|"You Know My Method":||A Juxtaposition of Charles S. Peirce
Sebeok, T with Sebeok, J.U. (1981) 'You Know My Method,' In Sebeok, T. The Play of Musement., Bloomington, IA: Indiana. PP. 17 - 52. Reproduced with permission of Jean Umiker Sebeok. © 2009, all rights reserved
Who is the most original and the most versatile intellect that the Americas have so far produced? The answer "Charles S. Peirce" is uncontested, because any second would be so far behind as not to be worth nominating. Mathematician, astronomer, chemist, geodesist, surveyor, cartographer, metrologist, spectroscopist, engineer, inventor; psychologist, philologist, lexicographer, historian of science, mathematical economist, lifelong student of medicine; book reviewer, dramatist, actor, short story writer; phenomenologist, semiotician, logician, rhetorician, metaphysician-and, the Sebeoks now add, detective! He was, for a few examples, the first modern experimental psychologist in the Americas, the first mythologist to use a wave-length of light as a unit of measure, the inventor of the quincuncial projection of the sphere, the first known conceiver of the design and theory of an electric switching-circuit computer, and the founder of "the economy of research." He is the only system-building philosopher in the Americas who has been both competent and productive in logic, in mathematics, and in a wide range of the sciences. If he has had any equals in that respect in the entire history of philosophy, they do not number more than two.
Peirce (pronounced Purse) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1839. His father was professor of mathematics and astronomy at Harvard College. Charles thus grew up in the Cambridge scientific circle. He took his bachelor's degree at Harvard in 1859, and a graduate degree in chemistry summa cum laude at the Lawrence Scientific School in 1863. His longest employments were (1) as a research scientist in the Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1859-60, 1861-91, and, in conjunction therewith, as observer in the Harvard College Observatory, 1867-75; (2) as reviewer, primarily of philosophic, scientific, and mathematical books, for The Nation, 1869-1908 (along with the New York Evening Post, 1890-1908); and (3) as Lecturer in Logic at The Johns Hopkins University, 1879-84. He gave courses of lectures at Harvard University in 1865, 1869-70, 1903, and 1907, and at the Lowell Institute in Boston in 1866, 1892-93, and 1903; a course of "Cambridge Conferences" in 1898; and occasional lectures in other places. He was a principal contributor to The Century Dictionary, in six volumes, 1889-91, and to Baldwin's Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, in two volumes, 1901-2. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1867, a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1877, and a member of the London Mathematical Society in 1880. His service in the Coast and Geodetic Survey involved five periods of transatlantic duty adding up to nearly three out of the thirteen years 1870-83. He represented the United States at meetings of the International Geodetic Association and thereby became the first American delegate to any international scientific association. Well over a hundred Ph.D. theses, thirty books, and a thousand articles and chapters have been written concerning various aspects of his work.
The most extensive editions of his writings are: (1) the eight volumes of Collected Papers (Harvard University Press), Vols. 1-6 edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, 1931-35, and Vols. 7-8 by Arthur W. Burks, 1958 (commonly cited by volume and paragraph number); (2) the four-volumes-in-five of The New Elements of Mathematics (Mouton) edited by Carolyn Eisele, 1976; and (3) the three volumes of Contributions to "The Nation" (Texas Tech Press, Lubbock) edited by Kenneth L. Ketner and James E. Cook, 1975-79. The largest deposit of Peirce's manuscripts and correspondence is in The Houghton Library of Harvard University; see Richard S. Robin's Annotated Catalogue of the Papers of Charles S. Peirce (University of Massachusetts Press, 1967) and "The Peirce Papers: A Supplementary Catalogue" (Transactions of The Charles S. Peirce Society 7:37-57, 1971). A Microfilm Edition of the greater part of these papers is available from the Harvard University Library Photo-duplication Department. There is also a nearly complete Microfiche Edition of the writings that Peirce himself published, accompanied by a printed Bibliography, both primary and secondary (Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism, Texas Tech University, Lubbock), edited by Ketner and others, 1977. A new printed selection from Peirce's writings, published and unpublished, in a single chronological order, in fifteen volumes. will begin appearing in 1981 from Indiana University Press. Volume I will cover the years :1857-66, and most of its contents will be appearing in print for the first time.
The episode in Peirce's life which moved the authors of "You Know My Method" to compare him with Sherlock Holmes took place a century ago, in 1879, in the service of the Coast and Geodetic Survey. That was one of his most productive years. Two brief examples: (1) His "Note on the Theory of the Economy of Research," which opened a new branch of economics, appeared in the Survey's annual report for 1876, which came out in :1879. (2) "A Quincuncial Projection of the Sphere" appeared in the American Journal of Mathematics. (During the Second World War, the Survey published a new and much enlarged edition of the map, under the title "Peirce's World-Quincuncial Projection," as being the best on which to chart international air routes. And in 1963 the Survey launched a research vessel named for him, which is now in the service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.)
Peirce had been initiated in methods of detection twelve years earlier, in the spring of 1867, by his father, Benjamin Peirce, the leading mathematician of the day, who had recently become Superintendent of the Coast Survey. The occasion was the Silvia Ann Howland will case. This was one of the most famous cases that ever came to trial, and the most famous of the many famous things about it was the testimony of the Peirces. The questions at issue were (1) whether Miss Howland's signatures to the two copies of the "second page" codicil of an earlier will were genuine, or were forged by tracing her signature to the will itself, and (2) whether, supposing them genuine, the codicil invalidated a later will much less favourable to her niece, Betty H. Robinson. The Peirces addressed themselves to the first of these questions. Under his father's direction, Charles examined photographic enlargements of forty two genuine signatures for coincidences of position in their thirty down strokes. In 25,830 different comparisons of down strokes, lie found 5,325 coincidences, so that the relative frequency of coincidence was less than a fifth. Applying the theory of probabilities, his father calculated that a coincidence of genuine signatures as complete as that between the signatures to the codicil, or between either of them and that to the will in question, would occur only once in five-to-the-thirtieth power times. The judge was not prepared to base his decision on the theory of probabilities, but he decided against Miss Robinson on the second issue. (Nevertheless, she married Edward H. Green later in 1867 and, as Hetty Green, was on her way to becoming "the witch of Wall Street.") In a long article on "The Howland Will Case" in the American Late Review (July 1870), it was said that: "Hereafter, the curious stories of Poe will he thought the paltriest imitations."
Among the surviving Peirce manuscripts, the earliest account of the 1879 episode that he intended for publication was in a 1904 draft of a paper "On the Simplest Possible Branch of Mathematics." Other parts of that paper appeared for the first time in 1976, in The New Elements of Mathematics, Vol. I, PP-158-69.
Much the fullest account, and the only one so far published, was in an essay entitled "Guessing," which he wrote in the spring of 1907, twenty-eight years after the episode. It was first published in the short-lived magazine Hound and Horn in 1929, fifteen years after Peirce's death and fifty after the event. (Other parts of that essay were reprinted in Collected Papers 7.36-48 in 1958, but that central part was omitted except for brief mention in an editorial footnote.)
