On the process of making MOCs

Brain Pickings

This is an interesting conversation. I’m not a moderator but could I suggest starting this up on a different thread?

Let me rephrase. Please don’t take this interesting conversation to DMs in order to avoid hijacking. :slight_smile:


Thanks for sharing that.

I think we can close the thread by directing everyone to that article - very fortuitously based on PKM’s Godfather, Vannevar Bush and his Memex - which mentions a few times (though not emphatically enough for my liking) the need for discernment and wisdom beyond just connection and even curation of ideas.

That would actually be my greatest criticism of Brain Pickings, which I was an avid reader of for a while (yet still point people towards and a tremendous resource for important ideas) - curation without discernment. Everything she references is [insert string of SUPERLATIVES], and quite often completely incompatible with other things she writes, even failing to note the changes in the thinking of individual people who she highlights. As well connected as it is internally, on a truly honest graph you’d have to create a bunch of red links with x’s through them to show the incompatibility of numerous articles. (not a bad thing to consider for our own systems - perhaps even more important than looking for compatibilities)

Here’s a link to the actual Vannevar Bush essay, which while quite long is a very worthwhile read. Amazing how far into the future he was able to see, yet we’ve surpassed that unimaginably. Even still, he went well beyond wikipedia and Obsidian and even hinted at something like Elon Musk’s Neuralink project. Its crucial to take note of the context that he opened and closed the essay with - war and general misuse of our cognitive powers… A thoroughly moral, and thus wisdom-based reflection. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/


I’ve got nothing against evergreen notes, nor you or your system. As I said a long while back, I very much appreciate you so generously creating and sharing all of your ideas on MOCs etc… I very much plan to incorporate your Index and MOC concept into my system as it nicely solves the problem of hierarchy/folders vs tags.

I think this all started with me simply disputing your use of “tilling the soil” as an analogy for PKM, and instead suggested we tend primarily to the roots/microbes/philosophical foundation that underlie our crops/notes/MOCs. Without that - wisdom - we’ve got nothing. Perhaps WIMF (Wisdom, Index, MOC and Fluid Frameworks), or something else like that, could be v4 :wink:


Another neat representation of this (from an otherwise superficial article). Its about finding, filtering, and extracting truly meaningful information. The filtering, it seems to me, is by far the most important part given the completely insurmountable amount of information we can find and store. Extraction of anything useful would be impossible without due filtration/discernment upfront. What’s more, that yellow path/pattern/principle has remained relatively constant throughout the ages, across disciplines and situations. Its why the old books and ideas that we pay attention to has so much value.

And another one. I’d argue that insight and wisdom should be switched, but its just semantics because the sense of how they define them is correct. From here., which is a surprisingly interesting site, full of wisdom which applies well beyond their topic of designing racecars, particularly the goal to move from complexity to simplicity (again, well worth keeping in mine when a network map/PKM system can just keep growing into complete uselessness).

Whatever your pursuit, don’t get stuck at knowledge, or even understanding and application of that knowledge. Seek for the underlying essence of a truth.


I feel Maria Popova’s objective is not to bring that to the table. It seems to me she wants to present different thoughts and different people - writers, philosophers, painters, …… - and give her readers food for thought.

The discernment and wisdom is for the reader to pick up. After all, everybody is unique and has their own way of judging what is right for them. Everybody has to build his own wisdom, MP cannot transfer it. She undoubtedly has her own wisdom - I believe she is quite intelligent - but my impression is she does not feel the need or want to impart that to others.

I may be wrong about all this, after all I am just surmising, but that’s how I understand her website.

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Wow, quite a comment. Without going into the details, since we have already gone off the rails of the original topic, I do believe that everyone believes to have their own moral truth, except that it isn’t always what is acceptable as fixed by society’s laws.

I fully agree with that, and it is getting worse, I cannot see the trend turning around. The current occupant of the White House is even accelerating the process, although he is by no means solely responsible, and it did not start with him.

As for Maria Popova and BP, I also agree that her writings should be assessed critically, as all writings should, by the way. She provides food for thought, it’s up to the reader how to process that and how to use it subsequently.

