The Science of Deduction – Sam Bradley

Surgeon's Hall MuseumPhoto Maya Hoole.

Ever wanted to get under the skin of Dr Jekyll? Peek under the deerhunter of Sherlock Holmes? This sold-out Innovative Learning Week event, organised by PPLS, offers enquiring students the next best thing: an insight into the science of deduction which inspired the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson, and the Edinburgh institution that incubated ideas that harboured profound consequences for the medical world.

As undergraduates at the University of Edinburgh, Conan Doyle and Stevenson both encountered many of the surgeons and medical staff at the Surgeon’s Hall – including the famous inspiration for the legendary detective, one Dr Joseph Bell. It was here that the philosophy utilised by Sherlock Holmes was developed and used for a different type of deduction – a more scientific kind.

This exclusive guided tour of the world-renowned Surgeon’s Hall Museum allowed those attending the chance to explore the museum exhibits before usual the museum opened to the public, and the opportunity to learn about the history of medical science within one of the city’s most significant academic buildings.

Many crucial medical discoveries – like antiseptics, and the use of chloroform – were made by surgeons at Edinburgh. Ranging from the macabre to the fascinating, the museum mixes riveting, yet grotesque exhibits with more conventional ephemera and objects, in an effort to educate about the development of medical technology alongside the history of the institution itself.

In order to illustrate the philosophy driving the men and women who forged the reputation of the Surgeon’s Hall, Dr Alasdair Richmond lead several short talks explaining the ideas behind deduction and induction. Even for those students who’ve spent their entire degree walking past the School of Psychology, Philosophy and Language Sciences, these short discussions were informative and educational – encompassing the ideas of Hume, Darwin and Popper.

A unique, fascinating opportunity to learn about the history of Edinburgh and its academic institutions, as well as the progress of medical science and the philosophical thinking that occurs behind the scenes.

Sam Bradley


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