- Apr 2022
Francis Bacon explained succinctlythat notes could be made either “by epitome or abridgement” (that is, by sum-marizing the source) or “by heads or commonplaces” (that is, by copying a pas-sage verbatim or nearly so and storing it in a notebook under a commonplaceheading for later retrieval and use). Bacon considered the latter method “of farmore profit and use,” and most note-taking advice focused on this practice of ex-cerpting.46
This quote is worth looking up and checking its context. Particularly I'm interested to know if the purpose of summarizing the source is to check one's understanding of the ideas as is done in the Feynman technique, or if the purpose is a reminder summary of the piece itself?
Link to Ahrens mentions of this technique for checking understanding. (Did he use the phrase Feynman in his text?)
One of his last works, the Aurifodina, “The Mine of All Arts and Sci-ences, or the Habit of Excerpting,” was printed in 1638 (in 2,000 copies) andin another fourteen editions down to 1695 and spawned abridgments in Latin(1658), German (1684), and English.
Simply the word abridgement here leads me to wonder:
Was the continual abridgement of texts and excerpting small pieces for later use the partial cause of the loss of the arts of memory? Ars excerpendi ad infinitum? It's possible that this, with the growth of note taking practices, continual information overload, and other pressures for educational reform swamped the prior practices.
For evidence, take a look at William Engel's work following the arts of memory in England and Europe to see if we can track the slow demise by attrition of the descriptions and practices. What would such a study show? How might we assign values to the various pressures at play? Which was the most responsible?
Could it have also been the slow, inexorable death of many of these classical means of taking notes as well? How did we loose the practices of excerpting for creating new ideas? Where did the commonplace books go? Where did the zettelkasten disappear to?
One author, with a carefully honed practice and the extant context of their life writes some brief notes which get passed along to their students or which are put into a new book that misses a lot of their existing context with respect to the new readers. These readers then don't know about the attrition happening and slowly, but surely the knowledge goes missing amidst a wash of information overload. Over time the ideas and practices slowly erode and are replaced with newer techniques which may not have been well tested or stood the test of time. One day the world wakes up and the common practices are no longer of use.
This is potentially all the more likely because of the extremely basic ideas underpinning some of memory and note taking. They seem like such basic knowledge we're also prone to take them for granted and not teach them as thoroughly as we ought.
How does one juxtapose this with the idea of humanist scholars excerpting, copying, and using classical texts with a specific eye toward preventing the loss of these very classical texts?
Is this potentially the idea of having one's eye on a particular target and losing sight of other creeping effects?
It's also difficult to remember what it was like when we ourselves didn't know something and once that is lost, it can be harder and harder to teach newcomers.
- Feynman Technique
- commonplace books
- context collapse
- Francis Bacon
- information overload
- note taking methods
- education reform
- ars excerpendi
- disappearance of note taking practices
- note taking
- subject headings
- disappearance of the art of memory
- Nov 2021
́hese notesW generally presented in the order of the text from whichthey were producedW are often called adversariaY
epitome or abridgment entails summarizing or paraphrasing the original text. These notes generally presented in the order of the text from which they were produced, are often called adversaria.