Very few Peirce scholars have gone back to the Hound and Horn. So it has remained for the authors of You Know My Method, a century after the episode, to take us back to "Guessing," and thereby to introduce Holmes buffs to a great philosopher, and at the same time to equip Peirce buffs to read his other writings with fresh eyes.
The extreme diversification of Peirce's work had a focus and a purpose. The focus was in logic, conceived at first as a branch of a branch of semiotics, but eventually as nearly coextensive with it, though with a distribution of emphasis different from those of semioticians who are not logicians. The purpose was to distinguish the possible kinds of semioses or sign-functions, and, among them, to make the most thorough study he could of arguments in particular, and above all of their functions in mathematics and in the sciences. His major single discovery was that what he at first called hypothesis and later abduction or retroduction is a distinct kind of argument, different both from deduction and from induction, and indispensable both in mathematics and in the sciences. This discovery came at least as early as 1866, and one of the chief interests of Volume I of the new edition will be in the steps that led him to it.
Whatever the technical name and definition of this third kind of argument should be, and the exact working out of its relations with the other two, an essential element of it is something for which the colloquial name is guessing. Comparing the historical Peirce and the fictional Sherlock Holmes as detectives and as elaborators of the theory of detection is therefore not just an entertaining diversion for Holmes buffs, but the best possible entry into Peirce's philosophy for readers not yet acquainted with it.
For the most part, even those who are-acquainted with Peirce's work know only detached fragments of it. A philosopher, for example, is most likely to know of him as the founder of pragmatism, and a semiotician as the founder (or one of the two or three founders) of present-day semiotics. But neither the philosophers nor the semioticians seem aware that his pragmatism was a theorem of semiotics, and that much of his labour on semiotics was for the sake of perfecting his proof of that theorem. Perhaps the most lucid exposition of the argument was the one he composed in the spring of 1907, in the form of a long untitled Letter to the Editor of The Nation. "Guessing" was an offshoot of that letter which could not be reduced to its scale. About the time the letter was finished, Peirce heard that Bliss Perry, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, was interested, and he sent him both the letter and "Guessing." Neither was accepted. By the time Peirce got them back and sent the letter to The
Nation, Paul Elmer More had succeeded Wendell Phillips Garrison as editor. The letter never appeared, and, so far as we know, it was never returned to its author. But three hundred and fifty pages of drafts survive in Manuscript 318, and the editors of the Collected Papers spliced two drafts just before the last sentence of CP 5.481 to form what they called "Survey of Pragmaticism" (CP 5.464-96). The best parts of Manuscript 318 remain unpublished, and though perhaps most readers get some sense of the relation between the semiotics and the pragmatism, they get none of the relation between either of them and the role of "Guessing" in detection. So the fragmentation continues.
Where, then, should a beginner begin? With "You Know My Method," I suggest, followed by CP 7.36-48 for most of the rest of "Guessing"; for, as the Sebeoks' Peircean epigraph puts it: "We must conquer the truth by guessing, or not at all."- Max H. Fisch
C. S. PEIRCE-CONSULTING DETECTIVE
On Friday, June 20, 1879, Charles S. Peirce boarded the Fall River Line steamship Bristol in Boston, bound for New York, where he was to attend a conference the next day. Upon his arrival in New York, the following morning, he experienced what he describes as a "strange fuzzy sensation" in his bead, which he attributed to the stale air of his stateroom. He hurriedly dressed and left the ship. In his baste to get some fresh air, he inadvertently left behind his overcoat and an expensive Tiffany lever watch which had been purchased for him by the U.S. government for his work with the Coast Survey. Soon realizing his oversight, Peirce rushed back to the boat only to find his things gone, at which point, faced with what he felt would be a "life-long professional disgrace" were lie not able to restore the watch in as perfect condition as he had received it. he tells us that, having "then made all the coloured waiters, no matter on what deck they belonged, come and stand in a row..."
Taking the suspect aside, Peirce was unable to persuade him, either through reason, threat, or promise of fifty dollars, to return his belongings to him. He then "ran down to the dock and was driven as fast as the cabby could, to Pinkerton's." He was taken to see a Mr. Bangs, the head of the New York branch of that famous detective agency, and reports the following interview:
A Pinkerton man was assigned to his case, but instructed to "act upon his own inferences" rather than follow Peirce's surmises about who the culprit was. The detective, looking into the personal background of each Fall River waiter, began shadowing a man other than Peirce's suspect, and this proved to be a false lead.
When the detective thus came to a dead end in his investigation, Peirce returned to Mr. Bangs, and was advised by him to send postcards to all the pawnbrokers of Fall River, New York, and Boston, offering a reward for the recovery of his watch. The postcards were mailed out on June 23. The next day, Peirce and his Pinkerton agent recovered the watch from a New York lawyer, who directed them to the pawnbroker who had responded to his offer of a reward. The pawnbroker himself "described the person who pawned the watch so graphically that no doubt was possible that it had been 'my [i.e., Peirce's] man"' ( 1929:275 ' Peirce and the detective then made their way to the suspect's lodgings, with the intention of also recovering the missing chain and overcoat. The detective was reluctant to enter the premises without a warrant, so Peirce, disgusted by the agent's ineptitude went in alone, confidently telling the agent that lie would return in exactly twelve minutes with his property. He then described the following sequence of events:
Peirce's remarkable aplomb is given charming expression in a letter lie sent to Superintendent C. P. Patterson, of the Coast Survey, later in the day:
The next day, June 25, Peirce wrote to Superintendent Patterson that "The two negroes who stole the watch were today committed for trial. Everything had been recovered. The thief is the very man I suspected throughout contrary to the judgment of the detective."
As noted in a much later letter to his friend and disciple, the Harvard philosopher and psychologist William James (1842-1910), this story of detection was meant as an illustration of Peirce's "theory of why it is that people so often guess right." "This singular guessing instinct" (1929:281)
or the inclination to entertain a hypothesis, more commonly referred to by Peirce as Abduction (1) or Retroduction is described as a "singular salad . . . whose chief elements are its groundlessness, its ubiquity, and its trustworthiness" (Ms. 692). As to its ubiquity, Peirce writes:
If all new knowledge depends on the formation of a hypothesis, there nevertheless "seems at first to be no room at all for the question of what supports it, since from an actual fact it only infers a maybe (maybe and maybe not). But there is a decided leaning to the affirmative side and the frequency with which that turns out to be an actual fact is ... quite the most surprising of all the wonders of the universe" (8-238). Comparing our capacity for abduction with "a bird's musical and aeronautic powers; that is, it is to us, as those are to them, the loftiest of our merely instinctive powers" (1929:282), Peirce notes that "retroduction goes upon the hope that there is sufficient affinity between the reasoner's mind and nature to render guessing not altogether hopeless, provided each guess is checked by comparison with observation" (1.121).
