Obsidian Zettelkasten

155 - Creating a Zettelkasten within Obsidian

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156 - Your first Zettelkasten Note

You now have Obsidian set up and ready to use, staring at a blank screen. It doesn’t really matter what your first note is. If you are having note creation paralysis then create a note describing what problem you want to solve or what area of information you want to develop knowledge in. Once you’ve done that then start with step 1 of the Core Zettelkasten Workflow.

157 - Core Zettelkasten Workflow

  1. Pick a source of Information
  • Digest the Source of Information
  • Create Notes out of the Information
  • Create the primary link
    • Note Sequence Link
    • Add to Index Manually?
    • Add to Index with a Tag
  • Link the Notes with other ones
  1. Develop and use your Notes
  • Further Develop Existing Lines of Thought
  • Create new Lines of Thought
  • Using your Notes
    • Formalize your Notes and Share with Others
    • Formalize your Notes for Personal Use
    • Reference your Notes for Personal Use

158 - Developing Specific Knowledge

159 - Developing General Knowledge

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160 - Principles that Support Knowledge Development

Rules help guide you in achieving an outcome. These principles (rules) help push you in the direction of knowledge development instead of just knowledge management.

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161 - Zettelkasten FAQs

Pull from

162 - How to of Knowledge Development - what are the different ways knowledge gets developed and how can we create tools that help facilitate it?

163 - Ranking of Knowledge

If you imagine a graph quadrant:

Quadrant 1: High Utility & General Knowledge is knowledge that is widespread through society but is of high utility due to your ability to execute on it. Think about sports, where most people can play the game but only a handful can play at a high level. The two examples Cal Newport uses for these people in his 2012 book on skills are screenwriters and guitar players.

Quadrant 2: High Utility & Specialized Knowledge is the best type of knowledge you can learn. This is the knowledge that is highly sought after in society but not a lot of people can provide. This knowledge is often difficult to acquire (making it rare) because it is hard to understand or takes a long time to acquire.

Quadrant 3: Low Utility & General Knowledge is the information that still has utility but isn’t particularly valuable because of its ubiquitousness in society. Over time, more and more information gets slotted into this category due to the ability to search the internet and distributed learning (e.g. MOOCs).

Quadrant 4: Low Utility & Specialized Knowledge is the type of knowledge you often see liberal arts majors get mocked for in life. While knowledge about obscure literature still has utility as part of a larger picture, it isn’t highly sought after in society. If you have this type of knowledge, then you have to become much more creative in how you leverage it.

These help contribute to Future Roles in Work


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164 - Steps to Learning

What to Learn

  • Specialized Knowledge & Skills
    • Path of Perfect Execution
    • Unique & Valuable Skills Path
    • 80,000 Hours Approach
  • General Knowledge & Skills
    • Solid understanding of the basics
      • Natural Sciences
        • Physics
        • Chemistry
        • Biology
      • Formal Sciences
        • Mathematics
        • Logic
        • Statistics
      • Social Sciences
        • Anthropology
        • Sociology
        • Psychology
        • History
      • Humanities
        • Mediums of Art
        • Major Themes
    • Mental Models
    • Thinking Skills
      • Critical Thinking
      • Creative Thinking
      • Three Dimensional Thinking
      • Analogical Thinking
    • Communication Skills
      • Writing
      • Speaking
      • Social Media
    • Productivity Skills
      • Deep Work
      • Habits & Routines
      • Time Prioritization
  • Future Skills
    • Working with Machines
    • Gathering insights from Data
    • Computer Programming
    • Effective Communication

How to Learn

  • Finding the right learning material
    • Different mediums of information?
      • Lectures
      • Video - lectures, short videos, etc
      • Audio - audiobooks, podcasts, etc
      • Written Word - books, blogs, wikis, websites, etc
      • Online Courses (MOOCs)
    • What makes a good source for learning?
      • Good match w/ your prior knowledge
      • Well written, makes explicit the model
  • Processing the material
    • Structure Building the Model
      • Components in Structure Building?
    • Elaborating
      • Creating Retrieval Cues
    • Deconstruct the Model for Memorization
  • Practice Problems
    • What are the different types of practice?
  • Dynamic Testing

Further Research and Integration

  1. How does bloom’s taxonomy revised tie into this? What other learning frameworks are out there?

  2. Insights from lasting learning

  3. Insights from SuperMemo Guru

  4. Insights from The Learning Scientists

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165 - Model as a Latticework of Book Abstractions

Zettelkasten is about creating and organizing notes in such a way that they build upon on each other and serve as a form of external long term memory.

Think of a book as a chain of ideas. With it you can either extract out the whole chain or individual links (ideas). Because ideas can be generalized, you will find the same ones across many different books.

For a practical example, see Developing a Model of Storytelling with a Zettelkasten

166 - Thinking of the Zettelkasten as a Machine

If you were to think about it as a function then it would look like:

Input: Information (books as primary sources)

Process: Zettelaksten

  • Abstract the information (Creating the Note)
  • Connect the information (Linking the Note)

Output: Organized Information - Order is the name of the game and what is important in life. For example, a car requires not only for all the parts (information) to be there but for them also to be ordered in a specific way. This is why the organizational component (latticework of note sequences) of a zettelkasten is important.

