Obsidian Zettelkasten

30 - Purpose of Note Taking - Note Taking at its core is an answer to the problem of a restricted human memory system. We do not have the time nor attention span to properly encode and store all the information we think will be important. So we make a note of it, with the intention of referencing it later on after we’ve forgotten the details.

Future reference is the classical use of note taking, whereby the note acts a form of external memory. In its most simplest form, it is offloading a piece of information onto a sticky note so that you don’t have to keep it looping in your short term memory. It serves as a reminder. More permanent notes helps with information that you want to be able to access much later, similar to long term memory.

Over time we moved from private note collections to public versions due to an infoglut in medieval society. People started curating information and offering summaries of worthwhile information in the form of reference books. You see the modern equivalent in websites such as Blinkist.

Notes as a form of External Structure Building - Eventually readers such as Luhmann were looking to get more out of there notes than mere referencing. He did this through the creation of a linking system in a physical note collection. When you introduce linking into a system, it allows for information to be connected and form a structure. For example, neurons link together in your brain to make a structure that takes the form of a “small world network”. Luhmann was building a structure (network of notes) that represented “the entire spectrum of social phenomena” through a grand theory of society (Schmidt, 2018).

31 - Information Workflow - is a framework you can use for thinking about how to deal with incoming information in knowledge work.

One way to deal with new information is to break it down into atomized chunks that allow it to be incorporated into a spaced repetition software for memorization. This is the information that you believe to be important because it is required for a school test or you anticipate high usage. This is important because we store memories for later use.

The second way to deal with new information is to record it in a reference system instead of memorization. Reference systems can take the form of personal wikis, note collections, and reference books. This has been the purpose of note taking throughout much of human history as a way to deal with information overload. In medieval times, reference systems take the form of reference books containing quotes and associations (x plant is good for curing y disease). Some reference books contained collections of summaries which would give readers an idea if a book is worth checking out.

The third way to deal with new information is to integrate it into a zettelkasten, which goes beyond information management (the second way, e.g. a wiki) and works towards knowledge development.

The fourth way to deal with new information is to immediately use. You are constantly doing this throughout life. When you see a car in your rear-view mirror, you immediately incorporate it into your existing model of that roadway.

The final way to deal with new information is to just ignore it. This is what we do with the vast majority of information and stimuli. You don’t memorize all the words in a book, instead you selectively take notes or create an internal abstraction of the books argument.

32 - Goal for my Zettelkasten is to create and further develop models that can referenced during events or internalized for everyday use. My primary focus is on developing models that revolve around knowledge work and improving ones life. Those two concepts are closely tied together because having a good environment and set of habits will help facilitate deep knowledge work.

33 - Interal vs. External Models - External Models (event models) are ones that you go to for advice when a common (e.g. relationship break up) or uncommon (e.g. great depression occurs) event happens. Internalized models are ones you want to memorize after they get sufficiently developed. These are models that you memorize either because you use them frequently (e.g. model of how to drive for your daily drive to work) or they are highly valuable. For example, an emergency room doctor will have obscure information memorized because they don’t have the time to look up information during an emergency. Even if they find themselves not using that set of information/model often.

See also Models

34 - Hubs are collections of note sequences centered around a theme. You create a hub once you notice a bunch of notes in your index centered around a topic.

An example in my own zettelkasten is I had the follow index entries

  • Note Taking, Problems in
  • Note Functions, Core
  • History of Note Taking
  • Public Note Repositories
  • Ideal Note Taking Program

Once I notice 5-10 notes centering around a certain topic (e.g. Note Taking) I will excise them out the index into their own note and then link that new hub note to the index.


List of books and research material that I want to read and integrate into this zettelkasten:

  • Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age by Ann Blair
  • Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs, 1548-1929 by Markus Krajewski
  • The Art of Note Taking by Beatrice Webb
  • The Memory Code by Lynne Kelly
  • A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel
  • The Science of Managing Our Digital Stuff by Ofer Bergman

Zettelkasten Research

Zettelkasten Research

Could share this as an Obsidian Vault please?

@Kuncy I don’t follow, are you talking about the entire zettelkasten or just the bibliography entries?

39 - Abstract Knowledge is information that has gone through the process of generalization to produce knowledge that is highly applicable because of its abstractness (Wozniak 2020).

It is the type of knowledge you typically want to acquire because it is just more useful as you can apply it to a wider set of situations (e.g. General Thinking Concepts).

40 - Generalization “is the process in which you ignore the details to reveal a deeper structure. The term overlaps with abstraction, conceptualization, inductive reasoning, modeling, theorization, categorization, conclusion, unification, colligation, de-concretization, pattern extraction, and pattern separation” (Wozniak 2020).

You also see this process happening with memory, where information disappears as you go from sensory memory → working/short term memory → long-term storage → retrieval from long term storage. See Memory Consolidation.


41 - Applicability refers to the utility of a rule or model (Wozniak 2020), how much use you can get out of it. You create a mental model of the inside of a car such that when you get into someone elses car you are still able to drive it. You don’t get bogged down in the details and become unable to drive it because the steering wheel is a different color from yours.

In life you want to find the models that have a high applicability because what good is a model if you never use it. Exception being high value internalized models.

42 - Abstractness is “the universality of a concept or rule(Wozniak 2020). Abstractness often tracks along side applicability because abstract knowledge has gone through generalization, which allows it to apply to a wider set of situations.

You have to be careful though because if knowledge becomes too abstract than it loses its meaning and ceases to be applicable. If I’ve removed so many details that you can’t make sense of some information then it is of no use.

