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Did Sherlock Holmes Believe in God?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I’ve become, belatedly, a Sherlock Holmes groupie. I dig the BBC series Sherlock, starring the suddenly ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch, and the American series Elementary (which I prefer–Lucy Liu is the best Watson ever).

Sherlock Holmes, in "The Naval Treaty," suggests that a rose might be evidence of "the goodness of Providence."

I’ve also been plowing through “The Complete Sherlock Holmes” on my Kindle. The stories can get a little formulaic, but Arthur Conan Doyle has a knack for sticking oddities into his narratives to keep us on our toes. Take, for example, “The Naval Treaty,” about diplomatic hugger-mugger. Interviewing a young diplomat, Holmes suddenly spots a rose decorating the man’s apartment and exclaims, “What a lovely thing a rose is!”

Holmes, whose gargantuan intelligence focuses obsessively on solving crimes (he is interested in science only insofar as it furthers this goal), has never evinced “any keen interest in natural objects,” Watson notes. Watson is even more startled when Holmes, after picking up the rose, delivers the following monologue:

“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion. It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from flowers.”

Holmes is alluding to what I call the problem of beauty. As I have explained previously, the problem of evil prevents me from believing in God, or at least an all-powerful God who gives a damn about us. But the problem of beauty keeps me from being an adamant atheist. If reality results from sheer coincidence, why is it often so heartbreakingly lovely? As the great physicist Steven Weinberg, an atheist if ever there was one, once wrote, sometimes nature “seems more beautiful than strictly necessary.”

My guess is that the hyper-empirical Holmes, if pressed, would say that he is an agnostic, because there is insufficient evidence for either belief or disbelief in a Creator. (Holmes is more rational than his own creator, Conan Doyle, who after the death of his wife and other loved ones consoled himself by believing in ghosts.)

I plan to raise the question of Holmes’s religiosity when psychologist and New Yorker blogger Maria Konnikova visits my school this Wednesday, March 5. Konnikova is giving a talk (free and open to all) about her bestselling book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. If anyone can solve “The Mystery of the Rose-Sniffing Rationalist,” she can.

Illustration of Sherlock Holmes from “The Strand” magazine, 1914, via Toronto Public Library and Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adventures_with_Sherlock_Holmes_TD_Gallery_Jan_5-Mar_10,_2012.jpg.

John Horgan About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. mskele 9:24 am 03/3/2014

    The problem of beauty is no problem at all, since it is in the eye of the beholder, in this case, an organism evolved with every requisite for species survival, including a distinction between beautiful and ugly. It is part and parcel of consciousness. We think it’s beautiful because it encourages us to live and procreate. It’s like marveling at how perfectly the mold fits the sculpture.

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  2. 2. Von Stupidtz 10:39 am 03/3/2014

    Have you watched Sherlock Holmes starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce? What acting! What script writing! What deductive reasoning!

    Love the facial composite of Sherlock as illustrated in your blog. Looks like Scotland yard got a man which fits the sketch. I am talking about Basil Rathbone, of course.

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  3. 3. tuned 10:59 am 03/3/2014

    @mskele :

    That’s cricket.
    I have often stated I am a Utopian(my term, not exactly a utopian socialist)who also believes there is a “God”.
    I think He set everything spinning and watches the puppet show. I also suspect the angel-demons have always been the “management” gone as bad as any modern executive.
    I do not think He is omniscient nor omnipotent. Just supremely smart. Else He is lacking in what we call morals. Possibly from too long (or never) having suffered.
    Other possibility is He is dead and replaced by a line of demons using his title, etc.

    Beauty is the worm on the hook. Genetics uses ECERY manipulation as we all know. Human beauty makes fools of smart men. It is after all a form of coveting, as Hannibal said. Even for our eyes. “You covet what you see.”
    Leaders use “hope” in the same fashion. Use the example of 1 person that made it across the bridge to inspire millions to lay their bodies across the water.
    Elections are won, fortunes are made on the reliability of our bio-chemical responses.

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  4. 4. tuned 11:00 am 03/3/2014

    oops.
    “EVERY”.
    ‘scuse me.

