- May 2023
It is unfortunate that the German word for a box of notes is the same as the methodology surrounding Luhmann.
reply to dandennison84 at https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/17921/#Comment_17921
I've written a bit before on The Two Definitions of Zettelkasten, the latter of which has been emerging since roughly 2013 in English language contexts. Some of it is similar to or extends @dandennison84's framing along with some additional history.
Because of the richness of prior annotation and note taking traditions, for those who might mean what we're jokingly calling ZK®, I typically refer to that practice specifically as a "Luhmann-esque zettelkasten", though it might be far more appropriate to name them a (Melvil) "Dewey Zettelkasten" because the underlying idea which makes Luhmann's specific zettelkasten unique is that he was numbering his ideas and filing them next to similar ideas. Luhmann was treating ideas on cards the way Dewey had treated and classified books about 76 years earlier. Luhmann fortunately didn't need to have a standardized set of numbers the way the Mundaneum had with the Universal Decimal Classification system, because his was personal/private and not shared.
To be clear, I'm presently unaware that Dewey had or kept any specific sort of note taking system, card-based or otherwise. I would suspect, given his context, that if we were to dig into that history, we would find something closer to a Locke-inspired indexed commonplace book, though he may have switched later in life as his Library Bureau came to greater prominence and dominance.
Some of the value of the Dewey-Luhmann note taking system stems from the same sorts of serendipity one discovers while flipping through ideas that one finds in searching for books on library shelves. You may find the specific book you were looking for, but you're also liable to find some interesting things to read on the shelves around that book or even on a shelf you pass on the way to find your book.
Perhaps naming it and referring to it as the Dewey-Luhmann note taking system or the Dewey-Luhmann Zettelkasten may help to better ground and/or demystify the specific practices? Co-crediting them for the root idea and an early actual practice, respectively, provides a better framing and understanding, especially for native English speakers who don't have the linguistic context for understanding Zettelkästen on its own. Such a moniker would help to better delineate the expected practices and shape of a note taking practice which could be differentiated from other very similar ones which provide somewhat different affordances.
Of course, as the history of naming scientific principles and mathematical theorems after people shows us, as soon as such a surname label might catch on, we'll assuredly discover someone earlier in the timeline who had mastered these principles long before (eg: the "Gessner Zettelkasten" anyone?) Caveat emptor.
- naming things is hard
- Dewey-Luhmann Zettelkasten
- zettelkasten design
- named by others
- Melvil Dewey
- Dewey Zettelkasten
- note taking affordances
- Apr 2023
There is no real difference if you think about the boundaries between reading and notetaking. Moving the eyes over text: Sounds like reading. Highlighting key words while reading: Still sounds like reading. Jotting down keywords in the margins: Some writing, but still could count as reading. Writing tasks in the marings (e.g. "Should compare that to Buddhism"): Don't know. Reformulating key sections in your own words: Sounds like writing. But could be just the externalisation of what could be internal. Does make a difference if you stop and think about what you read or do it in written form?
Perhaps there is a model for reading and note taking/writing with respect to both learning and creating new knowledge that follows an inverse mapping in a way similar to that seen in Galois theory?
Explore this a bit to see what falls out.
- Feb 2023
On Ahrens' shipping container analogy to the zettelkasten
@ZettelDistraction said Perhaps the shipping hub is a better analogy for the Zettelkasten than the shipping container (Ahrens, 40).
We should be careful to separate the ideas of analogy and metaphor. Analogies are usually more direct and well-defined in scope.
While there's an apt and direct correlation between shipping containers and zettelkasten as boxes, Ahrens was making the analogy with respect to the shift that shipping containers made to the overall system:
shipping containers : shipping industry and globalism :: zettelkasten : thinking and writing/content creation
As with many analogies, stretching it the way one might stretch metaphors isn't usually fruitful or even possible.
In hindsight, we know why they failed: The ship owners tried to integrate the container into their usual way of working without changing the infrastructure and their routines. They tried to benefit from the obvious simplicity of loading containers onto ships without letting go of what they were used to.
He's saying one needs to consider how one's note taking method fits into their work in a more integrative way. Without properly integrating it into one's workflow seamlessly the system will fail. This is also one of the most difficult problems many zettelkasten aspirants have. In addition to creating a zettelkasten, they're often also simultaneously trying to integrate new (digital) tools into their process at the same time and they get distracted by them rather than focusing on the move to increasing writing/creating and creativity overall (globalism).
