Obsidian Zettelkasten

40 - 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.

41 - 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.

42 - 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

43 - 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

44 - 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.

45 - 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.


46 - 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

47 - 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?

48 - 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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49 - 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.

Creative Productivity Project

The creative productivity project is a public notes collection I’m creating around giving people models that they can use to improve different aspects of their life. It is a framework focused around developing the environment and skills needed for creative problem solving, which in turn can be applied to problems in your own life, your community, and society at large.

The project centers around five major themes. The first theme is health because you will not be productive unless you get your physical and mental health in order. The second theme is productivity because nothing happens unless you put in the hours and do the work. This means developing good habits and routines. The third theme is learning because you need an existing knowledge base to bounce new information off in order to generate creative ideas. The fourth theme creative productivity itself, which is learning how to generate new ideas and evaluate them. The final theme is about learning how to act on your creative solution to a problem. This means either being able to effectively communicate the solution to others and mobilize people if necessary.

Note - the Github link above is from an outdated version. I am currently developing it privately within my Obsidian Vault until it reaches a level of critical mass or I find a good way to publish it (e.g. Obsidian Publish or Neuron).

Retroactively ID created, see Note 23

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51 - Structure Building Framework lays out the mental processes used to understand and create meaning out of text. You do this through creating mental structures out of the information you are studying. When done properly, through rule learning, you are taking the most salient points from a text and relating them to each other with hierarchies and webs of knowledge, while ignoring the irrelevant details.

For example, if you think of a medieval society, their exists vertical relationships(king and his subjects) and horizontal ones(different guilds operating in a town).


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52 - Storing is the process of recording information for future reference. The two important aspects of storage are the medium and workflow. The medium is where you store your notes. Do you write it on a clay tablet, piece of papyrus, note card, or note taking app? The workflow is the process you stick to for recording your notes and any rules you follow. In the zettelkasten, a workflow rule would be the principle of atomicity, where you keep a note small enough to allow an idea to be referenced elsewhere. See 2 - Note Size.

  • 5a1 - Evolution of Storage - new mediums of storage drove [[infoglut]] which in turn drove new methods of [[sortig]], [[summarizing]], and [[selecitng]].
  • 5A1a - Memory Storage

Music as Stored Information

53 - Ray Dalio Archtypes - Ray Dalio has a similar process to what I had in mind for developing external models within the zettelkasten. Instead of calling his maps of reality models like I do, he uses archtypes. Here is a explanation from him

“Through my research I saw that there were many cases of the same type of thing happening (e.g., depressions) and that by studying them just like a doctor studies many cases of a particular type of disease, I could gain a deeper understanding of how they work. The way I work is to study as many of the important cases of a particular thing I can find and then to form a picture of a typical one, which I call an archetype. The archetype helps me see the cause-effect relationships that drive how these cases typically progress. Then I compare how the specific cases transpire relative to the archetypical one to understand what causes the differences between each case and the archetype. This process helps me refine my understanding of the cause-effect relationships to the point where I can create decision-making rules in the form of “if/then” statements—i.e., if X happens, then make Y bet. Then I watch actual events transpire relative to that template and what we are expecting. I do these things in a very systematic way with my partners at Bridgewater Associates.[1a] If events are on track we continue to bet on what typically comes next, and if events start to deviate we try to understand why and course correct.”

Source My Approach Section in the Introduction

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54 - Internal Models are models that we build up inside our minds over time. They can represent your natural understanding of a subject matter such as the laws of physics or the steps in making the perfect cup of espresso. They are the ones that have become so well ingrained that you stop thinking about them and they become habits.

Internal Models can also take the form of explicit tools that you’ve memorized to help with thinking about problems. Typically internal models start out as explicit ones and naturally turn into implicit ones with repeated use. This is why intuition exists, and is commonly experienced by experts.

55 - External Models are models we build up outside of our mind because of the limiting factors involved in memory. These models can be referenced during special events (e.g. Ray Dalio Archetypes) or just at infrequent intervals. If you end up using the model often, then it will naturally become internalized (memorized).

The zettelkasten is well suited for building external models, as its gives you a permanent structure and reference point as the model gets built up over a long period of time. Reason for this is that you don’t come across all the relevant information in a single block of time, for example see timeline (#excise).

When a section of notes reaches critical mass, you use them to aid with a piece of writing (blog post, research paper, book, etc). In the same way, when an external model reaches critical mass, you have two options. The first option is to leave it be and just reference it when presented with a related problem. The second option is to memorize it so that it becomes an internal model that you can use in your everyday life.

Example of a External Model

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56 - Procedural Models are models about how to carry out tasks. They can be internal models (e.g. steps to start a car and pull out of the drive way) or external models (e.g. guide to healthy eating or preflight checklist for an airplane pilot).

