We at the International Black Hole Registry put Albert Einstein and Sherlock Holmes at the top of the list of the most intelligent people of all time. Other great minds are worth a mention, but if you ever do something really stupid, people will sarcastically call you Einstein or Sherlock, not Newton or Da Vinci. For the sake of this article, we don’t want to get caught up in the ranking of the most intelligent people—that’s more of a matter of debate rather than science—but Holmes’s legendary smarts merit consideration for the top spot in any such list.
Even a genius like Holmes has a maximum amount of information he can store in the ol’ hard drive in his head, and you may be surprised to know his strategy to deal with the limits of his brain led to some embarrassing gaps in his knowledge. In A Study in Scarlet, Dr. Watson—who is Robin to Holmes’s Batman—discovers that the widely-respected genius does not know that the Earth revolves around the sun:
“I found incidentally that [Holmes] was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.”
For reference, A Study in Scarlet was published in 1887. Copernicus proposed the heliocentric model of the universe in 1543, and Galileo popularized the idea in the 1630s.
However, Holmes isn’t a science-denier; he simply has decided such celestial thoughts aren’t worth his time. When Watson tells Holmes the Earth revolves around the sun, Holmes replies that he’ll do his best to forget that fact. His reasoning: “There comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
Holmes, it would seem, does not have a basic understanding of how the universe works because he doesn’t believe it will help him in his work.
We don’t mention this incident to discredit Holmes’s genius. We only point this out because no matter how bad we screw up any scientific fact, we will still be vastly more knowledgeable about space than Sherlock Holmes, whom we all agreed might be the most intelligent person of all time. Maybe we can’t solve crimes (maybe we can?), but just the modest info on our FAQs page might be enough to overflow Holmes’s brain and render him incapable of solving the case in the Hound of the Baskervilles.
In many ways, understanding the universe is about perspective. It’s about particles so small and systems so big that the human mind struggles to comprehend them. Or, in the case of this blog, it’s about comparing ourselves to Sherlock Holmes and coming out very favorably.
Also, while we’re talking about how much greater we are than the incredible Sherlock Holmes, we’d like to point out that Holmes had a cocaine and opium addiction (also referenced in A Study in Scarlet), and we at the International Black Hole Registry don’t even know where to buy opium.
Dr. Hans Wilhelm Rossi; Postdoc Sophie Summerville; Karl [Last Name Unknown], the mathematician down the hall who will crunch some numbers if we ask but doesn't really contribute any ideas; et al.