On the process of making MOCs

Over a lifetime goals and interests change. You have a laudable goal and one of the tools you’re using to facilitate that goal is Obsidian. My goal is to learn to think better.

Regardless of goals, or the lack of them, I think the most important thing is to fill Obsidian with what currently interests you. It’s nice to have a direction, but even if you don’t, at some point in your life those notes will be important.

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If your goal changes, perhaps its the wrong goal. Again, I don’t see what could be more fundamental and unchangable than “what is a life well lived and how do i live it?” Everything stemming from that might/should/will change as you mature, but that question will remain the same til the day we die. Learning to think better has to rest upon that question, otherwise what are we even doing with our lives? You’ll get to the top of the ladder and only then realize it was against the wrong wall.

The point I’m trying to impress upon people is that the everchanging details - the interests and superficial goals - are not what matters. Its the the fundamental principles that underlie them, and apply equally to all goals, that do. But, to reiterate, our Obsidian/PKM system doesn’t necessarily need to center upon these deeper philosophical questions, and likewise encompass all facets of life. It could very well just be a place to keep specific notes on whatever we are working on. But the deeper philosophical things absolutely need to be somewhere in your mind and framework, lest we fritter away our time and lives on the wrong things. It’s not at all self-evident that any notes at all - taken with no thought for the bigger picture of life - will be important someday, let alone useful at all. I can think of countless prior passions and pursuits of mine that couldn’t have been less important to, and even distracting from, living a good life.

Anyway, this isn’t the time or place for a philosophical debate on Life. I’ll keep these writings for my personal blog and life. I just hope this will help stimulate some questioning in people, which can only help them with organizing their Obsidian and broader lives.

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It’s not evident to me that keeping such a philosophical framework in mind would help us avoid spending time on the wrong thing. I fail to see the discriminatory value inn it, and without a strong discriminatory function I don’t see how it helps to see things more clearly.

Perhaps you mean that we need to personally ask the question: “Does this contribute to finding out what a good life is or help me live it ?” when we are putting notes into our systems ? If so, isn’t it too broad as a heuristic to be useful ? Please correct me if I am wrong.

If, for example, I am someone who currently is lacking a direction in life, and I set to find out what truly excites me, then collecting notes on things of (admittedly fleeting) interests is a good thing, since experimentation helps to see what fits and what doesn’t, which primarily contributes towards finding what I don’t want to do.

On an unrelated note, I usually have very particular problems that I would like solve. Since they’re hard problems, I need to collect information to gain more perspectives and opportunities for insights. The role of such central questions seems be valuable in that it helps filtering what information may be conducive to answering the question, or not.

I suppose, one way or another, the fundamental reason I am using Obsidian and trying out knowledge management systems is that I want to live a good life. But, as I said, my problem with it is that I fail to see how it practically helps !

:slight_smile: Just some thoughts on it, you raised an interesting point so I’d like to know more.

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Perhaps you mean that we need to personally ask the question: “Does this contribute to finding out what a good life is or help me live it ?” when we are putting notes into our systems ? If so, isn’t it too broad as a heuristic to be useful ? Please correct me if I am wrong.

Yes, that’s basically what I’m suggesting. Perhaps not on a line-by-line, link-by-link basis, but perhaps at note level and certainly at the organizational structure level (which we’re focused on in this thread and channel). Of course it is so broad as to be seemingly meaningless, especially for the sort of (very common) person who has no direction in life. But how else are they going to get direction than to consider the notion of having/needing a direction in life? (and I’m assuming here that you agree that a direction is important to have. If not, I’m not going to spend the time debating that here).

Sure, they’re not going to have any clue and the things they come up with will be horribly misguided, but the exercise of trying to find a goal to work towards (especially one so broad and necessary as an overall goal for your life, which all other sub-goals and activities will fall under and support) is highly worthwhile in itself. As they keep going through the process, they’ll start to refine and discard the fluff and replace it with better, deeper, truer conceptions.

