Zettelkasten Forum

On note 9/8,3 (Ghost in the Box)

On GitHub, a user proposed to change "ghost" to "mind":

Changing ghost into mind. The mind refers to the mental frame, while ghost is the soul of a dead person.

In reaction to that, I wrote the first commentary to the translation:

The Zettelkasten as the ethereal ghost that hides in plain sight

In German, "Geist" means both "mind" and "ghost". The question spelled out could be something like "Can the mind of the Zettelkasten be observed?" Or something like that. So, why "ghost" instead of "mind?"

There is great anime film titled "Ghost in the Shell". It is quite a philosophical movie that asks the question: If your consciousness can be moved from your body and brain to machine are you still considered a human or will you become a computer program? One possible answer could be: If we can move from body to body, and we are still considered human we should be considered to be ghosts that take possession of bodies.

What do the visitors see when they see everything and are disappointed? Perhaps, they feel the same disappointment of scientists who opened the scull of people to look at the human mind but see "it all": just flabby gray tissue.

To this day, this seems to be the feeling us who start their own Zettelkasten. The frankensteinian fantasy of creating something alive turns into obsession or disappointment. The mind of the Zettelkasten turns into a ghost, something ethereal and evasive that can hide in plain sight. We dive into our Zettelkastens in search for what we believe we created and just seem to find notes.

So, what is the Zettelkasten? One possible answer might be: The ghost that is able to hide in plain sight and just can be seen from the corner of the eye.

What do you think about that reasoning?

I am a Zettler


  • Additional source with similar wordings:

    In a zettel in his second zettelkasten entitled “Does Spirit hide in the filing cabinet” (literally, though one could translate it as “Is there a Ghost in the machine?”), Niklas Luhmann wrote a note about people disappointed in seeing his system in person: “People come, they see everything [his boxes, slips, and notes] and nothing more than that, just like in porn movies; consequently, they leave disappointed.” The Two Definitions of Zettelkasten

    I am a Zettler

  • edited November 6

    Spirit is yet another possible translation for the German word.

    When i was reading the German version i immediately thought about the mind, because in a Zettelkasten we can see every thought on a note and can follow note sequences like a train of thoughts. So looking at someones Zettelkasten might seem like reading a persons mind. It is indeed something intimate and revealing, like porn.

    But is this really what people hoped to see when they showed interest in his Zettelkasten? I don't think so. We can only speculate, but there certainly is something mystical about Zettelkasten.

    I now think that "ghost" is a better fitting translation. I like your interpretation of the Zettel.

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

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