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  5. 5. rock johny 3:00 pm 03/3/2014

    @tuned,
    God’s plan for redemption is being fully implemented. It just seems to drag from our perspective. God doesn’t think/act according to our short timelines nor in geologic terms but i’d say somewhere in between.

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  6. 6. vagnry 3:36 pm 03/3/2014

    Well, I don’t think the rose evolved it’s beauty for mankind, but for attracting pollinators, like bees!

    “God” was never party to that, propagation was, pure and simple.

    Maybe, just maybe, the side effect of being beautiful in the eyes of the human beholder gave the rose some added advantage, but seeing how many rose petals are used for perfume etc., it doesn’t seem likely.

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  7. 7. dcordobab 4:37 pm 03/3/2014

    Please correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t most roses cultivars, i.e. cultivated by humans for humans, selected for some desirable characteristics (in this case, beauty). This does not answer the general ‘problem of beauty’ but disqualifies the rose as an example.

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  8. 8. M Tucker 5:47 pm 03/3/2014

    “As I have explained previously, the problem of evil prevents me from believing in God, or at least an all-powerful God who gives a damn about us.”

    That problem has always been obvious, even to the characters in the Bible…If you are going to wonder how Holmes might answer how about pondering how Jesus might answer?

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  9. 9. dubina 7:32 pm 03/3/2014

    “Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.”

    The Greek Interpreter” (1893, p. 435)

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  10. 10. solspot 7:56 pm 03/3/2014

    My dear Horgan, it’s elementary:
    Neither atheist, theist nor agnostic could prove or disprove their beliefs to Holmes’ satisfaction (otherwise, it would lack the primary quality of faith). Holmes would require deduction; that is, eliminate the impossible.
    1. It would be impossible for a human to be accountable for their actions without free will. Holmes obviously believes that humans are accountable for crimes; ergo, Holmes believes that humans have free will.
    2. Likewise, Holmes believes in an absolute morality because it is entailed by free will.
    3. It is impossible to have an absolute morality without a transcendent purpose of that morality; otherwise the morality is simply relative to each person (this was Moriarty’s logical error!).
    4. The transcendent purpose is Holmes’ God, his raison d’etre, without which logic itself does not exist!

    Would you like hear Holmes’ take to the problem of Pain?

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  11. 11. rshoff2 12:40 am 03/4/2014

    As logic would dictate, God doesn’t exist. If God existed, you would be able to prove it, albeit through deduction. You cannot, and therefore between now and the time you can, God simply does not exist.

    Do physicist and other scientist accept something as truth until somebody disproves it?

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  12. 12. SagarJ 3:21 am 03/4/2014

    John,

    ///But the problem of beauty keeps me from being an adamant atheist.///

    Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. What seems beautiful to us humans does not look the same to other animals. Likewise, what seems beautiful to snakes may not interest us at all. Our visual system, like all our other systems, is not exactly the same as that of other species. In fact we can only detect a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum; the vast majority of wavelengths are invisible to us. If Mr. God really wanted us to appreciate the beauty of his creation, he shouldn’t have left us mostly blind!

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  13. 13. David Cummings 6:27 am 03/4/2014

    “But the problem of beauty keeps me from being an adamant atheist.”

    Exactly the same kind of “logic” that a born-again Christian uses when he proclaims that he knows there’s a god because because he can feel god inside him… or because he can talk to god.

    It’s highly subjective wishful thinking and has nothing to do with logic, and is exactly like a drunk talking to a lamp post.

    As other said upthread, flowers evolved to attract insects and roses were cultivated by humans to please humans.

    Stephen J Gould used to point out the thousands of different parasitic insects that do things like lay their eggs in the body of a victim-host. Their larvae then proceed to carefully eat the victim from the inside without disturbing any major organs so the victim will stay alive longer and feed the larvae better. God at work?

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  14. 14. thlej 11:42 am 03/4/2014

    It seems to me, there are more reasons to view any deity (or net result of actions of deities) as non-benevolent. There are numerous kinds of natural disasters, birth defects and predispostions to illnesses, harmful life-forms (viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites…) and so on. Some undesirable conditions and events may be “reasonable consequences” of the laws of physics – but if those laws were designed by deities, what does that say?

