113 - Levels of Development make a Zettelkasten - What is the difference between zettelkasten and other note taking methods?
Using Obsidian as the Software Implementation, you can think of the different levels of development to better understand what a zettelkasten is:
Referential System - would be creating notes without any links between them. When you want to “reference” a note, you pull it up through search or the note list.
Wiki System - would be well written full notes on topics with some linking between notes. Think of Wikipedia as the prime example. You can still develop topics with a wiki but it is not built for that, it is built as referential tool. You wouldn’t be putting your random ideas on a topic inside it.
Zettelkasten - is designed for the development of ideas. It accepts whatever you feed it and requires that you connect the notes to other ones and keep them digestible. This allows you to build up chains of information overtime.
The way I think about it would be to have a public facing wiki system, that is supported by a zettelkasten. Normally people don’t have wikis with super small entries filled with unimportant thoughts.
How you’d use the two together is whenever you reach a critical mass of notes around a topic in your zettelkasten, instead of writing a paper or blog post about it, you create a wiki entry. This is good because it makes sure you are only presenting ideas that have been fleshed out, saving people time.
Part of knowledge development is the generation of useful connections that can be acted upon or provide new information that is relevant. The new information can add context to the existing information. Think of how “dogs” sit in the wider context of both mammals and pets, whereby you link to both in your note on dogs.
New information can also add another component to an existing model. This is the flip side of wider context. An example of this would be linking to the dogs note in your pets note.
115 - Specialized Skills - are the unique or highly developed skills you picked up over your life. They can be widespread skills that you just excel at on an unbelievable level (e.g. screen writing or guitar) or more specialized ones such as methodological, statistical and critical thinking skills.
116 - 21st Century Skills are the skills needed to work with newly emerging technology in the 21st century. This often involves being able to interface with computers in order to do more efficient knowledge work. This involves both the production of new knowledge and communication of knowledge.
117 - Information Surprisal and Utility - you want information you communicate to be useful and surprising.
I can spout at you crazy conspiracy theories, which are entertaining due to their level of suprisal but only go so far because of their limited use. You want information that can be useful to you by aiding in the creation of new knowledge or supporting the execution of a skill.
You also want information you are communicating to be surprising. People would get really annoyed if you walk up to them and say their name to them over and over again. It has a suprisal factor when you say their name for the very first time because it gets their attention. The fact that you want to “communicate with them”, which is what you are signaling when you say their name, will be surprising to them. Unless you signal to them in some other way, which removes the suprisal, such as walking up to them.
118 - Suprisal and Prior Knowledge - one of the factors that makes figuring out the right level of information suprisal difficult is the level of prior knowledge the people you are communicating with have.
Giving an introductory textbook to a graduate student is going to be of limited use because there is no suprisal factor. They already know the information (prior knowledge).
119 - Surprising and Useful Information - An example of this would be the documentary game changers. For the purpose of this example, lets pretend that the information is true and the science is solid. I haven’t evaluated it so I’m not weighing in on its validity. Given that, the information in the documentary is surprising because it challenges the traditional narrative of the necessity of meat for strength. But it is also useful because you can act on the information to improve your own health.
120 - Surprising & Useless - Using the previous example (26b), say the information in the documentary was incorrect. Say that history shows that the science behind it isn’t valid. Such that when you go and try to make the same transition, it fails. This has slight utility because it removes an avenue of exploration. It can also be useful in the sense that surprising and useless information sometimes provides entertainment (e.g. bigfoot documentaries).
In the end you want to avoid this type of information if you can because it is a waste of time. It is better to engage with surprising and useful information. This is often why I prefer books by authoritative sources. While they can still be false and therefore useless, they are more likely to be correct than non authoritative sources.
121 - Unsurprising & Useful - this category of information typically is what you’ve already learned. Because you already know it, it is useless when presented to you again. Ideally you’d instead want to be presented with new information.
The one exception to this is periodic review. If you don’t use material or review it then the retrieval strength for a memory will eventually drop to where you forget information.
122 - Unsurprising & Useless Information - the worst type of information! This is the domain of cliches, whereby the phrase is unsurprising because its been overused and doesn’t help the situation at all because it is so generic.
123 - Compiling follows along the same lines as summarizing, whereby you are deciding what information is worth taking notes on in our infoglut society. This is an important skill to have because we have a limited amount of time on earth, so a certain amount of efficiency is necessary.
126 - Effective Learning means integrating the right amount of information into your knowledge network in as quick a way as possible. It also means learning information in such a way that you won’t forget it when it is needed.
