# Zettelkasten work - literature-driven and problem-driven

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• I’m confused because in social science research, the literature driven ZK stems from looking at existing literature to answer a question/solve a problem. Luhmann even mentions this in his essay on reading

“One possibility is to remember names: Marx, Freud, Giddens, Bourdieu, etc. Obviously most knowledge can also be ordered by names, eventually also by names of theories such as social phenomenology, theory of reception in the literary disciplines, etc. Even introductions to sociology and basic texts are conceived in this way. What one cannot learn from such works, however, are conceptual connections and especially the nature of the problems that these texts try to solve.”

Seems like one in the same. I guess it’s true that initial first part of formulating a problem isn’t discussed a whole lot.

• This discussion has brought me to the insight that constructing a dichotomy between literature-driven ZK work and "X-driven ZK work", where X may stand for problems or purposes or idea generation or other driving concepts is of limited value.
("Finally", as readers and writers in this forum will think - again, my apologies.)

• It could be more productive to ask "What are the purposes you want to follow with your ZK work?" and "What practices and processes and tools can you use to follow your purposes?".
From this perspective, it still seems to me that some purposes and some processes are covered extremely well in the existing discussions about ZK work, while others are fringe topics at best.

• I wonder if meaningful things can be said about the merits of different purposes P and Q or about the effectiveness and efficiency of specific processes A and B in following a purpose.
Let's focus on processes for a moment. In my present mood of rebellion against ZK orthodoxy, it seems to me that a process A like having insights from ZK work by finding previously unseen connections between notes and concepts, and a process B like methodically testing negations of existing concepts will produce fairly different results.
In addition, these processes arguably have very different pros and cons, like process A leading to much more solid and cross-connected knowledge with a higher risk of staying within the boundaries of established ideas, and process B having a higher chance of producing original ideas, with a massive risk of producing no relevant useful ideas at all.
Individual ZK workers can make an informed choice and allocate their time budget between different processes.

• @thomasteepe said:

• This discussion has brought me to the insight that constructing a dichotomy between literature-driven ZK work and "X-driven ZK work", where X may stand for problems or purposes or idea generation or other driving concepts is of limited value.
("Finally", as readers and writers in this forum will think - again, my apologies.)

I'm afraid I have to disagree. There is a difference, a sliding scale, a spectrum in ZK work focused on literature, just as there is a spectrum of other types of "X-driven ZK work." Moving my skills "up" the scales is a goal, and it is always possible to move on the scale. I have to be vigilant that I don't backslide. Thinking and writing about the processes used in ZK work help clarify meaning. Some processes are counterproductive to our goals and there is a good chance we are blind to this.

• It could be more productive to ask "What are the purposes you want to follow with your ZK work?" and "What practices and processes and tools can you use to follow your purposes?".
From this perspective, it still seems to me that some purposes and some processes are covered extremely well in the existing discussions about ZK work, while others are fringe topics at best.

Yes, congratulations you've touched on a "fringe" topic.

• I wonder if meaningful things can be said about the merits of different purposes P and Q or about the effectiveness and efficiency of specific processes A and B in following a purpose.

If nothing meaningful can be said, the comparison between A and B is meaningless. By the way, who are P and Q? But I think this is incorrect. We can say something meaningful about the merits of a specific purpose in a given time and space, and the efficiency of specific processes can be objectively evaluated. Generalities don't work here. Doing this in public, exposed to smart people is the best approach.

Let's focus on processes for a moment. In my present mood of rebellion against ZK orthodoxy, it seems to me that a process A like having insights from ZK work by finding previously unseen connections between notes and concepts, and a process B like methodically testing negations of existing concepts will produce fairly different results.

Yes, two different processes will likely produce two different outcomes, but it's not guaranteed.

Tell me more about "testing negations of existing concepts" as a process applied to ZK work. What does negation mean in this context?

In addition, these processes arguably have very different pros and cons, like process A leading to much more solid and cross-connected knowledge with a higher risk of staying within the boundaries of established ideas, and process B having a higher chance of producing original ideas, with a massive risk of producing no relevant useful ideas at all.
Individual ZK workers can make an informed choice and allocate their time budget between different processes.

Someone smarter than I said, don't fool yourself, and you are the easiest one to fool. I don't trust myself to make the best choice on which process path to follow. Likely it is a blend of building a solid, cross-connected ZK and ideation. Each process likely supporting the other. The way forward is to think/write about these things and see what develops.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• edited August 2021

@Will wrote:

Tell me more about "testing negations of existing concepts" as a process applied to ZK work. What does negation mean in this context?