Peirce maintained elsewhere that the ability of a newly hatched chick to pick up food, "choosing as it picks, and picking what it aims to pick," while "not reasoning, because it is not done deliberately," is nevertheless "in every respect but that ... just like abductive inference," and he further traces the physical and social sciences back to the animal instincts for, respectively, getting food and reproduction (Ms. 692). Retroduction is a type of instinctive behaviour two classic examples of which are the migration of robins and the hive building of bees. Peirce called the seemingly intelligent behaviour of the lower animals il lume naturale, which he considered indispensable to retroduction. (2) Peirce spoke of rational, animal, and vegetable instinct; as Maryann Ayim notes (1974: 36), all levels of instinctive activity "have this feature in common-the activity caters to the survival and well-being of the species as a whole by enabling species members to react appropriately to environmental conditions"; this holds, as well, for man-as-a-scientist.
In today's popular view of the Victorian world, man-as-a-scientist means, above all others, Sherlock Holmes, the first practitioner of scientific crime detection, and inventor of the celebrated "Science of Deduction and Analysis." In allusion to Holmes, Norwood Russell Hanson had made the interesting observation that: "Often the thrust of Holmes' comment, 'Simple deduction my dear Watson' [sic] (3) is to the effect that the reasoning in question has proceeded from the previously accepted to what should be expected. But just as often the mathematician and the scientist will argue from the bottom of the page 'up"' (Bernstein 1965:59). This is one of the things Peirce identifies as "retroducing." It proceeds from an unexpected anomaly to a premiss cluster, most parts of which are already accepted.
Abduction, that is, retroduction-"a poor name," Peirce himself confessed-is, according to one of Peirce's later formulations, which would appear to owe much to the British philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753), a means of communication between man and his Creator, a "Divine privilege" which must be cultivated (Eisele 1976, Vol. 111:206). For Peirce, "according to the doctrine of chances it would be practically impossible for any being, by puree chance to guess the cause of any phenomenon," and he therefore surmises that there can "be no reasonable doubt that man's mind, having been developed under the influence of the laws of nature, for that reason naturally thinks somewhat after nature's pattern" (Peirce 1929:269). "It is evident," he writes, "that unless man had had some inward light tending to make his guesses . . . much more often true than they would be by mere chance, the human race would long ago have been extirpated for its utter incapacity in the struggles for existence . . ." (Ms. 692).
In addition to the principle that the human mind is, as a result of natural evolutionary processes, predisposed to guessing correctly about the world, Peirce proposes a second conjectural principle to partially explain the phenomenon of guessing, namely, that "we often derive from observation strong intimations of truth, without being able to specify
what were the circumstances we had observed which conveyed those intimations" (1929:282). Peirce, to return to the story of the missing watch, was unable to determine on a conscious level which of the waiters of the Fall River boat was guilty. Holding himself "in as passive and receptive a state" (1929:281) as he could during his brief interview with each waiter, it was only when he forced himself to make what appeared to be a blind guess that he realized that in fact the crook had given off some unwitting index and that he himself had perceived this telltale sign in, as he put it, an "unself-conscious" manner, having made "a discrimination below the surface of consciousness, and not recognized as a real judgment, yet in very truth a genuine discrimination" (1929:280). The processes by which we form hunches about the world are, in Peirce's conception, dependent on perceptual judgments, which contain general elements such that universal propositions may be deduced from them. On the basis of his experimental work on the psychology of perception, conducted at The Johns Hopkins University with the well-known psychologist Joseph Jastrow ( 1863-1944), then his student ( 1929; 7.21-48), Peirce maintained that these perceptual judgments are "the result of a process, although of a process not sufficiently conscious to be controlled, or, to state it more truly, not controllable and therefore not fully conscious" (5.181). The different elements of a hypothesis are in our minds before we are conscious of entertaining it, "but it is the idea of putting together what we had never before dreamed of putting together which flashes the new suggestion before our contemplation" (5.181). Peirce describes the formation of a hypothesis as "an act of insight," the "abductive suggestion" coming to us "like a flash" (5.181). The only difference between a perceptual judgment and an abductive inference is that the former, unlike the latter, is not subject to logical analysis.
Concerning scientific method, abduction is, according to Peirce, "merely preparatory," or "the first step of scientific reasoning" (7.218). The other "fundamentally different kinds of reasoning" in science are deduction and induction (see 1.65-68; 2.96-97; 5.145; 7.97; 7.202-207). Briefly, the step of adopting a hypothesis or a proposition which would lead to the prediction of what appear to be surprising facts is called abduction. The step by which the necessary and probable experiential consequences of our hypothesis are traced out is called deduction. Induction is the name Peirce gives to the experimental testing of the hypothesis.
Peirce also calls abduction "Originary Argument" since it is, of the three forms of reasoning, the "only kind of argument which starts a new
idea" (2.97), and, in fact: "Its only justification is that if we are ever to understand things at all, it must be in that way" (5.145). Similarly, "neither deduction nor induction can ever add the smallest item to the data of perception; and ... mere precepts do not constitute any knowledge applicable to any practical or theoretical use. All that makes knowledge applicable comes to us via abduction" (Ms. 692).
Abduction is an instinct which relies on unconscious perception of connections between aspects of the world, or, to use another set of terms, subliminal communication of messages. It is also associated with, or rather produces, according to Peirce, a certain type of emotion, which sets it apart from either induction or deduction.
Hence the pronouncement of a certain confidence and conviction of correctness which Peirce makes in relation to his detective work.
SHERLOCK HOLMES CONSULTING SEMIOTICIAN
Peirce's account of the method by which he recovered his stolen watch bears a striking resemblance to Dr. Watson's descriptions of Sherlock Holmes in action, although there is, to our knowledge, no direct evidence that Peirce had read any of the Holmes stories or that he had met Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is likely however, that Peirce heard something of at least the early Holmes stories. A Study in Scarlet was published in New York by Ward, Lock in 1888, and in 1890 The Sign of Four appeared in Lippincott's Magazine, the major contemporaneous rival to the Atlantic Monthly, which we know Peirce did read. In addition, there was already a vogue for Doyle in the United States by 1894, when the celebrated writer spent two months there giving a series of lectures and meeting his American compeers. Peirce had grown up in the company of writers of fiction and artists as well as scientists. In a letter of January 31, 1908, he wrote:
As an adult, Peirce appears to have kept abreast of contemporaneous developments in the verbal arts, for he frequently mentions both European and American authors of his time in his reviews in The Nation (Ketner and Cook 1975). Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), moreover, seems to have been one of his favourite writers (1-251, 6.460; Ms. 689, Ms. 1539).
