Obsidian Zettelkasten

114 - Knowledge Development - Zettelkasten is about knowledge development, while wikis are better suited for knowledge management.

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.

The wider context of this note would be Zettelkasten Principles (Note 1e).

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.

See 17a1 - Future Roles and 17a3 - Future Skills and Abilities

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.

Four Options of Information Suprisal

26b - Surprising & Useful
26c - Surprising & Useless
26d - Unsurprising & Useful
26e - Unsurprising & Useless

Surprisal & Prior Knowledge

Surprising & Useful Information

Surprising & Useless Information

Unsurprising & Useful Information

Unsurprising & Useless Information

Using suprisal and utility to look at what knowledge is worth prioritizing in development

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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.

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Zettelkasten Research

Blog Posts

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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.

See Ranking of Knowledge

What is the right amount of information?

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.

See also Steps to Learning

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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.

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128 - Multi Tags Plugin - allow for different type of tags, whereby there are two tags pane. This allows for the creation of both Keyword & Thematic Tags.

Not sure how this would be technically implemented, but from a design standpoint you could easily distinguish between the two types of tags using color.

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.

Related Connections & Quality of Connections

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

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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.

  1. What information can you include in the storage process that will make note retrieval easier?
  2. What information can you include in the storage process that will facilitate knowledge development?
  3. How can you sort your notes to make information retrieval easier?
  4. How can you sort your notes to facilitate knowledge development?
  5. What can you do to the search or selection process to make sure you are retrieving all the relevant information?
  6. How can information summarizing be integrated and useful in a zettelkasten system?
  7. 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.

Other Features

Placeholder Text

Related - Layers of Structure


Ideal Note Format

131 - Textbook Deconstruction - start out by asking yourself why you are reading the textbook? This will dictate what the best approach to taking notes on it will be.

  1. Required for your primary field of study? (e.g. Introduction to Psychology textbook for student planning on becoming a Psychologist, see specialized knowledge)

  2. Part of your learning for general knowledge? (e.g. Economics Textbook for a course that you have to take but isn’t part of your core knowledge base)

Components of a textbook you can take notes on: key terms, concepts, models, and their relationships. For introductory textbooks, you can often think of the table of contents as a representation of a basic model of the field. What can you do with these components?

#rework #to-do

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132 - Foundational Notes are the notes you make to create an initial layer of structure that further notes will be tied to. They are created to help facilitate knowledge development.

They can take the form of basic knowledge (e.g. term’s definition) or structural knowledge (e.g. book’s table of contents). Sometimes those are combined, as is the case with my future roles note, which lays out all the different future roles and provides defenitions for each.

When thinking about basic knowledge, it can be well established and already defined information (e.g. cognition note) or new terminology (e.g. evergreen notes).

Notes on structural knowledge are for mapping out an idea, in which you think you’ll forget the map. I will often do this with the use of bullet point lists at the end of notes. An example of this would be Note 111, pictured below.

I will often put a #todo at the end of it as a reminder to come back and create notes around the different parts of the map/outline.

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133 - Simple Zettelkasten Guide - this post over on Zettelkasten De forum made me realize I should probably work on creating a very simple zettelkasten guide.

Once I’ve filled out all the notes listed below, then I will combine them all in the forum post.


Creation of a more Elaborate Zettelkasten Guide being outlined here