Sherlock Holmes, Genius by Definition

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”— Arthur Schopenhauer

Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius.”―Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The Valley of Fear.

“Holmes is such a silver streak of light. He’s a magnesium flame on a tightrope.” –Jeremy Brett

This article is my answer to the abominable idea that Sherlock Holmes is an autistic, sociopathic gentleman. Or that he is afflicted with any other mental illness. I understand that may just be writer’s shorthand for a new generation of Holmes lovers. Nonetheless, it is a dangerous idea, and misleading to his young fans. To equate a hero with a sociopath, blurs the definition and unethically confuses the public about the danger they might be confronted with by an actual sociopath. I find this unconscionable.

Sherlock Holmes is not autistic, nor is he sociopathic, nothing like it. This shows an inordinate lack of understanding of what it means to be a genius. There is no similarity whatsoever. Geniuses think and behave differently to a very large almost opposite extent. While it’s true there is a range of autism and a cursory view of his character and mild autism could possibly lead a writer there. But if you research autism and genius even in an elementary way––Holmes ability to think globally, communicate on different levels, many languages, his ability to learn at the rate he does in diverse fields, and at different times, to master everything he studies and to use it where appropriate in his life, just to mention a few reasons why, shows us this idea is preposterous.

A genius is a person who displays exceptional intellectual ability, creative productivity, universality in genres or originality, typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of new advances or creation of a new domain of knowledge.

Albert Einstein too dropped out of school because he didn’t fit and refused to be dumbed down. Like our schools, unfortunately, treat our most highly intelligent and superbly creative students. Some might think the way he broke through all the research and arrived at his theory of relativity, a bit quirky too. If you are someone who lives their life open to the creative impulse, it looks like magic or witchcraft to the normal Watson’s among us. Yet is the way of genius.

“However you describe it, a genius usually marches to the beat of his/her own violin. As a general rule, geniuses don’t go out of their way to fit in, and their behaviors can often be seen as eccentric (if not downright bizarre). This stems from their viewing the world from perspectives that are different from (or sometimes completely alien to) those of the average person.”

Just take a look at one point: Genius is characterized by an open minded approach to a problem, using convergent and divergent ways of thinking: Seeing something from many perspectives and feeding back mistakes, successes, new information and information from other disciplines. Nothing is censored; everything is open to be used and then refined.

“When your efforts run in the face of conventional wisdom and accepted mastery, persistence can look like madness. If you succeed in the end, this extreme originality reformulates into a new level of mastery, sometimes even genius; if you fail in the end, you remain a madman in the eyes of others, and maybe even yourself. When you are in the midst of the journey…there’s really no way of knowing which one you are.” (p.129)”―Hilary Austen, Artistry Unleashed: A Guide to Pursuing Great Performance in Work and Life

It is impossible for an autistic person to think and act as Sherlock Holmes does: “Executive function refers to the ability to coordinate and apply one’s own mental capacity. It is what permits us to initiate goal-directed action, decide not to take inappropriate action, screen out unwanted sensory stimuli, think abstractly, and choose alternate action as roadblocks arise. Many people with autism appear to have impaired executive function, especially as regards planning, organization, and mental flexibility. Some researchers believe that it is this problem that leads to the need for sameness displayed by so many with autism.”

“Genius is neither learned nor acquired. It is knowing without experience. It is risking without fear of failure. It is perception without touch. It is understanding without research. It is certainty without proof. It is ability without practice. It is invention without limitations. It is imagination without boundaries. It is creativity without constraints. It is…extraordinary intelligence!” ― Patricia Polacco

As far as psychopath or sociopath, Sherlock Holmes is neither. Nor is he anorexic, or bipolar. He is an insomniac, and with the nightmares he lives through in daily life, he’d be inhuman if he didn’t have difficulty sleeping. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, a sociopath is defined as a person with “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.” Whether it’s a murder, robbery, another criminal act, or lying; sociopaths feel no guilt whatsoever. They believe their actions have no consequence, and they are not accountable to anyone. They almost never fulfill promises made. An inability to feel emotion allows the sociopath to elude responsibility by placing the blame on others.

The logic of thinking twice before acting or speaking is missing in a sociopath. Sociopaths indulge in nonstop bragging about themselves and they believe that there’s no way they can do anything wrong. Additional sociopathic traits: Indulging in crime of slander, promiscuous behavior and infidelity. How anyone could consider Sherlock a sociopath, just shows they didn’t do their research. Sociopaths also show unreliability, untruthfulness and insincerity, lack of remorse and shame, poor judgment and failure to learn by experience, failure to follow any life plan, and having an entrepreneurial criminal mindset. Professor Moriarty could be considered a sociopath. Every one of these traits is anathema to Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

 “Holmes was certainly not a difficult man to live with. He was quiet in his ways, and his habits were regular. It was rare for him to be up after ten at night . . . Nothing could exceed his energy when the working fit was upon him . . . His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer . . . he was possessed of extraordinary delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observe when I watched him manipulating his fragile philosophical instruments . . . Plays the violin well, is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman. Has a good practical knowledge of British law . . . Sherlock Holmes’s smallest actions were all directed towards some definite and practical end . . .”––Dr. John H. Watson described Sherlock Holmes in “A Study in Scarlet.”

Sherlock is a most interesting gentleman, with a penchant for successfully solving murder cases. Forensic scientists acknowledge that his genius moved forensic science from its quiet beginnings to the forefront of detective work all over the world. He created the science of deduction and analysis and practiced it as an artform. To focus on one’s art to the exclusion of everything else is the way to mastery. That’s why we need to have Dr. John Watson around to remind us to eat, to sleep, take a walk, take our vitamins and leave the cocaine in our desk, to back us up with his Eley’s #2, and patch us up after the battle is over. Holmes is a genius, and that cancels out autism. His high regard for justice cancels out sociopathy.

“Show Holmes a drop of water and he would deduce the existence of the Atlantic. Show it to me and I would look for a tap. That was the difference between us.”―Anthony Horowitz, “The House of Silk.”

Published in the Serpentine Muse Literary Journal of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes.

For further reading I recommend contrasting the info on these 2 webpages for much more information and proof of the difference between Genius and Autism:

“How to Spot a Sociopath, 16 key behavioral characteristics that define sociopaths/psychopaths and others with antisocial disorders.” M.E. Thomas, Psychology Today, May 7, 2013.

Gretchen Altabef is an MX author of Sherlock Holmes novels. Mondadori Publishing has contracted to translate her novels into Italian. Ms. Altabef strives to emulate Dr. John Watson’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary style. The first, These Scattered Houses, is in Holmes’ own voice and resourcefully chronicles the last two months of his ‘great hiatus’. The second in the series is, Remarkable Power of Stimulus. After 3 years away, Holmes finds London awash in murders, No. 221B under siege, anarchists threatening Paris, and the return of Irene Adler. Fully aware he is being watched by Moriarty’s men, Holmes steps out of the cab into Baker Street knowing he will find Watson’s friendship and unerring aim are as dependable as the British Rail.

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