Judging from his references to Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Peirce certainly had a taste for (detective stories. Of course, it is generally recognized that the character Sherlock Holmes is partly modelled after Poe's Chevalier Dupin (see Messac 1929:596-602; Nordon 1966:212ff.; and Trevor Hall 1978:76), but J. L. Hitchings, in his article on Holmes as a logician, makes the good point "that in contrast to Dupin, who is the brainchild of a mathematician and a poet, Sherlock Holmes, even at his most theoretical, is the offspring of a doctor's brain, and always has his feet firmly planted on the ground" (1946:11-7). 1n addition to his specialized medical training, Arthur Conan Doyle was caught up in the general enthusiasm for science in the England of his day. By the middle of the nineteenth century, science had become a solid part of English thinking at all levels, and there was generally a "dominant tone of positivist rationality" (Messac 1929:612; cf. Nordon 1966:244). Conan Doyle himself reports: "It is to be remembered that these were the years when Huxley, Tyndall, Darwin, Herbert Spencer and John Stuart-Mill were our chief philosophers, and that even the mail in the street felt the strong sweeping current of their thought . . ." (1924:26). Hitchings explicitly compares the logic of Holmes with that of Mill: Holmes's "habitual method of solving these difficult problems is by his own extended version of Mill's Method of Residues" (1946:115). Hitchings is, however, on the wrong track when he claims that "most of Holmes's reasoning is causal," citing the detective's own remark that "reasoning from effect to cause is less frequent and therefore more difficult than reasoning from cause to effect" (1946: 115- 116).
There are frequent allusions in the Sherlock Holmes saga to Holmes as a fox-hound-particularly in A Study Scarlet, The Dancing Man, The Bruce-Partington Plans, and The Devil's Foot. For example, in The Boscombe Valley Mystery, Watson writes:
Referring to this passage, Pierre Nordon comments: "Here we see a man transformed with all speed into a fox-hound before our very eyes, until he seems almost to have lost the power of speech and be reduced to expressing himself by sounds" (1966:217), heeding instead his instinctive, nonverbal powers of perception and abduction.
It is from such intuitive clue-gathering that Holmes is able to formulate his hypotheses, although he tends to subsume both the perceptual and the hypothetical processes under the rubric of "Observation," as in the following passage from the chapter entitled "The Science of Deduction" in The Sign of Four, where Holmes and Watson are discussing a French detective named François le Villard:
Watson then presents Holmes with an even more difficult task, and, when the detective again excels, asks him to explain his process of reasoning. 'Ah," Holmes replies, "that is good luck. I could only say what was the balance of probability. I did not expect to be so accurate." When Watson then asks if "it was not mere guesswork" he says, "No, no: I never guess. It is a shocking habit - destructive to the logical faculty," and attributes his companion's surprise to the fact that "You do not follow my train of thought or observe the small facts upon which large inferences may depend."
Despite such disclaimers, Holmes's powers of observation, his "extraordinary genius for minutiae," as Watson puts it, and of deduction are in most cases built on a complicated series of what Peirce would have called guesses. In the preceding example, for instance, Holmes can only guess that Watson actually entered the post office, rather than having merely walked in front of it. Furthermore, Watson might have entered the post office to meet a friend rather than to conduct some business, and so forth.
That Holmes was convinced of the importance of studying details for successful detection is brought out in the following passage from A Case of Identity:
What makes Sherlock Holmes so successful at detection is not that, he never guesses but that he guesses so well. In fact, he unwittingly follows Peirce's advice for selecting the best hypothesis (see 7.220-320). "It is an old maxim of mine," states Holmes, "that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth" (The Beryl Coronet; cf. The Sign of Four, The Blanched Soldier, The Bruce-Partington Plans). It was Peirce's own maxim that "Facts cannot be explained by a hypothesis more extraordinary than these facts themselves; and of various hypotheses the least extraordinary must be adopted" (Ms. 696). (4) Paraphrasing Peirce's discussion, we might say that the best hypothesis is one that is simplest and most natural, is the easiest and cheapest to test, and yet will contribute to our understanding of the widest possible range of facts. In the episode of the post office, Holmes's guesses about Watson's actions are the most reasonable under the circumstances.
Furthermore, they enable him, with the minimum of logical baggage, to reach a point from which he may, through further observation, test some of the predictions drawn from his hypothesis and thus greatly reduce the number of possible conclusions. In other words, Holmes not only selects the simplest and most natural hypothesis, but also "breaks a hypothesis up into its smallest logical components, and only risks one of them at a time," the latter procedure being what Peirce describes as the secret of the game of Twenty Questions (7.220; cf. 6-529). Taking the hypothesis that Watson entered the post office in order to conduct some postal business, Holmes deduces (in Peirce's sense) that such business could be either to send a letter, purchase stamps and/or postcards, or send a telegram. He then systematically tests each of these possibilities, quickly coming to what turned out to be the correct one. When several explanations are possible, "one tries test after test until one or other of them has a convincing amount of support" (The Blanched Soldier).
One of us (Sebeok 1979: chap. 5) has discussed Peirce's reflections about guessing in the context of some children's games, on the one hand, and certain stage illusions, on the other. The game of Twenty Questions is the full verbal equivalent to the game of Hot and Cold, in which verbal cueing is minimal. Averbal cueing, unwittingly emitted, guides the performer in certain types of magic acts, where verbal cues are excluded altogether, to the object sought. This averbal communication, or feedback, also accounts for such seemingly "occult" phenomena as the movement of a Ouija board, table tipping, and automatic writing, and is the basis of several types of mentalists' acts, variously known in the magic business as "muscle reading" or "thought-reading." In acts of this sort "The spectator thinks he is being led by the magician, but actually the performer permits the spectator to lead him by unconscious muscular tensions" (Gardner 1957:log). The best mentalists are able to dispense with bodily contact altogether, finding what they are seeking merely by observing the reactions of spectators in the room. (5)
As we have already noted, Peirce maintained that a hypothesis must always be considered as a question, and, while all new knowledge comes from surmises, these are useless without the test of inquiry. Holmes, too, remarks, to Watson in The Speckled Band ' "how dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data." The detective also agrees with Peirce (2.635; 6.524; 7.202) that prejudices, or hypotheses which we are reluctant to submit to the test of induction, are a major stumbling block to successful reasoning. Holmes notes, for example, that "I make a point of never having any prejudices" (The Reigate Puzzle; cf. The Abbey Grange, The Naval Treaty). Peirce's admiration for great figures in the history of science, such as Kepler, stems precisely from their extraordinary capacity for sustaining the guessing-testing-guessing chain.
It is on this point, concerning the maintenance of objectivity toward the facts of a case, that Holmes, much like Peirce in the story that opens this book, finds himself at odds with the official representatives of the police, or, in the case of Peirce, the Pinkerton professionals. (6) In The Boscombe Valley Mystery, for example, Holmes attempts to point out some critical clues to the detective from Scotland Yard, Inspector Lestrade, who, as usual, cannot see the relationship between the details unearthed by Holmes and the crime being investigated. When he replies, "I am afraid that I am still a sceptic," Holmes answers calmly, "You work your own method, and I shall work mine." Holmes later describes this conversation to Watson as follows:
What so often leads the police astray in the Holmes stories is that, early in the investigation of a crime, they tend to adopt the hypothesis which is most likely to account for a few outstanding facts, ignoring "trifles" and thereafter refusing to consider data that do not support their position.
