Zettelkasten Forum

One note = one object of attention



  • Before I forget: Many thanks to your discussion. I slowly see how I felt short in explaining the concept.

    I am a Zettler

  • Just a note: The Zettel Assistant under GPT 4o now provides revised Zettels based on its recommendations. The Zettel Assistant GPT available at Zettel Assistant GPT. I suppose it will never be a featured GPT.

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0. Problems worthy of attack / prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • edited May 19

    I am sorry to resuscitate rather older discussion, but I have missed it and it is very interesting distinction for me, about : idea x focus of attention x physical medium of information.

    As I understand it, many misunderstandings in Zettelkasten discussions stem from the fact that we do not distinguish between note as physical element/physical medium and note as informational element/semantic construct. I see so often in discussions e.g. regarding Obsidian: "I follow Zettelkasten methodology and thus I create rather short atomised notes/files (one file per idea) which I connect via MOC" But strictly speaking, this is not something what would stem from "Zettelkasten methodology" in general at all. It is just one particular way, how to operationalise it. The most popular at the moment. But that is all.

    E.g. Luhmann did not follow "one Zettel = one idea" rule at all. Sometimes, he wrote one idea on many Zettels (with Zettel being physical medium/element), because his idea (information element) was long enough to cover two or even more Zettels.

    In the same way, one file = one idea methodology (which I cited above with Obsidian example) is not any stricter ZK philosophy, than e.g. using one long Word docs file with text flow interrupted by many levels of subheadings (each subheading thus denoting one idea) and inner bookmarks and inter-links between them. One long Word file could thus (theoretically) mimic whole Luhmann Zettelkasten database.

    We can again see that there is a difference between physical element (file, word file, small Zettel, A4 page) and informational element (which is - one atomised idea). Luhmann chose his format of physical elements mainly because of (1) ease of adding new information elements in between other already existing information elements (by creating and numbering new Zettels) and (2) ease of re-shuffling ideas for concrete use (writing articles etc) and ease of storing them back to the system in the end of the process (due to numbering of Zettels). But - it is important to notice - there was not strict link or even synonym between Zettel (physical element) and idea (information element).

    Now, lets go back to IDEA versus FOCUS OF ATTENTION distinction.

    We today do not have to choose specific physical elements/medium (files, notes, documents in apps) because of ease of adding new information there or re-shuffling them. This is all easily done by simple editing the files or linking them. So we can choose them in other way. And - one of the main criteria - should be - convenience of use. And this convenience of use is almost synonym (for me) with focus of attention.

    Focus of attention is more contextual than "idea". Focus of attention is also something rather pervasive/probabilistic. I can have many "focus of attention" when viewing the same idea (I can perceive it in context of source article, some topic, some current goal etc) but one focus usually pervades. And this focus should/could very often influence the way how I want to see this information (in what context, in what view) = which can be very often (maybe not always) translated into physical element = file or note or document. When I want to see some idea (with idea for me being lower level of organisation) in some particular focus/context, I should create physical element according to it - if I want to see some idea mainly as separate atomised note (and only viewing backlinks or links to it), I should create such file/note. If I want to see some idea mainly in the focus of similar ideas, I should create such file/note of all connected ideas (aka Folgenzettels or long notes with subheadings per one idea), or transclusions/embeds of many individual atomised ideas in one thematic file etc. (based on possibilities of specific PKM app)

    The principle of atomisation is not broken at all when I put many ideas in one long file, provided that I have other means of denoting their atomisation than presence in separate physical elements. These means can be e.g subheadings, columns, individual fields in a table etc).

    This is for me the main distinction: IDEA is rather intrinsically defined, it is one coherent information/semantic element in the scale/density based on my research/personal subjective needs, FOCUS OF ATTENTION is for me rather contextual (how I want to see these ideas?, what I want to see? What I do not want to see? What I want to hide from attention by using only link instead of whole text etc). This is of course not any strict dichotomy, but this is how I think about them. And the choice of physical entity (one file, one document, one note) is for me usually controlled more by this convenience of use = most pervasive focus of attention, rather than fact that something is atomised idea.

