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.
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.
Required for your primary field of study? (e.g. Introduction to Psychology textbook for student planning on becoming a Psychologist, see specialized knowledge)
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?
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.
134 - Simple vs. Simplistic - you want to aim for simple understanding, explanations, and solutions, while avoiding simplistic ones.
ThoughtCo offers a good explanation of the difference between the two. The importance of knowing the difference between the two was brought to my attention from reading Feynman’s books. Not sure which book he talks about it in, but here is a blog post that sums up his views.
Take notes on core concepts, models, and relationships + memorize them.
DO NOT take notes on them + memorize them
Take notes on core concepts, models, and relationships + DO NOT memorize them
DO NOT take notes on core concepts, models, and relationships + DO NOT memorize them
Option 1: you want to do this if you think you’ll be further developing those topics, while also needing to memorize them for test
Option 2: you don’t think you’ll be further developing them but need to memorize them for the test. You usually do this for concepts that you think you’ll be using so much that you don’t need notes on them because you’ll always have them memorized until you die. The most basic example of this is the words in this sentence. You don’t have a note for every word that I’m using right now because you have it memorized forever.
Option 3: Information that you find interesting or believe to be important but won’t be tested on, so no need to memorize. These might be concepts you think will want to expand upon or use to develop other concepts in the future. These are often notes you take while reading common nonfiction books.
Option 4: These are concepts you don’t plan on developing or already have memorized. You don’t copy and paste every word in a book or memorize the entire book. Often this is the irrelevant details used in a book to help you understand a concept (e.g. examples and supporting details).
Note Taking at its core is the storage of information. This information started out in the form of knowledge (memorized information) that aided us in survival as a species, such as the location of the watering hole and what time of day animals congregate there.
Over time as survival became easier, we have been given the space that allows for the collection of information that isn’t vital to living. The explosion of information ran into conflict with our brains desire to streamline information for survival purposes (forgetting). So we started to write down information that we didn’t want to forget and referenced it when necessary.
This also allowed us to share information with each other over time and space, leading to an even greater proliferation of information. Over the centuries you see the cycle of information explosion and creation of tools to manage it, such as the index and table of contents.
For most of time the tools have been centered around the core four note functions involved in referencing: storage, sorting, selecting, summarizing (Blair 2010, pg 15). Lets take a look at it from a paper and digital viewpoint, starting with a paper reference book.
You start by storing the information on paper of various sizes and qualities.
You then create pointers to the different sections of information so that you can easily find them again. Two common ways of sorting the pointers are thematic and alphabetical.
The reader would then select the information they want to reference using the sorted pointers. If you wanted to search for the information thematically, you’d use a table of contents. Alphabetically, you’d use an index.
Because the information out there is too big for one book, the authors of reference books would include summaries of other information collections (other books).
You store the information on a latticework of webpages, with each page explaining an idea or concept.
The information is sorted through unique page names, which in turn can be searched, removing the need for advanced sorting techniques. On both mentioned websites, pages are often sorted thematically for easier comprehension with the use of hubs or table of contents.
To select the information you can either use links or a universal search.
Wikipedia implements summarizing through the creation of page introductions/overviews at the top of each page.
Zettelkasten, “note box” in German, is a broad term that can represent a different set of ideas depending on who you talk to. For the purpose of this guide, I am using it to reference both the note taking system of sociologist Niklas Luhmann and my digital interpretation of it.
The zettelkasten system is about introducing a fifth function, that of development. Instead of just structuring material for future reference (e.g. book or wiki), you are structuring it in a way that helps you further develop your knowledge base . Once a section of your knowledge base (zettelkasten) has been sufficiently developed, you can then use it in a couple of ways.
You can share the knowledge you developed through a research paper, blog post, or book.
You can formalize the knowledge into a more useful form that can then be referenced later. This would be using your zettelkasten to create an entry in your personal wiki.
Leave the notes alone and just reference them next time you run into a situation where that set of information would be helpful.