"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact," says Holmes in The Boscombe Valley Mystery. The police also make the "capital mistake" of theorizing before they have all the evidence (A Study in Scarlet). The result is that, "insensibly," they begin "to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts" (A Scandal in Bohemia). The mutual distrust that results from this major difference in methodology pervades the Holmes stories. In The Reigate Puzzle, Watson remarks to a country official, Inspector Forrester, that "I have usually found that there was method in his [Holmes's] madness," to which the inspector replies, "Some folk might say there was madness in his method." (7)
We are not the first to point out the importance of guessing in Sherlock Holmes's method of detection. Régis Messac, for example, speaking of Holmes's reading of Watson's mind in The Cardboard Box (cf. the almost identical scene in some editions of The Resident Patient), notes that there are a million things that Watson might be thinking about when he is looking at the portrait of General Gordon or that of Henry Ward Beecher, and that Holmes is in fact guessing (1929:599). Messac is correct in pointing out that, although Holmes occasionally admits that a kind of instinct for guessing is involved in his work (e.g., he admits, in A Study in Scarlet, that his "curious gifts of instinct and observation" are due to a "kind of intuition"-a sentiment he echoes in The Sign of Four and The Problem of Thor Bridge), he nevertheless "affirms the reality of 'deduction'" (1929:60l). Messac also argues that Holmes's deductions are not true deductions at all, nor are tbey inductions properly speaking, "but rather reasonings founded upon the observation of one particular fact and leading, through more or less complex circumventions, to another particular fact" (1929:602). And Nordon concludes that "it must be said that in practice he [Holmes] gets much more conclusive results from observation than from logical processes" (1966:245)
Marcello Truzzi, in a searching article on Holmes's method (1973:93-126), anticipated our present work by pointing to the similarities between the detective's so-called deductions, or inductions, and Peirce's abductions, or conjectures. According to Peirce's system of logic, furthermore, Holmes's observations are themselves a form of abduction, and abduction is as legitimate a type of logical inference as either induction or deduction (Peirce 8.228). In fact, Peirce maintains that:
Peirce admits that he himself, "in almost everything [he] printed before the beginning of this century ... more or less mixed tip Hypothesis and induction" (8.227), and he traces the confusion of these two types of reasoning to logicians' too "narrow and formalistic a conception of inference (as necessarily having formulated judgments from its premises" (2.228; cf- 5.590-604; Ms. 475; Ms. 1146).
Abduction and induction do, of course, "both lead to the acceptance of a hypothesis because observed facts are such as would necessarily or probably result as consequences of that hypothesis." But:
Taking an example which could have been drawn from one of Holmes's cases, Peirce provides the following demonstration of the difference between these two types of reasoning:
Holmes indirectly acknowledges the more dangerous nature of hypothesis when he advocates the use of "imagination" (The Retired Colourman, Silver Blaze), "intuition" (The Sign of Four), and "speculation" (The Hound of the Baskervilles). One must be willing to imagine what happened and act upon such surmise, and this takes one "into the region where we balance probabilities and choose the most likely" (The Hound of the Baskervilles).
Holmes was known to oscillate between the almost frenzied single-mindedness of the fox-bound on the trail of his quarry and a sort of lethargic reverie, a combination John G. Cawelti calls "stereotype vitalization" (1976:11,58), an imaginative synthesis of figure types 1. 1. Revzin dubbed "fusion," also with specific reference to detective fiction (1978: 385-388). The device, in this context, of course, derives from Poe's ambiguous Dupin. Watson points out, in the following passage from The Red-Headed League, that the latter type of activity was also important to Holmes's detection:
Peirce has also commented on the relationship between such mental activities and more mundane practices. "There is," he writes, "a certain agreeable occupation of mind which . . . involves no purpose save that of casting aside all serious purpose" and which "I have sometimes been half-inclined to call . . . reverie with some qualification; but for a frame of mind so antipodal to vacancy and dreaminess such a designation would be too excruciating a misfit. In fact, it is Pure Play" (6.458). One type of Pure Play, "a lively exercise of one's powers" with "no rules, except this very law of liberty," he names Musement, and defines as a process by which the mind searches for "some connection" between two of the three Universes of Experience (viz., of Ideas, of Brute Actuality, and of Senses [6.455]), "with speculation concerning its cause" (6.458).
Crime, Peirce notes, is particularly suited to the application of Musement. Citing Dupin's remarks in Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (to wit: "It appears to me that this mystery is considered insoluble for the very reason which should cause it to be regarded as easy of solution. I mean the outré character of its features"), Peirce remarks that "those problems that at first blush appear utterly insoluble receive, in that very circumstance . . . [t]heir smoothly-fitting keys. This particularly adapts them to the Play of Musement" (6.460). Compare Holmes's remarks: "I have already explained to you that what is out of the common is usually a guide rather than a hindrance" (A Study in Scarlet); "Singularity is almost invariably a clue" (The Boscombe Valley Mystery); "The more outré and grotesque an incident is the more carefully it deserves to be examined, and the very point which appears to complicate a case is, when duly considered and scientifically handled, the one which is most likely to elucidate it" (The Hound of the Baskervilles); and, "It is only the colourless, uneventful case which is hopeless" (Shoscombe Old Place) We agree, but for different reasons, then, with Nordon's opinion that "As the creation of a doctor who had been soaked in the rationalist thought of the period, the Holmesian cycle offers us for the first time the spectacle of a hero triumphing again and again by means of logic and scientific method. And the hero's prowess is as marvellous as the power of science, which many people hoped would lead to a material and spiritual improvement of the human condition, and Conan Doyle first among them" (1966:247).
DISEASE, CRIME, AND SEMIOTICS
The roots of semiotics are grounded in ancient medical treatises (Sebeok 1976:4,125f., 181f.; 1979: chap. 1), illustrating Peirce's contention that "Speaking in a broad, rough way, it may be said that the sciences have grown out of the useful arts, or out of arts supposed to be useful." As astronomy has evolved out of astrology, and chemistry out of alchemy, so, too, "physiology, taking medicine as a halfway out of magic" (1.226). Peirce appears to have been well versed in the history and theory of medicine. His family considered him headed toward a career in chemistry and made available to him the medical library of his late Uncle Charles, who had been a physician (Fisch: personal communication). In at least one place (2.11n1), Peirce lists some of the books on the history, of medicine which he had consulted. In 1933, in an interview with Henry S. Leonard (a graduate student in philosophy at Harvard who had been sent to Peirce's home in Milford, Pennsylvania, following the death of his widow, Juliette Peirce, to collect any remaining manuscripts), Peirce's last attending physician, G. Alto Pobe, claimed that
Peirce acknowledges that, concerning statistical problems relating to sampling and induction, "The medical men . . . deserve special mention for the reason that they have had since Galen a logical tradition of their own," and, "in their working against reasoning 'post hoc, ergo propter hoc'," recognize, "however dimly," the rule of induction that states that "we must first decide for what character we propose to examine the sample, and only after that decision examine the sample" (1.95-97). Peirce recognizes, on the other hand, that medicine, that "materialistic profession" (8.58), has difficulty adhering to another maxim of induction, which requires that samples not be small ones:
Reviewing the large number of examples of medical diagnosis in the Holmes stories (diseases of the heart and tropical diseases especially), Maurice Campbell, himself a heart specialist, concludes that, medically speaking, "Watson seems to have been excellently informed" (1935:13). It is interesting to note that while Watson successfully follows the logical method of diagnosis with regard to pathology of the body, he is singularly inept in transferring this method to the detection of crime, and provides an example of someone who is only incompletely versed in what Peirce termed logica docens (see P. 46, below).
