person with a lot of space to work with could keep a bike pump - the top of a bookshelf doesn't seem like one of them.

You are interested in computers (potentially a university major), puzzle solving, and different methods of thinking (explaining your participation in the blog). You enjoy mysteries, and figuring things out firsthand. 

Finally, I have some questions. Are you a magician? That seems to be a lot of decks of cards, even for someone who plays table-games. What in the world is that green slime-looking stuff in the small bucket?

Thanks for submitting! I await your response!

Mind Palace - Introduction

Okay, it's time - I've been putting this off for a while because quite frankly, I'm terrified of underselling such a valuable concept. In this three-part set of posts, we're going to discuss the Holmesian (actually ancient Greek) technique of remembering absolutely anything, for any length of time, limited only by the power of your imagination.

But before we do that, I have to tell you a story:

Stop what you are doing. Close your eyes and imagine yourself standing at your front door. Yes, of your house. I don't care which house, where it is, or when you lived there - it just has to be a place you remember well. I'm serious. In order for this to work, you have to trust me a little bit.

Now, standing between you and your front door, I want you to imagine a dollhouse. It can be whatever color, size, shape, or level of decadence you desire. But a dollhouse. Don't laugh, just imagine it. Right there on your doormat. See it.

Now, open your front door, and imagine walking two steps into whatever room is there, when you come face to face with a giant playing card - I mean huge. Whatever card you like, just make it gigantic - floor to ceiling. On this card, there's a ton of what looks like graffiti. You can see paint dripping - it's fresh. You can smell it as it dries. Upon closer inspection, you notice that the graffiti is actually words and numbers (names, definitions, phone numbers, somebody's social security #). Got it, good.

Next, move to the next room, which is now completely full of computers - maybe wall-to-wall WWII machines, all feeding into a massive flash-drive which sits at the end of the banks of computers.

Keep walking. Next room. You could be in your kitchen, living room, bathroom, etc. Just be sure it's set up as though you're actually walking through your house. You don't want to be teleporting between rooms. If you are out of space, walk back and go another way (no need to change what we've already done). That being said, in the next room, put a stack of books. In keeping with our theme, make this a massive stack of books. Not just ordinary books - old books. Ancient, dusty tomes as thick as your head. Something you'd see in some thousand-year-old library.

And finally, walk into what will be the final room on your walk through your house. In it, be sure to imagine a giant brain. Maybe in a glass tank, hooked up to a bunch of electrodes, even perhaps floating in some mysterious liquid.

Now, what I'd like you to do is walk back. Take the little walk that we've just taken in reverse. Go from the brain, back to the giant stack of giant books, through the room with the computers, back to graffiti-covered  playing card, and finally out your front door, almost tripping over the dollhouse on the doormat. Then walk it again. This time, walk through as though you're seeing the house for the first time. Be sure to notice the large and strange things that you've placed in the different rooms. You should find it pretty easy to remember which things you placed in which room as long as you see them as opposed to just trying to recall them.

That example may not make a ton of sense right this second, but for now, suffice it to say that you've just stored some very specific information in a mind palace.

Tune in soon  for Part 2, where we'll discuss exactly HOW this works. I'll show you as best I can the techniques that make the above story make sense, and allow you to construct your own mind palace and fill it with whatever you need to know.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Deduction #3

We're getting a two-for-one today, children.

Okay, step one - how do we know these pictures were taken by the same person? Well, a fun little computer trick tells us that these pictures were not only taken within the same 3 minutes of each other, but by the same model phone (Samsung Galaxy, and if I'm not mistaken, the AT&T version).