    Atheists have often argued that conditions of the world are inconsistent with a [benevolent] deity. Pro-theists often respond that many of the world’s ills are the result of human free will. [As noted above many are not.] Let us analyze “free will” and what it suggests if deities desgined it. Scientists should appreciate that there is limited value in making choices when one neither fully understands the current situation nor all the implications of each possible choice. Yet, that is “free will” as we know it. “Free will” doesn’t mean you can save a child you see falling from a window some distance away – even if you would be willing to sustain serious injury to do that good act. Even when we’re typing, we may mean to write “the” but end up with “teh” – our willful intent isn’t what happens even when it’s clearly not a case of temptation or sin. “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” – free will’s intent and results may be the opposite. Finally, “free will” is not just individual choice and consequences. A benevolent deity might design free will so a man can choose to drink and drive – and run the risk of hitting a tree so the man making the choice is seriously harmed. Would a benevolent deity design free will so a man chooses to drink and drive, then runs over a pedestrian – causing serious harm to the pedestrian who made no poor choices, while causing no harm to the man who did make a poor choice?

    Clearly, the world is not as good as it could be. It’s also true that we can imagine worlds that are worse than ours. Possible explanations could include: no deities, multiple deities with conflicting agendas, an indifferent deity, and a deity which is basically evil but has factors which cause it to limit the combined suffering of all its various victims.

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  15. 15. solspot 12:01 pm 03/4/2014

    Commenters:
    Horgan’s topic is not whether you or Horgan believe in God; rather, whether AC Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes would believe, based on the character’s fictional behavior. Using the character’s own words, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” God may indeed appear improbable to Holmes; but his belief in accountability for crimes (see above) eliminates any other explanation. Holmes’ quote above ends with the conclusion, “It is only goodness which gives extras…”, and this gives Holmes “much to hope”, despite any argument that concludes with the improbability of God. Science is not based on hope; faith is entirely based on hope. Holmes had hope in God; ergo, in the spirit [ :) ] of AC Doyle, Holmes had faith. Please feel free to post any logical error in this conclusion about Holmes; but try to stay on topic.

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  16. 16. rshoff2 12:04 pm 03/4/2014

    thlej – great explanation of your thoughts! Thanks for making it available to us all. I’m not I understand the meaning of your last paragraph though. The first and last paragraph contain your belief, but it’s not clear to me.

    Me, I wish there were a god, a benevolent god. No, a wonderful beautiful god that gave us a wonderful beautiful world and that we have life everlasting to look forward too. But, nay, there is not. There is no god and your explanation is clear as to why if there where such a god, s/he would have to be a sadist. If I’m wrong, that would be okay because such a wonderful benevolent god would not leave no one out of the equation. A simple belief system cannot possibly dictate what happens throughout eternity, can it?

    So that leads me to believe, that people of faith are not willing to face reality of the fleeting and meaningless nature of life. Until we embrace the simple fact that we are nothing in this universe and that we occupy ourselves with mere survival we cannot appreciate what we are.

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  17. 17. rshoff2 12:07 pm 03/4/2014

    ugh… typos…. for the record.

    “I’m not sure I understand….” and
    “benevolent god would leave no one out…”

    and any others missed.

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  18. 18. rshoff2 12:09 pm 03/4/2014

    solspot – You are so correct, THAT is why I failed philosophy!!!!!!! Horgan is actually asking us to work!

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  19. 19. Elementary 12:26 pm 03/4/2014

    John,

    John, when your first line states “Lucy Liu is the best Watson ever”, you surely don’t expect me to continue reading the essay do you. If you were referring to looks, perhaps you’d have an argument. Since the word looking wasn’t part of the statement, I apologize because I never read any more of the article.

    Yours truly,
    David Burke, Edward Hardwicke, Jude Law, Martin Freeman, Joanne Woodward, Nigel Bruce, James Mason, Debrah Farentino, Vitaly Solomin, Ben Kingsley, Nigel Stock, Andre Morell, Et. al.