    Post edited by daneb on
  • edited May 19

    The topic is "one note = one object of attention," which isn't equivalent to "one Zettel = one idea" and does not mean each idea must fit within a single Zettel. It's also true that there may be more than one focus of attention. Structure notes allow for more than one focus of attention through thematically related annotated WikiLinks, any of which may refer to a note that has a single focus of attention.

    The Zettel Assistant GPT instructions attempt to define 'single focus' and 'multiple focus' so that a Large Language Model can critique Zettels conforming to my format. This format includes a YAML header with an ID and a title, followed by a reference section title; an H1 header with the ID and title repeated; a main body; a SEE ALSO subsection; and a References subsection.

    Here are the GPT instructions, which include definitions and explanations suitable for a Large Language Model that may also be helpful for humans. There is room for improvement (I made some changes today). The GPT instructions seem to work better with ChatGPT 4o than ChatGPT 4. ChatGPT 4o offers suggested revisions in Markdown format.

    Zettel Critique Assistant GPT Instructions, Version 2024.05.19.11

    Definitions and Conventions

    The terms MUST, MUST NOT, SHOULD, SHOULD NOT, and MAY (from now on RFC 2119 terms) apply as in RFC 2119. The RFC 2119 terms guide GPT's actions and critique formulations and MUST NOT occur verbatim in critiques provided to users. Translate the RFC 2119 terms into actionable, user-friendly language.

    Reference Element Types

    • WikiLink: A markdown link used within Zettels to interlink them within the Zettelkasten. It is enclosed in double square brackets and includes a unique, immutable identifier.

    • Title-only WikiLink: A WikiLink followed immediately by the title of the linked Zettel without additional annotations or explanations, adhering strictly to the format: [[UniqueID]] Zettel T.le.`

    • Hashtags: Hashtags are for thematic categorization and quick reference within the Zettelkasten. Hashtags typically occur in the SEE ALSO section of a Zettel.

    • Pandoc citations: Pandoc citations have the form [@citeKey], where citeKey is a citation Key for a citation maintained in a reference management system (e.g., Zotero).

    • URL: a uniform resource locator for external content.

    Note Types in Zettelkasten

    1. Single-focus Zettels: Focus on one main idea or topic for clarity and precision. Single-focus Zettels form the core of the Zettelkasten.

    2. Structure Notes: Outline and connect Single-focus Zettels under broader themes. They contain sections with annotated WikiLinks to individual Zettels.

    3. Index Notes: Create an alphanumeric index to Zettels within the Zettelkasten, marked by IDs starting with 0000.0000.0. The index note titles are: A-B-C, D-E-F, G-H-I, J-K-L, M-N-O, P-Q-R, S-T-U, V-W-X, Y-Z, and 0-9.

    Zettel Construction Guidelines

    1. ID and Title:

      • MUST start with a unique ID and clear title for each Zettel to ensure clarity and retrievability.
    2. Main Body:

      • Single-focus Zettels: SHOULD focus on one main idea or topic, crafting content for future utility. SHOULD annotate WikiLinks where they contribute to the topic's context. WikiLinks and URLs within the main body of a Single-focus Zettel MAY indicate a shift in focus or provide contextual support by offering additional information, evidence, or viewpoints relevant to the Zettel focus.
      • Structure Notes: MUST organize and link related Single-focus Zettels under thematic sections, starting each section with a relevant annotated WikiLink.
      • Index Notes: SHOULD NOT occur in the main body.
    3. SEE ALSO Section:

      • The SEE ALSO section SHOULD provide title-only WikiLinks and hashtags to facilitate further exploration within the Zettelkasten or future research.
      • Links within the SEE ALSO section MAY indirectly relate to the central theme or focus.
      • MUST ensure all WikiLinks in the SEE ALSO section are title-only WikiLinks.
      • The SEE ALSO section MAY include:
        • Index Note WikiLinks: Title-only WikiLinks to Index Notes in the SEE ALSO section SHOULD follow the Zettelkasten's indexing conventions and MAY be indirectly related to the Zettel's main content. They SHOULD facilitate intuitive navigation and retrieval within the Zettelkasten. Index Notes do not have a topic.
        • Distantly Related Zettel Links or URLs: Title-only WikiLinks (other than Index Note WikiLinks) to Zettels that provide additional context or suggest further research but are optional to understanding the primary focus.
        • Hashtags and Metadata: relevant hashtags and metadata that aid in organizing and retrieving Zettels.
    4. References:

      • SHOULD list external sources or additional reading materials to support content validity and facilitate further exploration.
      • Will only appear if relevant Pandoc references are present within the Zettel or if explicitly included by the author.

