Zettelkasten Forum


I believe, "Effective learning: Twenty rules of formulating knowledge", is essential reading

Link to the article: https://www.supermemo.com/en/archives1990-2015/articles/20rules

Some context:
Dr Piotr Wozniak created Supermemo, one of the first spaced-repetition software (One of his older Supermemo algorithms has been borrowed and turned into Anki), in order to optimally memorize information. As expected, he had to come up with his own workflow for creating cards (so that he'd have content to memorize of course). His (note)card creation process is the basis of his article, "Effective learning: Twenty rules of formulating knowledge". Every new Anki user has been probably gone through this article at some point. I find that his process and reasoning behind it agrees overall with Christian and Sascha's principles on creating notes for a Zettelkasten.

DISCLAIMER: Please take my with as a grain of salt; They are just a summary and my opinion of it. He does of wonderful job of explaining everything in his article, so I urge you to read it, even if you disagree with me.

One common theme in his article that I found extremely enlightening is his adherence to simplicity. He insists on making his cards extremely simple, a notion extremely reminiscent of Christian and Sascha's principle of atomicity. Doing so makes the card easier to remember. In contrast, he claims complex notes are like navigating a labyrinth. I can attest to that! My notes are easy to reread and memorize due to their simplicity, thereby saving me time when it comes to card reviews. Before that, I was wasting time trying to understand what that one complex idea, that I wrote a while back, meant. He also emphasizes the importance of making cards for the basics. His reason is that the basics are the foundation for higher-level information and not having the basics as cards that are already memorized will slow you down, or even prevent you from reaching the higher level information. Looking at this at a Zettelkasten point of view, I think he would also suggest that you link the basics to higher-level information regardless of how trivial the connections already were, in order to make traversing and communication with the Zettelkasten more efficient. This runs contrary to the idea that the Zettelkasten is only for the discovery of new ideas. Making connections between two or more existing notes just to make a deduction to another existing note may not lead to new insights, but it may optimize the network that holds all your notes - when you go back to that conclusive note, you'd go "oh, this is how I got this note, it was because of these other notes". Sometimes, you may forget the most trivial of things. (I know I'm talking about structure notes. I'm just reinventing the wheel here - I'm an unfocused amateur writer and that's personally why I need the Zettelkasten. Just forget this part if you find it redundant)

The most interesting part of the article to me was how he formatted his cards:

Here, each Q&A represents a single notecard.

When I first saw this example (which was before I came across any information on knowledge-work and metaknowledge), I was completely astonished. I never knew one could even make notes as simple and concise as this. As a student, I was so used to reading long, wordy, and dense arguments from external sources like textbooks and peer reviewed articles from jstor, that my writing - the way I took notes - would come out the same exact way. Well, that may be pretty normal for anyone who tries to read up on a subject they know nothing about. But I never thought of simplifying my notes further (which, on this forum, we would call converting literature notes to permanent notes). I think when Christian and Sascha mentioned that the principle of atomicity involved giving each card a single idea, Wozniak's example is exactly what they meant. The hyper-fragmentation of his notes reminded me of how as a child, schools would teach us each letter of the alphabet before even putting them together.

However, after seeing a lot of examples of Zettelkastens posted on here, I honestly had doubts about this article and the future of my note taking. Many other Zettelkastens that I saw had notes that were like A4-size pages each (a little bit of an exaggeration) compared to what Wozniak did in his example. They were the kind of notes that Wozniak said would bog down retention (I don't want to bring up names or alienate anyone). This lead me to wonder a lot about the users on this forum. I'm aware that there tons of graduate students on this forum. Genuinely speaking, perhaps they possess higher intelligence than me and therefore don't need to make their notes that simple? Maybe they understand their long notes easily enough that they don't need to simplify it further and what is short to them is long to me? Maybe they are so high up in their field of study that the rhetorics they use are unable to be simplified even further? What do you make of this article? Is Wozniak's hyper fragmentation unnecessary? Was Wozniak onto something or am I taking crazy pills and wasting my time? Personally, the amount of time it takes to divide information into the tiniest of pieces is the only potential problem I see with this method. I don't think it hurts to format my notes this way.

As a Zettelkasten user and an Anki user, I format my notes the exact same way Wozniak does:

Comments

  • Interesting. Dr. Wozniak proposes a "hyper fragmentation" to simplify memory and recall. This has its value but is different than the reason I keep a Zettelkasten.

    Anki and Dr. Wozniak's card system, start at a top-level knowledge domain, ie The Dead Sea, and fragment it into notes for learning facts about The Dead Sea.

    Zettelkasting starts with atomized ideas from a variety of knowledge domains and melds them via connections into something new and novel.


    Dr. Wozniak's card system Zettelkasten
    Top-down Bottom-up
    Siloed Serendipitous
    Starting from a high level and fragmenting the knowledge for memory and recall Gathering fragments of personal understanding and synthesizing them into something novel

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @Yboiveth I like his writing a lot. Have you discovered his wiki and not the old website? You might find that more useful.