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  20. 20. solspot 5:13 pm 03/5/2014

    Reply to comment 18: rshoff2
    I’m glad that you agree with the deduction of “improbable but true” which forms the basis of Holmes faith. Apparently, Holmes does not have to prove that God exists, as you mentioned earlier; he merely concludes by deduction that the alternative is impossible in HIS philosophy of criminal culpability. Of course, if one does not agree that criminals freely choose to commit crimes, then anything is OK (i.e. moral relativism, where no one is good or bad; they simply go the way that nature guides them.)
    But Holmes obviously believes in goodness (as the quote declares), and this leads to his analysis of the “problem of evil” that bedevils [ :) ] Horgan.
    1. It is impossible to perceive goodness without perceiving “evil” for comparison.
    2. It is impossible to limit free will in order to ensure that everyone does good; otherwise it is not free.
    Therefore, Holmes has resolved the problem of evil: no matter how improbable the result, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, must be allowed to coexist in order to maintain the philosophy of free will.
    The “problem of suffering” is a different issue, which Horgan seems to conflate with the “problem of evil”. I’ll have to think a little more about how Holmes would analyze the immensity of excruciating suffering that occurs naturally, that is, beyond the scope of human free will. I suspect that, when asked why the world is the way it is, he would simply respond with CS Lewis, that to be otherwise would make it physically, and even logically impossible for life to exist in the universe (or even in a multiverse).

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  21. 21. Peter Penguin 5:46 pm 03/5/2014

    @solspot : Bravo! A fit use of the gift of reason.

    Incidentally — A curious new episode has apparently been unearthed:
    worldofdrjustice.blogspot.com/2014/03/from-case-files.html
    It presents certain features of interest.

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  22. 22. thlej 11:19 am 03/6/2014

    As someone interested in science, philosophy and Sherlock Holmes, I’d be interested to see a work of fiction portraying Holmes analyzing the possible explanations of life, beauty, God, evil, etc. – perhaps even using his “improbable but true” rule. Yet, I don’t think the point of an article at Scientific American is merely to create “what if” scenarios about fictional characters.

    The “improbable but” rule indicates one must first eliminate all other possibilities. Furthermore, we might be willing to grant Holmes’ super-human brain has the ability to imagine all of the alternatives which must first be eliminated – but those who would like to believe in God and lack a super-human brain may overlook some alternatives. What we perceive as beauty might be the result of evolution in a god-less universe. It might be that a generally indifferent God threw in a bit of nice and a bit of nasty when making Earth. There may be some gods being nice and some gods being nasty.

    Holmes might be right that beauty (which isn’t made by humans) means that there must be something in the universe which contributes goodness. But how then can Holmes not argue that ugliness and other bad things (not made by humans) means that there must be something in the universe contributing to badness? Why must everything be ugly (or plain) if there is no force of good, but the fact that everything is not beautiful (or plain) does not mean there is a force of evil? If “God works in mysterious ways” reasonably explains that a good God can control a world with cruel aspects of nature, why doesn’t “God works in mysterious ways” explain how an evil God might have a world with some beauty in it?

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  23. 23. solspot 12:51 pm 03/6/2014

    Reply to comment 16: rshoff2
    You said: “I wish there were a god, a benevolent god. … A simple belief system cannot possibly dictate what happens throughout eternity, can it? So that leads me to believe, that people of faith are not willing to face reality of the fleeting and meaningless nature of life.”

    To be honest, it makes me sad to hear you sound so heart broken about the nature of reality. Even Horgan seems to share the same disappointment with the apparent absence of divine mercy in the face of abhorent suffering. Is this really the price of free will? I found similar feelings in the writings of Isaac Asimov, who proclaimed the following in his Foundations trilogy, Chap.19: “It is better to go to defeat with free will than to live in a meaningless security as a cog in a machine.” By Holmes’ fictional analysis above, Asimov had faith; he simply was disappointed that free will leads to such harsh realities.
    Science shows us that reality is a machine, relentless and unfeeling, until we declare “No, it need not be that way!” Therefore, our free will is the solution to the harsh realities. Would we have it otherwise? Asimov says a resounding “No!”. If freedom is indeed the way that we choose to live, then the problem of suffering is not a divine problem; it’s our problem! Through hard work, and using an extremely consistent and progressively knowable universe, we must make a better world. If we turn over even the harshest problems to God, we must resign ourselves to be mere cogs in a meaningless machine. “God’s work on earth must truly be our own.” JFK

    BTW: To answer your question above, I think Holmes would agree that the “simple belief system” of free will is all that we need to “… dictate what happens throughout eternity.” I hope this is at least reassuring, if not as comforting as a perfectly benevolent god who only allows us a beautiful but meaningless mechanical existence.