Step two - let's take a look at this bookshelf. Almost all of the books are about psychology in some shape or form, but let's go a bit further. Too many books for a hobby, or even a college major. This is a career. This person does psychology for a living - most likely a psychotherapist specializing in attachment based on the really official-looking books near the bottom of the shelf. Moreover, this person is interested in getting multiple perspectives on the mind from a wide variety of sources. Many of the books on the upper part of the shelf were written by philosophers of the mind, investigating everything from how the brain processes time to self-awareness and mindfulness. Our subject is not unwilling to go to the eastern hemisphere for another perspective, bringing a nice balance to their field of study - ironic, considering the symbolic significance of the statue of the Nataraja (Shiva in the form of the Cosmic Dancer) on the upper left part of the shelf. Do you meditate? The above details would suggest feelings that the current view of psychology is very incomplete, and also a level of curiosity not bounded by conventional thought patterns. We have a thinker in our midst, ladies and gentlemen.

Okay, so now we know what this person does for a living, and a little bit about their feelings on their field of study. Now onto...

Step three - The living room. Right off the bat, I think our subject has a dog based on the couch cover and the large wall-mounted picture. They are also remarkably aware of world-culture for the typical American (If you're not sure how we know the subject is in America, check their wall socket.). Over on the mantle, we see a few artifacts including what appears to be a bronze Buddha. She (for I think the subject is female based on the patterned couch pillows) may likely be shorter than average, as all of the tables, even the running table on the wall are what I, at 5'11'', would consider fairly low. We also see that the books from earlier aren't just for show - there are lamps everywhere. She reads a lot, and she reads for fun. Finally, I'd say the house was built circa the 1980's, judging by the painted brick fireplace.

Parting questions - What sort of work were you doing on the wall? Did you paint the picture? How about the light switch hidden amongst your many books?

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Fun Little Computer Trick...

This one's for those of you who are looking at the previous deductions and thinking, "Man, I got just about everything on there EXCEPT I have no idea how he figured out what camera he used."

I'll tell you, but I guarantee you - it's not as cool as you think.

Picture files contain quite a bit of information - besides the visual information, that is. As it turns out, some of that information pertains to the origins of the picture. In other words, in most cases, a picture file KNOWS where it came from. So all a curious person has to do is save the picture, right click on it, and find that wonderful little tab called "properties."

Now, its' a fairly simple matter to scroll down to the part that contains information about the camera which took the picture.

But that's not all. Play around with it yourself. You may be surprised at what you find.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Deduction #2

Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado...

The green box catches my attention first - computer parts - computer savvy. That's along with the multiple World of Warcraft and Halo books says that you are a gamer (and most likely male). You won multiple awards in high school, which by the way was Claudia Taylor "Lady Bird" Johnson High in San Antonio, Texas, where you were in the JROTC program (and probably still are through your college, which is probably U of A, but I'm not positive). You enjoy manga and sci-fi, are/were enrolled in what could be considered an "upper-level" math class (your TI-83 manual), and you performed above average on the SAT's (You have the test-prep book, AND you kept it, meaning it was either useful or valuable to you.) You are used to wearing nice clothes based on the hanger hanging on your closet door (further evidence for the college ROTC theory). You used your phone to take this picture, and you are most likely a customer of AT&T, or at least were at the time this picture was taken, which if I'm not mistaken was August 2013.

My only real question to you is: "Why do you own a gavel?"

As with before, if this is your picture, be sure to comment and let me know how accurate these were. It really helps!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

And so it begins...

Since I'm not exactly sure of the format I'd like to use, I'm going to just kind of free write and see where it goes.

Okay, here we go. *Cracks knuckles*

The first thing I noticed was the tissues. Sadly, that's the item that gave me the least information. Moving clockwise, we get to the remote, suggesting you have a television in the room, probably either to the right or directly behind where the picture was taken based on the placement of the bed. Moving farther counterclockwise takes us to the black CFL light bulb, which begs the question, "Where is your blacklight"?