You can formalize the knowledge into a model that you memorize. This would be akin to creating a sequence of notes about a cooking recipe that you are experimenting with. After you’ve created a sequence of notes on the recipe over a span of 3 years, you memorize the ideal recipe intentionally with a program like Anki or unintentionally by just using the recipe frequently.
You can further developing your knowledge base in multiple ways. The two primary forms it takes is the generation of new ideas and the creation of structure.
As you create individual notes and link them together, you are creating a structure. Structure can take the form of mapping out the most important components of a idea. If I were to model/map out “my family”, I would include notes on all the members and the interpersonal dynamics between us. Another form of structure is the creation of arguments and the corresponding evidence, including counter evidence. For example, I have a sequence of notes about how awesome dogs are. Every time I come across new information that supports or detracts from this argument, I add it to the note sequence.
One important understanding about Luhmann’s Zettelkasten system is a lot of his design choices were centered around limitations placed on him by having a physical system. It is important to keep that in mind when creating a digital zettelkasten because it does not face the same restrictions, so some design choices may be different.
143 - Exploring Pizza with a Zettelkasten, a Practical Example - explaining how a zettelkasten works through further developing my own knowledge of pizza
The first part is to develop an understanding of your subject matter. Developing an understanding is about taking the existing knowledge on a subject matter and forming it into a working model. Mapping out all the different ways you can approach the subject in order to understand its components and how they connect.
Developing an Understanding - What makes a pizza? What is the history of pizza?
The second part is about developing new knowledge. In this case it could be developing your own preferences for pizzas and using your knowledge to communicate opinions.
Developing an Argument - Should pineapple be outlawed?
A students job is to acquire knowledge, understanding, and skills necessary to thrive in a given field. The could take the form of applying the skills and background knowledge to the problems faced by the private sector. Or it can mean using the knowledge and skills in academia to help further push understanding forward (graduate student).
What is a student developing and how can the zettelkasten help?
The primary goal for an undergraduate student is to structure build internal models (aka developing personal knowledge) that they then use for passing tests and writing papers. Often students will fail by only engaging in rote memorization instead of combining it with structure building. Structure building internal models lead to better understanding and longer lasting models. But even these models will fade overtime without use. This is where the zettelkasten comes in. It serves as a form of external memory to keep track of the models and their details. Then years down the line, if the student has forgotten about the model, they can reference their zettelkasten to refresh their understanding.
What is a graduate student developing and how can the zettelkasten help?
A graduate student is further developing both their understanding of a field writ large while also attempting to develop a novel contribution. This contribution could be the exploration of a unexplored connection between two well established concepts or completely new theorizing. They do this primarily by cycling between consulting their graduate advisors and exploratory reading (Shore 2016, pg 127).
Undergraduate students are not developing new knowledge but instead developing an understanding of existing knowledge. What does that look like?
You are creating an understanding of a set of ideas and the relationships between them. How the ideas connect to each other and the wider picture (e.g. the field you are studying) is the context.
With a zettelkasten , you have two options.
You can create notes out of what you are studying and then use them as a basis for further development, because all knowledge builds off each other. But this is not always necessary, more of a personal preference, usually depending on how well you know the material. You typically don’t have notes for material that is so well ingrained in you because there is no need for them. You can just rely on your memory instead.
You can creates notes out of what you are studying as a way to facilitate understanding. Often times explicitly writing down concepts and their connections forces you to really understand what you are learning, so creating notes can serve as a elaboration tool for learning. See “processing a textbook for understanding” below for how this would look pratically.
When taking notes to facilitate understanding (option 2 above) it is important to keep in my that you are engaging in a trade off. By choosing to take notes on a topic, you are giving up precious time to the universe and that may not be worth it. For example, I’m not going to create notes for every word in the english language because that would be a waste of time. Instead I might create notes for words I find very important and am actively writing about. You want to do the same thing with textbooks.
Think of it as a spectrum. One one end, it is a waste of time when you are creating notes around concepts you are extremely familiar with because you already have mental notes. On the opposite end, you are wasting time by taking notes on concepts you’ll never use or write about. You want to be in the middle, where you are taking notes on concepts that you don’t know so well but will still use in your working life.