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  24. 24. rshoff2 7:44 pm 03/6/2014

    @solspot, I do appreciate your perspective, but I do not believe in free will. Neither do I believe in time. All I really believe in is the physical state of the universe and that state changes spatially. We perceive that change as ‘time’. No yesterday, today, or tomorrow. Time is simply the observation of the interdependencies of the physical universe as it changes. In the grand scheme of things, are we responsible for who we are and what we do any more than a minute hand is responsible for choosing the next click on the face of the clock? Not really. We are the product of our environment (including our own bodies). Must we suffer the consequences of what we end up doing? Absolutely. The hand of a clock goes from 4 to 5, regardless. If it were sentient, it may perceive that it chose to jump from 4 to 5, but did it really choose? Was there really any other ‘choice’ to be made? Is it important that we believe we have free will? Probably. But the entire play of current events determines the next action. But don’t feel sad for people like me, I like my perch.

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  25. 25. AnnonnymoussCrane 3:39 pm 03/7/2014

    The problem of evil is no problem at all, inasmuch as it is defined as the existence of negative emotional states. In order to be capable of engaging with each other and with the external world, conscious entity systems must have certain motivations that drive their (our) interaction. There is no way computationally to allow two independent and unique systems to interact with each other while still preventing exchange of force between them. Exchange of force, application of stress and pressure, is part and parcel with conscious interaction.

    The fact that certain events engage impulses which we label as emotionally dissatisfying… this is no more relevant to the existence or nonexistence of God than is the fact that certain events engage emotional satisfaction. Both satisfaction and dissatisfaction are critical sensory inputs which are necessary for our survival; and both enrich our lives.

    The only way one can define evil as anything other than a chance product of consciousness is by assuming the existence of some set of goals, some parameter, “meant” to be maximized. That which degrades human rights is only evil inasmuch as human rights can be defined as the thing that exists in the world which ought to be maximized. That which degrades human happiness is only evil inasmuch as human happiness can be defined as the thing that exists in the world which ought to be maximized.

    (Just as that which promotes human rights is only good, beautiful, inasmuch as human rights can be defined as the thing that exists in the world which ought to be maximized; just as that which promotes human happiness is only good, beautiful, inasmuch as human happiness can be defined as the thing that exists in the world which ought to be maximized.)

    At root, the problem of evil and the problem of beauty, as far as I can tell, are just philosophical temper tantrums barfed by those who have tangled themselves trying to extract logic out of qualia.

    (For the sake of full disclosure, I’m a Christian, specifically Lutheran. The parameter I’d say is meant to be maximized is the lovingkindness that inspires people to desire only that which makes others both content and hopeful [as distinct from happy] and also inspires those others to go make still more others content and hopeful as well; it’s an infinitely recursive function in which good actions are those which give more people more opportunity to act in a love that gives more people more opportunity to act in a love that gives more people more opportunity to… act so on ad infinitum. Anything selfish distracts or prevents a person from taking this cosmic perspective, this widest and longest view, but those distractions can be fought by practicing interacting with each other in good and righteous ways, in ways that empower and uplift each other for the better life [and we hold that Christ was the first and best example of this sort of behavior, and that He is therefore the most appropriate and relevant role model for righteousness today.])

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  26. 26. AnnonnymoussCrane 4:19 pm 03/7/2014

    rshoff2 said: “All I really believe in is the physical state of the universe and that state changes spatially.”

    All well and good; but how does one interpret at least the Copenhagen explanation of quantum mechanics that all physical things are described first and foremost as a range of probabilities? At barest minimum, the argument of quantum physics is that there must be some mechanism by which these probabilities collapse into the observed one of many possible states.

    What is free will purported to do? Collapse the range of possibilities into one. If either exist, they exist in the same place.

    I am not claiming something as idiotic as that quantum physics proves free will; but I am most definitely claiming that unless there is a 1-to-1 relationship between potential futures and points along the axis of universal change, there must exist some even limited kind of free will. And given that the most recent breakthrough in fundamental human knowledge of the universe has been the quantum one recognizing the salience of statistical probability, I’d say we’re far closer to disproving the existence of such a 1-to-1 relationship than we are to confirming it.

