In the course of creative endeavours, artists and scientists join fragments of knowledge into a new unity of understanding.”
– Vera John-Steiner
Ideas are ‘just’ connections between existing elements.
Sherlock Holmes is the product of 19th-century detective fiction and medical investigation.
Holmes’s deductive powers were inspired by some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s medical lecturers, including Dr. Joseph Bell.
In a rare piece of film from 1930, Conan Doyle depicted Bell’s extraordinary ability to diagnose patients on sight:
He would look at the patient, he would hardly allow the patient to open his mouth, but he would make his diagnosis of the disease, also, very often, of the patient’s nationality and occupation and other points, entirely by his power of observation.
So naturally, I thought to myself, well, if a scientific man like Bell was to come into the detective business, he wouldn’t do these things by chance, he’d get the thing by building it up, scientifically.”
– Arthur Conan Doyle
Doyle became obsessed with Spiritualism as he got older, travelling the world to visit mediums and psychics, searching for ‘positive proof.’
The conclusion, then, of my long search after truth, is that in spite of occasional fraud… there remains a great solid core in this movement which is infinitely nearer to positive proof than any other religious development with which I am acquainted.”
– Arthur Conan Doyle, The New Revelation, 1918
Connecting Sherlock Holmes and spiritualism gives us Dirk Gently, Douglas Adams’ ‘holistic’ detective.
Gently is a creative extrapolation of Holmes’s technique of eliminating the impossible to reveal the truth.
What if the famous detective had embraced the impossible?
Sherlock Holmes observed that once you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.”
– Dirk Gently, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
The Gently stories feature ghosts, time travel and ‘interconnectedness.’
Despite continually probing his own belief systems, Adams described himself as a ‘radical atheist,’ (adding ‘radical’ to show he really meant it.)
In a thought experiment designed to falsify the finely tuned universe argument for God (and typical of a man obsessed with baths and rain) Adams describes the thoughts of a sentient puddle:
This is an interesting world I find myself in – an interesting hole I find myself in – fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!”
– Douglas Adams
Adams looked at the universe from other perspectives and what he found permeated his work. If you enjoyed this, you might like this article about keeping an open mind.