Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Average Brain and a Killer’s Brain: Is There a Difference?

Sherlock Holmes spends time trying to catch criminals -- including murderers and psychopaths. Why are they so different from "normal" people?

More studies are coming out showing the many physical differences between the brains of murderers and psychopaths and the brains of “normal” people. It’s hoped that isolating the causes could lead to treatments to fix those changes and possibly prevent murderers from killing again. Although such treatments are decades in the future, identifying brain abnormalities can be done in the present time.

Kent Studies

Brain scans done in the Clinical Neuroscience Research Centre in Kent in 2000 compared the scans of normal people doing a simple task compared to those of killers. They were all given photos of people they recognized. An area of the brain that helps with memory is clearly damaged or impaired in killers’ brains. In normal people, areas of the brain associated with emotion are also stimulated. A killer’s brain would not be so stimulated.

This might explain the lack of emotion or cold-heartedness shown by many killers and by psychopaths (people who are diagnosed with psychopathy). It could also explain violence done to others, including long-time friends and immediate family members, when a person is in the grip of a psychotic episode.

Problem in Grey Matter

Studies published in 2012 at King’s College London’s ofPsychiatry showed that psychopaths have less grey matter in areas that control emotion. This lack of emotions can lead not only to murder, but also to a general lack of empathy. They also do not feel guilt or fear that normal people would have when contemplating murder.

Not all psychopaths are murderers or potential murderers. Many can lead productive lives and even become millionaires, according to The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (Riverhead; 2011).

Stanley Milgram’s Experiment

Before normal people feel comfortable knowing that their normal brains would ever allow them to kill, let’s take a look at a landmarkexperiment done by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. In the study, volunteers told that they had to deliver electric shocks to a person in another room. This person could not see the volunteer.

Unknown to the volunteer, the person was an actor and was not actually given any electric shocks. But the vast majority of volunteers administered what would have been lethal doses of electric shocks because an authority figure told the volunteers do so. These were normal people with normal brains theoretically killing people just because they were instructed to do so.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Was Sherlock Holmes Gay?

With each new incarnation of Sherlock Holmes comes the inevitable question, “Was Sherlock Holmes gay?”  Holmes’ close and trusting relationship with Dr. Watson certainly raises eyebrows in modern times.  However, Holmes was a product of the Victorian era.  His creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, made Holmes a true man of his times.

According to Doyle, Holmes and Watson shared secrets, spent their free time together and sometimes walked arm in arm in public.  This was normal behavior between best male friends in Victorian times.  However, if two men tried to walk arm an arm down the street today, they would be assumed to be gay.

Men and Women in Victorian Times

Men and women basically treated each other like different species during Victorian England.  Husbands and wives tended not to socialize or confide in each other.  Women were expected to be pleasant company, devoted mothers and to support their husbands in all ways but they were not to have ideas that were independent of their menfolk. 

In this atmosphere, men felt that they could not truly be themselves around women.  Women were strange creatures either placed on pedestals or found in the gutter.  As a consequence, they formed gentlemen’s clubs and formed friendships usually with other men.  It was only with other men that they could discuss touchy subjects like religion, politics and philosophy.

Holmes’ Relationship to Women

Although Watson would marry and become a widower in the Doyle canon, Holmes would remain a confirmed bachelor.  He never dated, often talked badly about women and would proclaim that he never loved.  All indications are that Doyle had Holmes be celibate and quite possibly a virgin throughout his life.

In “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” Watson reports with regret that Holmes lost all interest in one woman client that at first seemed to turn his head.  Holmes did not socialize with women.  He avoided them as much as possible.  He never talked about his childhood, which has become the source of much speculation as to his apparent misogyny.  Women could have made him feel uncomfortable or bored (or both) and so he avoided them unless absolutely necessary.  He only spoke well of one woman, Irene Adler, whose photo he kept locked in a drawer.

Reasons For Holmes’ Celibacy

There are two possible reasons for making Doyle making Holmes this way.  One was for commercial reasons.  Although Doyle never intended for Holmes to be any woman’s fantasy object, Holmes became one anyway.  The first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet (1887) was rejected by one publisher for lacking a romantic interest.  In order to keep the female fans happy, Doyle always had Holmes seem available.

