Scientists studying the processes of human decision-making (the likes of psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer and physicist Leonard Mlodinow) build research institutes, conduct experiments, write books, and give lectures to support their argument that our subconsciousness, our "gut feelings," our intuition - whatever you prefer to call it, has a fundamental impact on the way we come to vital conclusions, resolve personal and professional problems, make split-second choices in high-pressure situations, and generally conduct ourselves on a daily basis. But do we really need this much theoretically-substantiated convincing?
Life provides us with tons of evidence everywhere we look. 99% of business decisions are based on some internal impulse (CFOs know it better than anyone). A private equity investor can read every word and weigh every digit of a 100-page incredibly rosy due diligence report and still say No to the prospective buy, because "something tells him" it's a bad lemon. The reason college dropouts like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Michael Dell became uber-successful businessmen is because they disregard the rules and follow their commercial instincts. The whole of the CIA analyzes volumes of intelligence data for years; then comes Carrie Mathison with the unequivocal trust in her own guts and points her finger out: "I love this ginger dude, but he is a fucking terrorist. I just know it."
Even after experiencing this phenomenon for decades myself, I am still surprised by the brain's ability to quickly come up with solutions to multi-faceted problems. Sometimes it seems that no mind's work goes into the formulation of a strategic move or an intricate design of a complex reporting system. How does it work inside my head? Is it intuition supported by vast professional expertise? Or does my brain sift very fast through the "evidence" in front of me, and if I took time to analyze the process I would be able to isolate each step of the neurological algorithm? And how is it that my hunches on whether an endeavor will be a success or a failure are most of the time spot-on? Hell, if I know!
The point is that most people experience the phenomenon of "unexplainable" knowledge and unsubstantiated trust into one's own intuition on a daily basis. How many times do you find yourself on either side of this exchange: "How did you know?"/ "I don't know, I just did." Or this one: "How did you figure this out?" "I don't know, it just came to me." Thousands? And we leave it at that: it's so common and acceptable, no further explanation is required.
In fact, we are so intimately familiar with the "gut feeling" that we unconditionally accept the concept of coming to conclusions through some obscure maze of subconscious clues as pure realism. Moreover, storytellers aspiring to create the ambiance of authenticity cannot ignore the intuitive nature of mental processes.
On the other hand, an impeccable logician with an ability of consciously processing numerous facts in a matter of seconds is usually seen as a phenom - in real life someone definitely "on the Spectrum," as they call it nowadays; or, in the creative realm, a stuff of legends, a mythological creature, a literary concoction, such as my beloved Sherlock Holmes. The unique abilities of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation are so fascinating, so magic-like that the detective extraordinaire has joined the ranks of undying archetypal characters (like Cyrano, or Peter Pan, or Romeo & Juliet) that get to be incarnated and reincarnated in different forms, substances, and environments.
Besides the numerous literary pastiches of Sherlock Holmes's "latter days" adventures, we are presently have no less than five (!) screen variations of the famed deducing genius:
1. Guy Ritchie's lavishly budgeted and heavily CGI-ed big-screen adaptations featuring the full spectrum of Conan Doyle characters, with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law topping the bill as Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson. The movies are set in the meticulously recreated places and times taken straight from the author's pages.
2. The BBC's fabulous teaser Sherlock with painfully short seasons consisting of 3 feature-length episodes each. While still sticking to the original names, characterizations, and even the titles of individual stories, the series transplants Sherlock Homes, Dr. Watson (still an Afghan War veteran - some things never change), the criminal mastermind Moriarty, the seductress Irene Adler, the faithful Mrs. Hudson, et al. to technology-saturated 21st century London.
3. The CBS's freshly-minted (2012) network-sized (24 episodes per season) series Elementary, which not only puts the former Dr. Watson through a sex change, converting John into Joan (as depicted by Lucy Liu), but also gives the brilliant detective a much bigger playground by sending him to New York.
4. Also on CBS (would you believe it?!) is The Mentalist, already renewed for the sixth season. Most viewers don't even realize that they are watching a Sherlock-Holmes re-interpretation, because the main character's name is Patrick Jane and the series is set in present-day California, but I assure you that's what it is. Mr. Jane possesses all the required attributes, solving murders and bringing criminals to justice in every episode by sheer use of his mental power, noticing the most nuanced details in human behavior and logically reconstructing chains of events. While his sidekick, CBI special agent Lisbon, is also a female and has nothing to do with medicine, the creators did give Patrick an archenemy of the Moriarty caliber - the omnipresent and all-corrupting Red John.
5. And finally, The Mentalist's comedic counterpart - USA Networks' Psych, also set in the modern time, also in California (yet further South), also featuring a police consultant, and also hidden behind different names. Yet, the main character Shawn Spenser's power to see clues are so heightened that it's demonstrated to the audience in a laser-vision fashion. There is a new twist on the sidekick here as well - he is a childhood friend and an African-American, but professionally he is much closer to the modern ways of healthcare than doctors are - he sells pharmaceuticals.
Regardless of the time backdrop, the scenery, or the given names, all these characters stem from the same original stock cooked up by his lordship in his study - the ultra-brainy and obsessively detailed observers, who use their abilities to solve heinous crimes.
And that's why for a Sherlock Holmes aficionado like I, Guy Ritchie's Victorian escapades, in a way, seem like a betrayal of the myth, historical accuracy notwithstanding. Yes, Holmes was excellent in the boxing ring, proficient in Bartitsu, and good with the revolver, but it's the knife of his mind that dissected all those crimes - a weapon so unbelievably sharp that Conan Doyle felt it necessary to explain some of its potency with addictions to various drugs.
Interestingly enough, both the contemporary science of "gut feelings" and the Victorian creator of a mental-power archetype, in spite of the polarity of their foci, have at least one notion in common: Weighing too many learned facts pertaining to diverse branches of knowledge frequently slows down the process of arriving to a right conclusion. According to Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes deliberately discarded from his memory the childhood lessons of Earth's rotation around the Sun. He explains that for someone who relies on the Art of Detection, it's far more reasonable to accept the self-centered naked eye observation that our source of light rises on the East and goes down on the West, thus giving an appearance of moving.
In his books, Gigerenzer provides numerous examples showing that, statistically, people who know more about a subject matter come up with wrong solutions more frequently than those who rely on limited knowledge and intuition. Sometimes I wonder whether Einstein would be able to have his Relativity epiphanies if he was very good at integral and differential math.
And I have to say that the only thing that prevents me from drowning in the sea of the bookish knowledge I've absorbed over the years of advanced studying, is my persistent skepticism and an incurable disregard of "academic" authority. It is quite possible that this mental arrogance (hey, it is what it is) is the reason I'm still able to come up with some good ideas. After all, capable CFOs are not phantasmagorical characters with computers instead of brains in their heads. We are humans and, therefore, we should be able, from time to time, to let go of the educational dogma and allow the subliminal impulses, the gut feelings to take over.