But we're just getting warmed up. You took quite a while to upload this picture based on the fact that your watch says 3:55, and coupling this with the wallet, we can determine that you are most likely male. You also most likely live East of the U of A campus based on what appears to be a Good Egg coupon to the far right of the table (or perhaps you just really like their food). You are, as your CatCard would suggest, a student at the University of Arizona, but are most likely in your third or fourth year (that style was not available to students starting in the 2013 school year, which would mean you are at least a junior). Now back to the dance shoes. It's a moderately priced brand. You probably got them for 20-30 dollars, suggesting that you are new to the art. Combine that with the information from the CatCard (and a little digging on UAccess) and I arrive at the conclusion that you are most likely enrolled in either Dance 144A or 144B at the U.

Oh, but wait, there's more. Your phone is conspicuously absent from the picture (not plugged into the charger on the ground) suggesting that you may have used it to take the picture. But I think I know better. I think the phone was in your pocket at the time, and that you used an actual camera to take the photo based on the resolution. On a hunch, I would hazard a guess that you used a Cannon Powershot SX280HS.

Finally, I would like to know if you have a CD player in your room, because it seems odd that you would be transporting that ripped Keith Urban album back and forth from there to your car. Also, are you going to Country Thunder?


Hope you enjoyed the first of many deduction sessions. Feel free to comment with any other observations that I may have missed, or questions about the thought process involved. And don't forget, if this is your picture, be sure to let me know how I did!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Real World Practice

These techniques are great to practice, but wouldn't it be great to get something "real" up here? So, by way of an idea that was shown to me via another deduction-themed blog, I'm going to ask for some input.

Send me a snapshot of your life. Whether that's a picture of the top of your desk, your room, or even your garage (anonymously of course).

I'll use the techniques I've been practicing to deduce (/induce?) as much as possible about whoever sends me a picture. If I get really cool examples, I'll post them on the blog so that anyone else reading can practice too.

Here's the link to a place where you can post snapshots:    Click Here

No one will know who's pictures belong to whom, but like I said earlier, any really cool examples will be posted on the blog for practice.

P.S. If your picture ends up on the blog, I encourage you to let me know how accurate my (and other readers') deductions are, so that we can all benefit from it.

Happy Sleuthing.

Monday, February 10, 2014

New Practice Game - Targeted Intuition

In addition to my existing mental training regimen, I have decided to add a new training game in order to home in on one of my favorite things about perception - judgment. We judge people. It happens. Everything you think about someone else's thoughts, emotions, or reasons for what they do comes down to judgment. It's not a bad thing, as long as you understand what's happening, which through this blog, I intend to do.

WARNING : If you decide to follow my mental training regimen, please don't add this game in until you are comfortable playing the first ones. This exercise is all about directing your intuitions in order to better understand how your brain processes information subconsciously. Without a conscious thought a process to compare to, you are doing something so horrible, so grossly shocking, that any true Sherlock Holmes fan would be humiliated to be caught in the act of - guessing.

With that in mind, here is the Targeted Intuition Training Game:

1) Observe a person. Before consciously ingesting any details, try to allow your brain to give you an intuitive profile, a "first a impression without justification." (In reality, your brain will have some sort of justification, but the idea is for you to be unaware of the subconscious calculations involved.)

2) Once you have your intuition, break it down. Isolate the individual elements, and highlight any unusual ones. (Let's say a woman walks by - Your intuition goes something like, "She's a nervous mother." Okay, fine. Why a mother? Why nervous?)
3) Now take another look. Play the other games. Find details. Make deductions/inductions. See if you can arrive at any specific conclusions. Form a second profile about the person.

4) Compare your two profiles. See if any of the intuitions you formed were justified. Try to find out WHY your brain arrived at your intuition (Try to figure out what your subconscious mind was 'thinking' during step number 1. If you were way off, find out why. If you were dead on, find out why.

The point of this game is to begin to break down what we perceive as intuition, and display it for what it really is - a cumulative sum of countless calculations being made by your brain on your behalf, in order to better prepare you for dealing with the world. My theory, which this blog is a crucial part of, is that by slowing down the process, by training your intuition to see what is relevant, we can gain a better understanding of how we think, and what we can really see when we are watching closely. In addition, with a little extra effort, we can train our conscious mind to see things that were previously unavailable to us.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Formalities (Part 2)

Doing alright so far? Good. We've got a long ways to go.

