Zettelkasten Forum


How would you take notes from a book that you don't know when or how you will use it?

I'm still new to the method, but doing some research on the zettelkasten method, I found that the zettelkasten should always be used for some project, something you are writing. But what if I'm not working on a project, but I still want to remember what I read?

If I'm learning a skill, say copywriting, for instance, when I read a book about copywriting I won't know right away which techniques I'm going to use, I won't know when or how I'm going to use the techniques described in the book, but I know I'm going to need them.

Is the zettelkasten useful for acquiring a new skill?

In case I'm reading a self-help or philosophy book for both myself and also to be capable of giving advice to others when they might need it. How would you choose what notes to take and how would make sure you would remember what you read? Would you use SRS?

For instance, how can I remember The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius?

Any help would be very much appreciated. Thank you.

Comments

  • So, this is of course a multi-faceted question and the answer becomes a bit of "it depends", but I'll try to give an answer from my experience.

    My first advice is simply to pick a purpose. Not that it is really simple, of course, but in my own experience it has been much more fruitful to have some purpose in mind. "Project" can seem a bit overwhelming and "goal" can be a bit too business-minded, so I think "purpose" strikes a nice balance -- but read into it what you want. My point is simply, that if you are reading "Meditations" there must be something that sparks your interest? Is it antique philosophy? Stoicism? Roman emperors? There are many reasons to be interest in "Meditations", but the approach to note-taking, as you identify, differs.

    Maybe the interest is just an interest or curiosity. If you don't already do it, I will recommend that you get familiar with some kind of multi-stage / multi-level reading, where you start with an overview, then a skim and then get more and more detailed as needed. Sascha wrote a nice article on it a few years back. I can also recommend Keshav's classic "How to read a paper" as I have found it extremely useful for approaching academic papers.

    As for what to write down: I take note of what I find interesting. I could probably write a paragraph on why I think I do it, but in reality it is probably just a matter of practice.

  • @Kazuya My Zettelkasten contains information from many different areas of knowledge. Only one set of zettels has anything to do with a project; all the rest are just items I found interesting as I was reading a book or listening to a lecture or watching a TED talk or talking to someone. It doesn't hurt to identify some themes around which you are taking notes, but let yourself be surprised by new ideas as well. They will all fit into your ZK :wink:

    Other than that, I like @henrikenggaard 's advice.

  • For me the big question is this: how can I use note-making to observe, capture, and support the workings of my mind as I engage with the text? As @henrikenggaard says -- if something is of personal interest, leads to interesting question, it's a note. If something feels just out of your cognitive reach, write notes until you can articulate it, or at least articulate your question.

    I noticed that you mention memory several times in your post. I want to warn you against expectations that the Zettelkasten will help you remember things. Rather, it will allow you to pursue trains of thought over years and years, in ways that both short- and long-term memory fail to support well. It supports deep and long-running thought by making memory less important.

    So, that is to say:

    How would you choose what notes to take and how would make sure you would remember what you read? Would you use SRS?

    When the goal is to remember, then yes, use SRS. When the goal is to support understanding and the development of knowledge -- of which memory is only a part, and for which forgetting and rediscovering is important as well! -- then make notes.

  • I think of "project" in a very pragmatic sense. Consider Getting Things Done, where "project" is anything with 2+ tasks that belong together.

    Some of these, let's say, threads in your web of knowledge emerge over time. 2021 you start with a note on a TED talk, 2025 you read a book, 2027 you think of a relation and connect them. Suddenly a whole new horizon of possibility opens up. Needn't be a term paper or book project, but if you got that far, this thread likely relates to a field of your interest.

    At least when I gave advice along these lines in the past, it should've been stressed that working on a theme can help to focus. If you just open the daily random Wikipedia page and process the information from there, the result will (for a long while at least) unrelated notes on a variety of topics.

    Intending to find out something, to solve a problem, to reach a milestone, or whatever, that helps to tie the work together and make it productive in the sense that you intend to do something with it.

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

  • I think the most relevant article on this paper to this issue is: Reading is Searching

    The question "How would you take notes from a book that you don't know when or how you will use it?" could be reformulated to:

    How to read for a Zettelkasten.

    I personally read anything I read with a open project-independent approach.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited March 7

    A chunk of the information is constructed such that it can be accessed
    from many different stimuli. There is no such thing as a high-speed
    connection at the beginning of building things up.

    How can I remember The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius?

    This piece of information can be retrieved from the following sources:

    • zettelkasten.de forum
    • meditation
    • Marcus Aurelius
    • Where do you read this piece of information in the physics world? For
      example, how's room looks like; how's the weather outside your room.

    The above cures are very superficial because you really don't have any
    interaction with the book.

    What is the interaction? I think this is one of the most important
    aspects of the Zettelkästen. Only you start to read the book, your
    journal will unfold.

    For example, as I read the book, there will be some thought on some
    arguments.

    The wise man is neither raised up by prosperity nor cast down by
    adversity; for always he has striven to rely predominantly on himself,
    and to derive all joy from himself.

    I think what I should do is to find perspectives from the external
    world, and try to merge those perspectives into the happiness defined
    by myself.

    It never to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people,
    but care more about their opinion than our own.

    Does this mean that caring about other people's opinions is good for people?

    Or you may find the interesting ideas:

    • Any thoughts are a reflection of my mind
    • Self is an illusion
    • focus on what I can control
    • focus on the process

    Or you may find Stoicism is a practice that helps you to overcome
    difficulties in your life. Or you may find similar minds like:

    • Musonius Rufus
    • Epictetus

    You never know what will prompt up to your mind. The important thing
    is to write down your thoughts. It makes your journey a real one and
    it will also help you to a place where you never know.

  • How to digest what you read in a project-neutral manner:

    1. Quickly skim the material and form your own very rough outline of its main points and arguments, in terms of propositions/arguments/conclusions.
    2. As you read, identify the author's propositions/claims. Identify the arguments that result from those claims and their conclusions.
    3. Update your outline as you identify these.

    End result: your own outline, that may not correspond to the author's structure, but it captures each of the main arguments along with the claims, evidence, and conclusions for each argument.

    You can then decide which of those arguments you agree with, whether some claims or evidence are unfounded, etc.

  • Thank you all for answering. I think I should use the Barbell Method when reading. I might make a few changes depending on what I'm reading though.> @ctietze said:

    At least when I gave advice along these lines in the past, it should've been stressed that working on a theme can help to focus. If you just open the daily random Wikipedia page and process the information from there, the result will (for a long while at least) unrelated notes on a variety of topics.

    Intending to find out something, to solve a problem, to reach a milestone, or whatever, that helps to tie the work together and make it productive in the sense that you intend to do something with it.

    That's an interesting point. I might decide to write something even if I don't intend to publish it. As an experiment. Or maybe when I'm processing the book, I should decide on action steps that I should take depending on the book.

    Best regards.

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