Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sherlock "The Sign of the Three"

Thoughts on the episode of Sherlock from this past Sunday that I finally got around to watching. First off, brilliant. Made me tear up a bit.

Secondly, this high functioning sociopath lie he keeps telling himself (it only makes sense to me if I believe it's a lie he tells himself to explain why he had trouble with figuring out emotions in real time). An actual sociopath would have a much easier time extemporizing during a best man's speech. Sociopaths, while tending to lack affective empathy (i.e., aren't sympathetically affected when they perceive other people's emotions) they have a stunning grasp of cognitive empathy. They intuitively know how to use the words and body language to emotionally manipulate other people into giving them whatever they want without worrying about how the other person may ultimately be affected. Sociopaths are the greatest salesmen in the world. Con artists are sociopaths. Many CEOs are high functioning sociopaths. People generally do not realize that sociopaths are out to take something from them until they have already lost it. It's only after the injury is discovered that the sociopath is called an asshole.

Sherlock Holmes is called an asshole right away. He has demonstrated time and again that he just does not have the people skills to be a high functioning sociopath. And, while he tends to be self-centered and hyper-focused on facts and details to the point that he does not immediately recognize or understand the emotions of others, when he does, he is profoundly affected. The weight with which the realization that John Watsob considers Sherlock to be his best friend hits him so deeply that he is rendered inarticulate.

Sherlock's internal dialogue with his brother Mycroft (who, arguably actually is a high functioning sociopath), as he is trying to extemporize his best man speech to buy the time to deduce the identity of the Mayfly Man, reveals the amount of logical deductive reasoning power Sherlock has to employ to work up the bare minimum of cognitive empathy to keep a captive audience from throwing their drinks at him.

Also, it seems like if he was a bit quicker on the uptake he could made time with the maid of honor instead of helping her find the most eligible bachelor among the other male wedding guests. But he figured that out a bit late and had no one to dance with. He let his deductive mind get in the way of allowing his affective empathy register until it was too late, but it did register. But that's okay, because Irene Adler is out there... somewhere.

So, to bring this back home, I don't accept the 'high functioning sociopath' label for Sherlock Holmes. He has the wrong kind of empathy deficit. He was truly happy for his best friend on his wedding day. He has affective empathy. The cognitive empathy deficit is more in keeping with someone on the autism spectrum than with a sociopath. But then John Watson already hinted as much in the Hound of Baskerville episode.

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