The next reason is probably the most possible.  According to The Doctor and the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Minotaur Books; 2000) celibacy was thought to endow a man with special aptitudes.  Instead of spending energy for the marriage and mating, a celibate man could devote all of his energies to his profession or to mental pursuits.  Since Sherlock Holmes was described as a genius, it may have been more believable for the reading public at the time to see a celibate man as a genius instead of a sexually active one.

Note: I cannot remember where this article first appeared online, but it was on Yahoo Voices for a year or so and is on sites that scrape content. I thought it was about time it appeared on one of my own blogs.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"Not the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" Still Available on Amazon Kindle

On October 15, 2014 (or 15 October, depending  on where you live), my first eBook Not the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes finally went officially on sale at Amazon. It is only available in Kindle so far.  If you don't have a Kindle, Amazon will give you a Kindle app for your PC, laptop or whatever free with your first eBook purchase.

Since I took a few months off to write and rewrite and re-rewrite this eBook, I now have drained my bank account and have to start writing for quicker money than eBooks again. This is going to take up what little free time I have and so I'm disappointed to write that I will not be able to start the sequel to Not the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes until I can get some money in the bank.

I was going to try and make physical copies of the eBook, but cannot afford another ISBN number or figure out how to navigate Create Space (another Amazon company.)  Since there hasn't exactly been a huge rush in sales, I think I better hold off on making physical book copies until there is a sufficient demand for them.

A big thank you for those who have purchased Not the New Adventure of Sherlock Holmes -- all 30 or so of you.  I hope that you enjoy the ride. Thanks also to the 5 people who wrote reviews of it on Amazon an Amazon.UK (and gave it good reviews -- wow!)

I'm not the best of online marketers but I hope you enjoy this Sherlock Holmes blog, whether you buy my eBook or not.

Was Sherlock Holmes Bipolar?

“I have usually found that there was method to his madness.”

“Some folk might say there was madness in his method,” muttered the Inspector.”  -- “The Adventure of the Reigate Square”
Readers in modern times can’t help but wonder, when reading the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, if Sherlock Holmes suffered from bipolar disorder.

One reason why the public is so fascinated with Sherlock Holmes since his first appearance in 1887 is his quirky behavior.  Doyle made a fully formed heroic character complete with very real flaws.  Readers in modern times can’t help but wonder, when reading the Doyle stories, if Sherlock Holmes suffered from bipolar disorder.

Holmes’ Symptoms

Holmes could go for days without sleep when he was focused on a case.  Going for days with very little sleep is a common symptom on bipolar disorder.  Holmes could also be terribly depressed when a case ends.  In “The Adventure of the Reigate Square” Holmes is so depressed at the end of a case that he takes to his bed.  Watson then takes him on holiday to try and make him well again.

Bipolar patients are often very creative.  In the modern world, bipolar patients can function quite well in many types of jobs, such as acting, writing and mathematics.  Holmes’ different way of thinking is vastly different from the average person.  He uses his imagination to help solve cases.  He even chides some policemen for their lack of imagination.  His creative thinking helps make him the world’s greatest detective.

Problems with Modern Diagnosis

It’s very difficult to place modern diagnostic criteria on someone from the past, and a fictional character at that.  It is known that Doyle often used real people to help inspire his stories.  Holmes himself was based on many people, including Doyle himself and one of Doyle’s past teachers from the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Joseph Bell.  Neither Bell nor Doyle are thought by historians to be bipolar.

Bipolar disorder was not recognized in Doyle’s times.  Medical personnel from Greek times and in the Roman Empire wrote about patients that today would seem to be bipolar.  Aretaeus of Cappadocia, writing during the time of Emperor Nero, would “laugh, dance and play” one day and soon after would be “torpid, dull and sorrowful.”  It wasn’t until the 1950s until the disease received the name of manic depression.  By the 1990s, this term was largely replaced with the name bipolar disorder.

Holmes’ Cocaine Addiction

Another complication is Holmes’ cocaine addiction.  Cocaine (spelled “cocaine” in Doyle’s day) was originally thought to be a beneficial painkiller.  By 1887, it was well known in England that cocaine was dangerously addictive.  However, cocaine was still widely available.  Holmes injected it directly into his veins.