To the extent that the character Sherlock Holmes himself practices the methods of medicine, an element of art and magic is blended into the logic of scientific discovery that he pursues. In our opinion, this is what sets Holmes apart as a character from the more purely logical method of Edgar Allan Poe's detective Dupin. (9)
It is by now well recognized that Conan Doyle, a practicing physician himself until the Holmes stories made him rich enough to give up his practice, patterned the character of Sherlock Holmes after his professor, Dr. Joseph Bell, of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Conan Doyle's partial use of a doctor as a model was, however, a conscious attempt to introduce a more rigorous scientific method into criminal detection than was used theretofore. Messac correctly notes that Doyle followed Bell regarding diagnosis extended to the entire personality and life of the patient, and that diagnosis "is never absolutely rigorous; it involves irresolutions, errors." Detection of crime, like medicine, is a sort of "pseudoscience" (1929:617). Writing of the birth of A Study in Scarlet, Doyle wrote:
Doyle was impressed by Bell's exceptional ability at diagnosis, "not only of disease, but of occupation and character." He was Bell's outpatient clerk, which meant that he had to "array his out-patients, make simple notes of their cases, and then show them in, one by one, to the large room in which Bell sat in state surrounded by his dressers and students" (1924:20). The young medical student then "had ample chance of studying his [Bell's] methods and of noticing that he often learned more of the patient by a few glances" (ibid.) than by Doyle's own series of questions preceding the interview with the doctor.
While the Barbados dialogue was the only example of Bell's skill in observation and deduction recorded by Doyle himself, several other accounts of Bell's remarkable performances, noted down by physicians who were medical students with Doyle at Edinburgh or friends of Dr. and Mrs. Bell, have been published and are reviewed by Trevor Hall (1978:80-83). William S. Baring-Gould has reproduced one of the lesser-known anecdotes (from the Lancet, of August 1, 1956):
Or consider the following report of an interview with Doyle, in June 1892, originally published in an article by a Mr. Harry How entitled "A Day with Dr. Conan Doyle," which appeared in the Strand Magazine in August of the same year, and was reprinted by Hall (1978:82-83):
Hall (1978:78) also notes that Doyle acknowledged his debt to Bell on the verso of the title page of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892), where he dedicates the book to his former teacher. Hall further reports that, in a letter of May 4, 1892, to Bell, Doyle explained:
Certainly the following passage from The Greek Interpreter echoes to a startling degree some of the anecdotes involving Joseph Bell. Holmes and his brother Mycroft are seated together in the bow window (10) of the Diogenes Club, when Mycroft says:
Bell himself brings out the similarity between crime and disease in the following passage, written in 1893 and cited by Starrett (1971:25-26):
This manner of viewing symptoms as distinctive features of the identity of a disease, which is then treated as a concrete entity, brings to mind a passage in one of Peirce's unpublished manuscripts (Ms. 316), where, explaining that "our knowledge of the majority of general conceptions comes about in a manner altogether analogous to our knowledge of an individual person," he criticizes the dictum of French physiologist Claude Bernard (18l3-1878) that "Disease is not an entity; it is nothing but an assemblage of symptoms." Peirce maintains that, rather than a physiological doctrine, it is one of false logic. "But in the light of the positive discoveries of Pasteur and Koch, considered in connection with the theories of Weissmann [sic], we see that, as far as zymotic [i.e., infectious] diseases are concerned, they are just as much a thing as the ocean is a thing ... [An] assemblage of symptoms [is] not only an entity but necessarily a concrete thing. . . ." Had Bernard understood this, Peirce goes on to say, "he might have set himself to work very usefully to obtain some further acquaintance with that thing."
Sherlock Holmes does indeed practice what Bell preaches. He builds up to a "diagnosis," that is, an identification of a criminal pathology, through a series of minute perceptions, linked together by hypothesis, and he furthermore usually ends by treating a former case like an old familiar friend. Consider, for example, the following often-cited account of Holmes reading Watson's mind, from The Cardboard Box:
Testing a hypothesis as to the identity of a person through the collection of clues from that individual's physical appearance, speech patterns. and the like always involves a certain amount of guessing, for which reason Pierce calls it abductory induction:
In the preceding example, the question put to Peirce is itself an hypothesis, similar in some respects to the inference noted in an autobiographical passage from another Peirce paper, where he writes:
The above examples illustrate what Sherlock Holmes refers to as "reasoning backward" (cf. Peirce's retroduction), a skill which, while similar in many respects to the type of thinking in which the common man engages in his everyday life, nevertheless requires a certain amount of specialized training:
Holmes, in fact, frequently remarks to Watson that he sees just what everyone else sees, only he has trained himself to apply his method in order to determine the full significance of his perceptions. In The Blue Carbuncle, for example, Watson is asked by Holmes to examine a hat in order to find a clue as to the identity of the gentleman who had worn it. "I can see nothing," is Watson's reply, to which Holmes responds, "On the contrary, Watson, you see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences." Or, again, in The Speckled Band, when Watson says, "You have evidently seen more in these rooms than was visible to me," Holmes replies, "No, but I fancy that I may have deduced a little more. I imagine that you saw all that I did."
Holmes, then, like Peirce, is more interested in his method than in the particular subject matter to which it is applied. In The Copper Beeches, for example, Holmes and Watson discuss the way in which the latter has reported the cases of the former, and Holmes criticizes Watson, saying, "You have erred perhaps in attempting to put colour and life into each of your statements instead of confining yourself to the task of placing upon record that severe reasoning from cause to effect which is really the only notable feature about the thing." When in response, Watson implies that Holmes's criticism is based on egotism, Holmes answers, "No, it is not selfishness or conceit. . . . If I claim full justice for my art, it is because it is an impersonal thing-a thing beyond myself. Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell. You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales."
Peirce himself distinguished between what he called logica utens, or a rudimentary sense of logic-in-use, which is a certain general method by which everyone acquires truth, without, however, being aware of doing so and without being able to specify in what that method consists, and a more sophisticated sense of logic, or logica docens, practiced by logicians and scientists (but also certain detectives and medical doctors), which is a logic which may be self-consciously taught and is therefore a theoretically developed method of discovering truth (Ms. 692; cf. Ransdell 1977:165). The scientist or logician does not, however invent his logica docens, but rather studies and develops the natural logic he and everyone else already use in daily life. Sherlock Holmes would appear to share this view, judging from his speech to Watson, at the opening of A Case of Identity, in which be remarks: "We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence.... Depend upon it, there is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace." Holmes asserts, furthermore, that his methods are "but systematized common sense" (The Blanched Soldier).
