Is It Logical?: Is Logic and Rational Thought Dead or Very Much Alive?

Hi readers,

think this post is fairly self explanatory.

Happy Beautiful day,

KT Smiles


This post has been kindly written by my friend Alec Massey. I hope you enjoy it as much as me. Please excuse the highlighting at this time which I can’t seem to get rid of 😦

Happy Beautiful day,

Staci Cook-Smiles

p.s this was written during an identity crisis hence the double barrelled name.

‘Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth.’

Arthur Conan Doyle – The Sign of the Four

As a child I fell in love with the Sherlock Holmes stories. It was through them that I was transported from my tortured scholastic existence to the smog covered London of the 1890s where the only private consulting detective in the world laboured alongside his Doctor come biographer in assisting Scotland Yard with their campaign against the criminal fraternity.

But what really drew me so deeply into this world was the one thing Holmes and I appeared to have in common: The art of deduction, logical reasoning and rational thought.

Once upon a time this was encouraged in schools with an educational method which favoured the practice of filling one’s mind with as much information as possible. It truly was an academic paradise where one could read an exam question and wax lyrical about whatever information seemed relevant in order to fill one’s answer with as much detail as one could.

Of course it’s all changed since then… has become about how one should word the answer to the question which favours the examiner who marks the paper, by making it easier for them by adhering to algorithms rather than allowing the eager pupil to broaden her or his mind and make themselves far more knowledgeable and thus equip them to become far more interesting conversationalists at dinner parties. 

And so in schools today, it appears as though deduction, logical reasoning and rational though are all but dead. But if one is a police officer, a doctor, a communications director or even a spy, they are very much alive and regularly in use.

But whom must we thank for this? Sherlock Holmes is, of course, a fictional character rather than a flesh and bloody figure and so we can’t thank him for it. 

Or can we?

Was there a man on whom Holmes was based? Was there a rational person with a resolutely logical mind who specialised in deductive reasoning and whom inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to create who is arguably the most famous of literary figures?

Yes there was, and his name was Dr Joseph Bell of Edinburgh University.

Dr Joseph Bell was the son of Dr Benjamin Bell and his wife, Cecilia Barbara Craigie, and his great-grandfather was Benjamin Bell, famous within the medical academic community for a foremost forensic surgeon.

Joseph Bell was a passionate advocate of the importance of close observation in making a diagnosis of the conditions of his patients. He would illustrate this to his students by picking a stranger and, by observing him, deduce not only his occupation and where he lived but also what he had been up to recently. These incredible skills caused him to be considered a pioneer in forensic science (with forensic pathology being his strongest suit) at a time when science was not yet widely used in criminal investigations.

Bell studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School and graduated as a qualified Medical Doctor in 1859. He was a member of the Royal Medical Society during his studies and delivered a dissertation which is still in possession of the Society today. He served as Queen Victoria’s personal Physician whenever she visited Scotland and he published several medical textbooks including the Manual of the Operations of Surgery which was published in 1866. He was also a Justice of the Peace, a Deputy Lieutenant. He was also a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and elected President in 1887.

Dr Bell and Arthur Conan Doyle first met in 1877 at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. He was studying medicine with Dr Bell being one of his professors.

Just like Holmes at the beginning of the first Holmes novel, Bell was thirty-nine years old when Conan Doyle first attended one of his lectures and was said to have walked with a jerky kind of a step that communicated great energy.  His nose and chin were rather pronounced and angular and his eyes twinkled with shrewdness…..exactly as Arthur Conan Doyle described Holmes in his first appearance in “A Study in Scarlet”.

As his second year at the Medical School drew to a close, Dr Bell invited Arthur Conan Doyle to be Clerk and his assistant on his ward. This gave Arthur Conan Doyle the opportunity he needed to observe and learn from Dr Bell’s remarkable ability to quickly deduce a great deal about a patient using the art of deduction, logical reasoning and rational thought.

Dr Bell also side-lined as a Forensic Consultant to the Edinburgh Police and regularly invited Arthur Conan Doyle to assist him on various cases. And so, for a crucial while at least, Doyle played Dr Watson to Dr Bell’s Holmes.

‘In teaching the treatment of disease and accident all careful teachers have first to show the student how to recognize accurately the case.  The recognition depends in great measure on the accurate and rapid appreciation of small points in which the diseased differs from the healthy state.  In fact, the student must be taught to observe.  To interest him in this kind of work we teachers find it useful to show the student how much a trained use of the observation can discover in ordinary matters such as the previous history, nationality and occupation of a patient.’

Dr Joseph Bell.

So despite logic and rational thought no longer being regularly and readily taught in schools every pupil can, at least, find them in the stories of Sherlock Holmes. And to do that, thankfully, all they have to do is visit their school library.

Happy Beautiful day,

Alec Massey

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