Cocaine is known to cause psychological problems, especially paranoia, hallucinations and suicidal behavior.  However, Holmes rarely displayed any of these symptoms.  It could be that Doyle was only vaguely familiar with cocaine addiction rather than trying to suggest that Holmes suffered from a severe mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

In Conclusion

It’s impossible to know if Sherlock Holmes was intended to suffer from a mental illness like manic depression.  The disease went unrecognized in Doyle’s lifetime.  He certainly exhibited some signs that correspond with that of a bipolar patient.  It could be that Doyle selected some bizarre behaviors he noticed from people he knew in order to make his detective more interesting to the reader.

Modern portrayals of Holmes often show him as suffering from a mental illness.  Since more is known about mental illness, these symptoms are more apparent in modern versions than in Doyle’s original stories.  Still, this hasn’t stopped psychiatrists and Sherlockians from debating on the riveting character traits of Sherlock Holmes.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Top 10 Reasons Why I Want to Grow Up to be Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes

Note: This originally appeared on one of my other blogs in 2012, but with a different video.

At the age of 43, I finally decided what I want to be when I grow up.  At first I wanted to be Doctor Who and then Doctor Who's crankier sister, but that never worked out (especially when they started casting Doctors half my freaking age.  That and my acting career tanked before it ever got started).  Then I wanted to be Peter Gabriel, but he does such a good job at it that the world would be best off if he kept at it.

Now -- I finally FINALLY know what I want to be:  Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.  I don't want to be Jeremy Brett (who sadly died at the age of 59 in 1995) and I'm not smart enough to be Sherlock Holmes so I won't even try.  But being Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes -- well that's another creature entirely.  Here are my top 10 reasons why:

Ten: Cool Outfits

I mean, come on, just look at them!  Although the suits Mads Mikkelsen wears in Hannibal are pretty drool-worthy, men's fashion peaked in the Victorian age. Watches on gold chains! Walking sticks! Tucked in shirts!

 I also can never get my hair right.  Ever.  If I was Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, all I'd need to do is slick back my hair with gel and stick on a top hat.

Nine: I'd Get to Watch My Best Friend Sleep as Much as I'd Like

Case in point, this scene from "The Speckled Band" (first aired 1984.)

Eight: I'd Stop Swearing So Much

I admit that one of my many character flaws is a propensity to swear.  I even swear in my dreams.  Brett's Holmes has a great way of putting people in their place without swearing.  For example, when he wants someone to leave, he dryly remarks, "Please vanish."  He even does this to Watson and is able to get away with it.  When he's absolutely furious, he snorts like a pig.

Seven: I Could Roll My R's Without Anyone Staring at Me

And really, isn't this what we all want out of life?

Six: I'd Get to Ride or Drive Some Pretty Horses

And really, isn't this what we all want out of life?  Well, that and rolling your R's.

Five: I'd Have My Own Pet Watson

Dr. Watson fills many personal holes in Holmes' life.  He's a companion, a physician, a confidant, a dynamite publicity agent, fellow smoker and someone to bully around without actually being harmful.

Although there has been many speculations that Watson was also Holmes' secret lover, I don't subscribe to the theory because Holmes shied away from sex or personal affection.  In Doyle's stories and in Brett's interpretation, Holmes never fell in love with anyone other than himself.

Four: Those Cool Pipes

I'm not a smoker.  I don't advocate smoking.  Brett reportedly smoked about 60 cigarettes a day (which contributed to his tragically early death.)  But DAMN, look at those pipes!  They give your hands something to do when you really want to smack someone across the mouth.  During filming the series, one of Brett's pipes was stolen from the hotel he stayed at.

Three: That Voice

A lot of misery in my life could be erased if, one day, I suddenly woke up with Jeremy Brett's voice.  Imagine going to the post office and asking for a book of stamps using this voice.

Two: That Gaze

You could even stare a cat down with that gaze.

And the number one reason why I want to be Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes:

One: Getting Watson to Smile at My Evil Laugh

You can't put a price on that.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Why Women Think Sherlock Holmes is Sexy

Doyle received many love letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes as well as letters offering their services as a landlady.  Even back in Victorian times, Sherlock Holmes was considered sexy.

Back in 1886, a struggling doctor in England was trying to get his first novel published.  It would be rejected by many prestigious publishing houses for many reasons, including that it wasn’t sellable because it lacked romance.  The novel was A Study in ScarletThe author was Arthur Conan Doyle and the unromantic character was Sherlock Holmes.