Comes from Procedural Knowledge

57 - Mental Models are internal structures our minds form about reality that helps us predict and navigate a world full of complexity. There are three central explorations that I think about with mental models: understanding of the model, when to use the model, and what models are worth internalizing.

You have to prioritize what mental models you internalize because creating knowledge, which is a step beyond information structures, takes time and effort. You want to memorize the models which have the most applicability (e.g. general thinking concepts) or are of high value (e.g. highly desired skills).

See Similarity between Design Patterns and Mental Models

10e4b - Understanding Models
10e4c - When to use a Model
10e4d - What models are worth Internalizing

58 - Various Definitions of Mental Models

Wikipedia - “A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about his or her own acts and their consequences.”

American Psychological Association - "A mental model is any internal representation of the relations between a set of elements, as, for example, between workers in an office or department, the elements of a mathematics or physics problem, the terms of a syllogism, or the configuration of objects in a space.

Such models may contain perceptual qualities and may be abstract in nature. They can be manipulated to provide dynamic simulations of possible scenarios and are thought to be key components in decision making. In the context of ergonomics, for example, a mental model of a system or product would include its various attributes, rules for operation and handling, and expectations regarding use and consequences and would be used to guide the individual’s interactions with the system or product in question. See also shared mental model."

The Model Thinker: What You Need to Know to Make Data Work for You by Scott Page - "Models are formal structures represented in mathematics and diagrams that help us to understand the world. Mastery of models improves your ability to reason, explain, design, communicate, act, predict, and explore.

This book promotes a many-model thinking approach: the application of ensembles of models to make sense of complex phenomena. The core idea is that many-model thinking produces wisdom through a diverse ensemble of logical frames. The various models accentuate different causal forces. Their insights and implications overlap and interweave. By engaging many models as frames, we develop nuanced, deep understandings."

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell - “Reality is amazingly complex. The only way our minds are able to get by at all is by simplifying reality so that we can make some sense of it. Correspondingly, our minds do not deal with reality itself, but instead with models of reality”,

“Our brains do a tremendous amount of work to boil down the complexity of reality into simpler mental models that can be easily stored, considered, and manipulated. And this is not just the case for visual objects. It is also the case for human relationships, risk and reward evaluation, and decision making. Our minds look at a complex situation and try to boil it down to a simple set of rules and relationships that we can manipulate internally.”

Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models by Gabriel Weinberg - “Though we discuss a wide array of topics, we often find common threads—recurring concepts that help us explain, predict, or approach these seemingly disparate subjects. Examples range from more familiar concepts, such as opportunity cost and inertia, to more obscure ones, such as Goodhart’s law and regulatory capture. (We will explain these important ideas and many more in the pages that follow.)”

These recurring concepts are called mental models. Once you are familiar with them, you can use them to quickly create a mental picture of a situation, which becomes a model that you can later apply in similar situations.

The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts by Shane Parish - "This is the first of a series of volumes aimed at defining and exploring the Great Mental Models—those that have the broadest utility across our lives. Mental models describe the way the world works. They shape how we think, how we understand, and how we form beliefs. Largely subconscious, mental models operate below the surface. We’re not generally aware of them and yet they’re the reason when we look at a problem we consider some factors relevant and others irrelevant. They are how we infer causality, match patterns, and draw analogies. They are how we think and reason.

A mental model is simply a representation of how something works. We cannot keep all of the details of the world in our brains, so we use models to simplify the complex into understandable and organizable chunks. Whether we realize it or not, we then use these models every day to think, decide, and understand our world. While there are millions of mental models, some true and some false, these volumes will focus on the ones with the greatest utility—the all-star team of mental models."

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown - “A mental model is a mental representation of some external reality. With enough effortful practice, a complex set of interrelated ideas or a sequence of motor skills fuse into a meaningful whole, forming a mental model somewhat akin to a “brain app”.”

59 - Public Note Repositories - are collections of peoples personal notes made public. I’m still thinking about the utility of them. On one hand they are a good for showing others a tangible example of how to create a notes collections. My favorite so far is Andy’s Working Notes in terms of layout and quality of content.

It is not a particularly desirable way of communicating information to others because they aren’t structured for easy understanding. Instead what you’d want is either a blog (e.g. Wait But Why, Derek Sivers, and Farnam Street), site of curated articles (e.g. thoughtco or owlcation), or small wikis (e.g. SuperMemo Guru, AskHistorians Wiki). While these options are better than a standalone notes collection they are still lacking. Specifically they don’t do the best job of addressing the issue of match quality in learning.

The direction I am currently leaning is to make a Wiki with an explorable back end that is a zettelkasten. The homepage of the website would be a [table of contents] similar to my old github one which leads to wiki entries of similar size to supermemo guru. Inside each of the entries are links to the zettelkasten notes that were used to build them. You could also access the zettelkasten through an index, which would be a link in the sites navigation bar.

See Curated list of Public Zettelkastens / Second Brains / Digital Gardens