167 - Example of a Book Deconstruction - if you think of a book as a sequence of ideas, then you want to create a “note sequence” of the most important ideas within the book. You also want each idea in the sequence to live as a standalone note such that you can remove it from the context of the book and have it stand on its own. This allows you to reference the note in other ones while still having it make sense when you revisit it in the far future.

A good resource for how to process books is Grad School Essentials by Zachary Shore.

The book I will be using is Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel.

Main Argument

Book Layout

  • Preface
  • Chapter 1 - Learning is Misunderstood - people tend to be pretty bad at learning because parts of good learning is counter intuitive and we have been duped by ideas that are not well supported.
  • Chapter 2 - To Learn, Retrieve - the backbone of successful learning is Retrieval Practice and [[Testing]]
  • Chapter 3 - Mix Up Your Practice - [[practice]], the application of our acquired knowledge is misunderstood. You want to avoid the commonly used [[massed practice]], while engaging in [[spaced]], [[interleaved]], and [[varied]] practice. These promote [[discrimination skills]].
  • Chapter 4 - Embrace Difficulties - embrace [[desirable difficulties]] such as [[spacing]] and [[interleaving]] because the effort involved leads to more robust learning and better [[encoded] memories.
  • Chapter 5 - Avoid Illusions of Knowing - we suffer from various [[illusions of knowing]] that make it hard for students to understand how well they’ve actually learned a concept, so it is important to learn how to [[calibrate your judgement]].
  • Chapter 6 - Get Beyond Learning Styles - using [[learning styles]] are a poor strategy with little supporting evidence. Instead adopt [[active learning strategies]]. Distill the underlying principles ([[rule learning]]) and build the structure ([[mental model]] & [[structure building]]). Then update those models through [[Dynamic Testing]].
  • Chapter 7 - Increase Your Abilities - the brain is very mutable ([[neuroplasticity]]). While [[brain training]] has no evidence, we know [[nutrition]] is good for the developing brain. Other ways to increase your [[intelligence]] include having a [[growth mindset]], doing [[deliberate practice]] and [[harness mnemonics]].
  • Chapter 8 - Make It Stick - gives learning tips and applications of the above ideas for different types of students.
  • Notes
  • Suggested Reading

Sequence of Ideas

  • Preface
  • 1 - Learning is Misunderstood
  • 2 - To Learn, Retrieve
    • Learning through Reflection
    • The Testing Effect / The Retrieval Practice Effect
    • Retrieval Practice
    • Effortful Retrieval
    • Testing
    • Spaced Retrieval
    • Delayed Feedback
  • 3 - Mix Up Your Practice
    • Massed Practice
    • Spaced Practice
    • Interleaved Practice
    • Varied Practice
    • Discrimination Skills
  • 4 - Embrace Difficulties
    • Desirable Difficulties
    • Memory Encoding
    • Memory Consolidation
    • Memory Retrieval
    • Retrieval Cues
    • Memory Reconsolidation
    • Mental Models
    • Conceptual Learning
    • Transfer of Learning
    • Priming
    • Elaboration
    • Generation
  • 5 - Avoid Illusions of Knowing
    • Metacognition
    • Illusions of Knowing
    • Curse of Knowledge
    • Dunning-Kruger Effect
    • Calibrating Judgment
  • 6 - Get Beyond Learning Styles
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  • 7 - Increase Your Abilities
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  • 8 - Make It Stick
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  • Notes
  • Suggested Reading
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168 - To Index or Not Index - something I’ve been contemplating is the utility of an index. My first thought is that indexes are unnecessary in a digital zettelkasten because you have a search function. In a physical zettelkasten, you need some way of pointing you towards the location of topics when it isn’t obvious. In a digital zettelkasten, this isn’t necessary.

An index in a digital zettelkasten can be useful for quicker retrieval of note sequences. If I search the term “index” in the universal search tool, it will bring up every occurrence of the word index. While that can be useful, it isn’t what I’m trying to do. Instead I’m trying to find the start of my notes on the topic of index. By having the word logged into a manual index, I can go straight to the correct note instead of having to figure out in the search tool which result is the right one.

169 - What to look for in a Book - using the example book deconstruction as an example:

  • Model - what set of rules about learning comes out of reading Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning?
  • Key Concepts/Ideas - what are the main ideas the author wants you to take away and integrate into your own thinking?
  • How the key concepts relate to the larger model - how do the key concepts discovered above relate to the rules?
  • How the key concepts relate to each other?
  • How the key concepts and larger model relate to other notes?

Learning Model

Successful learning involves

  • Rule 1
  • Rule 2

Key Concepts

  • Intentional Retrieval
  • Practice
  • Desirable Difficulties
  • Illusions of Knowing
  • More

Relating Key Concepts to Larger Model

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Relating Key Concepts to Each Other

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Relating new Notes to Existing Ones

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170 - Utility is a common theme throughout how I approach thinking about zettelkasten and knowledge work more broadly. It is also useful to use as one of many lenses to think about life with. At the end of the day, we have limited time and must make a decision. Therefore you should consider the utility of an activity. I think where this conversation gets lost is that people often don’t understand the utility of activities and therefore perceive them as bad.