Over 125 years later, Sherlock Holmes still attracts thousands of fans, including women who include the Great Detective in their fan fiction, dreams and sentimental YouTube music videos.  This is not a new phenomenon.  Doyle received many love letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes as well as letters offering their services as a landlady.  Even back in Victorian times, Sherlock Holmes was considered sexy.

Descriptions and Drawings

Doyle never once claimed that Holmes was a handsome man.  He rarely described Holmes’ appearance in anything close to complimentary terms.  Holmes was tall, but seemed taller because he was so thin.  He had gray eyes, dark, thinning hair and a “hawk-like” nose.  It was the illustrator Sidney Paget who first gave Holmes shape.  He based Holmes on himself and his brother Walter.  Doyle claimed that these drawings made Holmes too handsome.

There are other qualities that people can find extremely attractive rather than good looks.  Holmes is a genius.  He can play the violin.  He is a success in his peculiar trade.  He sometimes takes the law into his own hands, but always with good reasons.  He is a self-made gentleman instead of one born in the upper classes who is (almost) always in command of a situation.  He also has very dark shadowy side that can be very appealing.  He is a magnetic personality partially because he keeps most of himself hidden away from others – even Watson.

Actor Portrayals

One obvious reason that Sherlock Holmes stars in many women’s fantasies is due to the more than 150 actors who have portrayed him on stage and screen.  Arguably the current popularity of BBC’s Sherlock is based more for Benedict Cumberbatch than for bringing the Great Detective to the 21st century.  Over the decades, actors who have portrayed Sherlock Holmes have generally been more and more conventionally handsome, including John Barrymore, Jeremy Brett and Robert Downey, Jr.

The first major actor to portray Holmes was the square-jawed American William Gillette.  In 1899, he collaborated with Doyle to write a four act play called “Sherlock Holmes.”  In order to make Holmes more likable, Gillette asked Doyle if Holmes could get married at the play’s end.  Doyle famously replied, “You may marry him or murder him or do anything you like to him.”  Gillette would wind up playing Holmes for over 30 years.

The Great Unattainable

Holmes is presented as a celibate borderline misogynist in the writings of Doyle.  Holmes never courted, married and claimed that he had never been in love.  He had a low opinion of women.  He explains in The Sign of the Four (1890) that the most winning woman he ever knew “was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance money.”  Doyle never elaborated on this tantalizing memory.  Doyle wrote that Holmes only had his head turned by a woman once in “A Scandal in Bohemia.”  Nothing ever came of it, except that Holmes kept a photo of the woman locked in his desk. 

Doyle was a master at dropping tantalizing hints about Holmes without filling in the blanks. He left those blanks open for fans to fill in with their own imaginations.  Women were able to fill in the blanks with whatever they fancied.  Being able to turn the head of someone who famously ignored women presents a thrilling challenge to the imagination. Unlike real people, fictional characters have the virtue of never failing to live up to your expectations.  They are the great unattainable prize, where the victory is not so much in the getting but in the hunt.

Image of William Gillette donated to Wikimedia Commons by Henry Zecher

Very Disappointed in Sherlock's Victorian Christmas Episode

The Sherlock Holmes in my eBook, Not the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, is based  on Jeremy Brett's interpretation. However, this doesn't mean that I won't watch other actors as Sherlock Holmes. I hadn't liked the BBC's hit series Sherlock but when I heard about an episode set in Victorian times, I started getting excited.

When I saw a teaser film put out by the Beeb and PBS that borrowed from the Granada series theme and some visuals, I got even more excited.

I then saw publicity photos of Benedict Cumberbatch doing his best Jeremy Brett with slicked-back hair, hands behind his back and in a sandy-tan robe, then I determined that, darn it, come hell or high water, I was going to watch this episode.

Happily, no hell or high water happened last night at 9pm as I switched on my local PBS station and began watching.

I lasted about 15 minutes before I stood up, aimed the remote and turned it off.

What a disappointment! Problems included:

  • Cumberbatch talking way too fast for me to follow
  • Mrs. Hudson being way too young and talkative
  • Scenes and camera angles changing so fast that I started seeing flashes. (I have migraines, so I need to avoid flashes or they trigger another attack.)
If you want Sherlock Holmes on film, it's best to watch the Granada series with Jeremy Brett again. But of course, there's no topping the original Holmes in the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.