    The question of whether that “free” will is just some generator of pure randomness for the universe or a thing in and of itself with its own internal structure (such as a consciousness has) is at present a purely semantic argument not grounded in anything but subjectivity, and will remain so until some new Leeuwenhoek sees the world with lenses far finer than today’s.

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  27. 27. rshoff2 1:23 pm 03/8/2014

    Anon said: “how does one interpret at least the Copenhagen explanation of quantum mechanics that all physical things are described first and foremost as a range of probabilities? At barest minimum, the argument of quantum physics is that there must be some mechanism by which these probabilities collapse into the observed one of many possible states.”

    A probability implies that we don’t have enough data to make an exact prediction, so we have to make some good guesses.

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  28. 28. ThatsJustDandy 6:05 pm 03/8/2014

    @annon – btw, your cooment has an eloquence to it. You are quite rational and more knowledgeable than I. Thank you for commenting on my observations.

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  29. 29. sunspot 7:30 pm 03/9/2014

    John Horgan,
    So what did Maria Konnikova have to say? Are you listening? Do you care what commenters write?

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  30. 30. autobeatnik 10:01 am 03/10/2014

    I’ve had this argument with fellow Sherlockians before. In conception, the ultimate rationalist Sherlock Holmes should tend towards atheism, but he was created and written by an author who had a deep belief in spiritualism and ardently defended the existence of fairies.

    As such, for all his rationality and logic, every now and then Conan Doyle has Holmes veer off into pronouncements that range from romantic to the downright fruity. As many have pointed out, Holmes’ speech about the beauty of a rose is actually a travesty of logic. A pure logician would see the rose’s appearance as its way of attracting bees, and thus propagating the species. But instead he sees it as a sign of the “goodness of Providence”.

    Which isn’t to say that such inconsistencies are necessarily bad. It’s these inconsistencies that help keep the character interesting. (And without Conan Doyle being so poor at continuity, what else would we Sherlockians have to argue about?)

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  31. 31. rshoff2 10:23 am 03/10/2014

    @Annonymouscrane #26 – It seems to me that free will and randomness would be mutually exclusive. If quantum physics adopts a tenant that probability of a random variable collapses in to one, then it further demonstrates that free will cannot be the mechanism. Probability itself denounces freewill. Free will would determine the outcome outside the equation of probability -it would be ‘free’ do so and select any outcome. Free will is an imposed limitation and structure on the universe itself. We don’t have the power to impose limitations on the universe. We operate within the laws of the universe and are subject to them.

    It also seems to me that free will and absolute predictability would mutually exclusive. If life (and the universe) were predictable, then how could free will involved at all?

    Chaos. Free-will and chaos just sounds completely out of the question as would the idea that chaos underlies quantum physics.

    So, I don’t see much room for free-will, regardless of which path you choose.

    Gee thanks, Now I’m really going to have to read up on the Copenhagen explanation. Can you do me a favor and sight a reputable source that may be digestible to a layman such as myself? Thank you!

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  32. 32. rshoff2 10:49 am 03/10/2014

    @solspot #23, as a child I was enamored with Isaac Asimov’s fiction. His outlook must have resonated for me from the start. Thank you for such kind remarks. It touches my heart that your comments demonstrate introspection and empathy for others.

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  33. 33. rshoff2 11:08 am 03/10/2014

    Autobeatnik – I would consider that at the core Sherlock’s inner-self to be atheist regardless of what his character may project or the levels of uncertainty it may entertain. Simply put, the pure rational logic he employs dictates one end. The end is atheism. The rose is only an allegory for how humans perceive beauty in the rigid and complicated world as fleeting. The rose doesn’t exist to be a beautiful flower, it exists as a reproductive strategy. We, however, perceive it as beautiful. And how sometimes, beautiful things arise from the complexity of life. However, the rose does not signify that Sherlock believes in a god. And as far as the ‘goodness of providence’, you write it yourself. Providence. Providence as dictated by the rules of the universe, not by freewill or a god.