Some more food for thought:
-What is induction?
-How is it different from deduction?
-Which is better?
-How does Holmes REALLY get his answers?

Essentially, induction is a form of logic not as bound by 100% truth and falsity, but rather makes use of what's called the Balance of Probability in order to determine a probable answer. For a side-by-side comparison, we'll head back to the white-house example from the last post:

Let's say I've done a fair amount of walking about my neighborhood. Let's also say that I, being a very observant fellow, notice something strange - every single house that I pass is white. Mind you, I haven't seen every house in the neighborhood, but I have seen quite a few.

Is it logical to suggest that any given house in the neighborhood is white based on the above data?

Through deduction, absolutely not. We have no True/False statements to deal with, and we can't stretch the existing data to encompass the whole neighborhood. The fact is, there are still some houses we know nothing about, so we cannot "deduce" anything about the color of a random house.

Through induction... maybe. Inductive reasoning is built around the idea that if one's premises are true and/or acceptable, then the conclusion is likely to be true or acceptable. Not nearly as powerful as deduction, but much more far-reaching.

If it doesn't sound impressive, it's because it's actually not. Inductive reasoning is something that most people do without thinking about it, and therefore don't put any real thought into how logical/illogical their intuitions are. To give you a better idea of what I mean, try reading the question another way:

If so far on my walk, I have only seen white houses, what then, should I expect the color of the next house to be?

Which is Better?
Short answer - neither. Holmes answer - they are both invaluable to good detective work. The secret to Sherlock's success as a consulting detective lies in using the different techniques effectively.

To maximize the effect of deductive reasoning, one must break down a situation into simple propositions (facts), and find as many logical connections between them as possible. Don't just guess as to what has happened - find out what MUST have happened. This takes a lot of work, and you will almost always be able to find alternate explanations for the facts you have at your disposal - the trick is using what you've got to narrow down what logically could NOT have occurred, and what you are left with, as Holmes famously puts it, will be the truth.

In order to get the most out of induction, you'll want to be asking lots of questions. In fact, simply asking why something happened the way it did is sometimes enough to unravel even the strangest of situations. You'll want to bear in mind that induction is only going to point you in the direction of a solution, not hand it to you. To work with this restriction, you'll want to be as aware as possible of the likelihood of every action taking place in your investigation. With very few exceptions, the more support you can find for a particular theory, the higher the Balance of Probability  on that option. Don't forget - the beauty of induction is that you aren't forced to make a choice. If a few theories are competing for your attention, try them all. Then go back and think it over. The truth will typically make itself known upon sufficient examination.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Formalities (Part 1)

Before I really get into an analysis of what the incredibly logical Holmesian thought process looks like, I thought I'd take a moment to break down exactly what logic is, in the formal sense, just to get a feel for the techniques used to draw inferences and arrive at logical conclusions.

Questions to answer:
What is deduction?
What makes an argument valid?
What is soundness?

This is the type of thought we usually associate with Sherlock Holmes - taking logical premises and applying rational thought to draw out necessary conclusions. For example:

1) Every house in my neighborhood is white.    [ A logical premise, but kind of bleak. ]
2) My house is in my neighborhood.                 [  Makes a good amount of sense. ]
3) My house is white.                                      [If we believe the first two, we are committed to this one.]

A more Holmesian example of deduction:

1) A man is killed from a blow to the head.
2) His skull has been shattered, which would cause profuse bleeding. 
3) The crime scene had very little blood.
4) The crime scene has not been altered in any way following the mans' death.
5) If 1-4 is true, then the man was killed elsewhere.
6) The man was killed elsewhere, then must have been placed at the scene later.

As long as your premises are true, and your conclusion follows from the premises (we'll get there), then your deductions (the conclusions you arrive at) can be said to be 100% true. The reason we associate this type of thinking with Holmes is because... well... he's almost never wrong.

