The Power of Inductive Reasoning

We all need to form a process of our own when observing situations using the power of inductive reasoning.

The fictional private detective character Sherlock Holmes walks into a dirty, dingy room that is sealed off with yellow police tape. Inside, a woman is lying dead on the floor. Other British police detectives who had examined the body before Sherlock Holmes arrived concluded the woman committed suicide based on their deductive reasoning. Holmes thinks otherwise. Sherlock Holmes never uses deductive reasoning to assist him in solving a crime. Instead, he uses inductive reasoning.

So what is the difference? Deductive reasoning starts with a hypothesis that examines facts and then reaches a logical conclusion. In math terms, think of it this way: A=B, B=C, therefore A=C. For deductive reasoning to work, the hypothesis must be correct. Inductive reasoning starts with observations that produce generalizations and theories.

Here is the breakdown:

Deduction: Theory to Hypothesis to Observation to Confirmation

Induction: Observation to Pattern to Hypothesis to Theory

In this case, Sherlock Holmes used inductive reasoning. He observed the scene, noticed certain jewelry on the woman’s body had been recently cleaned, except for her wedding ring. That forced him to ask the question, Why? Why would she clean everything except her wedding ring? Holmes induced that the woman did not commit suicide. In part, because she was traveling to London for one day, she packed an overnight bag—and had a secret meeting before returning home. The secret meeting and wedding ring, all allowed Holmes to continue to probe the none obvious, asking questions along the way but never forming a final opinion. Sherlock Holmes behaves like an annoying child who continually asks, Why. The “whys” stack upon one another, and before too long, they allow Holmes to form a pattern to reach a hypothesis and then a final theory.

British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the character Sherlock Holmes to become the best detective in the world by seeing the none obvious at every crime scene. Unlike fictional superheroes, Doyle did not equip Holmes with specialized capabilities—only the power of induction. We all need to form a process of our own when observing situations using the power of inductive reasoning. We need to ask why more often. We need to stop jumping to false conclusions, then collecting the data which will support our decisions.

We all cannot think like Sherlock Holmes. Still, we can endeavor to use inductive reasoning to help us with our daily decision making.


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