Zettelkasten Forum


How do you handle confusion when reading for a Zettelkasten?

When reading texts, I occasionally find that I didn't understand something very well.

I follow a modified version of the Feynman Technique for writing Zettels. Also, I write in a notebook first, then transcribe the writing into my computer to avoid editing while writing.

However, when there are gaps, I'm not too keen on the idea of referring to resources until I can fill in the gaps. It means that I have to switch from writing to reading. Reading is low effort to me while writing is demanding. I'm most energetic in the morning. Thus, I'd rather use my mornings to write than to read if I have anything to write about.

But, if I split the tasks, I need to do something about what I've written so I can address the gaps and re-use the text. I've tried multiple approaches to deal with this to no avail.

So I ask: What is your approach to handle gaps in your understanding when processing reading notes?

Comments

  • I keep working until I understand. Sometimes, I have some technique to assist me. Sometimes, I just bang my head against the wall until one of two things give in. So far, my head always won since you cannot lose if you don't give up. (It develops your mental muscles the same a barbell can do. You wouldn't complain about heavy ass weights if you want to become heavy ass strong, wouldn't you?)

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast

    So you deal with confusion right on the spot.

    I'm confused. I'm trying to follow these thoughts:

    • Do tasks separately
    • Use the time when you're at your peak energy to write

    So following these thoughts, I'd spend the morning writing if there's anything to write about. Then, the rest of the day can be used to do research and read. The next morning would be my next chance to try to fill in gaps.

    But this feels weird, like there is a better way to do it. I could follow the Feynman Technique as is, but it goes against my thoughts, so don't know.

    Am I missing something here? Please let me know.

  • Mh.

    It might be that you tilt too much on optimising your work schedule in a overly mechanic way. On paper, it might be more efficient if you spent your mornings just writing and postpone other activities to the later time of the day. But every day will deviate from this ideal situation by its own natural flow.

    Writing, reading and these kind of classifications are abstracted from actual projects. I, for example, alocate my time not by the type of activity but by the mode I am diving into. Today is my heavy research day. I process The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Campbell. But It is neither reading, nor writing or researching. I am on a quest to truly understand the hero's journey, enrich my Zettelkasten with its wisdom and dig out practical tools I can use for my coaching, my personal life and my fiction writing.

    By "mechanic way", I mean to apply abstract concepts to the real life: You never just write. But you think writingly -- sometimes readingly and sometimes while walking. It is thinking that is actually happening.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited October 2

    @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    When reading texts, I occasionally find that I didn't understand something very well.

    I follow a modified version of the Feynman Technique for writing Zettels. Also, I write in a notebook first, then transcribe the writing into my computer to avoid editing while writing.

    However, when there are gaps, I'm not too keen on the idea of referring to resources until I can fill in the gaps. It means that I have to switch from writing to reading. Reading is low effort to me while writing is demanding. I'm most energetic in the morning. Thus, I'd rather use my mornings to write than to read if I have anything to write about.

    But, if I split the tasks, I need to do something about what I've written so I can address the gaps and re-use the text. I've tried multiple approaches to deal with this to no avail.

    So I ask: What is your approach to handle gaps in your understanding when processing reading notes?

    You're very lucky if this only happens occasionally!

    I’ve encountered this many many times in my mathematical reading and research. Sometimes a definition will elude me to the point of frustration. I’ve found my ZK can actually be quite helpful.
    The following workflow is simply what has worked for me and your mileage may vary. Also, it's not always this structured but something akin to this:

    Suppose I’m reading (typically physical copies of books). I usually just put a mark next to items of interest / confusion / disagreement etc. After reading a chunk of material, these items go into a buffer note on the given reading (see @Sasha explanation of a buffer note).

    Now suppose I'm trying to get an intuitive understanding of concept C, which is made up of several sub-concepts and definitions {c1,c2,c3...}.

    1. Usually I put c1 c2 c3... into the buffer as separate items.
    2. I'll typically create a note for each c, with my own mental model of each c (usually a paragraph description of my intuition and a hand drawing of my _current _mental model). Often this illuminates gaps in my understanding of one of C's prerequisites.
    3. After reading, plugging holes in my understanding, and refining gaps in the c's, if I'm confident I sufficiently understand the c's, I remove c1, c2, c3 from the buffer.
    4. I'll then create a note for the concept C (again with a fresh mental model refined from a new understanding the c's) and link to the c's to help refine my C.