This is a problem solving tool I've read about in the book "How to solve problems: New methods and ideas" by Greek mathematics educator Spyros Kalomitsines. He presents a flow chart for a "spiral method" of problem solving, and a key module is the "Getting out of loops" method.

His first example: "You are given six matches and you are asked to make four equilateral triangles with them."

He continues: "Now, here is the method. Describe in short notes the attempts you have made. Write them down on the left half of a page. On the right half of the page, do your best to express all possible opposite statements and actions, which we call negations. Write as many negations as you can. One of them often gives you a good idea of how to get out of a loop.

Description of attempts:

• First I make one triangle.

Negations:

• I don't make only one triangle, but several.

Description of attempts:

• Then I make another with a common side.

Negations:

• I don't make another, but two more.

Description of attempts:

• This leaves only one match.
• Is there anything I have not mentioned?

Description of attempts:

• I am trying to construct it on a table, etc.

Negations:

• Let me not try constructing it on a table.
• Let me try constructing it not in a plane.
• Let me try constructing it in space (crucial idea).

The solution is to make a tetrahedon in three dimension."

This is of course an idealisation, but it shows the key idea.

In my previous comment I was looking for a process that was very different from finding connections between notes, and this negations tool seemed like a good candidate to me.

Post edited by Removed202201121 on
• We're talking about working with ideas represented by individual notes, not about connecting those ideas into the body of a zettelkasten.

Writing is thinking and to write a note about an idea is to think about it. This negation process, as Kalomitsines describes it, is just such a process of writing as thinking. It sounds like it requires writing an auxiliary note as the process of thinking unfolds.

Last week I read and processed an article How to get your creative back on track by Coleen Baik in which she describes a process for reigniting a stalled art project. At first glance, this might seem antithetical to the topic at hand, but I've repurposed her ideas in a way that is helpful to squeezing an idea so as it surrenders its nuggets of gold and can be used as a problem-solving tool. This is taken right out of my zettel on this article.

She suggests making a project out of an idea/problem. The article focuses on restarting a stalled project, but this can be applied as a problem-solving tool. Take the problem and make a Keynote slide deck out of it. Hold on, before you poo-poo the idea, let me outline the steps. Most would rail against this because of bad tastes from corporate or academic bureaucratic life. This isn't an exercise for the BOSS. Well, maybe it is, but you are the boss, and the investigator rolled into one. This is a structured pause and focuses on a particular problem.

1. Start - with a slide framing the mood of the problem.
2. Set an anchor - to address the big questions. What do I want to know? Why? What does “success” look like?
3. Explore - your zettelkasten's connective map to get a sense of how big the problem is.
4. What are the forces involved, pulling the problem forward, and what anchors are hindering solutions. This might end up being about five slides.
5. Make a slide for inspiration - maybe a picture or quote from a great thinker.
6. Trajectory - Spent time thinking about what might work, list them on a slide, and make another slide listing the paths that might not work.

Now that the "canvassing and filtering of ideas, motivations, inspirations, and the reviewing past accomplishments," you can move to the next stage, but before that, this next step is key.

1. Proofing - Take a few days to let ideas surrounding the problem relax, let the subconscious work on the problem. You've done the mixing and kneading — now, will it rise?
2. Review - look for gaps in understanding that will lead to more thinking and research. You may find new forces involved to discover some new trajectory. Revise the slide deck and re-proof.
3. Present - to someone you trust.

You end up with 15-30 slides that explore the problem, and in the process of their creation, answers and solutions arise. If not, then step 8, presenting the deck to someone you trust, might spark magic.

I've not yet tried this problem-solving tool. It has no track record. It might not work.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• @thomasteepe mentioned mind mapping as a candidate tool for thought. I tried to make mind mapping fit as a PKM, but its inability to link nodes easily across maps limited its utility. Yeah, I could do it, but it was clunky. Maps felt like snapshots in isolation. The software I used was Freemind, freeware, Linux, Windows, Mac. It grew and grew to its current bloated state. Sad. I still have a few maps I refer to once in a while. Now mind mapping is just another arrow in my quiver.

Two years ago (20190813) @daneb commented on the limitations of using some tools for large problems. Each of the problem-solving tools we are talking about is fitted to different problems. The post makes a point of calling out mind mapping. Mind mapping used to be my favorite problem-solving tool, and @daneb rightly points out how this tool breaks down with larger and deeper problems.

