Have you ever tried to make deductions like Sherlock? Have you ever wondered how your observations hold up against the large amount of variables that come with making an observation about a person? What do you look for? What do you ignore? This post is special because it marks the first post where I take a real life deduction and post about it. For this deduction, I confirmed with the person that I observed and they confirmed that my deductions were accurate. I sent them a form to assess the accuracy of my deductions so I have validation for this project. I will try to get it. posted once they fill it out. The hope is that I can evaluate how I would approach real deductions and begin to cataloguing examples that we can use to improve our abilities. Look out for these types of posts once a month. I would suggest taking one section of it daily if you don't have time to read the entire post in one sitting. There's a lot to take in and a lot can be missed by skimming through the information. Now that I have given you the disclaimer, let's dive in.
Read this very carefully so you take in all of the facts or as many as I am willing to share with you. Before me sits a pretty young woman. She is about 22-25 years of age. Ethnicity is hard to pin down. She has black hair but half of it is dyed red. She wears makeup that is evenly distributed (good foundation) and has eye shadow. She just started a job at my company. (We work in a heart monitoring lab, in controlled climate.) I see a ring on her finger (not wedding ring finger). She has has pink nail polish that is in the design of one color but the ring finger is in a different shade. Her toe nails are painted as well. She wears the same sweater daily and has a blanket that she brings with her to work. She has a “Bang” energy drink by her desk (we work 10 hour shifts at a sedentary job). She has an Iphone 6. Additionally she has a pair of Moccasins to accompany her medical scrubs I presume. There are plenty of other things to observe, like her bag, glasses, etc… but I will stop there. The point of this is to get you to try and make your own deductions by thinking backwards.
Tip: Turning Observation Into Meaning
The first thing I would like to address is that when we observe something, we tend to not place significance to the items unless we are consciously trying to or something about the person stands out as unique or strange. So in order to get into the headspace of being very precise with my observations, I tend to write them down on a piece of paper. This slows me down and forces me to hone in on what is actually there, not what my mind thinks is there.
Exercise - But for this concept to make any impact, pull out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. If you have a computer or cell phone in front of you, open a note taking app. Look at something in the room where you are sitting. It can be anything from a cat to a napkin. Now, look away from the thing being observed. How much do you remember about it? How much detail did you assign to the observation? Now, look at the item again and write down your observations. You might be surprised at how much detail you actually missed. Writing things down, forces us to slow down and concentrate. So this is my first piece of advice when it comes to observation. Write down what you see. So write down my observation for yourself. (Found in the "Observation" section of this page)
When you are simply observing, you are taking in bits of information. Unfortunately our brains aren't like a computer that downloads files and programs. The closest thing that comes to that is Hyperthymesia or an eidetic memory. But that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Even if you could remember everything you saw, it doesn't mean that you assign value to what you see. Without applying meaning, your observations will generally be superficial or fleeting. That is, they won't feel like they last for more than a first impression and won't really mean anything.
For example, let's pretend there is a person that is sitting right across from us. They are wearing glasses and drinking a coffee. Without thinking twice about it, our brain registers this information and moves on. We might recall that later on, but it doesn't mean anything to us. Now let's take a moment to try to assign meaning to one piece of information here. Why are they wearing glasses?
Are they wearing them to get rid of glare, to reduce blue light, because they are near or far sighted, to block out the sun, to appear trendy or smart. Narrow down the choices based on what you know about the person. If they have a book with them, they probably aren't trying to appear smart but maybe need the glasses. But that might be premature. Do they have a special tint? Can you tell based on looking through the lens if they distort your vision? Etc... Once you assign meaning, try to spend time getting the details of the glasses. How old are they? What's the brand? What does the style say about the person? Are there any nicks or scratches? Are they dirty? Asking and answering these questions, will go a long way towards making a deduction about the person.
Now that you have a sense of assigning meaning to your observations, let's dive into the real life deduction. (For the following sections, I will group the observations and deductions into how they play into the overall deduction. )
Observation and Deduction 1
"Before me sits a pretty young woman. She is about 22-25 years of age. Ethnicity is hard to pin down"
This observation, in itself, could mislead us when we are interpreting the world around us. Being pretty and young as a woman can mean a lot of things. Depending on where she grew up, how much she used or didn't use these assets, how much she assigns current value to these qualities, etc...could tell us a lot. But for this observation and deduction, this information is almost useless unless we know more about her.
Holmes in the Sign of Four, "“...while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty.”
Assigning age and gender have value, but without history and context, they become nothing more than generalizations. Or they should stay that way in our mind. They shouldn't tell us what the person is capable or like. They should be neutral to us. On average, I can say that pretty young woman like hanging out with their friends, messing around on the internet, posting on social media, etc... This doesn't mean that the girl I am currently observing enjoys any of those things. She has simply fallen into what I call the "all together" description. For all I know, she might like reading, rock climbing, and listening to lectures by TEDX speakers.
What do pretty young woman like to do in your country?
It should also be noted that "pretty and young" are descriptors that are relative to me. These words may evoke different images in your mind. Depending on which country you are from and what you have been raised to believe "pretty and young" to be, my assigning that to her may be of little value to you. Avoid these when you are making deductions unless you can pursue what they actually mean in context to the person.
Ethnicity isn't so important when we observe with the intention of making a deduction. But understanding this can maybe give us some clues about values and shared experiences. For example, people that live in America have steering wheels that are found on the left side of the vehicle and drive on the right side of the road whereas in Japan the steering wheels may be found on the right side of the vehicle and they drive on the left. This is a shared experience and something that is universal. Finding these universally shared experiences can help us if we are using ethnicity to make deductions. Otherwise, they can easily fall into the same category of the "all together" descriptor; They amount to nothing but a generalization.
For this section there is no deduction. I will use this information a little later to make a different deduction. It is important to note when something is an observation to be stored away and when you can use it deduce something. For now, let's just store this information away until we need it.
Observation and Deduction 2
"She wears the same sweater daily and has a blanket that she brings with her to work. She has an Iphone 6. Additionally she has a pair of Moccasins to accompany her medical scrubs I presume."
Like the tip mentioned at the beginning of this post, let's assign meaning to these observations.
What does the fact that she wears the same sweater daily to work mean?
Where I live, sweaters aren't really expensive compared to wages and my observations tell me that many people wear different sweaters, because they usually own more than one. Now I can spend a lot fo time trying to figure out things like, "Does she not like shopping?", "Did she have money problems and can't afford to buy another one?", "Does that sweater have emotional significance to it? Maybe her dead father gave it to her." All of these questions will lead me to nothing useful at the moment. They don't have any available answers unless I dig deeper. This is a pitfall that can happen to any of us. We can assign or project our beliefs about things without having any basis for doing so.
For this observation the only thing that I can use to make an accurate deduction is to go to my handy syllogism.
Major Premise: People that bring an item with them every day, are habitual.
Minor Premise: She brings the item with her every day.
Conclusion: Therefore she is habitual.