A common example of this is art. People often devalue art because it doesn’t have immediate utility in their mind. But art is important for the spread of culture, ideas, and values in a society. Even something that is devoid of meaning and purely aesthetic has utility if it promotes an appreciation for life and reality in your mind.

It is also important to create a distinction between utility and efficiency. You don’t want to chase utility to such a degree that you become rigid and dehumanize others. You often see this in business settings, where people get treated like widgets instead of humans with human needs.

Related to Applicability.


171 - Cycling through a set of Books

Learning Books as an Example


Begin Building the notes model with the initial book

Brown, Peter C. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning . Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014.

Then you start reading more and adding to the initial structure

Weinstein, Yana, Megan Sumeracki, and Oliver Caviglioli. Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide . London ; New York, NY: Routledge, 2019.

Carey, Benedict. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth about When, Where, and Why It Happens . First edition. New York: Random House, 2014.

Oakley, Barbara A. A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) . New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2014.

McGuire, Saundra Yancy, and Stephanie McGuire. Teach Yourself How to Learn: Strategies You Can Use to Ace Any Course at Any Level . First edition. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus, 2018.

Doyle, Terry. The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain . Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Pub, 2013.

Then you might start with introductory textbooks if you are still interested in the topic

Gluck, Mark A., Eduardo Mercado, and Catherine E. Myers. Learning and Memory: From Brain to Behavior . New York: Worth Publishers, 2008. Topic: Psychology

Bear, Mark F., Barry W. Connors, and Michael A. Paradiso. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain . Fourth edition. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2016. Topic: Neuroscience

Then move onto intermediate textbooks

Baddeley, Alan D., Michael W. Eysenck, and Michael C. Anderson. Memory . Second edition. London ; New York, NY: Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015. Topic: Memory

McBride, Dawn M., and J. Cooper Cutting. Cognitive Psychology: Theory, Process, and Methodology . Los Angeles: Sage, 2016. Topic: Cognitive Psychology

Hoy, Anita Woolfolk. Educational Psychology . Fourteenth edition. New York, New York: PEARSON, 2019. Topic: Educational Psychology

Illeris, Knud, ed. Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists… in Their Own Words . Second edition. London New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2018.

Then read more advanced textbooks

Byrne, John H. Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference , 2018. http://www.credoreference.com/book/estlearning.

Murphy, Robin A, and Robert C Honey. The Wiley Handbook on the Cognitive Neuroscience of Learning , 2018. http://www.credoreference.com/book/wileyocnl.

Clark, Robert E, and Stephen J Martin. Behavioral Neuroscience of Learning and Memory , 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-78757-2.

Then start to follow the current research

172 - Useful Links - a link becomes useful when it promotes further understanding on a topic. The problem you run into with this is that you don’t always know what level of understanding your future self will have on a subject matter. If you understand it really well down the line, then all the links you created become useless and distracting. If on the other hand, your level of prior knowledge on a topic is low then links that provide more information become very useful.

Related to concept of Utility

173 - Knowledge Management - is the second layer of abstraction in note taking, with the first being information storage as a solution to a limited memory. Once the information has been stored, then you add layers of structure to facilitate information retrieval. This means being able to find the right set of information once you are presented with a retrieval cue.

In the case of this note, perhaps you see the word retrieval cue and don’t know what the term means. So you either search for a note on it or type it into google. It is a stimulus (e.g. seeing the word on the screen) that prompts you to search for more information on it (e.g. google the phrase retrieval cue).

Traditionally, before the computer, people relied on custom search tools to find the information. These would take the form of an index, table of contents, reference book, or word of mouth.

The third layer of abstraction is the introduction of tools that promote not just management, but development.

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174 - Zettelkasten is Learning - learning is essentially the process of taking in new information, processing it for long term storage, and tying it to your prior knowledge.

Learning, when done right, is going beyond just rote memorization. You are structure building mental models by combining the new information in front of you with what you already know. In Bloom’s Taxonomy Revised, the cognitive processes involved in learning are: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

If you were to map the cognitive processes to the zettelkasten:

  • Remember - basic storage and retrieval ability in the zettelkasten. You can type up a note and then find it again through the file explorer or search function.
  • Understand - a topic in the zettelkasten through the creation of notes and interlinking them, such that you link to the wider context or topics. You can also facilitate understanding by removing the immediate context of a concept and writing it in your own words.
  • Apply - include possible applications of a concept to help facilitate understanding.
  • Analyze - further develop ideas in your zettelkasten by breaking down concepts into their constituent parts
  • Evaluate claims and arguments within a zettelkasten by collecting evidence and counter evidence over a long period of time.
  • Create new ideas in the zettelkasten by comparing two notes and thinking about how they might be related or can be “remixed”.