Continuing the discussion from On the process of making MOCs:

Well this conversation went interesting places. I think you’re both on the right track as I see the best direction on how to achieve quality notes being powered by a desire to deepen thought. Certainly not all as the conversation space will invariably be jammed full of marketers and YouTube productivity specialists. Not so much with the Obsidian crew I’m happy to see.

I wouldn’t accept any assumption about what the ‘Good Life’ consists of without my own investigations tilling my fertile ground. I think that bias would be a dead end for the type of investigation I want to continue in my PKM space, but I’m with you in spirit. That discussion in my personal vault is far more important than the one I’ve created for my paying work, and it directly involves philosophical discussion with myself.

Also, I love that you brought up the contentious question of whether Obsidian or Roam better reflects that path of inquiry. My largest complaint against Roam and in favor of Obsidian is that there is zero question of who favors a democratic, open space for everyone to pursue those questions. And it’s not just about price. That being said, if I feel Roam better suited my needs I would use it. At the end of the day they are tools to be shaped by the users.

Ah well. Maybe the TOC posts could be shifted to their own thread :wink:

I wasn’t looking for a discussion, not having a horse in the race, but this was a simple reference to some schools of thought in many religious traditions.

Eg Paul “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” And the tradition that the pursuit of knowledge is no different to the pursuit of food etc and blocks the path to wisdom.

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So, how is she supposed to determine a way to live that is both best for herself and simultaneously best for the common good?

You “let yourself off the hook” but expect her to come up with the goods. She just provides food for thought, as imperfect as it may be, and its up to the reader to take it further, dig deeper, or leave it at that.

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What she is doing is wonderful, and I very much attribute Brain Pickings (or at least the ideas I found there and dug into) to a large part of my positive life changes. Yet, if I had instead latched onto the bad/contradictory/incompatible l ideas that she champions as timeless, prescient, soul-lifting, wise, etc… perhaps I’d be in a much darker place. Again, if she calls two directly contradictory things wonderful, only one (or neither) of them could actually be so.

If she’d just do something like evergreen notes - updating her thinking, finding coherence, discarding old ideas, that would be perfectly fine.

Where have I let myself off the hook for anything? I hold myself to a tremendously high (unattainable) standard. I just forgive myself when I fail to meet it, change course and keep trying to get better.

While it may seem like I’m shitting on her, its very much the opposite - I think high enough of her and her capabilities that she could seek to find more coherence (and even just accuracy). To completely defend what she’s done is to actually denigrate her by saying that she’s not capable of coherence. It would only take a slight shift in perspective to set things right.

If this represented her blog, she’s currently in the middle (knowledge) with just a bunch of interconnected thoughts. I’m advocating for her (and everyone) to try to find the gold path between the most important things, maybe even specifically saying that the other things are not compatible and explaining why.

To look at it from a different perspective, many of the people she lauds would be aghast at being equated with other people she lauds… Would MLK or James Baldwin or other social and moral warriors care to be associated by similar adjectives with completely amoral people? Its a dishonor to them, their lives and their example to do keep things as they are.

Hell, I’ll let Nietzsche - via Brain Pickings! - have the last word on all this:

No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There may be countless trails and bridges and demigods who would gladly carry you across; but only at the price of pawning and forgoing yourself. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!

This is echoed throughout philosophy. She should take her own advice (via the advice she champions). As should we all


I think we have hijacked this thread enough, esp. with the focus on Maria Popova and her Brain Pickings publication.

From my side I want to thank you for the link to White-Smoke (arrow and bubble diagram) you provided higher up. That and the image right above with the 5 hand-drawn diagrams made me dive deeper into the subject, esp. re Insight and Wisdom. In my mind Wisdom has always been the highest form of knowledge and understanding. I am not so sure now.

Last question: can you provide a link for the hand-drawn diagram?

I’m going to reclaim this thread with a practical question. Has anyone found it useful to create TOCs of MOCs (yes, I had fun writing that)? That is, maintaining a table of content for all of one’s MOCs for quick reference? If so, do you do it by maintaining the list as text in a note, or by using Obsidian’s backlinks? Or do you just search for “MOC” – which is problematic for me since I’ve linked Evergreen/Permanent notes to MOCs and so pop up in the results. Thanks!