    If at this point C still evades my understanding, I'll depart the world of extant writing on C and go solo: I'll ask, "if I wanted to write my own definition of C using concepts of c's how would I do it?" So I'll create my own definition from scratch--which might take a while. Often, this personal definition ends up being very close or identical to C -- at which point I know I understand C.

    Of course your question of _when _this is done is good one. For me, I'll read a chunk, mark items of interest (including those of confusion). Then go back over the marked items creating the buffer items after the chunk of reading is done.

    If C is required to understand future reading material, I'll make sure to do this early on, but typically I can do this while continuing to read a new chunk of material.

    Tip: often the historical context in which a given concept was created is very helpful in understanding an abstract concept. I find that reading/noting what the initial motivation was for the concept can be very very helpful.

    Post edited by bradfordfournier on
  • Could you elaborate on what reading notes mean to you and what the processing entail? Or put another way - could you explain why you are taking reading notes?

  • @sfast

    Ah, this is the missing ingredient of the soup! I was focusing too much on labeling things. E.g.: Writing, reading, research, etc. Instead, I should be thinking in terms of mode of thinking.

    This makes me wonder: How do you keep track of your progress?

    I want to leave trails of my work because it would help me to get back to work easily.

    In my (failed) GTD system, I've found it helpful to keep a list of the next actions completed for a project.

    I've tried to apply something alike to the work I do for my Zettelkasten. No luck. Using tags like ##uncompiled and ##backfill, HTML comments, title conventions, etc only overcomplicated everything.

    E.g.: I have a Zettel on the benefits of a product and don't know what "situational awareness" means. So, I'm reading the Wikipedia entry for the term, then I'll read the corresponding relevant citations. The question here is: How do I remember what I'm doing in that Zettel?

    Also, I want to separate this Zettel from my Zettelkasten in some way. If I leave Zettels with gaps in there, the gaps spread through my Zettelkasten like a virus. And that's no good.

  • Refactoring to clarify confusion 202110021647

    Hang on. The nerdiness is spilling out like a mountain dam bursting. It's about to get thick. I hope you have hip boots handy.

    @sfast said:
    It might be that you tilt too much on optimising your work schedule in a overly mechanic way.
    By "mechanic way", I mean to apply abstract concepts to the real life: You never just write. But you think writingly -- sometimes readingly and sometimes while walking. It is thinking that is actually happening.

    Be flexible while having a plan to guide you. Write when your energy is highest. Your writing is the evidence of your thinking. Leave less taxing work for later or earlier in the day, depending on your particular circadian rhythm.

    I love Sascha's notion of being flexible and thinking writerly, sometimes readerly, and sometimes putting on the hoodie and those worn sneakers and taking a walk.

    @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    What is your approach to handle gaps in your understanding when processing reading notes?

    Mine is a similar pattern as Bradford's. It is hard to add to the details he outlines for taming ideas. He does such an excellent job of describing the mental gymnastics of gaining clarity. Closing a gap in understanding is often more straightforward and sometimes more challenging in actual practice.

    Describing this process of gaining clarity leaves out many details because of our curse of knowledge and our presenting a snapshot in time when this is an ongoing dynamic process. Each time I come up to a gap in my understanding, different mechanisms come into play. Sometimes as I process my notes and something is unclear, a simple slow reread will being enough clarity to proceed. Sometimes more than one slow reread. Sometimes clarity is sharpened with more diverse study material, sometimes it require more focused material. Sometimes I'll read my notes and wonder who was the idiot that scribbled these hieroglyphics in my notebook, and I either jettison the note or return to the source. Sometimes the idea expressed in the note wants further atomization. Sometimes a conversation or email banter with a trusted friend or a researcher will spark some understanding. In my eye, there are infinitely more "sometimes."

    There is an opportunity cost to bridging all the gaps you discover, and some gaps just aren't worth being bridged. One has to pick and choose . A gap in one's understanding of Medieval bread making is different from a gap in one's understanding of the Lindy Effect depending on rather you are a baker or an economist.