There seems to be little doubt that the logica docens of Sherlock Holmes stems in large part from the scientific training of his creator, Conan Doyle. Doyle's teacher, Bell, in fact, had written that "Dr. Conan Doyle's education as a student of medicine taught him to observe, and his practise, both as a general practitioner and a specialist, has been a splendid training for a man such as he is, gifted with eyes, memory and imagination" (Bell 1893, cited in Nordon 1966:213). In particular, the controlling awareness exhibited by Holmes would appear to owe much to his dedication to chemistry. (11) While "the facade of chemical research, never very strong, became less and less well-maintained as time went on, until it collapsed entirely," Holmes's chemical corner served "to keep him in practical touch with an exact science where cause and effect, action and reaction, followed each other with a predictability beyond the power of the less precise 'science of detection' to achieve, however hard he might strive toward exactitude in his chosen profession" (Trevor Hall 1978:36-37). As Holmes proclaimed in A Study in Scarlet: "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."
Peirce himself had a life-long devotion to chemistry. In 1909, he wrote:
Chemistry was the profession for which Peirce was specially educated, and it was "the science in which [he had] worked the most" and "whose reasoning [he] most admire[d]" (Ms. 453; cf. Hardwick 1977:114).
For the person unschooled in theoretical logic, an exhibition of the reasoning skills of an expert will, if he is unenlightened by the latter as to the logical steps which he followed, appear to be very much like magic. Nordon points out that "His deductions lead Holmes to make revelations which appear almost magical" (1966:222). Dr. Watson is, as everyone knows, constantly overwhelmed by the deductions of Holmes. This effect is heightened by Holmes's "notable taste ... for theatrical arrangement and dramatic effects" (Starrett :1971:29), an inclination that he shares with Peirce, judging from the dramatic way in which the latter related the story of the missing watch, as well as from the fact that he was reputed to have shown quite an interest in and talent for drama from boyhood on.
The Peirce family had for generations displayed an interest in theatre and opera, even entertaining performers in their home. While still a boy, Peirce is reported to have distinguished himself as an orator, both through the reading of such works as Poe's "The Raven" and as a member of his high school debating society (Fisch: personal communication). As an undergraduate at Harvard, Peirce continued to cultivate an interest in elocution, rhetoric, and theatrical performance. He became a member, in his junior year, of the W.T.K. (Wen Tchang Koun, Chinese for "hall of literary exercise"), which specialized in debates, orations, mock trials, and the reading of essays, poems, and plays. During his senior year, in 1858, he was a founding member of the O.K. Society of Harvard College, which pursued the elocutionary and oratorical arts in relation to literary works (Kloesel: personal communication; cf. Kloesel 1979). As an adult, Peirce was known to have given readings of Shakespeare's King Lear to friends, at his older brother "Jem's" house in Cambridge, and to fellow members of the Century Club, in New York. Peirce attended the theatre and the opera when in Paris, and his second wife, Juliette, was an actress. He and Juliette remained in contact with theatrical friends, such as Steele and Mary MacKaye, and even occasionally took part in amateur theatrical events, such as a performance of Legouvé's Medea, which Peirce had translated into English (Fisch: personal communication).
"The stage lost a fine actor," writes Watson of Holmes, in A Scandal in Bohemia, "even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime." To some extent, the dramatic way in which Holmes displays his logical operations is akin to the manner in which some physicians seek to impress their patients as to their seemingly magical powers of diagnosis, thereby developing a feeling of confidence on the part of the patient that will contribute to the healing process.
Ritual trappings in clinical practice constitute the essential ingredient of the placebo effect (see Sebeok 1979: chaps. 5 and 10). The placebo is thought to be efficacious because the patient believes that it will be, a belief that is bolstered by appropriate cueing on the part of the physician and other attendant personnel, as well as shaped bv the context in which the placebo is administered." (12) Some psychologists, such as Karl Scheibe, employ the term actimen for a mode of prediction exhibited by Holmes, constituting "an emphatic skill combined with analytic precision." Scheibe observes:
A similar con game is played out between the author of a detective story and his audience, of course. Conan Doyle acknowledged this both indirectly, through the character of Sherlock Holmes, and directly, in his autobiography. In The Crooked Man, for instance, Holmes tells Watson:
In his autobiography, Conan Doyle, discussing the composition of a detective story, writes: "The first thing is to get your idea. Having got that key one's next task is to conceal it and lay emphasis upon everything which can make for a different explanation" (1924:101). Holmes himself enjoyed taunting official detectives by deliberately pointing out clues without indicating their Significance (The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Cardboard Box, The Sign of Four, Silver Blaze).
Joseph Bell himself refers to this type of psychological manipulation as follows:
Holmes frequently opens his initial interview with a prospective client with a stunning series of "deductions," much as Bell describes, and these "clever little deductions . . . often have nothing to do with the matter in hand, but impress the reader with a general sense of power. The same effect is gained by his offhand allusion to other cases" (1924:101-102)
And who among us has not been intimidated by a related interview technique used on us by our own doctor, when he asks us a series of seemingly unrelated questions (e.g., Have you been smoking heavily lately? Does it hurt only at night? Has your mother ever suffered from headaches?), upon the termination of which he may suddenly announce his diagnosis, a pronouncement that appears to us, being unable to judge the significance of each separate clue, and hence the logicality of the sequence of questioning, as nothing short of luminous, If the physician has already guessed at a diagnosis, but has not announced it to the patient, the questions which he uses to test his hypothesis will appear to the patient almost as an exercise in extrasensory perception (e.g., You have this sensation only one and a half hours after eating, and it is accompanied by a throbbing pain in your right arm? Why yes, how did you know?). While guessing is an important part of all logical operations, as Peirce taught us, the typical patient might be expected to lose confidence in his doctor were he to learn the amount of guesswork that goes into medical diagnosis and treatment, so that physicians are more or less obliged to cover up this aspect of their practice, much as Sherlock Holmes is in order to build tip his reputation as a master detective. As in the example just discussed, physicians do so by so-to-speak mystifying the client through the intentional obfuscation of the reasoning process. making questions appear as deductions, by simply acting as if a diagnosis had been arrived at through deduction and induction, without a preceding abduction, or by appearing to understand our innermost thoughts and feelings without the intermediary of signs given off in the patient.
The importance of such tricks for Holmes's reputation is brought out in the following passage from The Red-Headed League, where the detective is interviewing a Mr. Jabez Wilson. Holmes announces his startlingly accurate conclusion as to Mr. Wilson's background and lifestyle, at which point Mr. Wilson "started up in his chair" and asked "How, in the name of good fortune, did you know all that Mr. Holmes?"
Or again, in The Stock-broker's Clerk, Holmes remarks that "I am afraid that I rather give myself away when I explain.... Results without causes are much more impressive." Holmes is less than completely candid when he says to a client, in The Reigate Puzzle, "I am afraid that my explanation may disillusion you, but it has always been my habit to hide none of my methods, either from my friend Watson or from anyone who might take an intelligent interest in them."
