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.