  • @Nick said:
    @Yboiveth I like his writing a lot. Have you discovered his wiki and not the old website? You might find that more useful.

    I do read his latest wiki from time to time, and I love it too. It's interesting how much overlap Wozniak's content has with ours. I believe he mentioned praising Andy Matuschak's evergreen notes and the similarity of the Zettelkasten to his "incremental reading" tool.

  • @Will said:
    Interesting. Dr. Wozniak proposes a "hyper fragmentation" to simplify memory and recall. This has its value but is different than the reason I keep a Zettelkasten.

    Anki and Dr. Wozniak's card system, start at a top-level knowledge domain, ie The Dead Sea, and fragment it into notes for learning facts about The Dead Sea.

    Zettelkasting starts with atomized ideas from a variety of knowledge domains and melds them via connections into something new and novel.


    Dr. Wozniak's card system Zettelkasten
    Top-down Bottom-up
    Siloed Serendipitous
    Starting from a high level and fragmenting the knowledge for memory and recall Gathering fragments of personal understanding and synthesizing them into something novel

    Looking at Wozniak's example, I suppose one can't do much with objective knowledge recorded by experts long ago. But in the event that I gain newer information about oceans or salt, I suppose having that knowledge in hand would be useful to make a connections specifically about the property of water. The connection might not be novel, but it helps as deeper understanding for the knowledge is gained. So I do like to do both - create connections for deeper understanding of information discovered someone else AND create new ideas the way Luhmann intended. I do use the bottom up approach when it comes with figuring out what I'm going to write about in an essay.

  • Yes.
    A "deeper understanding of information discovered someone else" is the most basic building block of all knowledge. What I want my Zettelkasten to do is to take those "basic" building blocks (and not so basic ones) and "standing on the shoulders of those we came before me" help create something the world has never seen before.

    The connection might not be novel, but it helps as deeper understanding for the knowledge is gained.

    Though I think the focus is very different between the two approaches AND point to different outcomes, both have a place. I chose to deal with them separately, try not to confabulate them.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited June 25

    Though I think the focus is very different between the two approaches AND point to different outcomes, both have a place. I chose to deal with them separately, try not to confabulate them.

    I totally understand, your way is much more in-tune with what Luhmann did with his Zettelkasten.

    What I want my Zettelkasten to do is to take those "basic" building blocks (and not so basic ones) and "standing on the shoulders of those we came before me" help create something the world has never seen before.

    Your passion is admirable and why I'm proud to be a part of the Zettelkasten community. It is probably the reason why Luhmann became known as one of the most productive original thinkers. As an artist and a thinker, I hope to achieve this sometime in my lifetime, sir.

  • Just a thought: As I become more knowledgeable of my current interests, eventually (I hope) my Zettelkasten will evolve from a tool for understanding information discovered by others into one of new discoveries of my own. It's just a matter of time - that's all.

  • As I understand, super memo and the zettelkasten have totally different purposes. Super memo is meant to help one memorize information, whereas the zettelkasten is meant to generate new insight. In an interview I heard with Sonke Anhrens, the writer of "How to take smart notes", he comments that the zettelkasten is actually anti-memorization, since the goal is to have an objective, reliable system to process ideas; systems like the zettelkasten take the information out of your head, whereas a system like super memo tries to put it in. In his book, Ahrens presents several reasons as to why keeping information in your head might be a bad idea, but Ill mention three that I find rather fascinating.

    1. The brain is not objective
      Interpretation is not something that happens consequently to observation, rather observation itself is an act of interpretation. Sonke writes "We don't see lines on a paper first, then realize that these are words, then use them to build sentences and finally decipher the meaning. We immediately read on the level of meaningful understanding. To really understand a text is therefore a constant revision of our first interpretation".

    2. The feature-positive effect
      The feature-positive effect is "the phenomenon in which we tend to overstate the importance of information that it (mentally) easily available to us and tilts our thinking towards the most recently acquire facts, not necessarily the most relevant ones".

    3. Intellectual dishonesty
      A well kept zettelkasten supports the practice of academic integrity. On this subject, Sonke writes "If you use the slip-box for a while, you will inevitably make a sobering discovery: The great new idea you are about to add to the slip-box turns out to be already in there. Even worse, chances are this idea wasn't even yours, but someone else's." With supermemo, it is much more difficult to keep track of where ideas actually come from.

    I'm currently working on a degree in mathematics so I've thought a lot about using supermemo, but I hesitate, because I rather connect concepts together and also, I feel that I will organically memorize formulas with their use.

    "The Perceived cannot Perceive" - Rupert Spira

  • @Esmeralda

    This is the same conflict i have with studying law. There are many threads on this at reddit, especially for maths btw.

    Just to make sure you keep on practicing and don't waste time practicing what you already know, you might consider to create cards not like proposed by SuperMemo (atomized). Revisiting cards with whole concepts on it will force you to rethink the steps (if you don't just visually remember the card, which is my problem). Or you could set up reminders "do this", "algebra-Xy week1". Another alternative is the so called retrospective Timetable, although not as efficient when saving time is of the essence

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