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A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes


Started: 2018-01-22
Finished: 2018-01-23

Tired of my daily humdrum, I decided to escape to Victorian London for a while, by reading all of my Sherlock Holmes.

This time though, I was going to make notes!

And then it dawned on me, that I already had a comprehensive set.
I had, along with my copy of Peter Bevelin’s fantastic Seeking Wisdom, also purchased a copy of his A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes.

Bevelin synthesizes not just Sir Doyle’s works, but also pulls related information from a wide variety of sources, like Joseph Bell who was Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe and Michel De Montaigne.

Like thoughts on practice as a discipline …

Practice is a good instructor and teaches us to where to look and what to look for

Before turning to those moral and mental aspects of the matter which present the greatest difficulties, let the inquirer begin by mastering more elementary problems. Let him on meeting a fellow-mortal, learn at a glance to distinguish the history of the man and the trade or profession to which he belongs. Puerile as such an exercise may seem, it sharpens the faculties of observation, and teaches one where to look and what to look for. (Holmes; A Study in Scarlet)

and on learning

And learning never stops

“But what I can’t make head or tail of, Mr. Holmes, is how on earth you got yourself mixed up in the matter.”
“Education, Gregson, education. Still seeking knowledge at the old university.” (Holmes; The Red Circle)
Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study, nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highest possible perfection in it. (Holmes; A Study in Scarlet)
Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last. (Holmes; The Red Circle)

On learning to reason backwards

Reasoning backwards - working back from observations/effects to causes

The essential factor in this method consists in working back from observations of conditions to the causes which brought them about. It is often a question of deciding the doings of yesterday by the records found to-day. (Thomas McCrae; The Method of Zadig)
The ideal reasoner...would, when he had once been shown a single fact in all its bearings, deduce from it not only all the chain of events which led up to it but also all the results which would follow from it. (Holmes; The Five Orange Pips)
The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which I succeeded in unraveling it. (Holmes; The Sign of the Four)
In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backward. That is a very useful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but people do not practice it much. In the everyday affairs of life it is more useful to reason forward, and so the other comes to be neglected. (Holmes; A Study in Scarlet)
Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be. They can put those events together in their minds, and argue from them that something will come to pass. There are few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led up to that result. This power is what I mean when I talk of reasoning backward, or analytically. (Holmes; A Study in Scarlet)

and the fact that everything old is new again …

History often repeats itself

There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before. (Holmes; A Study in Scarlet)
Mr. Mac, the most practical thing that you ever did in your life would be to shut yourself up for three months and read twelve hours a day at the annals of crime. Everything comes in circles...The old wheel turns, and the same spoke comes up. It’s all been done before, and will be again. (Holmes; The Valley of Fear)

This is ergo more a book recommendation, than a book notes post.
Most everything that I could hope to capture, is already in this slim volume.
And just like Doyle’s books, this one is worth coming back to over and over again.

The Race for Paradise


Started: 2018-01-03
Finished: 2018-01-16

I’m Catholic and as a child, I was somehow naïvely proud that Christianity was the largest religion in the world.
We were good people. We were morally superior.
After all, we were the righteous chosen ones!
Our crusades were what helped Christianity become foremost and widespread!
All those knights in shining armour and all those devout folk went from their homes in Europe to battle the bad Muslims and conquer Jerusalem.
It was stuff of heady, wild fantasy!

Time has slowly cured me of my delusions, but the curiosity has always remained.

Why? and How?

Why did these two religions who had so much in common, go to war for centuries?
And the answer after ripping through the book is realistic disappoinment.

For all that many, maybe most Franks and Muslims wished it to be so, the realities were rather different. This was not a clash of Islam versus Christianity. It was at best a clash of specific Frankish polities warring with specific Muslim ones, where universal claims to religious truth or holy war almost always took a backseat to specific regional and political interests.
They do outright injustice to the more nuanced, less dramatic, but nevertheless authentic decisions made by generations of medieval Christians, Muslims, and Jews involved in this history. The Crusades, understood from any perspective, cannot shed light on modern struggles, and their motivations cannot be legitimately claimed as background or inspiration for contemporary conflicts.
Medieval Muslims and Christians went to war for their own motives, not ours.