I’m a perfect example of this progression, by the way. I was clueless 6 years ago and basically just started with this basic question of what is a life well lived? I have been digging since then and while most of what I focused on/thought was important back then turns out to be only of minor importance (if any), the continual process is what brought me to a very well-developed understanding of all of this. (I’ll save the treatise on what all that actually is for my public writings someday… One tip, though is that there’s no specific, unique “calling” for any of us - endlessly searching for it can only result in disappointment. On the contrary, if we can come to view pursuits simply as a means to an end, then anything is meaningful insofar as we find a proper end. I submit that it is to work towards the common good - find that as your focus, and everything will start to sort itself out).

I’m now thrilled to see these sorts of tools exist - which I was quite literally searching for but not finding 6 years ago, and even tried poorly to develop myself with d3js force diagrams - and am starting to turn my mass of relatively unstructured notes into something useful. I suspect I’ll discard 50% of it, as it has either been already discarded mentally, or assimilated into deeper ideas. Hopefully by approaching these ideas from as many ways as I can, and presenting them in an easily navigable way - like with Obsidian - I’ll be able to sufficiently explain to and reach people.

A final thought: I’m less concerned with those who know they don’t have a goal, purpose, clue. They’re easy to get on a good path just by encouraging some authentic curiosity. The people I’m far more concerned with, but much less likely to reach, are those who think they have a worthwhile path (much less going down it effectively) without having gone through a deep reflection process about what it is and how to navigate it. This tends to be the most educated and driven people… As I said in my previous message, I can’t imagine anything worse than toiling away for a lifetime and arriving at the top of the ladder only to realize it was against the wrong wall. Perhaps the only thing worse than the realization is the actual process of living that sort of misguided life, which sells yourself short at every turn.

Fundamentally, I’m just calling for humility - self-reflection, self-awareness, self-skepticism about how good you are, and a genuine desire to try to truly be better, or at least less wrong, less shitty.

Is this helpful at all?

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I understand your point. I was operating under the assumption that most people who are riding the PKM movement either already have goals they want to strive towards, and these goals constitute the implementation of what they think is the good life, or that they don’t actually have directions in life and is in the process of figuring that out.

Therefore I was struggling to see how your philosophical framework would enable them to achieve these goals. It is clear now, and you stated it, that your concern was that you think these goals are superficial:

Which is an interesting observation worth discussing, but maybe on a separate topic. to refocus on this thread, do you have an example on how you organize your notes following the philosophical framework that you spoke of ? It would help to make your point, well, less philosophical.

I also noticed that you said that your Obsidian vault doesn’t necessarily have to center around that question, but it is necessary keep it in mind. So how does your organization of notes reflects what you consider a good life. Put it another way, what would be the observable effects on organization of notes, if one was to employ a more philosophical approach (like you do) versus when one chooses not to ?

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I understand your point clearly. You’ve stumbled upon Aristotelianism and or Stoicism and you can see no better way to live a life, and you want others to know this as well. That’s great, but to think that any use of Obsidian other than the one you’re proselytizing is inferior, is a limited view. People have been debating what constitutes the good life for thousands of years. No one has the undisputed answer yet. You’ve expressed your best case use for Obsidian, and I enjoyed reading it, and I think it’s a laudable goal. But people have, can, will, and do live their lives quite well in many different ways.

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A couple thoughts have bubbled up…but first, getting on the same page.

There can be basically 3 levels of notes in a digital mass of notes:

  1. Notes
  2. Higher-order notes (like MOCs)
  3. A top note (like an Index note)

These are different levels of “emergence”, which implies that MOCs and the Index actually become something greater than the sum of their parts.


For the sake of not getting bogged down, for the next couple paragraphs let’s agree that we often find meaning by just doing things—then adjusting by either doing more of that kind of thing, or doing a different kind of thing.

So if we spend time in our PKM system, it should naturally evolve to areas of personally meaningful pursuit. I would even argue that just the very act of trying to make “atomic/evergreen/dynamic” notes and MOCs creates meaning.

That’s because it forces many questions to be asked. Many of those questions explicitly or implicitly connect to meaning: “What is the idea here?”, “What is meaningful here?”, “Is this two ideas or one?”, “Why is this important? What does this mean to me?”, “What relates to this?”


Sometimes we are intentional about finding meaning. Cue the angsty existential walk in nature asking “What is the meaning of life?!” (TOP-DOWN).