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  34. 34. rshoff2 11:35 am 03/10/2014

    #31 continued:

    And with further thought, I don’t see how a system as complex as the human mind can be the mechanism of probability in a quantum physics phenomenon such as the Copenhagen explanation. Quantum physics is the law of building blocks, not the law of systems. Unless you are suggesting that the human mind adopts the mechanism as a strategy of free will. I can only assume that you are alluding to the fact that if probability exists in one arena (quantum physics), then it can exist in another (the human mind). In which case, I circle back to the concept that probability and freewill are mutually exclusive.

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  35. 35. rshoff2 11:45 am 03/10/2014

    @annoymous #26 – I’m slowly catching on…. :-)

    “but I am most definitely claiming that unless there is a 1-to-1 relationship between potential futures and points along the axis of universal change”

    There is as much room for a 1-to-1 relationship between futures (they are not ‘potential’ as a result of the 1-to-1 relationship) as there is for freewill. Why cannot this moment in time have unlimited of futures? Those futures being only the next ‘instant’. I will only experience one, but the others exist. And the next instance will again have unlimited future instances, and the next, and the next, and the next….

    So we are not really discussing the reality of free will (what we do), we are actually discussing the reality of our perception (what we are).

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  36. 36. solspot 10:45 am 03/11/2014

    @rshoff2 #24 and #31-35
    You said in #24 “But the entire play of current events determines the next action. But don’t feel sad for people like me, I like my perch.”; and again in #35 ” Why cannot this moment in time have unlimited of futures? Those futures being only the next ‘instant’. I will only experience one, but the others exist.”

    I’m glad that you see the empathy for others in my notes. This reflects my appeal to scientists to tolerate the opinions and beliefs of others as possible, even if improbable.

    Your belief in determinism seems to have a disconnect with the concept of unlimited futures. If our future is all laid out for us, then there are no other possibilities. If there are infinite possibilities, what determines our path? Within the limitations of physical law, certain possibilities must be eliminated as impossible; others may be improbable. But Holmes’ method still applies, and free will appears to be allowed, not eliminated as impossible, within the bounds of physically determined events. I must conclude that Holmes’ allows for a faith as defined in my comments #15 and #20. Quantum philosophy does not confirm or deny the belief in determinism. Therefore Holmes can still believe in free will; he cannot be a confirmed atheist without a leap of faith :) into determinism.

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  37. 37. ThatsJustDandy 9:30 am 03/12/2014

    @solspot#36 – I don’t see it as a disconnect, although I see why you do. I guess a short answer is that if every probability of every instance plays out, then the next instant is deterministic. All of them happen. But only one happens to us. I don’t even think of it in human terms. Although you may be correct about the improbability of my opinion, there is no disconnect between the concepts.

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  38. 38. ThatsJustDandy 9:32 am 03/12/2014

    @solspot, sorry about the mix up on my user id.

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  39. 39. ThatsJustDandy 9:35 am 03/12/2014

    Solspot, So what determines our path? I don’t know. But all possibilities must be accounted for, so we are not free to choose which one we want.

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  40. 40. ThatsJustDandy 9:40 am 03/12/2014

    solspot, I really enjoy your comments.

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  41. 41. solspot 2:11 pm 03/12/2014

    @Comment 37 You said “…if every probability of every instance plays out, then the next instant is deterministic. All of them happen. ”

    Thanks for the kind remarks above.

    Can all of them happen? If we can only experience one reality, it seems like a leap of faith to claim that any other natural (not supernatural) reality exists outside of our experience. Even proposing an undetectable reality is considered philosophy, not science. Holmes would be justified in saying that it is impossible; ergo, free will is still his best alternative because it accounts for all experience. Everything else is just “what might have been”, a useless exercise in imagination or dare I say, :) fiction?

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  42. 42. rshoff2 8:06 pm 03/12/2014

    solspot – I still don’t see free will. True we can only be cognizant of our own reality. And I’m not suggesting that we concern ourselves with any other.

    However, when I stop thinking of humans as the center of the universe, or even significant, my mind is freed to see how we many be a little spec on a template we call the Universe. That template incorporates all possibilities and probabilities in including time. I don’t know, imagine an excel spreadsheet devoid of formulas and data. It exists. We can imagine ourselves as a spec moving around within the Excel template, but we cannot know the entire spreadsheet. In fact, we can only know the lines that we meander across. But that doesn’t mean that where we go next doesn’t already exist. It does. And time doesn’t even occur. We simply move. As the geography changes, we perceive it as time passing.