To focus on Ahrens' analogy a bit, if Obsidian, for example, is your "ship", is it as custom built for your specific purpose the way a container ship would be for a cargo container? Might you be better off with something like The Archive, ZKN3, or simple index cards that help to limit you to only do the function you want rather than all the other possible functions (wiki, blog, to do list, calendar, journal, kanban, etc.)? Obsidian and many other applications can be a proverbial row boat, a yacht, a tugboat, a steamer, a cruise ship, and even a warship in addition to a container ship, so one has to be extra careful how they choose to use it.
Pulling this back on topic by querying my own zettelkasten...
I've got versions of most of @Will's excellent list in my notes as well, but here are a few other metaphors (and analogies) which I don't think have been mentioned:
- child rearing; perhaps @Sascha will have an experienced perspective on this now?
- Digestion / Diffusion / Filtering / Distillation
- Niklas Luhmann compared his zettelkasten to a septic tank. On Zettel 9/8a2 Luhmann called the Zettelkasten "eine Klärgrube" or a "septic tank;" (perhaps even "cesspool"). Waste goes in, and gets separated from the clearer stuff. You put in a lot of material, a lot of seeming waste, and it allows a process of settling and filtering to allow the waste to be separated and distill into something useful.
- Ruminant machines
- Barbara Tuchman used the ideas of chewing and distillation
- Grist mills and crucibles
- @Will has previously suggested relationships with flywheels before
- Statistical mechanics
- a "wooden life partner"
- woodworking has been mentioned before, but here's an extended one on wood chips in a workshop.
- Paths through forests
- Thought clouds
- Manfred Kuehn analogizes a Zettelkasten to a library
- idea/index card:zettelkasten :: person:society (see: https://hypothes.is/a/nTNZRGb2EeyZys9wX_gNTQ)
- @Sascha has previously analogized the writing process using a zettelkasten to Henry Ford's assembly line for building cars.
- Humanity is a zettelkasten in biological form.
- Nov 2022
Whenever I read about the various ideas, I feel like I do not necessarily belong. Thinking about my practice, I never quite feel that it is deliberate enough.
Sometimes the root question is "what to I want to do this for?" Having an underlying reason can be hugely motivating.
Are you collecting examples of things for students? (seeing examples can be incredibly powerful, especially for defining spaces) for yourself? Are you using them for exploring a particular space? To clarify your thinking/thought process? To think more critically? To write an article, blog, or book? To make videos or other content?
Your own website is a version of many of these things in itself. You read, you collect, you write, you interlink ideas and expand on them. You're doing it much more naturally than you think.
I find that having an idea of the broader space, what various practices look like, and use cases for them provides me a lot more flexibility for what may work or not work for my particular use case. I can then pick and choose for what suits me best, knowing that I don't have to spend as much time and effort experimenting to invent a system from scratch but can evolve something pre-existing to suit my current needs best.
It's like learning to cook. There are thousands of methods (not even counting cuisine specific portions) for cooking a variety of meals. Knowing what these are and their outcomes can be incredibly helpful for creatively coming up with new meals. By analogy students are often only learning to heat water to boil an egg, but with some additional techniques they can bake complicated French pâtissier. Often if you know a handful of cooking methods you can go much further and farther using combinations of techniques and ingredients.
What I'm looking for in the reading, note taking, and creation space is a baseline version of Peter Hertzmann's 50 Ways to Cook a Carrot combined with Michael Ruhlman's Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. Generally cooking is seen as an overly complex and difficult topic, something that is emphasized on most aspirational cooking shows. But cooking schools break the material down into small pieces which makes the processes much easier and more broadly applicable. Once you've got these building blocks mastered, you can be much more creative with what you can create.
How can we combine these small building blocks of reading and note taking practices for students in the 4th - 8th grades so that they can begin to leverage them in high school and certainly by college? Is there a way to frame them within teaching rhetoric and critical thinking to improve not only learning outcomes, but to improve lifelong learning and thinking?
- Sep 2022
• Daily writing prevents writer’s block.• Daily writing demystifies the writing process.• Daily writing keeps your research always at the top of your mind.• Daily writing generates new ideas.• Daily writing stimulates creativity• Daily writing adds up incrementally.• Daily writing helps you figure out what you want to say.
What specifically does she define "writing" to be? What exactly is she writing, and how much? What does her process look like?