Valid v. Invalid:
So why is Holmes right all the time? It's due in large part to the fact that his arguments are always what logicians would call valid. A valid argument is one that is constructed in such a way that if the premises are true, then the conclusion HAS TO BE TRUE. In other words, there is no way for the premises to be true and the conclusion false. If this is the case, we say that the conclusion follows from the premises.

Makes sense, right? But there's another aspect of this that we're missing:

So let's take the argument from earlier about my house:

1) Every house in my neighborhood is white. 
2) My house is in my neighborhood.              
3) My house is white.                                      

It's definitely valid, right? But hold on. Doesn't it seem silly that every house in my neighborhood is white? What if it wasn't true? Would my conclusion still be true? Not necessarily.

If not all of my premises were true, my argument would lose it's soundness. An argument is sound if it is valid (see above) AND all of the premises are true. So if all of the houses in my neighborhood really ARE white, then my argument is valid and sound.

Note to Future Detectives:  KNOW THESE THINGS!!! Your conclusions are only good if your arguments have both validity and soundness. Otherwise, they are worth next to nothing. In fact, a lot of the comedy in the Holmes adventures stems from the fact that the Scotland Yard Detectives' arguments are often either invalid or unsound, which Sherlock demonstrates rather easily either through providing counterexamples or by presenting a correct argument that ACTUALLY explains what happened.

continued in Part 2...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A little Motivation

Not essential to deduction, but great motivation.

Proof of Concept

On the weekends, I work nights at a hotel near the university. Last night, I checked in a guest who, other than being a tad irritated about the price, seemed very normal, and thus I promptly forgot about him. Let's call him Mr. Forgettable.
A few minutes later, I began assisting a second guest by giving him access to our business center. Out of the corner of my eye, barely even registering on a conscious level, I see none other than Mr. Forgettable walk up to the door leading to the fitness center and pool area, bags in hand, then turn around, walk towards me, and say the following phrase: "So when does the fitness center open up?"
At this point I, after making a quick (and very trivial) deduction, responded with: "The fitness center is open 24 hours, and that is a 'push' door." He grinned sheepishly, then chalked it up to being tired and went up to his room.
It is at this point I'd like to attempt to explain my thought process - not because I don't think you understand, but because the point of my exercises has been to practice observation and deduction, and I think this is a fitting (albeit simple) example. Despite my best efforts to keep this simple, it's going to sound a lot more complicated than it really is.
What I Know:
- The fitness center is always open.
- The door he was standing at is a push door, and cannot be locked.
- That door is not the door to the fitness center, merely the hallway by which it is accessed.
- The door is a large glass one with a wooden frame, through which the fitness center can be seen.
- The hours of the fitness center are posted on its window, but cannot be read from behind the glass hallway door (bad angle).

What I Observe:
- His goal is to determine the hours of the fitness center (based on his asking the question).
- He stands in front of the door for a period of time, able to see the fitness center through it (peripheral vision).
-He knows I work at the hotel (the fact that he asked me at all/ I checked him in).

What I Deduce:
- He would rather figure out the answer to his question than ask me, given the chance. He knows I work at the Hotel. But, he walked past me to the door of the hallway and stood there, presumably looking at the fitness center, before trying his luck with me. From this, we can deduce that his standing there contributed to his effort to answer his question.
- Something about his perception of the situation is incorrect, otherwise he would have been able to arrive at the conclusion that the fitness center is always open, or at least that it is open now.
So now, take a step back and consider the question: What could have been incorrect in his perception of the situation? Or perhaps a better question: Where did the error take place?
Which brings me to the door. The error had to have taken place when he reached the hallway door. Otherwise, he would have walked through, read the sign on the fitness center window, and answered the question without my help.
Now for the final bit. What error is responsible for a person not being able to walk through a doorway? The door not opening. And what is the most common reason a person would be unable to open an unlocked door?
"...and that is a 'push' door."

