Solving the Mysteries of Life with Abductive Reasoning

I experience life as a great mystery, so much so that my curiosity prompts me moment by moment to ask “why” to gain understanding of the world, and my life, to explore and understand why it is unfolding around me as it is. Those with a high degree of curiosity and wonder, who don’t just take the world at face value and unquestioningly go with it, exercise a form of logic known as “abductive reasoning”; it is a form of bottom up logic that guesses at theories to explain a set of connected observations. Abductive logic is the form of reasoning employed by Sherlock Holmes in the famed book series used to solve numerous crimes, and it is the form of logic employed by the various esoteric “mystery schools” to discover the universal laws and decode reality; when there is a mystery afoot, abductive reasoning is the necessary tool we must use to solve it.

When presented with a mystery in life that we wish to solve, just like Sherlock Holmes, we can observe our circumstances, our metaphoric crime scene, to find a set of interconnected clues, and form various theories that explain our current evidence. From there we continue to gather clues and evidence to expand some of our theories, which will also deduct some of our other theories, along the lines of Holmes’s famous “deductions”, as deduct means “to take away from a total, to subtract”(Miriam-Webster Dictionary). Then after we’ve gained enough clues, and deducted enough of the theories that no longer fit our evidence, we will finally arrive at a solid conclusion, even if it is an improbable one.

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” ~Sherlock Holmes

This method of reasoning is only using available evidence to formulate possible reasoning, known as a reasoned judgment, so while a person is in the process of solving a mystery, those using it will employ words like “it is probable”, “it may”, “possibility”, “can be”, “often, “it’s an option”, and other words that shy away from dogmatism and absoluteness. While formulating the correct conclusions that best explains the evidence, and using the correct reasoning free from logical fallacies to get there, is important, the process used to get to the correct conclusion can often be a bumpy ride. The person employing abductive reasoning typically has better explanations and conclusions than those who are not, even if they are not yet the correct ones, since they realize that it’s ok to be somewhat wrong as they methodically approach more true. Abduction is the process that allows reasoning to become more and more correct as it is worked, and it is always open to seeing where it may be wrong along the way, as new evidence, reasoning, angles, viewpoints, and even theories, make themselves available to the investigator.

Unlike the symplistic world that is fixated on an absolutist right and wrong, correct and incorrect, with their one dimensional monologic of 2+2=4, the multilogic of abductive reasoning can be layered and complicated, and is often akin to unraveling a tangled ball of yarn. While a conclusion on one layer may be true for that layer, when a new layer is examined, it may cease to be true on the new layer, and a new truer conclusion may be reached for that layer. The layered approach to solving a mystery is not to be confused with relativism, moral or otherwise, althogh relative truths of various individuals and cultures must often also be considered with empathetic reasoning (intellectual empathy) when attempting to uncover the actual truth.

A powerful tool that can be used alongside abductive reasoning is the Trivium method of thinking, which is the first three of the seven liberal arts of Grammar (knowledge), Logic (understanding), and Rhetoric (wisdom). For example:

  1. Knowledge: what, where, when, who
    What happened? Where did it happen? When did it happen? Who was there when it happened, or when it was planned?
  2. Understanding: why
    Why did it happen (what was the [often complex] motivation and reasoning)?
  3. Wisdom: how
    How did it happen?

Other useful tools that can be utilized are:

  1. The Seven Hermetic Principles , aka, the seven universal laws: mentalism, correspondence, vibration, polarity, rhythm, cause and effect, and gender
  2. The eight universal intellectual standards for critical thinking: clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, and fairness
  3. The eight character traits of critical thinking: humility, courage, empathy, autonomy, integrity, perseverence, confidence in reason, and fairmindedness

Since very few people consciously utilize abductive reasoning, and even fewer have developed it as a primary means of thinking, especially in conjunction with the tools that I just mentioned above, those who have integrated and practice this mode of thinking might seem crazy, arrogant, stupid, fantastical, conspiracy minded, and even insane, at least when compared to the one dimensional, monological thinking of postmodern society. In a dogmatic world of absolutist truth and fiction, something even postmodern relativists do with their morally absolutist thinking on issues such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and wealth, those who employ an abductive spectrum of less true to more true, to slowly deduct impossibilities to eventually approach the Truth, no matter how improbable it may be, may feel isolated and alone. I encourage you to stay strong, and true to your principles, as you very well may be closer to the truth than society and your peers currently are.

If you are one of the curious people who love unraveling a good mystery, whether it is societal, personal, philosophical, psychological, esoteric, physiological, or anything else that sparks your personal interest, I highly recommend that you exercise, develop, and integrate your abductive reasoning skills even more, as well as explore the tools I mentioned above, so that you can be your very own Sherlock Holmes, and discover the answers you seek layer by layer, and mystery by mystery.

About Nathan Martin