Zettelkasten Forum


Werner Herzog and Zettelkasten

I was recently listening to a class on film-making by Werner Herzog. One of his ideas was this - capture good information in an efficient way; don’t gather a bunch of garbage film footage, with the hope that you will have at least some good or useable footage. Know what you are doing, be efficient (in the act itself) and record the right information. (This principle is also used in still photography).

I'm wondering if this concept is also applicable to writing a note in a Zettelkasten. I'm not sure if that is the case, but if it is, it suggests that we need to be somewhat selective in the notes that we include in a Zettelkasten. Is there a principle that says we should be selective and capture only “gems” of concepts and ideas as Zettels, or should we be non-selective and just capture everything? How much effort should we put initially into making the idea in the note well-formulated, and how much effort over time?

Comments

  • @GeoEng51 I don't understand. You telling me you can't fix it in post? B)

    You can see this interplay happen throughout the history of information. There has been two major camps. The first advocates for restricting information, where you only focus on a narrow set of sources and be selective with your notes. The second focuses on collecting vast amounts of information and relying on organizational methods and search tools (table of contents, summaries, indexes) to manage it.

    Luhmann used organizational tools (the zettelkasten) while also being selective in what he fed it. See his two essays.

  • @Nick said:
    @GeoEng51 I don't understand. You telling me you can't fix it in post? B)

    You can see this interplay happen throughout the history of information. There has been two major camps. The first advocates for restricting information, where you only focus on a narrow set of sources and be selective with your notes. The second focuses on collecting vast amounts of information and relying on organizational methods and search tools (table of contents, summaries, indexes) to manage it.

    Luhmann used organizational tools (the zettelkasten) while also being selective in what he fed it. See his two essays.

    Well, you can always edit and revise, so if your notes and their connections can evolve over time.

    Thanks for the links to the articles by Luhmann.

  • Yes, selectivity is a thing.

    Luhmann noticed that processing notes, making cross-links, was a bottleneck in his productivity. you can just dump any old text file into your archive on a computer, but to properly process a new note takes a bit of time and a bit more effort. So the opportunity cost is not negligible. Being selective up front helps to not waste time, whatever that means in one's particular case.

    I noticed this with the Epstein book processing series very acutely, too: somewhat interesting-sounding tidbits just took soooo long to properly research and process! Each sped-up video amounts to somewhat between 3 and 5 hours of work. And I already ditched stuff that looked only kind-of-interesting. It's ridiculous how little I progressed in each video.

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • Stanley Kubrick had a system of boxes containing snap shots, newspaper clippings, film out-takes, notes, and fan letters which he used to plan his films. I highly recommend Jon Ronson's documentary on his system, available on YouTube.

  • @ctietze Thank you for that insightful response. I experience the same issue with processing notes and I’m just getting started. I don’t want to spend all my time processing notes, but then that is one of the learning processes in a Zettelkasten, isn’t it?

    It’s an interesting quandary. In sure I’ll develop some guidelines for myself with more experience, if for no more reason than survival. I just don’t want to get frustrated and give up. It seems that persisting with developing a Zettelkasten is a leap of faith, for awhile, until the real benefits manifest themselves.

    Without being prescriptive, can anyone share how they select which notes to include in their Zettelkasten and which ones to exclude?

  • P.S. I guess the above is also an argument for following some of the Zettelkasten note-making principles, of keeping your note focussed and concise, with just one idea and self-contained. If you do this, it should be clearer how to tag it and how to cross-reference it. But giving some thought to whether or not to include an idea in your Zettelkasten seems equally important.

  • The effort you need to put in is real, and I doubt that the friction will get away completely. In a state of flow, you may not notice it as a hindrance; but when you work on stuff that's really hard or confusing, you can not get into the sweet spot for a state of flow. So, bad luck :)

    In ca 2008, I used to take notes and clippings for all interesting things I found on the web, like annotated bookmarks. I ditched this, because it turned into filing information. I still collect bookmarks in a bookmarking service (e.g. see https://pinboard.in/u:DivineDominion/t:zettelkasten/) because compared to finding stuff in my bookmarks, I'm even worse at googling things I vaguely remember.

    A relevance criterion that stems from this is: is this just neat, and am I only excited to read it, or can I do something with it? If I read something about child language learning, it makes sense to take note of this in the context of parenting. I didn't figure this out in 2008, so I just tried to capture something like this as-is. The way I took a these notes were rather useless. Reframing some topics for my own life is a bit of a help. So here's a suggestion: this article is about X; can I reframe the topic X for my life or research? If not, I don't bother processing the stuff, because of opportunity cost. Don't know if that's clever, but it's a tactic :)

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • @ctietze Yes, that is very helpful. Thanks!

  • I believe creation is a process of exploration and freedom. There's a delicate balance to keep between playing freely in the context of your creation, but not lose sight that, at the end of the day, you have to produce something otherwise this is a little pointless (and I think that's where Herzog's quote comes into play).

    I am just beginning my Zettelkasten journey but I would err more on the side of collecting and processing largely, pursuing your interests. It seems to me that, at the beginning, you have A LOT to put into your Zettelkasten because all the ideas of a lifetime are getting organised – akin to the initial processing of a Getting Things Done system. Once your Zettelkasten gets up to speed, that it has "caught" with your mind in a way, I think this is a strength because it will keep you from treading the same paths again and again that your biological mind has forgotten. You will see you have zettels on the same subject and that you actually don't need to keep digging in that direction, freeing you to look elsewhere.

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Mac / iOS user, Zettelkasten built upon DEVONthink, GTD system upon OmniFocus.
    Writing done using Drafts as an inbox, Scrivener and Ulysses for production.

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