Sherlock Holmes takes IdeaFest


The crowd at IdeaFest patiently waits for Maria Konnikova.

Alex Coburn

The Kentucky Center held the thirteenth annual Idea Festival late September through early October this year, which featured a series of different seminars that challenge the norm and present a new way of thinking to all attendees. The event featured different guest speakers each day. The first presentation on Wednesday, September 25th was especially interesting.

This presentation came from Maria Konnikova, who writes for The New Yorker and is the author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. She opened the talk with what turned out to be a simple mentalism trick, but seemed like mind-reading before she explained it. It involved thinking of a number between one and ten, after which Konnikova asked the audience to perform several simple math functions. She then said to think of the letter that corresponded with that number and an animal that started with that letter. To the amazement of the audience, almost everyone ended up with elephants. This is because the functions she asked the audience to perform ensured that everyone would end up with five. The corresponding letter to five is ‘e’, and the most common animal that starts with an ‘e’ is the elephant.  Konnikova stressed the difference between seeing and observing.

“As a child, my father would read the Sherlock Holmes books to me, and I was always shocked and delighted how Holmes could solve difficult problems just by sitting in his armchair and thinking,” she said. “It taught me to sit down and think about problems rather than get right into the middle of the action.”

Another one of Konnikova’s points was that multitasking is actually a very ineffective way of thinking.

“Despite popular belief, our minds are incapable of multitasking. What is thought of as multitasking is really just our minds switching its focus very rapidly between two tasks,” she said.

She also explained that thanks to cell phones the modern environment makes it easier to not truly pay attention. Kids’ natural curiosity is going away because all the answers can be found on one tiny screen.

“It makes us less attentive but more importantly less happy,” Konnikova said.

So what is the remedy? According to Konnikova, there is no surefire method to change the method of thinking that the world has practiced since the beginning of time. People have always been taught to do several things at a time, which until now has been thought of as efficient. But there is one way that slowly but surely will change your way of thinking for the better.

“Just two weeks of focusing on your breathing for ten minutes a day will improve your mind drastically,” she said. “Set aside ten minutes a day to find a quiet place, close your eyes, and focus on your breath.”

Maria Konnikova’s book, How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, is available at Barnes & Noble  and Amazon.