One might also consider the idea of active reading and writing notes. I may not "write" daily in the way she means, but my note writing, is cumulative and beneficial in the ways she describes in her list. I might further posit that the amount of work/effort it takes me to do my writing is far more fruitful and productive than her writing.
When I say writing, I mean focused note taking (either excerpting, rephrasing, or original small ideas which can be stitched together later). I don't think this is her same definition.
I'm curious how her process of writing generates new ideas and creativity specifically?
One might analogize the idea of active reading with a pen in hand as a sort of Einsteinian space-time. Many view reading and writing as to separate and distinct practices. What if they're melded together the way Einstein reconceptualized the space time continuum? The writing advice provided by those who write about commonplace books, zettelkasten, and general note taking combines an active reading practice with a focused writing practice that moves one toward not only more output, but higher quality output without the deleterious effects seen in other methods.
The Field Notes journal serves as RAM, the index cards as HDD, metaphorically speaking...(brain is CPU).
Den analogizes their note taking system to computing on 2010-11-11 8:43 PM.
- Aug 2022
“I do all my own research,” she said, “though reviewers have speculatedthat I must have a band of hirelings. I like to be led by a footnote ontosomething I never thought of. I rarely photocopy research materials because, for me, note-taking is learning, distilling. That’s the whole essence ofthe business. In taking notes, you have to discard what you don’t need. If you[photocopy] it, you haven’t chewed it.”
- Jul 2022
But it's not a trivial problem. I have compiled, at latest reckoning, 35,669 posts - my version of a Zettelkasten. But how to use them when writing a paper? It's not straightforward - and I find myself typically looking outside my own notes to do searches on Google and elsewhere. So how is my own Zettel useful? For me, the magic happens in the creation, not in the subsequent use. They become grist for pattern recognition. I don't find value in classifying them or categorizing them (except for historical purposes, to create a chronology of some concept over time), but by linking them intuitively to form overarching themes or concepts not actually contained in the resources themselves. But this my brain does, not my software. Then I write a paper (or an outline) based on those themes (usually at the prompt of an interview, speaking or paper invitation) and then I flesh out the paper by doing a much wider search, and not just my limited collection of resources.
Stephen Downes describes some of his note taking process for creation here. He doesn't actively reuse his notes (or in this case blog posts, bookmarks, etc.) which number a sizeable 35669, directly, at least in the sort of cut and paste method suggested by Sönke Ahrens. Rather he follows a sort of broad idea, outline creation, and search plan akin to that described by Cory Doctorow in 20 years a blogger
Link to: - https://hyp.is/_XgTCm9GEeyn4Dv6eR9ypw/pluralistic.net/2021/01/13/two-decades/
Downes suggests that the "magic happens in the creation" of his notes. He uses them as "grist for pattern recognition". He doesn't mention words like surprise or serendipity coming from his notes by linking them, though he does use them "intuitively to form overarching themes or concepts not actually contained in the resources themselves." This is closely akin to the broader ideas ensconced in inventio, Llullan Wheels, triangle thinking, ideas have sex, combinatorial creativity, serendipity (Luhmann), insight, etc. which have been described by others.
Note that Downes indicates that his brain creates the links and he doesn't rely on his software to do this. The break is compounded by the fact that he doesn't find value in classifying or categorizing his notes.
I appreciate that Downes uses the word "grist" to describe part of his note taking practice which evokes the idea of grinding up complex ideas (the grain) to sort out the portions of the whole to find simpler ideas (the flour) which one might use later to combine to make new ideas (bread, cake, etc.) Similar analogies might be had in the grain harvesting space including winnowing or threshing.
One can compare this use of a grist mill analogy of thinking with the analogy of the crucible, which implies a chamber or space in which elements are brought together often with work or extreme conditions to create new products by their combination.
Of course these also follow the older classical analogy of imitating the bees (apes).
- Jun 2022
The old cookbook said: " Take enough butter." I say: "Do nottake too many notes." Both recommendations are hard to inter-pret except by trial and error.
The first is: always take notes inyour own words-I mean, of course, facts an1 ideas garneredfrom elsewhere, not statements to be quoted verbatim. The titleof a book, an important phrase or remark, you will copy as theystand. But everything else you reword, for two reasons: in thateffort the fact or idea passes through your mind, instead of goingfrom the page to your eye and thence to your note while you remainin a trance. Again, by rewording you mix something of yourthought with the acquired datum, and the admixture is the be-ginning of your own thought-and-writing about the whole topic.Naturally you take care not to distort. But you will find that notestaken under this safeguard are much closer to you than meretranscripts from other books; they are warm and speak to youlike old friends, becau se by your act of thought they have be-come pieces of your mind.