And nothing captures the zeitgeist of the book, as much as this short note somewhere in the middle of the book

Bashir saw the strange spectacle of the Frankish lord of Antioch marching alongside Muslim troops from the lord of Aleppo, arrayed in battle against the sultan’s representative, the Muslim lord of Mosul, who marched with his own Frankish allies from Edessa.

It was just humans … being humans!
But don’t let that stop you from reading the book.

Paul M. Cobb weaves magic with this well researched work. While it may seem like I took a while with the book, the reality is that this is a page turner for any history buff. I had to slow down consciously because I did not want it to end!

Ranging from Spain to Africa to the Middle East to Mongolia and from the year 750 to 1492, he explores whole host of places, events and people. Action abounds! Treachery, back stabbing, sieges, plague, naval battles, battles in the plains, battles in the mountains, fire, it’s all here!

And while it is about humans being humans, I found it quite enjoyable as I kept switching sides throughout the book, rooting for who I thought, was doing the right thing at the time.

It gave me a perspective on how the “other side” sees these events and it looks suspiciously a lot like mine.

And the only reasonable reason as to why, comes from Yuval Noah Harari (read my notes on Sapiens, here.)

The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively.
This mysterious glue is made of stories, not genes.

We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights.
Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money and no human rights—except in the common imagination of human beings.

You can never convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana by promising him that after he dies, he will get limitless bananas in chimpanzee Heaven.
Only Sapiens can believe such stories.
This is why we rule the world, and chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.

An Idea to Get Me Writing Regularly

Cross posting, because I think the idea is important enough for me to have it on both the personal and work blogs


I stuggle to write regularly.

Sometimes, I struggle to write, because I can think of anything to write.
And sometimes, I struggle, because I have a deluge of ideas.

So I want to write this wisp of an idea, before I lose it.
1. If I think it is of any interest to me, I should write it down in my own words.
2. I will not pick up another book, before I write what I think of it, or write down the notes I highlighted.
Even if it’s only a line, I ought to write it down, instead of just using Librarything or Goodreads to say I’ve read it.
3. If I learn it, I should write it.
I’ve already forgotten, how I got an image carousel installed on my personal blog. I should write shit down.
4. Drastically reduce twitter and rss use.
5. Copy Kushal and have a regular weekly cadence.
That’ll give me at least fifty two posts a year.

Well, that’s the idea … written down.

All I have to do now, is do it.

So God Made a Dog …


God said, ‘I need somebody strong enough to pull sleds and find bombs, yet gentle enough to love babies and lead the blind.
Somebody who will spend a day on a couch with a resting head and supportive eyes to lift the spirts of a broken heart.’

So, God made a dog.1

  1. I don’t know the actual source, but I saw it here, years ago 

Portraits – Pooja – 2


“One day the sun admitted
I am just a shadow.
I wish I could show you
The infinite incandescence
That has cast my brilliant image!
I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!”

— Hafiz

Seven Years

Seven Years, cartoon at XKCD

Randall Munroe posted this yesterday1 methinks, or the day before.

And I immediately cried.2

When Abby was diagnosed with cervical cancer two years ago, the docs said we should be grateful, she had the non life threatening kind.
Even so, the last two years have been full of ups and downs and lots of uncertainty.
(We’ll be at the “How long does it take to read a scan?” stage again soon as we checkup after two years)

I think I understand a little of what Becky & Kate are going through, having gone through some of it ourselves.
And I have no words to express what Becky must be going through or how Kate must be holding up.

All I can do is pray.

If you would, please go help Becky here

And Abby, 2018? It’s a date!

  1. Today is the 15th of December, 2017. 

  2. So did Abby, once she read this