Zettelkasten Forum


Dealing with Folgezettel structure and topic hierarchy

I read a lot about the 'Folgezettel' approach, and like it very much, especially because it emphasizes a structure that represents the chain and order of thought and reflection over a purely formal, taxonomic structure, as described for instance in Folgezettel is not an Outline.

Nevertheless, a formal, taxonomic dimension is, obviously, also not completely absent. When I branch of from 1a into 1a1, it also normally means, that 1a1 (and 1a2,...) provides analysis of greater details of 1a1, which now becomes the main context for all the children. It does not only mean that I got back to the topic of 1a later, while I had made notes about different topics in 1b and 1c in between. Thus, it seems to me there is a playful tension between a formal structure (topic, subtopic, detail and so forth) and, lets call it a discursive structure, ordering things along the timeline of thought and reflection.

The problem that I can not get my head around at the moment is how to organize these 2 together in a situation where the angle of thought becomes broader along the way and not more narrow.

Consider the following the example: It is most often said that we should just start with a note, just where we are. So, I am reading a book about Transcendentalism by Sartre. Thus, I make note 1 'Transcendentalism'. I continue with some aspects about transcendentalism in 1a, 1b ... . Later on I am reading about Ontology. It goes into Zettel 2 and then 2a, 2b and maybe 2a1 and so forth. So my work gets to a point where slowly Philosophy as such becomes a topic. I could now add Philosophy as 1c or 2a2 for instance and continue with notes about transcendalism as branches of 1a or 1b ... However, and this is the formal view stepping in, philosophy is actually more the parent of all these topics. 1c or 2a2 for a note about Philosophy seems weired, it conceales the entire topic of Philosophy somewhere within a lot of notes 'above', 'below' and 'next' of Zettel that are all Philosophy. On the other hand, it is no longer possible to create a note as main entry point for all those Zettel, because I already started with 1, 2,.. The issue is even bigger because very often you do not know if a topic becomes more general within your own line of thinking or what the more general angle actually looks like towards which you develop a topic.

Can anyone give me some thoughts about how to deal with this tension between the formal and the procedural dimension of the Folgezettel structure, or what my misunderstanding of the Folgezettel structure is?

Comments

  • edited May 10

    As I understand Folgezettel, the place where you put a note is never special. Both "1" and "1a2" have the same relevance in the Folgezettel's hierarchy. It does not matter whether a child note is more specific (or general) than its parent note. Because of this, there is never concealing: there are just notes that follow one another.

    If you give meaning to the Folgezettel hierarchy, you will face the categorization problem in the long run (which is the first problem we want to get rid of with the Zettelkasten method).

    So, the concealment you describe is practical: "How can you efficiently access your notes?" Once you have a Zettelkasten with interconnected notes (via Folgezettel or links), the solution to this problem is multiple:

    1. You can have a main index note that guides you to the relevant notes of your Zettelkasten. For example: "The main entry note for Philosophy is 1c, for Zettelkasten is 1c5de, etc."

    2. Follow connections via Folgezettel or direct links.

    3. Use full-text search and object-tags.

    4. Create structure notes that help you navigate (and work with) your Zettelkasten.

    (I only tested Folgezettel for a short time in mi Zettelkasten, so I might be wrong on my understanding of it.)

    In summary, the notes "1", "2", and "3"... in the Folgezettel's hierarchy are neither special notes nor main entry points to your Zettelkasten. If you impose this, you risk suffering the problem of categorization in the long run. Try to use a combination of the above methods to access your Zettelkasten instead.

    “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” —Isaac Newton
    eljardindegestalt.com

  • Think of the cards (notes) as a heterarchy. There is no meaning in position (no privileged position), no card is above or below, greater or lesser than any other card.

    The only criterion to place a new card is the "best local fit" - what single card is the new card related to, associated with, or simply that you wish to think about together.

    Any single card can be at any "level of abstraction" from specific to general. There is no problem having a broad theme like metaphysics or philosophy appear "deep" in a branch if that broad card is related to the one before it.

    Folgezettel is generally not a predetermined structural policy or process to make subsequent cards conform to some kind of hierarchy or pattern, rather it is an unplanned, unintentional byproduct of this process of hanging new notes on to their best local fit - and assigning them follow on numbers. (There are a few exceptions where a note might serve as a little hierarchy within the heterarchy; i.e. a note containing an idea pointing to sub-ideas or components, e.g. ZK I note 17.11e)

    So, your goal with creating new notes is to just do your best to install them next to the best fit note and over time link to related thoughts. Luhmann liked the fact that his system obviated the need to categorize or "hier-architize", he just put the new note where he thought it might fit, and if he could not decide whether to put it here or there, would simply add a link to the second candidate note to refer to the new one, and this approach meant that ideas could "live" in multiple different contexts (multi-storage) without having to copy and install the new note in two places.