THAUMATURGY IN FACT AND FICTION
The juxtaposition of the method of Charles Peirce, detective, with the method of Sherlock Holmes, semiotician, which began as a jeu d'esprit, ends by shedding unexpected light on both the historical figure and the fictional one. From the perspective of the great logician and polymath, Holmes's Science of Deduction and Analysis, set forth comprehensively in his "The Book of Life" (A Study in Scarlet), where the "writer claimed by a momentary expression, a twitch of a muscle or glance of an eye, to fathom a man's inmost thoughts," are seen as far from the "ineffable twaddle" or "rubbish" that Watson at first thought they were. The theories that Holmes expressed in the article, which appeared to his Boswell "so chimerical, are really extremely practical," and his projected one-volume textbook on the "whole art of detection" (The Abbey Grange), to which he had planned to "devote [his] declining years," assumes a contextual rationale in the history of ideas, based, partly as it is, partly as it might have been, on a "mixture of imagination and reality" (The Problem of Thor Bridge) and the judicious exercise of speculation as "the scientific use of imagination" (The Hound of the Baskervilles).
Holmes was a brilliant physician to the body politic, the disease of which is crime. As in the adventure of The Creeping Man, he speaks of his cases "with the air of a pathologist who presents a rare specimen." Holmes was pleased that Watson had chosen to chronicle those incidents that gave room for deduction and logical synthesis. While he maintained, in A Study in Scarlet, that "all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it," he also held that his conclusions from one to the other "were as infallible as so many propositions of Euclid. So startling would his results appear to the uninitiated that until they learned the processes by which he had arrived at them they might well consider him as a necromancer."
Peirce was, in his way, as great a necromancer as Holmes, and that is why his writings and the details of his biography keep us all spellbound. He was, according to Charles Morris's both weighty and accurate characterization (1971:337), "heir of the whole historical philosophical analysis of signs. . . ." Peirce represents the tallest peak so far in the mountain range that begins to rise in ancient Greece with the clinical semiotics of Hippocrates, is more fully as well as more explicitly developed by Galen (Sebeok 1979: chap. 1), and continues with the physician Locke, whose semiotiké Peirce "distinctly weighed, and duly considered" and which surely afforded "another sort of Logick and Critick, than what we have been hitherto acquainted with" (Locke 1975:721).
It is one thing to proclaim-as we do-the continuity and cumulative effect of this panorama, extending from archaic medical diagnosis and prognostics to the modern expressions of a doctrine of signs by Peirce and beyond, on the part of such modern virtuosos as the Baltic biologist Jakob von Uexkiill (1864-1944), and the French mathematician René Thom (born 1923). To document it is quite another. The proof will take at least one more generation of concentrated effort by teams of knowledgeable specialists in the labyrinthine history of the sign science (cf. Pelc 1977), only the barest outlines of which have hitherto been delineated by those few explorers who are equipped to follow upon the clues laid bare by Peirce, so far the boldest pioneer, or backwoodsman, in this high adventure. (13)
The materials constituting this chapter, were written in collaboration with Jean Umiker Sebeok, originally appeared in Semiotica 26:203-50 (1979). They were subsequently incorporated into a monograph, rearranged, enhanced by additional illustrations, and graced with the illuminating introductory note by Max H. Fisch. This hardback edition was undertaken at the invitation of Jack Tracy, and appeared in his series, Gaslight Publications (Bloomington, Indiana, 1980).
I. Abduction is, after all, nothing but guessing," he wrote elsewhere (Collected Papers 7.2-19; cf. Ms. 692). Compare Noam Chomsky's explicatory remarks, in relation to abduction, concerning "the philosopher to whom [he feels] closest": "Peirce argued that to account for the growth of knowledge, one must assume that 'man's mind has a natural adaptation to imagining correct theories of some kinds,' some principle of 'abduction' which 'puts a limit on admissible hypothesis,' a kind of 'instinct,' developed in the course of evolution. Peirce's ideas on abduction were rather vague, and his suggestion that biologically given structure plays a basic role in the selection of scientific hypotheses seems to have had very little influence. To my knowledge, almost no one has tried to develop these ideas further, although similar notions have been developed independently on various occasions" (Chomsky 1979:71). [back to document]
2. On the notion of "lumiere naturelle" see Ayim 1974:43n4. [back to document]
3. Holmes, alas, never said that. He never said "Elementary, my dear Watson" either. [back to document]
4. Martin Gardner describes this process as follows: "Like the scientist trying to solve a mystery of nature, Holmes first gathered all the evidence he could that was relevant to his problem. At times, he performed experiments to obtain fresh data. He then surveyed the total evidence in the light of his vast knowledge of crime, and/or sciences relevant to crime, to arrive at the most probable hypothesis. Deductions were made from the hypothesis; then the theory was further tested against new evidence, revised if need be, until finally the truth emerged with a probability close to certainty" (Gardner 1976:125). [back to document]
5. Examples of this from Persi Diaconis and a performer who goes under the name of Kreskin (George Kresge, Jr.) are cited by Sebeok (1979:93). These cases bear an uncanny resemblance to Peirce's story of his watch. Diaconis, besides being one of the most talented of contemporary magicians, is also among the foremost experts in the sophisticated statistical analysis of guessing and gambling strategies, and in applying novel techniques in parapsychological research-with hitherto totally negative results (see Diaconis 1978:136). Yuri K. Scheglov's observation about the growth of tension and excitement as Holmes's logical reasoning gradually "creeps up on the criminal and lifts a corner of the curtain (we have here much the same effect as in the children's game 'Cold or hot' in which the area for hunting narrows down and gets 'hotter and hotter') should also be mentioned in this connection (Scheglov 1975:63). [back to document]
6. Two Holmes stories, by, the way, feature detectives from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency: Young Leverton, who has a minor role in The Red Circle, and Birdy Edwards, alias John ("Jack") McMurdo, alias John ("Jack") Douglas, who was probably tossed overboard off St. Helena by the Moriarty gang at the conclusion of The Valley of Fear. [back to document]
7. An interesting parallel is found in Voltaire's Zadig (chap. 3), where Zadig's clever reading of clues causes him to be arrested, tried, and fined. There is a considerable body of secondary literature on Holmes and Zadig.[back to document]
8. As Stephen Jay Gould recently confirmed, in reference to the academic world in general, "unconscious or dimly perceived finagling, doctoring, and massaging [of data] are rampant, endemic, and unavoidable in a profession that awards status and power for clean and unambiguous discovery" (1978:504). In brief, such manipulation of data may be a scientific norm. [back to document]
9. On this point, see also Messac, as well as Hitchings. [back to document]
10. On the significance of windows in the Sherlock Holmes stories and the works of Jules Verne, see chapter 3 of this volume. [back to document]
11. Describing Holmes's knowledge of various subject matters, Watson lists only one-chemistry-as "profound" (A Study in Scarlet). On Holmes as a frustrated chemist," see Cooper (1976:67-73). [back to document]
12. For a sound, popular account by a surgeon of the workings of the placebo effect by "healers," and the power of suggestion, including sometimes hypothesis, see Nolen 1974. [back to document]
13. Advances are being made, however. See the collaborative Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Semiotics, being prepared under the guidance of a multinational editorial board (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). [back to document]