Zettelkasten Forum


Who's in your personal Top Ten of the greatest Zettelkasten users in history?

One name springs to mind, but who are other possible candidates?
What are the distinctive qualities of their ZKs and the interactions between user and ZK?
Or perhaps there is something wrong with the question? I am grateful for any insights and opinions.
I suspect there might be some controversy about which note-making systems from the past qualify as zettelkasten - let's see.

Luhmann's article about communicating with ZKs appeared in 1981, so a lot of people following in his footsteps are still living and working and it might be awkward to discuss their accomplishments.

Comments

  • @thomasteepe

    My top ten is simple: Me! Me! Me!

    Now, in all seriousness: Why the question?

  • metoo :-)> @Dilan_Zelsky said:

    @thomasteepe

    My top ten is simple: Me! Me! Me!

    Now, in all seriousness: Why the question?

    metoo ;-)

  • @rl911 Glad to hear that I'm not alone.

    • My main perspective is that "writing for insights" is the central topic, and that all things ZK are mere auxiliaries - for providing a very flexible canvas on which to work, for providing a wealth of stimuli, and for dealing with some limitations of human memory and and human brain capacities.
      For me, the key question is how to design work processes that support this writing for insights.

    • In my view, an impressive number of great thinkers were indeed "insight-writers" - in the above sense that they gained their insights in the process of writing, not just by writing up results they had gained through other processes. The number of ZK users among these insight-writers seems ... smaller.

    • Luhmann wrote his article on communicating with slip boxes in 1981, and there were ZK users before and after him. His own ZK already had a share of fame at this time, as he describes on his "porn movie" zettel. I would have expected a ZK flourishing and a wealth of new domains of usage and of practices among a new Illuhmannati movement, but I have no evidence that this happened. I find this obvious non-evolution of such a promising concept completely baffling, and perhaps I simply do not know about important developments.
      (Btw: Luhmann's wife had died in 1977, and I cannot but wonder how this might have changed his view on ZK work.)

    • So, without the slightly clickbaitish top ten phrasing in the title : What do we know about renowned ZK users and their ZK practices, and what can we learn from them?

  • edited September 4

    I thought you were creating a listicle for Cracked Magazine.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex.

  • I can give you my negative top 24 or so: I asked two dozens of my professors how they manage their knowledge and their methods were downright hidious.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited September 10

    My vote is for Cindy Adams, a 91-year old Hollywood gossip columnist, who began using a version of the Zettelkasten before the Zetttelkasten was invented. The NY times ran an article about her last month as she has decided to return to work. Below is a picture of her sifting through her note cards. Perhaps it is just a card index, but then again, I suspect its contents are more than just names. Kudos for Cindy.


    Edited by @ctietze: picture by New York Times removed, look here for a picture and info:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cindy_Adams

    Post edited by ctietze on
  • ... who began using a version of the Zettelkasten before the Zetttelkasten was invented.

    This fairly interesting Wikipedia article begins its Zettelkasten history with Conrad Gessner (1516–1565). Hm.

    Thank you so much for your comment! I hadn't heard about Cindy Adams before.

  • @thomasteepe, sorry to keep following you around from post to post in the forums like a lost puppy. You discuss interesting topics even though or because of our analog/digital divide.

    "Writing for insights" is noble. Hard for some of us to do. We get a flickering of insight here and there serendipitously but can't channel creative insight with any intention. I count myself among these creative wannabes. I fill my zettelkasten with ideas/results I've gained through the process of reading. Some of these zettel have sparked insights, but I've not found a way to write/think from these insights.

    I think this puts me right in the middle of the "contemporary zettelkasten culture." Right now, I'm happy to be there and be learning. But I feel a bit slammed by realizing that I'm using my zettelkasten primarily for notes about others' ideas and not my core creative work. This has to change.

    One way I've attempted to look into my zettelkasten for ideas is to look at historical zettel. Some are uninspiring, but some have evidence of a smoldering idea. Refactoring and thinking about an old idea gets my historical thinking mixing with my current thinking projects. The mix separates the input of results of reading from the insights gained through editing.

    • So, without the slightly clickbaitish top ten phrasing in the title: What do we know about renowned ZK users and their ZK practices, and what can we learn from them?

    A modern inspiration to me is Andy Matuschak. He does a bang-up job thinking aloud and creating a zettelkasten live on screen.

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

  • @thomasteepe said:

    ... who began using a version of the Zettelkasten before the Zetttelkasten was invented.

    This fairly interesting Wikipedia article begins its Zettelkasten history with Conrad Gessner (1516–1565). Hm.

    Thank you so much for your comment! I hadn't heard about Cindy Adams before.

    Haha. How diplomatic. :) I think it is a truly modern trope that we have such a narrow view on what our ancestors already accomplished.

    @jamesrregan Do you have any source material on her actual workflow? This might be very interesting since as a seasoned gossip columnist she might have a very fresh (as in unique) view on how to deal with knowledge. (And I don't know why, but women at that age seem to have such a bare-knuckle way to view the world that they seem to just be able to speak the truth in its most pure way. Unless they are politicians, sadly)


    Writing this it came to my mind that I never did any research with the Zettelkasten Method specifically in mind. To me, the Zettelkasten is more of a meta-tool to give order to the multiplicity of thinking tools people use.

    Take the Feynman method as an example. When I heard it I was already using the Zettelkasten Method and the circular workflow of trying to teach in simple terms and refining by using problems to formulate simple was an element that I incorporated organically into the overall thing I call The Zettelkasten Method.

    Another example is the awesome concept of gamebooks. To me, it looked as just another incarnation of a way to deal with possibilities in narrative.

    In the second edition I incorporated both not explicitely as some kind of plugin. But I referenced both to illustrate them as incarnations of the perennial nature of knowledge in its different forms. The Feynman technique highlights an aspect of an exercise to enrich knowledge with meaning, the gamebook concept hightlights how to deal with the multi-path nature of plot and character arc by that happens (compare: Bruce Lee Hit hits all by itself) if you let yourself loose within the hypertextual space that it finite from the outside but infinite internally ("internal growth" like Luhmann stated).

    So:

    What are the distinctive qualities of their ZKs and the interactions between user and ZK?
    Or perhaps there is something wrong with the question? I am grateful for any insights and opinions.

    I think, for the purpose of research, we need to abstain from the concept of the ZKM as we look into the past if we want to get insight into the concept of the ZKM in the present.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited September 6

    When writing my original post, I had no personal list in mind, but I agree without hesitation that Andy Matuschak is a strong candidate. I found the Matuschak / Nielsen paper "How can we develop transformative tools for thought?" very inspiring, especially the Summary and Conclusion at the end.

    Here are just three ideas I had in loose connection with their approaches.

    • I see a massive unused potential to improve human thinking by using existing and even ancient technologies. So at this moment, I am much more interested in problem solving tools and sheet layouts and the benefits of writing for an audience than in app design - although I find writing apps like ThinkSpace, CardFlow and Liquid Paper very inspiring, and I like assembling ideas for an app that specifically supports writing for insight.
    • In my view, countless people leave our education systems, and after years or decades look back and ask why they haven't been taught one or two crucial methods that were easily available in the past. I do not have an explanation.
      (In the case of mind maps, the method has reached schools long ago, but it didn't make a dent - in this case my explanation would be that the method in its common basic form is just not good enough.)

    • What could be the pros and cons of an approach "One Zettelkasten per Child", paper-based, and a thoroughly modified version of this.

    @Will - in my view, you have written some of the most moving, inspiring, kind-hearted and insightful passages in this forum, and a thank you from me is long overdue.

    Post edited by thomasteepe on
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