Sunday, 6 September 2015

"A hunter knows when to quiet his mind": Sherlock Holmes, Maria Konnikova, and a defence of solitude

I wrote in my last article about the classical scholar Edith Hamilton, who wrote of Aeschylus: "Life for him was an adventure, perilous indeed, but men are not made for safe havens. The fullness of life is in the hazards of life".

Since I published that, I've moved to Switzerland. It was a sudden decision, largely due to being fortunate enough to get a quick job offer, but I think it was a good one. I'm in the middle of the country, in a Swiss-German canton, and surrounded by lots of mountains and a beautiful lake.

Life is quite hectic as I settle in, but it's a welcome reminder of the potential of solitude to help me to focus and come to terms with a new routine. 

My decision to prioritise time alone made think me of Sherlock Holmes, of whom Watson says in Hound of the Baskervilles:

I knew that seclusion and solitude were very necessary for my friend in those hours of intense mental concentration during which he weighed every particle of evidence, constructed alternative theories, balanced one against the other, and made up his mind as to which points were essential and which immaterial.
In Maria Konnikova's Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, she writes of Holmes's pursuit of solitude:

A hunter knows when to quiet his mind. If he allows himself to always take in everything that is there for the taking, his senses will become overwhelmed. They will lose their sharpness. They will lose their ability to focus on the important signs and to filter out the less so. For that kind of vigilance, moments of solitude are essential.
If you need to focus or simply calm your senses, consider sitting quietly for a while and just thinking. Or, perhaps, reading a little something by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


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