    #workflow #refactoring

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

  • edited October 3

    This makes me wonder: How do you keep track of your progress?

    I place a bookmark where I left. :) ("qqq")
    That's all.

    The question here is: How do I remember what I'm doing in that Zettel?

    Sometimes, I leave a short comment for my future self:

    <!--TODO Suche die Risikofaktoren aus dem obigen Schaubild raus -->
    

    or

    <!--TODO ist Pegasus eine Chimäre? -->
    

    I think very simple. :smile:

    I am a Zettler

  • I don't want to detract from any of @sfast's comments and I don't want to just say Me Too. I hope I can add a little twist that contributes to the conversation.

    @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    This makes me wonder: How do you keep track of your progress?

    Like @sfast, I use ★★★★★ for my place marker because it is bold and stands out.

    I want to leave trails of my work because it would help me to get back to work easily.

    The GTD system is overkill here. Don't overthink this. Use the KISS principle (Keeping It Simple is Smart). :wink:

    I've tried to apply something alike to the work I do for my Zettelkasten. No luck. Using tags like ##uncompiled and ##backfill, HTML comments, title conventions, etc only overcomplicated everything.

    I use one tag #proofing to group all my current work while it is in the editing phase. One "Saved Search" is at the top of my list of saved searches, and its hotkey is ⌘1. It is the first place I review during every writing session. That's it. Simple and uncomplicated.

    E.g.: I have a Zettel on the benefits of a product and don't know what "situational awareness" means. So, I'm reading the Wikipedia entry for the term, then I'll read the corresponding relevant citations. The question here is: How do I remember what I'm doing in that Zettel?

    It sounds like you are asking 'How do I keep from being distracted by the pull of more research?' The answer is you can't. So leave little breadcrumbs behind as you head off to "corresponding relevant citations." In most cases, it might be better to make a sidebar in the note you are about to leave, about the desire to do more reading and continue in the flow of the current idea rather than wandering off with the strong possibility of distraction. Distraction becomes a synonym for procrastination.

    Also, I want to separate this Zettel from my Zettelkasten in some way. If I leave Zettels with gaps in there, the gaps spread through my Zettelkasten like a virus. And that's no good.

    I'm not sure I understand this thinking. How is a zettel to become integrated unless it is co-mingled, tested and linked within a larger framework of the zettelkasten?

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

  • edited October 4

    @Dilan_Zelsky said: E.g.: I have a Zettel on the benefits of a product and don't know what "situational awareness" means. So, I'm reading the Wikipedia entry for the term, then I'll read the corresponding relevant citations. The question here is: How do I remember what I'm doing in that Zettel?

    @Will replied: It sounds like you are asking 'How do I keep from being distracted by the pull of more research?' The answer is you can't. So leave little breadcrumbs behind as you head off to "corresponding relevant citations." ...

    Gaining experience as a researcher is going to take time. Suppose you're prone to distractions (not you @Will). Maybe when tracking down the dependencies of X in Zettel Z you end up wilfing through the Internet instead.

    It's time for a mantra. Suppose I want to focus on X. I repeat, or think to myself, "Now @ZettelDistraction is working on X." To maintain some distance from myself, I refer to myself by name and not by the first person singular pronoun "I". Why? To cultivate the habit of mindful research. The moment @ZettelDistraction stops working on X, I want to know about it. If I don't maintain some professional distance, both of us will be wilfing through the Internet. That's two salaries toileted.

    There are other mantras, but among the Pythagorean secrets, this one is the first to try. Not that my example is anything to write home about, but it has helped. @sfast has excellent advice on getting the future self to do what it is supposed to do. Not even the Modern Stoics have figured out the framing that @sfast hit upon.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    Put that in your Zettelkasten and process it! ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex. Erdös #2.

  • @bradfordfournier

    Certainly, we're different. I appreciate that you share your workflow. It's useful to take inspiration, or steal some or all of it. :smile:

    You're using buffer notes beyond their initial purpose: To aid future writing project. I like that. I'm not a writer, at least not in the sense of publishing text. So buffer notes aren't useful to me. But, I could take my own spin like you did.