The visual links in a mind map carry less information than textual links. This isn't the absolute case, I can think of a way to make visual links carry the same information as the textual, but it is not so easy. I like the intuitive nature of the textual environment. There is less cognitive task switching in the textual environment than in the visual/textual environment.

Even with all this negativity, I still love the mind mapping paradigm. I have had dreams of integrating The Archive and mind mapping. I wonder what that would look like? Maybe I'll try something once scripting for The Archive surfaces.

Mind mapping has not caught the imagination of the world because @ctietze isn't the head programmer and @Sascha isn't the Chief of Evangelism for mind mapping.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• @Will

• I too have spent lots of time thinking about the question how mind mapping software could be used for problem solving. Some details are here, again with an emphasis on combining mind maps and "thinking tools" in the spirit of stimuli bundles etc. - I'm a one-trick pony.
• When I wrote a post about an "Integrated Thought Development Environment (ITDE)" several years ago, I was happy with this idea. Today I am more skeptical - to cover basic requirements from different users, we would need a superamalgamation of software types - e.g. the mind mapping scope of the Mind Manager, the sketching support of Sketchbook, the zettelkasten features of the Archive, and the ease of note-handling from OneNote. Matuschak and Nielsen discuss the economic factors that influence the development of such "transformative tools for thought" in their essay, and I think it is unlikely that such a software will emerge in the forseeable future.
• So, an ecosystem of several cognitive support software components could be an alternative, where the insights from one component are fed into another component. This is already the status quo for most people's workflows, and there are many posts in this forum describing details of it.
My guiding question in all this would again be how "writing for insights" could be best supported in the single components of the system and in the flow of material between components.

• My present substrate of choice is paper, so I am not focused on the software aspects.

• Studying metacognition, I've come across a 'Tool for Thought.' Question-Answer Relationship Training (QAR).1 The idea is that answers have relationships to questions. Exploring those relationships exposes and new and novel understanding.

QAR is an analog tool that I don't think software tools could support other than providing reminders. Writing is thinking, and writing about a question's relationship to an answer is "writing for insights."

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UUID:      ›[[202112181559]]
cdate:     12-18-2021 03:59 PM
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**Train and practice questioning the content of reading and my comprehension.**

- Capturing Prompts As Zettel [[202111071349]]
- Spaced Repetition Memory Systems [[202012071538]]

Finding questions in my reading stimulates creative thinking and challenges me to "use higher-level thinking skills." QAR is a tool for metacognition training.

> QAR is a questioning strategy that emphasizes that a relationship exists between the question, the text, and the reader's background. (28)

Four types of QAR questions:

1. Right There Questions: Literal questions whose answers are found in the text.
2. Think and Search Questions: Answers are gathered from several parts of the text and put together to make meaning.
3. Author and You: These questions are based on information provided in the text but related to my experience.
4. On My Own: These questions use my prior knowledge to answer.

- Know Thyself: The Science Of Self-Awareness [[202112071702]]

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- Baker, L. (1989). Metacognition, comprehension monitoring, and the adult reader. Educational Psychology Review, 1(1), 3–38 http://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF01326548.pdf



1. Baker, L. (1989). Metacognition, comprehension monitoring, and the adult reader. Educational Psychology Review, 1(1), 3–38 http://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF01326548.pdf ;↩︎

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• @Will - I'm pleased to see there's an ongoing interest in "tools for thought" - the same has been my focus in the last weeks. Here are some current lines of thought.

• How to use a combination of a "control tower unit" CTU and a "work in progress unit" WIPU, each formed by a couple of paper sheets. The main benefit for me is to have one or more full-sized (A4) guidance mind maps in front of me that direct the detail work done on the sheets with 3 rows x 4 columns.
• How to design a "Large Concept Collider" with various options for letting my topic and its parts collide with general concepts from other domains - in some cases, this leads to interesting ideas.
(My intuition is that the controlled manufacturing of such collisions provides more and better results than a vague bet on link-based serendipity. I have no proof for this.)

• How to assemble a set of "emergency tools" for those ZK sessions when the mind is sluggish. My current favourites are changes of writing practices, small and simple "problemogram" and "structogram" diagrams that should represent where a problem lies or what the structure of a topic is, timeline diagrams or mere bullet lists.
Using sequences of problemograms is a practice that I have found fairly productive.

• How to find visual representations of a topic - this seems to me by far the most promising approach. I'm trying to transfer visualisations I know from other areas to the current topic of interest.