Barzun analogies notes as "old friends". He, like many others, encourages note takers to put ideas into their own words.
- May 2022
in my experience it has its head has a similar pattern to what henry ford did to the automobile 01:20:31 industry so before him it was basically like a few people built one car at a time and he basically broke up the process so you had like i don't know how many but 01:20:43 like dozens people a dozen people and each individual had just one one motion to do and the industrialization specialization right yeah and the the result was that 01:20:56 each individual didn't know anything and all the knowledge was in the process and my suspicion is that the promise of the settle custom that the paper 01:21:08 just write themselves it's like a very prominent process a promise around the telecast method lead to the to the thinking that you basically reduce your 01:21:20 the need for yourself and all the intelligence all the proficiency is put into a system and you have something doing for you and you treat yourself more like a like a 01:21:33 worker on a an assembly line just being and having all just a simple a simple motion that you have to do and then the end product will be 01:21:45 but will be very complex and very sophisticated because the intelligence is embedded in the process
Sascha Fast analogizes the writing process using a zettelkasten to Henry Ford's assembly line for building cars. Each worker on the assembly line has a limited bit of knowledge for their individual part of the process, but most of the knowledge and value is built into the overarching process itself. This makes the overall system quicker and more efficient.
Similarly with note taking, each individual portion of the process is simple and self-contained, but it allows the writer to create a much more creative and complex piece in the end. Here an individual can accomplish all of the individual steps in a self-contained way while focusing on individual steps without becoming lost in the subsequent steps which would otherwise require a tremendous additional amount of energy.
- Apr 2022
enable the blogger to share his or her observations from readings or experiencewith others, just as some seventeenth- century pedagogues advocated sharingnotes within a group.
Blogging is a form of public note sharing that isn't dissimilar to seventeenth-century note sharing practices in group settings.
- Feb 2022
In hindsight, we know why they failed: The ship owners tried tointegrate the container into their usual way of working withoutchanging the infrastructure and their routines. They tried to benefitfrom the obvious simplicity of loading containers onto ships withoutletting go of what they were used to.
Ahrens makes a useful analogy: the reason that early attempts at shipping containers failed was because their users tried to fit them into their own way of doing business instead of reorganizing their businesses to accommodate the shipping container. Similarly one needs to consider how one's note taking method fits into their work in a more integrative way. Without properly integrating it into one's workflow seamlessly the system will fail.
- Jan 2022
Dan Allosso looks at the graph view of his Obsidian vault in an attempt to clean up orphaned notes and connect them into his larger knowledge base.
He uses a clever Kuiper belt comet analogy to describe bringing these notes into his his solar system.
Seneca gives an account of his ideas about note-taking in the 84th letter to Luculius ("On Gathering Ideas"). The letter starts from what "men say" (ut aiunt), namely that we should imitate the bees in reading. As they produce honey from the flowers they visit and then "assort in their cells all that they have brought in" (277), so we should, Seneca himself says "sift (separare) whatever we have gathered from a varied course of reading" because things keep better in isolation from one another.
Cross reference origin in
Seneca (2006) Epistles 66-92. With an English translation by Richard G. Gummere. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (Loeb Classical Library), 277-285.
- Sep 2021
What if we taught art and music the way we do mathematics? All theory and drudgery without any excitement or exploration?
What textbooks out there take math from the perspective of exploration?
- Inventional geometry does
Certainly Gauss, Euler, and other "greats" explored mathematics this way? Why shouldn't we?
This same problem of teaching math is also one we ignore when it comes to things like note taking, commonplacing, and even memory, but even there we don't even delve into the theory at all.
How can we better reframe mathematics education?
I can see creating an analogy that equates math with art and music. Perhaps something like Arthur Eddington's quote:
Suppose that we were asked to arrange the following in two categories–
distance, mass, electric force, entropy, beauty, melody.
I think there are the strongest grounds for placing entropy alongside beauty and melody and not with the first three. —Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, OM, FRS (1882-1944), a British astronomer, physicist, and mathematician in The Nature of the Physical World, 1927