Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The paradigm-busting detective method

In Malcolm Pryce's From Aberystwyth With Love one of his detectives decides to take a novel approach to trying to investigate a case using a method set out in the magazine Gumshoe. The reasoning runs thus: if the world doesn't operate rationally, then to discover the truth a detective has to act irrationally; by investigating a hypothesis that is patently absurd one can stumble across the truth. It's an interesting idea. Here's the relevant passage.

Calamity began to read. ‘Traditional detective methods which rely on deductive reasoning are premised on the belief that life makes sense. This is a mistake. Normally, life only makes sense in novels and movies where events are shaped by the hand of a creative artist. In the real world events are born of contingency and are frequently shaped by the hands of people who are often clinically insane. Thus, because no rational process can be discerned behind the events of life, deductive reasoning is not best suited for unravelling its mysteries. In the past one means of countering this problem was the frequent use of the policeman’s hunch which proceeds by non-linear and counter-intuitive methods and aims to break the straitjacket of conventional thinking. Deployed successfully the hunch often rearranges the pieces of a jigsaw in such a way that old paradigms are superseded. Though a reliable method of unravelling stubborn mysteries, the hunch suffers from the drawback that it occurs but rarely and, crucially, is not subject to conscious control. The advanced detective seeks to summon up the paradigm-busting thinking that hallmarks the hunch by deliberately entertaining hypotheses that are absurd.’

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The world doesn´t make sense? That´s also the way it strikes me quite often - which is why I read a lot of neat & tidy crime fiction. ;)