Have you sufficiently weighed the impossibilities?


When you have a big decision to make, it’s vital to weigh up the possibilities. But don’t forget also to weigh the impossibilities.

This truth is well illustrated by the cautionary tale of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s decision heavily to invest in a “wildly financed and extravagantly handled” scheme to launch Kent as a leading region for coal mining (as described on p.638 of the superb Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life In Letters).

A lack of Holmesian reasoning
It could be argued that Conan Doyle neglected to apply Holmesian reasoning in this investment decision.

Said Conan Doyle in March 1913:

“I saw the enormous possibilities of Kent coal. But I did not sufficiently weigh the impossibilities.”

This reminds me more than anything of Holmes’ words from The Sign of Four (which, of course, came directly from the creative subconscious of Conan Doyle in the first place:

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

So what were the impossibilities concerning Kent coal? Conan Doyle takes up the sad tale:

“I even descended 1,000 feet through chalk to see with my own eyes that the coal was in situ. It seems to have had the appearance and every other quality of coal save that it was incombustible, and when a dinner was held by the shareholders, to be cooked by local coal, it was necessary to send out and buy something that would burn.”

Would you take investment tips from Conan Doyle?
As you are probably aware, Sherlock Holmes creator Conan Doyle did more than reasonably well for himself. However, you wouldn’t necessarily want to follow up on all his investment tips. An occasional recurring theme in his Life In Letters is the investment opportunity that promises much, but delivers less than little.

But rest assured that at least none of Conan Doyle’s more misguided investments were as ill-advised as the motorised iceberg pitch from the Richard Pryor film Brewster’s Millions (the impossibilities inherent in which are rather hard to overlook).

Works referenced here:

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