Zettelkasten Forum


Ambitious (or probably Stupid) baby ideas and the Slip-Box

Hello,

Since I am well within the 3rd year of my PhD I have the following issue. As I read something, new ideas pop into my brain. I write them at a piece of paper which holds my fleeting notes. On retrospection, the most of these research thoughts look somewhat too ambitious or not good at all, so I almost immediately discard them. However, they often spark interesting conversations with my advisors and they provide them with new ideas sometimes. Do you think that I should keep such initial and poorly - developed notes on my slip-box (Zettelkasten) ? I have a fear that this process is going to result in a slip-box that is a graveyard of many bad ideas. I have become very strict on what goes in my slip-box and thus I end up having many days or even months passing by without any new notes.

I am quite unfamiliar with this method since I always end up abandoning it. However, I had a success story with it since it helped me at some point to organize rather easily some experimental results and develop a stream of thoughts that eventually ended up being published as a manuscript in a very prestigious journal. That's why I decided to persevere.

What do you fellow researchers and long time learners suggest ?

Comments

  • If you think it may be useful, perhaps place them in a separate idea graveyard where they exist to be looked at sometime but aren't necessarily getting in your way?

    (I love that term btw, may steal it!)

  • Using the Zettelkasten Method you can separate the value judgement from the pure layout of your idea and store the separate. I, myself, don't delete any idea because delaying the value judgment allows you to grow into ambitious projects. What might seem ambitious now can be trivial later in life.

    I am a Zettler

  • @ulver48 I follow the same practice as @sfast - all ideas of interest to me end up in my ZK, some immediately turned into reasonably complete zettels, others into just "stubs" of zettels (for later filling out). But I pay no attention to whether or not they are of immediate usefulness or value, or even if they might be in the future. Who am I to tell?

  • @ulver48, This reminds me of the backlog in a scrum system. Or, the inbox in a GTD system. Get the thoughts out of your head, but don't discard them. If, upon further review, they are actionable, action them.

  • I suppose it comes down to a philosophical decision on whether fleeting notes should exist "inside" or "outside" the ZK itself.

    Didn't Ahrens describe fleeting notes as notes that exist outside the ZK but feed the ZK as the ideas are found to be worthy? And Luhmann didn't put random shower thoughts into his ZK.

    Doesn't the practice of putting all ideas in the ZK regardless of worth directly contradict that guidance?

    At what point does the ZK become a dumping ground of unprocessed thoughts adding noise to the search and linking process?

    This isn't to criticize anyone for adopting a practice that works for them; rather, I'm trying to understand how the mess is manageable for those who make it work.

  • edited March 28

    @davecan said:
    I'm trying to understand how the mess is manageable for those who make it work.

    You're right! It is a messy situation. At least, that is how I often feel. I try to learn/steal from those who have traveled this path before me. Richard Feynman spoke truth to power when he invoked his "first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool." I can't trust myself to tell the difference between a turd and a gem. Of course, we could dream up a scenario where the difference would be stupidly obvious.

    They become the skeleton for my edits. These "Scratch Notes" morph and blossom into "Evergreen Notes" with time and attention. I can't know where my attention will wander next! I'm continually surprised.

    I put my "fleeting notes" and not so fleeting notes, the ones I pick out of the sky of mind like shooting geese over Ron's pond with my imaginary 20 gauge shotgun in my inbox, and work hard at keeping my inbox trim. A fat inbox is a side effect of a rich life!

    All my notes start messy and are edited and evolve. This is the only category of notes I have. Every note lives on a spectrum from rough to polished. I make no other distinctions in my mind.

    Post edited by Will on

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • What if you create a permanent note if you are unsure whether is will be useful or note and if you find that it is wrong in the future, you can add a child note mentioning why the previous note is wrong.

    I guess it's good to have knowledge not only of why things work but also why some things are wrong/ don't work.

  • edited March 29

    @ulver48 said:
    What if you create a permanent note if you are unsure whether is will be useful or note and if you find that it is wrong in the future, you can add a child note mentioning why the previous note is wrong.

    In that case I would just edit the original permanent note to clarify why it's wrong. I've done that in my own notes. I've even retitled notes based on new information and over time the new information dominates and all that is left is a brief statement regarding why the old idea was incorrect. That way the links from other notes are preserved, and with the titles updated the linking notes now have the correct title as well.

  • @davecan said:
    I suppose it comes down to a philosophical decision on whether fleeting notes should exist "inside" or "outside" the ZK itself.

    Didn't Ahrens describe fleeting notes as notes that exist outside the ZK but feed the ZK as the ideas are found to be worthy? And Luhmann didn't put random shower thoughts into his ZK.

    I follow the practice Ahrens described and find it keeps things simple for me. Any notes I take while reading (or listening or watching), that simply record items of interest to me, I store in an ephemeral way and discard once they have been "processed" into one or several zettels. Sometimes I write zettels directly but most of the time I follow the above - take a fleeting note, process it (i.e., think about it, distill it, reword it, etc.) into a zettel, and then get rid of the fleeting notes. The zettel will contain sufficient references to find the original material again, if needed.

  • @ulver48 said:
    I guess it's good to have knowledge not only of why things work but also why some things are wrong/ don't work.

    BINGO!

    I'm in a philosophizing mood this morning.

    Knowing which path not to take helps navigate the minefields of life just as well as, sometimes better, than knowing which path to take does. Sometimes knowing what doesn't work is more helpful in the heat of the moment than pausing to select from a menu of known choices.

    One of learning's goals is to eliminate ideas that don't work, that don't reflect reality. This is why I'm here, to listen to others' guidance on this path and try different methods to see what works and what doesn't work.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited March 31

    @GeoEng51 said:
    I follow the practice Ahrens described and find it keeps things simple for me.

    Great point. I'm finding more power in simplicity as I go. Today I finally split out my Obsidian vault into two separate vaults, carving out the project management and work type stuff from the ZK. There was too much overlap between the two concerns. Plus this will let me leverage certain capabilities in Obsidian for automated querying across the Markdown files (e.g. with the data view plugin which creates a full SQL-style query language across the notes) which should work well for task management, which has no place anywhere near the ZK.

    And I'm also increasingly considering simplifying my ZK to a more traditional process of literature notes & permanent notes rather than my current source -> lit -> perm process.

    The more the principles are internalized the simpler the workflow and moving parts become.

  • One of my favorite observations on Zettelkästen:

    There are two Zettels on the Zettelkasten itself (self-reference):
    1. The Zettelkasten as a septic tank - don’t put in only filtered notes. Delay examining and deciding - and a question of speed.(Zettel 9/8a2)
    2. The Zettelkasten with the complex digestive tract of a ruminant. All arbitrary ideas, all randomness of the reading could be included. The inner compatibility matters. (Zettel 9/8i)

    We all agree, old school and new -- get messy.

    Also, I love this observation:

    @ulver48 said:
    On retrospection, the most of these research thoughts look somewhat too ambitious or not good at all, so I almost immediately discard them. However, they often spark interesting conversations with my advisors and they provide them with new ideas sometimes.

    These "bad" ideas spark great conversations with others. Take advantage of this "sparking" property -- notes-as-conversational-prompts can enable a really good bad idea to start great conversations between you and your notes for the rest of your life.

    Your phrasing resonated because Luhmann explicitly framed his Zettelkasten as a "conversation partner". It's sometimes just spooky how easy it is to point back to his thinking, even as we work with more and more powerful slip-boxes.

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