  • edited May 10

    I'm facing my "personal vision" about Folgezettel just these days.
    I've realized that... it doesn't work in my case :-)
    I like the principle behind, even brilliant, but it is too binding and onerous to implement for my attitudes.
    Maybe I would have a different thought using an analog Zettelkasten, or a software with poor linking features.

    Post edited by andang76 on
  • edited May 10

    I'm not an expert about Folgezettel (of course because I dont'even use it), but reading your question I think that with Folgezettel, beeing a physical construction of note, you can have only one logic that involves a note. You can physically organize "by stream", or "by hierarchy", but only one of them for every couple of notes.
    You can mix alternating, but I don't know if it is a good idea or it is better having a consistency.
    After five years from now, 1.2 was a parent-child or a flow for a specific note?

    A simple solution that came in my mind for having both is choose one of them for physical implementation using Folgezettel, and implement the other using a logical implementation, such structure notes/map of contents or similar things. You only need to do the right meaning to folgezettel codes.
    Maybe it is better using folgezettel by stream and structure notes (or single linking) for hierarchies. Hierarchies can be a pain in the ass to manage, and folgezettel wasn't born with that purpose (even though you could "break the rule"...) so it is better having a secondary implementation for them rather than the primary, so you can adjust or even throw them if they don't work.

    I do in this way, the difference is that i don't have folgezettel and structure notes (or single linking), but using structure notes/linking for boths.

    Post edited by andang76 on
  • As has been said before, Folgezettel is not a hierarchy nor an outline. In my opinion, in the digital era, it's more of a convenient way to force yourself to put a note somewhere by providing a rough map of your archive and at least one clear link from one note to another. (That's why I ended up adopting it.)

    If the subject broadens, then

    • either start a branch fresh
    • broaden it in the branch itself: 12a1e may lead 12a1e1, 2, 3 and so on as these are "sibling" notes.

    In the end, it does not matter semantically. Folgezettel is a convenience, and one should not be precious about the indices (which, to that regard, goes counter to the IMO very bad advice of Scott Scheper of Antinet fame).

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    PKM: Obsidian + DEVONthink, tasks: OmniFocus, production: Scrivener / Ableton Live.

  • Usually, when an individual has been reduced to a quivering, unspecified blob of gelatinous goo, as I have been in my Folgezettel debates with @Sacha and others, the vanquished individual creeps away in silent, wounded ignorance, too proud to admit defeat. With the experience of assigning IDs such as Math.8b.0.24.05.11, Folgezettel IDs don't repay the effort they take to assign to organize notes.

    Raw timestamps tend to be disorienting, but my current ID regular expression is nutty: ((\w{1,5}\.)(\w{1,4}\.)+\w{4}). I designed it to include a leading keyword, a separator, and a dot-delimited timestamp. I like to see a keyword in the ID to indicate the subject matter. The simplest usable ID scheme (for me) consists of a one- to five-letter keyword followed by a timestamp. A timestamp-compatible regular expression supporting this is (\w{1,5}\d{13,}), which is close to the Zettlr default of (\d{14}). I'm embarrassed that devising something so simple took me so long.

    A segment of a recent Cal Newport podcast mentioned the Archive. The guest mentioned creating indexes of sources for a book he wrote. An index note in a digital Zettelkasten is an outline containing annotated links to other notes -- a structure note. Such outlines will repay the effort to create them, unlike Folgezettel. Cal Newport pointed out that ideas take time and effort; they don't come from following links hoping for epiphanic insights; this has been my experience.

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

  • @ZettelDistraction said:

    Raw timestamps tend to be disorienting

    But how do you suggest that in five or ten years time you would file that specific note with the same keyword in its file name? Having a unique key to which you can refer from any point in the universe, regardless of a specific topic in mind right now, sounds like the epitome of keying out wisdom. And if this key looks arbitrairily it won't direct ones thoughts into a wanted or unwanted direction of thinking.

    As to Folgezettel: They are - in my opinion - just a row of connected thoughts. You could easily achive that by any unique sequence of alphanumerical order and disrupt the sequence easily by connecting to other zettel. Hence the possibility to have two, three or even more "nests" of Zettel with roughly the same subjects but in different time zones of thinking and other contexts.