    Also, I notice that we use opposite methods to address gaps: Mine is top-down and yours is bottom-up. I create Zettels. Then, if any gaps turn up, I'll refer to my reading notes, Zettelkasten, the source of the information, or additional sources to fill them in. On the other hand, you break down an idea, understand the components, then try to understand the idea.

    Have you tried the top-down method? If so, would you mind to explain what made you prefer doing it bottom-up?

    And another question: How selective are you in what you choose to develop deep intuition for? You said this:

    Of course your question of _when _this is done is good one.

    And this:

    If C is required to understand future reading material, I'll make sure to do this early on, but typically I can do this while continuing to read a new chunk of material.

    Is this in general or in a specific context? E.g.: School.

    I look forward to your answers.

  • Dilan_Zelsky said:
    Also, I want to separate this Zettel from my Zettelkasten in some way. If I leave Zettels with gaps in there, the gaps spread through my Zettelkasten like a virus. And that's no good.

    @Will said:
    I'm not sure I understand this thinking. How is a zettel to become integrated unless it is co-mingled, tested and linked within a larger framework of the zettelkasten?

    I must've been (metaphorically) drunk when I wrote that. My apologies.

    I once created a Zettel and made connections. I didn't understand the idea described at all. When I turned to it to address my confusion, I wanted to punch the person who made the connections to and from the Zettel.

    Imagine Zettels as mature apples that grow in a tree. The tree is me nurturing these apples. I want to only drop apples that are mature, i.e., create Zettels for ideas that I have a basic understanding for. No one likes eating immature apples. They taste horribly.

    I hope that this clears things up.

    @Will said:
    There is an opportunity cost to bridging all the gaps you discover, and some gaps just aren't worth being bridged.

    Gaps depend on the context and may mean differently to different people. I should've elaborated. I'm sorry.

    By gap I mean something that I don't understand that keeps me from understanding something else. E.g.: I don't know what definition X means, so I can't understand model Y because it builds on that definition.

    Situational awareness, on the other hand, is not a gap. I understand the big idea of what the benefits of the product are. Instead, it's a complex term I don't know.

    I'm learning about it and that's a different problem.

    My learning workflow is an amalgama of multiple methods, conventions, techniques, etc. One method I include is Scott Young's Drilldown Method, which involves attaining deep intuition for every idea you learn.

    This is why I was learning about situational awareness. I don't know a limit. I do as I'm told. Tell me to follow the blank line in the road and I'll follow it to the end of the world. It's not that I'm prone to wilfing, as @ZettelDistraction warned.

    @Will, you were talking about gaps, but I think that your argument applies to this as well. My resolution is to attain deep intuition for only specific ideas. I'll leave everything else with a basic understanding, unless my Zettelkasten prompts me connections that result in such. I'll make up a temporary limit, but eventually I'll need to make a long-term one.

    One last thing. Thanks @Will and @sfast for the conventions. They're simple solutions and I like that. I'll do the following from now on:

    • Use ##!TM to track Zettels that I was working on. TM is short for trail marker.
    • Leave comments in Zettels describing what I was doing.
  • edited October 4

    20211004140817 Write TK inline for items to add later

    Cory Doctorow points out that writing isn't researching and conversely, and recommends the journalist's technique of writing TK inline to indicate something to be researched and added later.

    #writing #distraction #research #separationofconcerns #TK #corydoctorow

    Put that in your Zettelkasten and process it! ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex. Erdös #2.

  • edited October 5

    Resolving gaps in understanding 202110041725

    Simplify the workflow, relax into a supportive structure.

    @Dilan_Zelsky

    @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    I once created a Zettel and made connections. I didn't understand the idea described at all. When I turned to it to address my confusion, I wanted to punch the person who made the connections to and from the Zettel.

    Self-flagellation will get you nowhere.

    Imagine Zettels as mature apples that grow in a tree. The tree is me nurturing these apples. I want to only drop apples that are mature, i.e., create Zettels for ideas that I have a basic understanding for. No one likes eating immature apples. They taste horribly.