This means creating the pathways out of the right sets of information and connecting those pathways to retrieval cues. The more retrieval cues you connect the pathway to, the more likely it is you’ll remember it when needed.
What information to learn?
Our memory systems are built around utility, if you don’t end up using the information then the retrieval strength of it diminishes, eventually making it really hard to remember. Therefore in life, you want to learn the information that will have the most utility.
This does not mean only learning generalized information though. Often times specialized knowledge has a high amount of utility because there are not many others who have the specialized knowledge which forms the basis of specialized skills.
You want to find the right balance in the information you are selecting to learn. What does that mean?
Learning too much information would look like memorizing all the supporting details or problem examples. The reason you don’t want to memorize this information is because it is a little use in the wider context. Instead you want to extract the salient details and use them to build a mental model, which in turn can be used in unfamiliar problems.
On the other end is learning too little. If the information you are reading is too far abstracted from reality then it becomes meaningless. A word in a sentence becomes useless if you don’t already have the definition memorized.
127 - Tags are keywords/terms assigned to a piece of information to facilitate later retrieval. There are primarily two different type of tags I think about, keyword tags and thematic tags.
Keyword Tags - you can use tags to create a unique index. You do this by giving each note a tag specific enough that you will only ever have a couple notes per tag. When using tags in this manner, you do not want to tag every note. Instead you just want to create entry point into all the notes you have on a topic. An example of this would be creating a #cognitive-skills tag that leads to this note, which is the start of a sequence of notes on cognitive skills.
Thematic Tags are how tagging is typically done. Often a note will be the intersection of multiple ideas, especially when you are remixing information. For example, my note sequence on the future of work would have both the tags #future and #work. Then when I go to search I type in multiple tags to find if I have notes on the intersection of different topics I write about. It can be especially useful with large note collections if you create a heat map out of them and see if any themes emerge that you didn’t know about.
129 - Links - are pointers that allow for easy navigation between related notes. Internal Links are connections between notes within the program. For Obsidian these take the form of tags (link to a custom selection of notes), index (File Explorer), and links to other notes within the note itself. External Links are connections between a note and either an external program, most commonly a web page.
You can think of links as serving both a specific and general purpose. The specific purpose is to point you towards a set of information you are looking for. This is what the file explorer and search function are for. The general purpose of links is to inform you of related information to what you are searching for. If you think about the information suprisal factor of a link, then the best ones are those that point you towards additional information that you were unaware of.
The additional information can either be specific or contextual. A contextual link can point you towards the wider context of information. A note about my father sits in the wider context of his social relationships (family, work, community, etc). A helpful contextual link would point you towards the wider context of a note that you didn’t know about. A specific link would be linking to another related concept, such that you fabricate serendipity between notes.
130 - Quality of Connections - Every note you create will be full of terminology. Each term is a connection you can create in a note. Then you can also put in connections to related concepts that aren’t directly mentioned in the note, which you’ll see when I put a “See” or “Related” at the end of the note.
This led me to think about what is the right balance with linking? I imagine that heavily linking my notes, such that every sentence has multiple links, is not only distracting but a waste of time. You want to strike a balance, such that you are only linking the most useful information. You can think about it through the utility & suprisal framework.
High Quality Connections would therefore be ones that are useful, even if they aren’t surprising. A perfect link would be one that would provide you with new information that you can use. A less than ideal link (but still good) would be one that provides you with useful information but you pretty much already know. This leads to the question of “what makes a link useful?”.
Low Quality Connections would be connections that have little utility, whether they be surprising or not. What would be an example of both? #todo
131 - Design of Perfect Zettelkasten App - what would be the features of my ideal zettelkasten application? One way to approach this question is to think about what software features facilitate knowledge management and knowledge development.
What information can you include in the storage process that will make note retrieval easier?
What information can you include in the storage process that will facilitate knowledge development?
How can you sort your notes to make information retrieval easier?
How can you sort your notes to facilitate knowledge development?
What can you do to the search or selection process to make sure you are retrieving all the relevant information?
How can information summarizing be integrated and useful in a zettelkasten system?
What does curation look like in a zettelkasten system?
The primary question around storing information in a zettelkasten app is what structures and meta data will best facilitate retrieval of the information at a later date, which involves the sorting and selecting processes. The other important question is what meta data or formatting structure can you include to help facilitate knowledge development?
There are five components to the storage format: note title, note headers, note body, note tags, and note links. Note titles allow you to link to the note either through the program itself (file explorer, note search) or in the body of the note (e.g. hyperlinks). You can also include secondary functions through titles such as having a Time ID that gives you context for a specific period of your life or unique names that give you a quick idea of what the notes are about.