Zettelkasten Forum


Visualizing your zettels vs structure notes

Hey Zettlers, I find this post captures the beauty (and power) of the Zettelkasten method in a simple way! However, the actual visualization (or seeing the connections in general) part confuses me. I'm using sublimeless_zk on Windows and don't have much luck visualizing nor seeing the connections of my whole archive.

I get the point on different levels of structure notes--they make it easy to just add hierarchies to related notes. However, say you have this connection:

  • elephants
    • elephants are big
    • elephants have great memory
    • elephants have amazing ears

And let's say (for the sake of argumentation), the "elephants have amazing ears" is connected to "elephants are big". I wouldn't be able to see the connection between them through a structure note.

So, how would you go about this? I'm thinking the Ruby script created by @ctietze is a potential solution. But I don't have any background in code. I'll experiment on that one in a moment and come back to this post later.

You're also welcome to post solutions other than a graphic visualization :smile:

Thanks!

  • Al

P.S. My aim is to see connections between same-level notes that cannot be shown in structured notes so that I can write about this connection once I'm writing a point about it on my final deliverable (book).

I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

Comments

  • I have tried many approaches for this, none of them satisfying. In the end, as so often the best solution is to go back to the roots: Print out your notes on slip cards and arrange them on your desk the way you want. If each note contains reference links to related notes you will easily be able to see the connections as well as make new ones. Plus, printing out notes has the nice extra of a physical archive as a backup.

  • edited February 29

    @improveism said:
    I wouldn't be able to see the connection between them through a structure note.

    For me, the fact that they are listed under the same heading implies that there is connection between them.

    If I there were a more direct connection between these two notes, I would establish that through a direct link in the notes themselves, and I would "see" that connection when reading through my archive.

    As an aside, this might be a case that exemplifies something that I am learning and gradually coming to appreciate over time: the ZK method involves levels of complex connection that are not all visible from the "outside," or from a "bird's-eye-view." Not all the connections between its elements (individual notes) can be clearly marked (made visible) in an easy-to-read overview (like a structure note, or map).

    And, carefully marking all connections on a structure note would have the effect of (re)duplicating the system anyway---creating a miniature version of the archive itself. Doing so raises the risk of you becoming satisfied with interacting with the map of your archive (a structure note, or structure note of structure notes) instead of interacting with (ie, entering into) the archive itself, by reading through it again and again. I have to remind myself that it's more rewarding to ramble through the woods and find what you find rather than sticking to a clearly defined path every time. And both are richer experiences than staying home and looking at a map that I have already made.

    Much of the ZK's ability to communicate new knowledge comes from the existence of loosely defined, vague, implicit connections, rather than strictly codified and firmly defined connections. The presence of implicit connections makes it possible to discover and rediscover relationships between notes, to interpret relationships in new ways, and, most importantly, to be surprised by what you find. This is something that makes the ZK more of an engine of creation rather than a storehouse of knowledge (like a wiki).

  • One point in addition to your last paragraph: I absolutely agree with what you are saying on principle. However, the zettelkasten is not an "engine of creation" (as you put it) instead of a wiki. It is an engine of creation on top of a wiki.
    What I mean by this is: You can use it as a wiki and as a creativity/productivity tool at the same time, depending on the topic. I use my zettelkasten both the old-fashioned way for creating a lot of links between notes on various topics, which always leads me to interesting insights. At the same time though, I also put factual (wiki-style) knowledge into it (mostly history-related), so that both approaches co-exist in my zettelkasten.
    For the former type of content (theories, thoughts, abstractions etc.) I do it as you do, by roaming through the notes.
    For factual knowledge I follow more of a top-down approach starting with structure notes (overviews) where I already know that there is going to be a certain chronology, e.g. the development of ancient Mesopotamia. I will then create extra zettel (notes) for individual time periods of that topic whenever I see fit.

    These two ways of using my zettelkasten are also not exclusive to one another. Sometimes I find connections related to the "factual" content even when I am working on a more or less theoretical topic and then I will of course link to the relevant history-related zettel.

  • @lunario said:
    I have tried many approaches for this, none of them satisfying. In the end, as so often the best solution is to go back to the roots: Print out your notes on slip cards and arrange them on your desk the way you want. If each note contains reference links to related notes you will easily be able to see the connections as well as make new ones. Plus, printing out notes has the nice extra of a physical archive as a backup.

    I think this is a fun solution, @lunario :smile: And I realized last night (after reading this) that mapping out your structure notes can be a more economic solution. I won't have that extra backup, though. But I tried both your and @argonsnorts 's advice since I read this:

    @argonsnorts said:
    For me, the fact that they are listed under the same heading implies that there is connection between them.

    If I there were a more direct connection between these two notes, I would establish that through a direct link in the notes themselves, and I would "see" that connection when reading through my archive.

    This hits home for me. Two notes being inside a structure note implies relevance. And then if you wanted to see more detailed connections between the notes, you could easily go through the notes while having a manually-made map of the structure note. After that, connecting becomes easier. Here's a mock-up I made in FreeMind:

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

  • Just to understand the problem a bit better: you'd like to have a way to see an overview like your FreeMind mockup of the web of links and connections without having to create it manually?

    In the David Epstein video visualizations, I always started to generate the map from the structure note, never from the content notes. So if you work on "elephants have great memory", generating a map with that note as the root appears to make less sense than figuring out the structure note(s) that are relevant and start from there. That is just a guess; I'd have to see how that performs in practice. It's a good candidate for the scripting extension coming to The Archive, but should be reasonably automate-able with a Keyboard Maestro macro to prototype this feature. Maybe @Will and the gang of KM pros can help out with this based on my ruby script? :)

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

  • @argonsnorts said:
    And, carefully marking all connections on a structure note would have the effect of (re)duplicating the system anyway---creating a miniature version of the archive itself. Doing so raises the risk of you becoming satisfied with interacting with the map of your archive (a structure note, or structure note of structure notes) instead of interacting with (ie, entering into) the archive itself, by reading through it again and again.

    That is the real issue against using a mindmap as@improveism sketched out. If one is looking for a keyword or a topic and one sees those connections, which denote note titles, one might be inclined to dismiss them on the basis of those titles, whereas 1 or more of the notes might actually have something interesting and/or relevant that is not obvious from its title.

    In other words, using the mindmap as, in effect, a kind of shortcut to determine the relevance, as @improveism suggests, precludes what the essence of a Zettelkasten is about: serendipity, as you describe in the next paragraph.

    Much of the ZK's ability to communicate new knowledge comes from the existence of loosely defined, vague, implicit connections, rather than strictly codified and firmly defined connections. The presence of implicit connections makes it possible to discover and rediscover relationships between notes, to interpret relationships in new ways, and, most importantly, to be surprised by what you find. This is something that makes the ZK more of an engine of creation rather than a storehouse of knowledge (like a wiki).

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