I have been listening to the audiobooks of Sherlock Holmes and it inspired a little bit of detective work of my own, writes Kevin Ashton. Herewith I present: “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of ADD”
I have recently been reading the accounts of Sherlock Holmes as described by his good friend Dr John H Watson. His habits, his knowledge and his peculiar skillset all have led me to deduce that he was likely to be of a character often found in one who is living with undiagnosed (understandably so at the time), Attention Deficit Disorder.
The following are the facts as I see them:
Sherlock Holmes is known for being extremely observant, often seeing things that others would miss. This seems to be a common trait among people with ADD, as their filters are either not configured in the same manner as those found in people without ADD, or they are generally less efficient. This allows for them to perceive input in a manner that many others might miss.
Holmes is also known to be intelligent, although his intelligence is focussed only on subjects that interest him. In the case “A study in Scarlet”, his good friend Dr Watson enumerates the areas in which Holmes is or is not conversant. This enumeration reads as follows:
- Knowledge of Literature – Nil
- Knowledge of Philosophy – Nil
- Knowledge of Astronomy – Nil
- Knowledge of Politics – Feeble
- Knowledge of Botany – Variable. Well up in Belladonna, Opium and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
- Knowledge of Geology – Practical but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks has shown me splashes upon his trousers and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
- Knowledge of Chemistry – Profound
- Knowledge of Anatomy – Accurate but unsystematic
- Knowledge of Sensational Literature – Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century
- Plays the violin well
- He is an expert single stick player, boxer and swordsman
- Has a good practical knowledge of British Law
This list shows an unusual variety of areas in which the great consulting detective is focussed, while at the same time displaying a certain window into his character. He shows the ability to hyper-focus on topics in which he is interested, yet is easily bored by what he considers to be the more mundane aspects of life.
His good friend and confidant Dr Watson was shocked to hear that Holmes had not heard of the Copernican theory, and was even more appalled when Holmes replied: “Now that I do know it, I shall do my best to forget it”.
Further, the references to boxing and swordsmanship appear to be relevant, in that for people living with Attention Deficit Disorder, martial arts of any sort have been shown to act as an important means of providing some level of control over their mental faculties.
Sherlock Holmes also displays a tendency towards great boredom, bordering on an overwhelming ennui, unless a he is being actively stimulated by a case. So great is his annoyance with being bored, that he will experiment on himself if he feels he has nothing better to do.
Furthermore, he displays another trait common with people living with Attention Deficit Disorder – a desire for chemical stimulation.
While it is not commonly spoken of, Sherlock Holmes was known to be a frequent user of cocaine, as described by his friend Dr Watson in the case “The Sign of the Four”. However unlike with many other users of cocaine, for Sherlock Holmes the cocaine has more of a calming effect, much like that seen by users of Ritalin who have been diagnosed with ADD. In many ways, the chemical actions of both cocaine and Ritalin are similar and it is not uncommon for people living with undiagnosed ADD to self-medicate with cocaine.
In addition to the facts already stated, Holmes is also known to have quite an abrasive personality, in which he speaks his mind freely, often without thought for the standing, opinions or feelings of others in his company.
This is another common trait which is exhibited by people living with Attention Deficit Disorder, where they feel it is important to say what they have to say before their minds move on to other topics.
Sherlock Holmes has also avoided common forms of employment, as he feels the need to keep his own hours and requires the ability to be able to pick his cases. While it could be said that he would have been a great addition to the detective forces at Scotland Yard, he could not have accepted gainful employment there as it would have been far too structured for his way of life.
Indeed, with all these facts laid out before us, it seems highly probable that Sherlock Holmes was probably the earliest recorded fictional character to have displayed many of the recognisable aspects of Attention Deficit Disorder.