In the 1890 book, The Sign of the Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes illuminated how he came to conclusions: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
These words are sometimes quoted as an illustration of how logic demands that we must side with mundane alternatives to seemingly fantastical reports, no matter how remote or unlikely the mundane alternative may be.
The problem with using Holmes’ method is that the phrase “when you have eliminated the impossible” applies only to situations in which we are aware of what is impossible.
As much as we might pretend otherwise, there are very few situations in which our knowledge of what is impossible approaches the absolute.
We’d be well advised to pay more heed to Holmes’ defense of the improbable, for reality does not care one whit what we consider improbable.