Sometimes meaning bubbles up from just living and doing. (BOTTOMS-UP)

Despite our best efforts—meaning happens fluidly.

In your Dynamic Note Mass, what does that look like?

  • Sometimes bottoms-up creates meaning: Note » MOC » Index
  • Sometimes top-down creates meaning: Index » MOC » Note
  • Sometimes middle-out creates meaning: MOC » Note, and MOC » Index

I celebrate all three.

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Well put. You’ve described different vectors to discovery, if that makes sense. Where do TOCs fit in here? Is a TOC an index? I’m still confused about where those fit.

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@kbrede Higher-order notes are notes primarily concerned with other notes. These encompass a variety of notes sometimes called hub notes, structure notes, outline notes, TOCs, and MOCs.

MOCs have many uses (navigation, ideation, incubation).

TOCs are specific and linear.

In practice, you might find you have several notes notes on a topic, so you think it might be a good idea to group them together in a new higher-order note you call topic MOC. Eventually that MOC is in what you consider good shape. It might have naturally become a TOC. Or what I would do is duplicate topic MOC and call it specific topic title TOC and assemble notes in a specific, linear order for whatever project was needed—like an essay, paper, book, etc.

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Makes sense. Thanks!

Very fair points/suggestions - perhaps this hasn’t been useful at all to anyone.

I don’t have my Obsidian set up at all yet to reflect this, but will be sharing what I come up with when the time comes. But as I’ve tried to describe, its less-so about how they are organized (let alone having a sophisticated system of tags and links for every item of perceived importance - I’ve seen MANY systems that are just aimlessly and endlessly connecting irrelevant factoids), and more about just having an actual perspective and filter to actually know what is important and why. Its not really about Obsidian, or any system - you could do it on paper or even in your head.

We have Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom, and, almost by definition, Knowledge workers are stuck at Knowledge, at best. All that’s really necessary to move to Wisdom is to look beyond yourself and your personal goals and pursuits. By doing so, its actually rather easy to use your same passions, skills and opportunities, but also combine them in a way that maximizes your contribution to the world as well. Why wouldn’t you aim for that?

Instead of your academic research being read and discarded by 30 people, aim to also have it be relevant and influential for the masses.

Instead of taking random undergrad courses with the only real purpose being to get an expensive piece of paper, find some greater unification and purpose for them all, look for some interdisciplinary courses that relate to it, find some clubs or organizations who are aligned, and work towards making a life out of all this.

Instead of creating widgets or selling coffee to make a buck, find a way to do the same or a similar thing in a way that addresses problems of disposable goods and impoverished conditions for coffee farmers of the world.

Where Obsidian, Roam, a paper Zettelkasten etc… can come in very handy is in connecting many ideas and creating knowledge. But getting wisdom is a completely different thing - it’s a shift of perspective and orientation, not just a creative tweak/optimization. You find wisdom in looking beyond just the mirror. Yet, a deep, genuine, honest look in the mirror is the best place to start as it breeds humility. With that as a foundational guiding force, these tools can be tremendously helpful in your creative, searching process towards goals that are both personally and societally meaningful

Here’s concrete: Obsidian vs Roam. Built on a similar idea, similar intention of helping people be creative with their ideas. But despite the great ideas underlying Roam, the motives and practices are highly questionable. Hence, Obsidian, Foam, Athens, etc… Which will survive/thrive? Hard to say. Which should survive/thrive? Surely the ones that have privacy, openness, collaboration, affordability, etc… engrained in it. We’re all here for those reasons, after all… And its not self-evident that open-source is “better” - its useful to have people dedicated to building and maintaining a tool. Yet, I do look forward to seeing what Foam and Athens come up with.

I could come up with endless other examples/comparisons in any realm - but its clear that there is a “better” way of doing things, and its NEVER about your selfish wants, and ALWAYS about creating more harmony for the collective.

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Unfortunately I think a lot was lost in translation, because you haven’t understood the points I was trying to make whatsoever. This has nothing to do with any philosophical school, nor for me to impose any particular way of living or working on anyone. Nor am I imposing any particular structure on their Obsidian, or any other, notes.