43 - Concept is “a generalization of a set of objects/nouns. It overlaps with idea, entity, notion, group, etc.” (Wozniak 2020). Concepts allow you to work with new but familiar objects because you can match them to the “prototypical example” and immediately gain information about them.

If all you’ve used in your life are kitchen table and rocking chairs, then you don’t suddenly become unable to sit when presented with a computer chair. You are able to successfully adapt to the new chair because you have the concept of a chair to work with.

APA Definition

1. an idea that represents a class of objects or events or their properties, such as cats , walking , honesty , blue , or fast . See conceptualization; conjunctive concept; disjunctive concept. See also abstract idea.

2. in conditioning, a class of stimuli to which an organism responds in a similar or identical manner (see stimulus generalization) and that the organism discriminates from other classes. —conceptual adj.

Wikipedia Definition

Concepts are defined as abstract ideas or general notions that occur in the mind, in speech, or in thought. They are understood to be the fundamental building blocks of thoughts and beliefs. They play an important role in all aspects of cognition.

In contemporary philosophy, there are at least three prevailing ways to understand what a concept is:[4]

Concepts can be organized into a hierarchy, higher levels of which are termed “superordinate” and lower levels termed “subordinate”. Additionally, there is the “basic” or “middle” level at which people will most readily categorize a concept.[5] For example, a basic-level concept would be “chair”, with its superordinate, “furniture”, and its subordinate, “easy chair”.

When the mind makes a generalization such as the concept of tree , it extracts similarities from numerous examples; the simplification enables higher-level thinking.

A concept is instantiated (reified) by all of its actual or potential instances, whether these are things in the real world or other ideas.

When the mind makes a generalization such as the concept of tree, it extracts similarities from numerous examples; the simplification enables higher-level thinking.

Lexico Definition

An abstract idea.

Philosophy An idea or mental image which corresponds to some distinct entity or class of entities, or to its essential features, or determines the application of a term (especially a predicate), and thus plays a part in the use of reason or language.

Further Reading

44 - Model is a “set of rules that apply to a specific phenomenon. It overlaps with theory, metaphor, opinion, schema, view, (concept) map, and more” (Wozniak 2020).

When we take information through the process of generalization and use structure building, we create a mental model of the phenomenon. This process distills the most important parts of the model, which we can then use to carry out a task (e.g. drive a car to work) or solve a problem (e.g. got a flat tire on a car) in the future.

See Interal vs. External Models and Archtypes

Internal Models

External Models

Procedural Models

Mental Models

Example of a Model

45 - Rule is " : a generalization of an observed regularity. It overlaps with formula, theorem, principle, proposition, law, statement, and more." (Wozniak 2020).

You use rules to get a desired outcome because they point you towards an “action → outcome” relationship that repeats. So you can rely on the rule when you make decisions or act in the world.

When you combine a set of rules you create a model, which allows you to work with a multifaceted phenomenon. See 10e1 - Food Rules.

46 - CSS (cascading style sheets) are special files typically used to style websites. You can use a CSS file to style Obsidian, which is a big plus for me because I am a stickler about visuals/design.


47 - Knowledge Work Feedback Loops are loops of processes used in knowledge work. There are several different loops that I’m interested in:

  • Metacognitive Feedback Loop - 12b
  • Structure Building Feedback Loop - 12c
  • Research Thesis Feedback Loop - 12d

48 - Zettelkasten Feedback Loop involves structure building mental models in your zettelkasten over a long period of time through reading multiple books.

  • Developing storytelling ability through Zettelkasten - 12a1
  • Developing stories themselves through Zettelkasten - 12a1a
  • Zettelkasten for Scientists - 12a1b
  • Zettelkasten for Self Improvement - 12a1c
  • Zettelkasten for Programmers - 12a1d
  • Zettelkasten for Students - 12a1e
  • Zettelkasten for Laywers - 12a1f

The point of this is that you further develop ideas over a long period of time. Why do we do this?

49 - Developing a Model of Storytelling w/ Zettelkasten - if you are a writer or screenwriter, you can use the zettelkasten to develop an external model of “what makes a good story” and “why we tell stories” over a span of 14 years (or lifetime because your zettelkasten doesn’t disappear).

Example Timeline

2005 - Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need - You read your first book on storytelling while taking a class on screen writing in college and build a basic model around how to tell a good story.

2009 - Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting - Four years later you come across another book on screenwriting and add information from it that is new and enriches your model developed back in 2005.

2012 - The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human - same process as before, but instead this time you are fleshing out the reasons why we like story more so than what makes a good story.

2015 - Screen Writing 101 by Film Crit Hulk

2019 - The Science of Storytelling - In a sense this is a good book that you could develop in the zettelkasten because it draws heavily on many different fields of social science to explain “the science of storytelling”. So you could imagine the author reading different social science books, textbooks, and research papers over the years. Then when he hit a critical mass of notes around the subject “science behind storytelling”, he coalesced them and wrote a book about it.

During this time, you can also read other nonfiction books, integrating their lessons on society and human nature into your notes on how stories work

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50 - Connections aren’t Immediate. New knowledge often comes from the interaction between your existing knowledge base and what you learn. You will not always have an aha moment during a research project but you perhaps may have it 2 years later when a new piece of information allows you to see a connection that you hadn’t before. This is one of the reasons for why the zettelkasten works so well.

It gives you layers of structure that allow for information to connected that are seperated by strectches of time.