Zettelkasten Forum

The Zettelkasten as a lattice of thought strings

A recent Forum post lead me to an idea that seemed to be brewing in my subconcious a little while.

In a Zettelkasten, the individual notes contain (ideally) singular grains of knowledge, or 'knowledge atoms' (named after the principle of atomicity). Those are joined with connections of many kind and form strings of thought. Going with the nuclear physics imagery, I like to call those connected notes 'knowledge molecules'. Graphically, this looks as follows:

Where the red, blue and green strings are individual knowledge atoms stringed together into molecules.

Those molecules are the main threat of a discussion about a particular topic - when you start at the first connected note, down the rabbit hole you go. Other times, these molecules act more like topic categories where one molecule has a lot of short branches. For example, each of this branches could clarify definitions and then give examples and use-cases in separate atoms for a main topic.

Knowledge molecules emerge because of the way you acquire knowledge into the Zettelkasten system; Most likely you will work through one or more sources of knowledge and input it into the Zettelkasten. Those inputted notes immediately form clusters and linked chains because you're encouraged to link notes immediately. In either case, the following behavior will occur; i argue that it's one of the main advantages of the Zettelkasten system.

As the number of knowledge molecules increases, there will be more and more connections between individual knowledge molecules. These connections emerge between individual atoms of separate molecules. With enough connections, these interconnections gain a meaning of their own:

A new (pink) molecule appears!

They will either form over time, naturally, or are actually seperate, deliberate knowledge molecules that are just joined with already existing ones. They can also be manufactured by hand, for example if a source suggests a connection between already existing topics. The reverse can also be true, where a topic has a subset of topics that form their own knowledge molecules.

Emergent knowledge molecule with traversable paths to already existing molecules. Looking form the perspective of the new one.

Those emergent lattice structures of vertical and horizontal strings of thought are the unique selling proposition of the Zettelkasten method. When you present information in a linear fashion, which is what most note taking methods do, you won't get the interconnection between strings of thought. If you focus on the connections between ideas in a linear fashing, you will get singular connections between topics but can't build molecule structures.

This has some actionable colloraries:
a.) Focus on atomicity of concepts
b.) Connect your thoughts - use Folgezettel, etc.
c.) Look for similiar Zettels across topic boundaries. Maybe read a few (semi-)random notes and wait for any associations coming to mind. For me, doing that and than going for a walk helps immensely for idea creation.
d.) Don't just connect hub/structure notes of similiar topics. Go rigth down to the individual note level.
e.) Traverse those inter-topic connections. Look at their beginning and end. Do you have any associations with that note sequence? Make a Zettel of it.
f.) Expand the ends of emergent connection chains to grow a theory and make a proper Molecule out of it.
g.) Consider the emergent Molecules as writing material - they should in theory be the most novel ideas in the Zettelkasten.

Whew, that was a long one - almost a proper Blog post. What's your take on this? Where could I improve this hypothesis? Does it match with your personal experience and/or is this a helpful deliberation? I would be honored by your feedback.


  • Exellent thought process!

    But not almost a proper blogpost. It is a proper blogpost. Would you mind if we publish it as guest post? We try to highlight and honor posts like this to appreciate the effort.

  • @sfast said:
    Exellent thought process!

    But not almost a proper blogpost. It is a proper blogpost. Would you mind if we publish it as guest post? We try to highlight and honor posts like this to appreciate the effort.

    This is not a problem at all - to the very contrary! I'm absolutely exstatic. I'll need to polish that up first, though - I'm not happy with a few turns of phrases. I will PM you when got the revised version (most probably next Sunday).

  • Awesome. Looking foward to it.

  • Great post! ;) Thank you.

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