    In your metaphor[[202106040557]], you must decide if your Zettelkasten is the tree or the ground. I think of mine as a tree with fruits of various maturities. I don't consider any of my zettel "fully mature." Maturity and understanding lie on a spectrum [[202106040552]]. We can inch every idea a little bit further, a little bit more developed, not giving up. And using your metaphor, I'd not want any of my zettel "dropping" out of the tree. (Apples, when they drop, are already past ripeness and usually not so tasty.)

    I hope that this clears things up.

    I'm clear, are you?

    By gap I mean something that I don't understand that keeps me from understanding something else. E.g.: I don't know what definition X means, so I can't understand model Y because it builds on that definition.

    I think of a gap at a more fundamental level. A gap is a blank space of unclarity in an idea that blocks understanding.

    Gaps [[201904250957]]

    My learning workflow is an amalgama of multiple methods, conventions, techniques, etc. One method I include is Scott Young's Drilldown Method, which involves attaining deep intuition for every idea you learn.....

    You're overthinking things and spending too much time meta analyzing your every move. Pick a simple workflow maybe like the one recommended by @sfast. Relax into it for two weeks and see.

    Activation energy [[202001131617]]

    • Leave comments in Zettels describing what I was doing.

    Zettelnauts strive to leave hints in their zettel. I am not perfect at this but I strive to educate my future self. I have to write things down because I can't rely on my fallible memory.

    #note-taking #workflow


    As a gift, I've created a mini zettelkasten or a fragment of my zettelkasten based on this reply and am sharing it here. Download, unzip, use "The Archive" > "Switch Archives", and presto.

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

  • This

    relax into a supportive structure

    and this

    Pick a simple workflow [and r]elax into it for two weeks and see.

    are the most important pieces of advice in this thread.

    Take into consideration that most (if not all effective) methods and techniques developed naturally from working on something else.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited October 5

    @ZettelDistraction Thanks for the link. I skimmed it and it contains a few useful ideas that I resonate with a lot. I'll integrate that wisdom into my Zettelkasten soon so I stop beating my head against the wall like I am.

    @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    I once created a Zettel and made connections. I didn't understand the idea described at all. When I turned to it to address my confusion, I wanted to punch the person who made the connections to and from the Zettel.

    @Will said:
    Self-flagellation will get you nowhere.

    I don't get this. Are we talking about two entirely different things or am I blind? The note I made contained nothing but incomprehensible gibberish. How's this self-flagellation?

    In your metaphor[[202106040557]], you must decide if your Zettelkasten is the tree or the ground. I think of mine as a tree with fruits of various maturities. I don't consider any of my zettel "fully mature." Maturity and understanding lie on a spectrum [[202106040552]]. We can inch every idea a little bit further, a little bit more developed, not giving up. And using your metaphor, I'd not want any of my zettel "dropping" out of the tree. (Apples, when they drop, are already past ripeness and usually not so tasty.)

    Perhaps apples wasn't good for a metaphor. I think that it conveyed the wrong idea. I was trying to say that adding gibberish to my Zettelkasten was a terrible idea. Or am I overthinking this?

    @sfast and Will In regards to the workflow, maybe I am overthinking it. The reason I wanted to attain deep intuition was because of my goal with my Zettelkasten. But I guess that I don't understand learning and the things surround it well enough to pursue this goal, so I suppose that I'll just ditch it out and set a new one once I understand things better. Until then, I'll just keep it simple. Thanks.

  • The reason I wanted to attain deep intuition was because of my goal with my Zettelkasten.

    More power to you. But the way to attain deep intuition is doing and not thinking. :) (or better: Do a lot and then think about it)

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast

    More power to you. But the way to attain deep intuition is doing and not thinking. :) (or better: Do a lot and then think about it)

    So application is the way to go. That sheds some light into the layers of evidence. What a powerful model!

    Goodbye over-complicated workflow, hello simpler one. :smile:

  • @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    The question here is: How do I remember what I'm doing in that Zettel?

    @sfast said:
    Sometimes, I leave a short comment for my future self:

    or

    I think very simple.

    One more question: When do you look at these to-dos?

  • When I work with that specific note and my next step depends on this ToDo being done.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast Good to know. Thanks!

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