new speakers | April 03, 2013

Maria Konnikova: Unclutter Your Brain Like Mastermind Sherlock Holmes

"It's important to remember that Holmes wasn't born Holmes," science speaker Maria Konnikova reminds us. "He learned, over time, to think like Sherlock Holmes." That means that we all have the potential to learn his astute powers of observation, as Konnikova argues that the famous sleuth's intuition came from years of practice and constructive feedback. Author of the book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, Konnikova is a psychologist who teaches audiences to master the ever-present mindfulness, careful observation and logical deduction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective. And, once you do, you can improve your ability to problem solve, increase your memory, and expand your creative abilities.

"To Holmes," she says in this Big Think segment, "the entire thought-process is akin to a scientist who is doing a research experiment. For him, the mind is like an attic." What this means, Konnikova says, is that you can only store a finite amount of information in your brain. What you store—and how you store it—is incredibly important. Through in-depth analysis of Doyle's fictional character and cutting-edge neuroscience, she has developed a strategy on how to carefully map, and fully utilize, your "brain attic."

One of the most important ways to think like Sherlock, she says, is to prime yourself before you even begin delving into a problem. Decide what you hope to accomplish from a task before you tackle it, so that you can focus on the key components of it before you dig in. Our attention is finite, and we must be selective about which information we put into our "brain attic", and what we leave out. Once you have composed your findings, she also advises that you step back before immediately coming to conclusions. Be imaginative, and try to see if you've missed anything. "The reason I stress [imagination]," she says, "is that people tend to forget it when they think about the scientific method." In her breakthrough talks and her “Literally Psyched” column for Scientific American, Konnikova shows us what we can learn from literary legends like Sherlock Holmes. And, how we can all become masterminds.

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