  • @Martin said:

    @ZettelDistraction said:

    Raw timestamps tend to be disorienting

    But how do you suggest that in five or ten years time you would file that specific note with the same keyword in its file name?

    I don't make that suggestion. You might apply that criticism to any word of the title and conclude that there should be no title. In any case, I wouldn't wait five or years to file the note--I assign the ID, including the keyword, and file the note the same day.

    Having a unique key to which you can refer from any point in the universe, regardless of a specific topic in mind right now, sounds like the epitome of keying out wisdom.

    Universal coordinates remain aspirational for me. I'm assigning my IDs on Earth. I don't know what "keying out wisdom" means. I'm sorry, I get lost with timestamps. If you mean Folgezettel, then I prefer starting with a keyword so that I know what to look for. My system was overly intricate and impeded the organization and retrieval of notes. The transition to a simpler ID format, combining a keyword with a timestamp ((\w{1,5}\d{13,})), affords me accessibility and ease of navigation. Perhaps it doesn't approach wisdom, much less enlightenment, but it does lighten the extraneous cognitive load.

    And if this key looks arbitrairily it won't direct ones thoughts into a wanted or unwanted direction of thinking.

    I doubt that a general keyword such as "Math" will lead my thoughts astray. That's the least of my problems. I don't hold much stock in the utility of meaningless IDs for generating insight. That's hard work. Whether a meaningless ID will help surmount cognitive biases remains to be seen. For me, they're just meaningless and lead nowhere.

    As to Folgezettel: They are - in my opinion - just a row of connected thoughts. You could easily achive that by any unique sequence of alphanumerical order and disrupt the sequence easily by connecting to other zettel. Hence the possibility to have two, three or even more "nests" of Zettel with roughly the same subjects but in different time zones of thinking and other contexts.

    Have you used them over time? I find that they lose their significance somewhat sooner than five, let alone ten years.

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

  • @ZettelDistraction said:

    @Martin said:

    @ZettelDistraction said:

    Raw timestamps tend to be disorienting

    But how do you suggest that in five or ten years time you would file that specific note with the same keyword in its file name?

    I don't make that suggestion. You might apply that criticism to any word of the title and conclude that there should be no title. In any case, I wouldn't wait five or years to file the note--I assign the ID, including the keyword, and file the note the same day.

    Having a unique key to which you can refer from any point in the universe, regardless of a specific topic in mind right now, sounds like the epitome of keying out wisdom.

    I totaly agree with ZettelDistraction here : whatever is your convention, you'll have to keep it for years and years. It could be a specific keyword in the filename, tags inside a note or anything else. In fact, I think that having a keyword inside the filename is more effective because you can easily check them into the file explorer.

    If adding a tag as first particule into the filename is making a Folgezettel, I plead guilty. It was easier for me to find my notes and to make link. Chaos came after I let this system down, because I thank I made a mistake and wanted to try something else (and then creating something way more complicated and useless).

    @andang76 said :
    Maybe I would have a different thought using an analog Zettelkasten, or a software with poor linking features.

    Even with an analog... Now, I'm working with timestamp only, because I write on physical paper index cards. I can't change easily IDs of my notes if i make a mistake, so I have to stick with something I can use even if I am awfully tired, with a full saturated working memory and a stressed mind. I can't do that with Folgezettel, especialy when my natural inclination would be to create hierarchy. And yeah, I agree with @KillerWhale : Scott Schlepper's advice to begin a ZK is quite bad, confusing and all. I don't want to reproduce the university library classification, it's so rigid and stiff while we try to create something organic. I have read the "don't use category, use tag instead" article, after all.

    @cutuchiqueno said :
    Can anyone give me some thoughts about how to deal with this tension between the formal and the procedural dimension of the Folgezettel structure, or what my misunderstanding of the Folgezettel structure is?

    It would be the formalities, conventions, structure and system you choose it has to be, there is no absolute neither a formal policy of what a ZK has to be. If you want to use it as a classification, do it. If you want to use it as a heterarchy, do it. Maybe you prefer to use it as an outline? It's also fine. If you want to use it in a way we did'nt write about, do it either. We can only give you advices about good sensical practives and whatever work for ourselves, but in the end, you'll be the one to deal with your own ZK.

    Questions you should ask yourself from my opinion :

    • What makes sens for you?
    • Could you use your system even if you are tired with an amoeba-like brain ?

    Try, test, and experience will lead the rest.

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