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Introduction (part 2)

My Methods

Over the course of this experiment, I will be designing my own training regimen which will emphasize the three main traits of Holmes' incredible abilities:

1) Observation - Every person has details that make them different. The goal for this exercise will be to observe at least three details per person which make them unique (different colored socks, strange earrings, even something as small as ink smudges on a hand or fingernail cleanliness). Areas of particular interest include wrists and shoes. As a next level, play a game with yourself whenever you're bored. Find the most interesting detail about every person in the room. Have all of the people in the room "compete" in your head for the title of most-interesting.

2) Deduction - The science of deduction, like chicken sexing (look it up), requires a very special kind of practice. It's not enough to go through the motions of adding up information and coming to conclusions - you need to know you if are right. For this exercise, find a proposition (in the logical sense) that you know to be true - I'll say it again, something that you ALREADY KNOW. Your challenge: prove it in as many ways as you can. For example, say you know that your roommate was the last one to open the fridge. You may come to this conclusion by observing that his juice is now in front of yours, or even that it is slightly warmer than yours. If you get very good, you may even be able to deduce that the bowl into which he poured his cereal is sitting in the sink, meaning that he not only opened the fridge, but that he used your milk.

3) Memory - Over the course of Sherlock Holmes' adventures, he makes a habit of pulling useful information seemingly out of nowhere, and utilizing it to finish the case on which he is currently working. The reality is, of course, much cooler. He extracts all of the aforementioned information from HIS MIND. The truly brilliant thing about Holmes is not just his deductive reasoning, but his KNOWLEDGE. In order to function like Holmes does, without the need to look up other than the most obscure details, one must have a lot of background information from which to draw. In order to build this, I propose exercise number three. Whilst noticing your details and making your deductions, should you come across a detail that you believe might be useful at some point, write it down (Ex: "Wow, if I knew more about how a french press operates, I could determine just how new to their job this Starbucks employee is."). At your leisure, look over the list of things you wrote down - look them up. By far the most boring, and equally useful. As to committing the information you learn to memory, I have two words for you: Mind Palaces. But we'll get to that later.

If you have any questions regarding my methods, need more examples, or just want to share your input, feel free to leave a comment.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Introduction (Part 1)

Ladies and Gentlemen, as of now, I embark on an interesting journey. I will attempt to discover exactly what it takes to emulate Sherlock Holmes - the famous and nearly infallible detective immortalized by Arthur Conan Doyle's stories and many TV shows and movies since.

A little background:

There seems to be no reason (other than personal choice) why Holmes could not have been equally brilliant a criminal as a crime solver. Watson, the faithful doctor, even goes so far as to say this in Doyle's original work. Sherlock Holmes, even as a fictional character, is a fascinating person - a man with an extraordinary wealth of unusual knowledge, unparalleled deductive abilities, and a personality suggestive of sociopathy or psychopathy (depending on the representation), bipolar disorder, obsessive behavior, and problems with addiction. Any one of these traits would make for a fascinating subject of study, so it stands to reason that a person (even a fictional one) with all of them merits some study.

I see no reason why a person couldn't be trained to emulate the man. Setting aside the psychological disorders (for now), there are certain striking similarities between myself and Holmes which I plan to exploit in my endeavor to practice the science of deduction. The first trait is obsession. Anyone who knows me in any capacity will know what I mean by this. For those who do not, I have a tendency to do what is referred to as "hyper-focusing." This applies to my school, my hobbies, my work, and even my conversations. I home in on a specific element until it no longer requires my attention (meaning either that it is solved or it is no longer an issue). In addition, I tend to fluctuate in my moods between silent thinker and social performer in a very binary sense. We'll get into my suspicions of my psychological situation later on, but for now suffice it to say that I believe that I have the necessary basic components for a task such as this.

This is the first of two intro-posts. The second will be outlining my "methods," or habits which I will endeavor to practice for the duration of this experiment.

I will be posting as often as I can to update you, dear reader, on my adventures.