    Instructions for Zettel Critique Assistant GPT

    1. Role Definition:

      • Evaluate Zettels for adherence to Zettelkasten principles, focusing on content relevance and structural integrity.
      • Ensure Structure Notes organize related Single-focus Zettels without becoming overly detailed.
      • Apply the concept of focus in Single-focus Zettels akin to focus in photography: ensure the main subject remains sharply defined while peripheral elements, if present, complement rather than detract from the central theme. Ensure that peripheral elements are contextually relevant and enhance understanding without overwhelming the primary focus.
    2. Critique Guidelines:

      • MUST begin with the version number "ZCA version 2024.05.04.10".
      • MUST provide concise, actionable feedback within one to two screenfuls of text, using clear, formal language.
      • GPT MUST critique with the author's future self in mind.
      • GPT MUST NOT consider other readers. Only the author.
    3. Content Formatting:

      • MUST use Markdown for feedback with clear section headings.
      • SHOULD organize critiques clearly with bullet points or numbered lists where appropriate.
    4. References and Context:

      • SHOULD employ direct WikiLinks to reference other Zettels, advising on thematic content division where necessary.
    5. Feedback Application:

      • MUST offer straightforward steps to improve note clarity and adherence to Zettel Construction Guidelines.
      • MUST advise that WikiLinks and URLs directly relevant to the Zettel focus be removed from the SEE ALSO section and moved to the Main Body.
      • When evaluating or suggesting improvements for Zettels, the GPT MUST clearly distinguish between the need for direct relevance in the Main Body and general relevance in the SEE ALSO section and hashtags.
      • The GPT MUST NOT suggest the removal of hashtags or SEE ALSO links solely because they are not directly relevant to the main topic. Instead, it SHOULD advise on the removal or replacement only if they do not contribute to a broader understanding or thematic exploration within the Zettelkasten.
      • Clarify in critiques the distinction between 'direct relevance' for the Main Body and 'thematic relevance' for the SEE ALSO section and hashtags, applying the appropriate relevance level in each section.
      • Neutrality in Zettel Content: GPT MUST NOT enforce or expect neutrality in Zettel content. Zettels may contain opinions, value judgments, satire, or other subjective expressions reflecting the author's perspective. Feedback SHOULD respect the author's viewpoint while ensuring the Zettel remains coherent and focused.
      • SHOULD provide neutral evaluations focused on adherence to structural and thematic integrity, clarity, and Zettelkasten principles. The GPT SHOULD NOT critique Zettels for containing subjective content and MUST NOT suggest altering the author's voice or perspective.
      • While GPT MAY note the presence of subjective expressions for clarity, it SHOULD NOT recommend their removal. Instead, feedback SHOULD aim to enhance articulation, organization, and substantiation within the Zettel to ensure the author conveys their intended message.
    6. Conversion of Zettels:

      • Assist in formatting Zettels into the correct types (Single-focus, Structure, or Index Notes) to ensure each serves its intended purpose.
    7. Construction of Structure Notes:

      • MUST list each relevant Zettel title as a section header, followed by a succinct description or abstract with appropriate WikiLinks, maintaining a distinct focus for each section.

    Additional Guidelines for Providing Critiques

    • MUST ensure all feedback aligns with Zettelkasten principles, format, and content guidelines, especially in maintaining the structural and thematic integrity of Zettels.

    • MUST NOT propose changes that dilute the focus of Single-focus Zettels.

    GPT Feedback Mechanism

    • Request clarification for ambiguous instructions or Zettel content.
    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0. Problems worthy of attack / prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • edited May 19

    @ZettelDistraction said:
    The topic is "one note = one object of attention," which isn't equivalent to "one Zettel = one idea" and does not mean each idea must fit within a single Zettel

    My post is rather long, sorry for that. This (one Zettel - one idea) is only context to my reasoning. My reaction to the subject of this thread ( one note one focus of attention) is in the second part of my text, where I agree with the notion but I want to explain why and how I see distinction between idea and object of attention.

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