It’s so rare one needs to disagree with Sherlock Holmes. Or Spock. And yet somehow I find myself doing both simultaneously.
In the story “The Sign of the Four,” Holmes famously said “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” Later Spock echoes these words in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” as he deduces who must be the culprit in the movie’s central mystery.
It certainly sounds right and certainly ends up being a successful philosophical direction for both Sherlock and Spock, in that they solve their mysteries. But even they would admit they have the advantage of having writers to help them make sure this works out.
In fact, this logic is not air tight. Its flaws have even given it a name: the Holmesian fallacy. It is insufficient for most circumstances because it assumes a superhuman intellect to deduce (have you really found every explanation?) as well as to dismiss (are you quite sure something is impossible?) You have to be pretty darn cocky or pretty darn good to make it work.
Sherlock and Spock are both, of course – and so I must admit I can be pretty cocky too, at least sometimes. It’s so easy to think you’ve found and weighed every option. For instance, in yoga class, it’s tempting to think you either can or can’t do a pose, with no sense process or in-between. In fact I’ve always kind of despaired when going from three legged dog to high lunge by way of “knee to nose,” because my gut makes this process cumbersome. I have to jump a bit as I bypass my stomach, feeling a twinge of jealousy as those around me gracefully pull their leg through.
But then my yoga instructor happened to mention that it helps to arch your back while you make this maneuver – and lo and behold, it is actually fairly possible to pull that leg through without wobbling! Gut intact!
That’s problem solving by way of another hero, admittedly often equally cocky: The Doctor. The Doctor’s wacky, weird way of doing things can result in some rather creative solutions. In the case of “The Day of the Doctor,” the 50thanniversary special, the Doctor is at first trapped into the horrible choice of letting the time war continue or killing his own people on Gallifrey. But then just at the last moment inspiration strikes and the Doctor finds another way – a bizarre, convoluted, but brilliant solution that rescues Gallifrey and stops the time war.
So while we can agree to grok Spock and get Sherlocked, we can also resist falling into the trap of thinking we’ve got it all figured out. Just because it makes us feel superhuman to mimic them, it doesn’t mean we are more super than others. At the same time, it can be easy to give up focus on our inadequacies.
But beyond Baker Street and the Enterprise, there is a world of possibilities – if we leave our minds open to a world of time and space, we might just expand our yoga practice, and our inner timey wimey world as well.