On the contrary, I’m saying the how the system works is far less important than why you have the system and what it is working towards. In that regard, I’m simply calling for people to reflect and see how they can use their passions, skills and opportunities in a way that also addresses deeper social/global issues, in whatever way is appropriate for each person.

Looking beyond the mirror (which first requires a deep, honest look in the mirror) is the only thing I’m trying to encourage/impose. And I can’t see any reasonable argument against this, other than “I only care about myself”. My argument against that, without getting back into philosophical weeds, is a) “I’d rather not be an asshole” and b) “you actually sell yourself short insofar as you only care about yourself”.

I recognize that these ideas, and especially the way that I tend to share them, can be inflammatory (sometimes intentionally, but often just because I need to develop a better way of communicating them). In that respect, MY use of Obsidian (or whatever PKM tool I end up settling on in the long run - its an exciting time with lots of blossoming options) will be to try to create a navigable network of links and resources to justify, embolden, make attractive, etc… these ideas in as many ways as I can, because different notions, examples, rhetoric styles, etc… will attract different people. (I also have a physical project going on in the real world that I will be using Obsidian to help research and manage. Not sure what overlap these two things will have at the moment).

I hope this is more palatable to you.

More generally (and because I’ve hit my consecutive post limit and can’t reply to @NickMilo 's post directly):

I completely agree. What I was suggesting (and still maintain) is that many people whose PKM examples I’ve seen (I haven’t kept any references, so don’t ask, but you just have to look at society and how people generally live to prove my point…) don’t have this perspective and practice of looking for meaning.

Its also worth distinguishing different levels of “meaning” - as I pointed out in a different reply, we have Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom. Each level has its own “meaning”. There’s no meaning at the data level - its just numbers/data points. Information gives it some context or use. Knowledge gets more abstract, and perhaps insightful. Wisdom goes well beyond that to find universal principles and truths that underlie all the other levels and activities. Extremely simplified, surely full of holes - please don’t quibble.

People, in general, tend to live at the Information level. No real thirst or drive for understanding. Knowledge workers, by definition, tend to be at the Knowledge level (at least insofar as their work goes, but likely revert to information in many other areas of life). Seeking Wisdom is far more rare, and far more necessary in a world of information and “knowledge” overload.

I think a good PKM system (and just any human life) needs to try to understand and integrate all of these levels, especially wisdom. Perhaps that’s what I’ve been groping at saying all along - embed an Integrating Wisdom into your process of turning Data and Information into Knowledge.

Here’s a good, PKM friendly, resource on this concept.

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Thanks for the detailed reply !

It sounds like a very good way to live a life indeed, though I’d love to hear more, but I guess I’d back off since a philosophical discussion wouldn’t be helpful to this topic. But I look forward to your sharing, such a manifestation in the realm of knowledge management would be a very interesting thing to watch and learn from.

I responded to you via DM. Our back and forth is off topic.

I’ve seen it represented this way:
Info-pyramid

Same difference :wink:

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Thanks - again, I’m WELL aware that most of what I’ve said is completely unsupported. This was very much not the place for doing so. But supporting all this from as many angles as I can has been, and will continue to be, my life’s work. I’ll definitely share it all here when it is ready - hopefully in the coming months (though will never be done).

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Hadn’t seen that version - I’ll have to look into it to see what they mean by information, insight, etc… But yeah, more or less the same.

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There’s a perfectly reasonable case that wisdom is dimensionally opposite information and knowledge and that those who believe otherwise are deluding themselves.

Mmm. :thinking: Possibly not a good place to say this. :zipper_mouth_face:
I’ll get my coat.

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Could you elaborate on that a bit? DM me if you prefer.

I would argue that forging evergreen notes is an intrinsically meaningful activity.

I wouldn’t say every evergreen note gets to the level of “wisdom”, but they can, and most rise above the level of “information”. The same is true of higher-order notes like MOCs.

So at the very least, if you’re focused on building evergreen notes (which involves the questions I wrote above and many more), you’re spending attention at a level that can sufficiently satiate a lot of existential angst—while building something that you can age with and rewrite over time.

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