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@Deinos one sec, will reply

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@nixsee Thanks, I did open @nickmilo’s starter kit about a month ago (as well as the download On the process of making MOCs.zip (66.4 KB)) and admired the work, as you can see here. The index seems more like an overview, in that – for example – the Breathing MOC doesn’t appear in it, but it does appear on the 020 Body MOC, which in turn does appear on the Index. So that’s one approach, but it isn’t the only approach a person could take. I’m interested in hearing multiple perspectives on it.

Right now we have folding at the heading and list level but those foldings are not remembered when we close and reopen a note. It also doesn’t work in preview mode. If those worked, then we could have a list of lists in the Index itself.

As a workaround, one can transclude the individual MOCs in the index so instead of a link to Mind, Body, etc. They become a window to those lists instead. That might be another approach offering a single view for all lists.


This has gone on long enough. Many posts have been deleted. @nixsee Start your own post with a clear topic. No one should reply to this. Done.

Please continue talking about the “process of making MOCs” and anything directly related to that.


I don’t have TOCs of MOCs, I think I have MOCs of MOCs as I keep changing what goes where and how it’s placed on those higher MOCs. From what I understood of the IMF Starter Kit, for @nickmilo some TOCs may have started as MOCs and once they are finished (when built for projects or similar) they end as TOCs.
But the idea of MOC is still not 100% clear to me so this only as I view it.

Would you use that one TOC to search for a specific MOC?
I’m asking because when I want to search for a specifc MOC I start in the Index and browse to it going from MOC to MOC until I find it. Though my number of notes is still quite small, so that may be why I wouldn’t search for it in the way you said it.

Most of the times I make a MOC, I usually go back to it quite a few times (shortly after I create it) and each time I browse starting from the Index, what usually happens is that if I end up in a MOC where I thought “It should be here” and it wasn’t I add it there, making several paths to the same MOC.

This is all still fresh to me, so like you I would welcome different perspectives.


I’ve been following the nicely written Zettelkasten guide here by @lizardmenfromspace and it gave me a thought that helped clarify to me more the difference between indices, TOCs and MOCs. He mentions,

Adding to this @Meins understanding of MOC vs TOC being the fact that the former is a live document while the latter is finished. So it become more of a status based difference.

My present understanding of the concept of MOC was more like a perspective on existing info, much like perspectives in Omnifocus, which allows to narrow focus down to those notes (or sections of notes) which pertain only to the topic at hand. Another analogy might be creating custom maps in Google maps to plan for a trip. The existing myriad of information in google maps I see narrowed down to only the places pertinent to my trip. In that way, it offers me only actionable info whereas an index would give me all countries/cities.

I’m trying to bring it all together and form a coherent definition. So far, I think an Index is an alphabetically sorted comprehensive list. A TOC is thematically organised list which is finished (as is an index). And an MOC is a live, fluid list somewhere in between those two (leaning more towards themes) which can be used for specific purposes like a writing project or planning something. It exists to allow working with a subset of all KM by reorganising them to suit the purpose at hand but without taking away any existing structures inherent in the system.


“Index” has a few definitions. The broad definition of an index is: Something that serves to guide, point out, or otherwise facilitate reference.

That’s the definition I subscribe to. A more narrow definition makes it an alphabetical list. (This is what we’re used to in a book.)

Narrow definitions feel solid, and solid feels good. But solid is rigid, and rigid is inflexible, so rigid can break with new stressors over time.

The broader definition of an Index allows for resilient fluid thinking that can adapt as needed, which I would argue makes for a more robust digital library of notes.

@Rishi Your Omnifocus “perspectives” analogy is a good one!

There is a lot of wiggle room for personal preferences here. To overly simplify, I’d say there are notes, and then notes about notes. For “notes about notes” MOCs are the most fluid. Eventually, I might have a specific project in mind, so I can duplicate that MOC and create a very specialized and linearly-ordered TOC. This is where @Rishi is onto something about the more final nature of TOCs and Indices.

Above everything, I have an Index note. Basically it’s my highest-level note. You could call it a Directory note. I prefer Index because of its Latin connection meaning “forefinger”. It’s not like an alphabetical index at the end of a book. Instead, it’s a high-level overview from the International Space Station, pointing down upon the rest of my world of notes, with portals to the whichever topics are deemed the biggest or gravitationally most important. I think that’s how @Meins is using it too.