    Time on a train. Imagine you’re on a train. The scenery outside the window changes quickly as it zooms by, the scenery inside changes less quickly as people move around. We are not experiencing time, we are experiencing change as a result of movement. We are careening forward to a destination of our choice, or is it? The wheels roll forward regardless, and only roll forward. There are many tracks. But we can be on only one. Why are we on that train? Can we unroll the sequence of events and understand why we exist on that train at that moment in time? Was it really free will that put us there?

    Or drive a car across country. Are we really in control deciding to move forward? How else would we choose move? Backward? Why would we do that? Why would we even drive a car knowing how dangerous it is? We actually think we can control the factors that would otherwise lead to our death. It’s an illusion. Our particular course is determined by the existing situation. We feel safer in a car than on an airplane. Why?

    Other courses exist on that template of the universe, but they are unknown to us. We cannot experience them. Even if we chose.

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  43. 43. rshoff2 10:26 am 03/13/2014

    @solspot – Fiction and philosophy indeed. You nailed it. :) Perhaps those are my *valueless* talents. You are one of those smart yet kind people, it’s obvious -and rare.

    Yes, it’s disappointing to realize that Sherlock’s empirical brilliance also reduces him to a life of the mundane. And he probably believes in god. There, I caved. You cite logic, while I cite believes. Logic shall prevail.

    But wait! Holmes himself is the result of fiction!

    I’m so confused…

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  44. 44. rshoff2 11:10 am 03/13/2014

    Er, and no more violins in school… ~Emily Litella

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  45. 45. rshoff2 11:17 am 03/13/2014

    or on tv… ugh! I can’t even get Emily’s references correct…

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  46. 46. solspot 10:55 am 03/17/2014

    @comment #43
    Confusion is the first step in learning. (paraphrased)
    I definitely don’t see Holmes (or AC Doyle) as mundane. I think Holmes would advise us to set aside preconceptions and even beliefs regarding free will. Remember, Holmes excels at logical deduction from the known present to the unknown past; whereas, pure logic does not require any facts or evidence. Logic merely requires assumptions or beliefs as “premises”. This is why uncertainty is always found in logic, even in science and mathematical induction, and why we must be tolerant (if not accepting) of the supposed illogical beliefs of others.
    I did not set out to convince anyone that Holmes allowed for the divine as “improbable but true”. I was actually looking for good opposing arguments, so I was probably as surprised as anyone with this conclusion. It just shows that all skeptics (religious or not) should remain open to this possibility, and tolerate (if not accept) the beliefs of others in this matter.

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  47. 47. rshoff2 3:37 pm 03/17/2014

    Solspot – Your comment contains a great reason to support education. A reason that I’ve been searching for. “…pure logic does not require any facts or evidence…” Not that ‘I’ am important, but if I am searching for reasons for the masses to become more educated than their intelligence warrants, than so must be others.

    We can intellectually ‘spin our wheels’ due to lack of education. And they may be a pretty darned good set of rims going to waste!

    And no, I don’t feel my wheels have been spinning from waste. I simply don’t have anything to contribute. There are many, many, intelligent people that need to be better educated because they can contribute. Or would be able to. But throwing everyone into higher education regardless of their intellectual capabilities may simply bring everyone down to the lowest common denominator.

    Regarding proof that Holmes does not believe in god however, is kind of a set-up. Not only is Holmes a fictional character (a case where we accept a distorted reality), his author a man of faith (according to another commenter), but the facts and evidence that he assesses are as fictional as Holmes himself.

    Therefore, and although, Sherlock Holme’s belief in god appears to be true only because no one can disprove it, it is of no consequences to us.

    Belief vs. Fact. We cannot go on a fact finding mission without first having a starting place. Fluid soft ideas can be a starting place. These ideas may have a genesis in intuition, but isn’t intuition itself based on brain processing experience outside of analytical discipline? It would seem to me a good place to start. Although I grant you that launching into grand schemes of the design of the universe based only on intuition is absurd.

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