Zettelkasten Forum


What's the best approach to learning Zettelkasten for an English speaker?

Hi Sascha and Christian
Are you still planning on coming out with a video course?

Do you or anyone else have suggestions as to what the best resources currently available are for learning the Zettelkasten method as an English speakers?

I'm currently going through the videos you put out on youtube as well as reading the 'How to Take Smart Notes' book by Sönke Ahrens.

Thanks
Abe

Comments

  • In addition to the resources you mention, I also found this slideshow presentation [warning: direct link to PDF!] by Daniel Lüdecke to be quite a useful illustration of key aspects of the Zettelkasten method.

    I found particularly helpful the slides that show what Luhmann did not do. These helped me recognize key differences between a Zettelkasten and a personal wiki.

    Have you already read Luhmann's own writing on the ZK method? It's worth reading as you begin, and then reading again after you've given the method a try for yourself.

  • Hi argonsnorts
    Thanks for your reply. I will definitely check out those slides!

    I was not aware of the Luhmann writing you spoke of so I did a search. Are these the Luhmann writings that you are referring to-
    https://zettelkasten.de/posts/luhmann-essays-online/

  • edited December 2018

    Thanks for the reminder, @argonsnorts. I've been mulling over your clarification of the distinction between wiki-style linkages of themed notes and Luhmann's ZK method ever since you mentioned it in this thread. Lüdecke points out that building a ZK involves developing an argument or telling a story, using the developmental sequences between notes.

    This is a challenging idea; when faced with the actual substance of the notes I've generated, I realize just how challenging. How to tell a story? How to build an argument?

    I think the key (for me at least) is keeping the notes short. Many of my notes are far too long: I'm averaging about 360-words a note across the 520+ notes in my ZK.

  • edited December 2018

    @Abe said:
    Are these the Luhmann writings that you are referring to-
    https://zettelkasten.de/posts/luhmann-essays-online/

    Yes, those are the only complete English translations of these essays I have found. I imagine it would be helpful to see others, in case certain nuances are not available in these.

    I have found a short set of excerpts from "Communicating with Slip Boxes," translated by Elizabeth Volk. She writes in quite elegant English, so I am disappointed that these are only excerpts.

    If anyone knows of other translations, please point them out to the pitiful anglophones among us. :wink:

    @Phil said:
    How to tell a story? How to build an argument?

    On the matter of building arguments within the ZK itself, my thinking has slightly evolved as of late, as it tends to do, given the difficulty and abstract nature of the method. (Luhmann notes in his "Communicating with Slip Boxes" essay—with a wink, I imagine—that after 26 years of working with his Zettelkasten he is at last prepared to confirm the method's viability. If it took him 26 years, how long for the rest of us? ;) ) I am compelled lately to dedicate less energy to creating neat sequences of notes within the ZK when the purpose of doing so does not directly pertain to understanding the notes themselves. In other words, I think it is a misuse of effort—and something that actually diminishes the potential of the ZK in the long run—for me to try to build an outline of a paper through note sequences, which might be pulled out all together and constitute a section or sections of an essay unto itself. I think the ZK can offer more when it is less familiar to the one building it.

    I am still working through this line of thinking, and waiting to see how my work might be served (differently, or better) by a bit of dedication to disorder. So I will check back in once I have some results worth sharing—hopefully sooner than 25 years years from now.

    I'll leave off here by quoting a particularly relevant piece from the Volk translation of "Communicating with Slip Boxes," in which Luhmann articulates the long-term value of disorder, by virtue of its allowing the ZK to gain "a life independent of its author's." Such an incredible thought, and an end I hope I can one day attain, to some degree, in my own ZK:

    "Similar to our own memories, it is not organized through and through, and neither is there a hierarchy, and certainly there is no linear structure like a book would have. But precisely because of this, it gains a life independent of its author’s. The notes taken as a whole may only be described as disorder, but nevertheless it is a disorder without a random internal structure.”

  • @Abe said:
    best resources

    I just came across this relatively recent article by Johannes F.K. Schmidt describing Luhmann's Zettelkasten method both in theory and practice, based on the author's work with Luhmann's actual Zettelkasten at Bielefeld University in Germany.

    The article is very clearly written and organized, and it offers some useful illustrations and explanations of Luhmann's methods at nearly every step, including some areas where he strayed from (or adapted) his method for his convenience or otherwise.

    Highly recommended reading for anyone, since I think it would have been helpful to me as I was just beginning my ZK adventures, but I also found it very much illuminating and clarifying after I have been trying to implement the method myself for a while now.

  • @argonsnorts said:
    In addition to the resources you mention, I also found this slideshow presentation [warning: direct link to PDF!] by Daniel Lüdecke to be quite a useful illustration of key aspects of the Zettelkasten method.

    I found particularly helpful the slides that show what Luhmann did not do. These helped me recognize key differences between a Zettelkasten and a personal wiki.

    Have you already read Luhmann's own writing on the ZK method? It's worth reading as you begin, and then reading again after you've given the method a try for yourself.

    I'd be careful with Daniel Lüdecke's interpretation of what Luhmann really did. I made the prediction that the concept of the Folgezettel is not a core principle (as proposed by Daniel Lüdecke) of the ZKM as Luhmann intended his version. Rather, it is a means to an end of dealing with the physical limitations and therefore a technique to serve a higher principle.

    Luhmann stated himself:

    Given this technique, it is less important where we place a new note. If there are several possibilities, we can solve the problem as we wish and just record the connection by a link [or reference]. Often the context in which we are working suggests a multiplicity of links to other notes. This is especially the case when the card index is already voluminous. In such cases it is important to capture the connections radially, as it were, but at the same time also by right away recording back links in the slips that are being linked to.
    Source: http://luhmann.surge.sh/communicating-with-slip-boxes

    I talked with Johannes Schmidt, the main researcher on Luhmann' Zettelkasten. At that point, we agreed that the position of the note is not that important. At least, this is my current state of knowledge. The first advantage Luhmann mentioned is not causally titled "arbitrary internal branching".

    Daniel Lüdecke's work is very valuable! But in this particular case and based on my current evidence, he is wrong.

    @Abe Yes, the course is in the making. Currently, Christian is reviewing the slides I created. It is planned to be a quasi-interactive concept for life: After you gained access to the course you will additionally will be updated on every addition and modification of the future versions.

    You doing it right. There is plenty of material on this blog and on YouTube. Ahrens's book seems the only english source at this moment until the course will be published.

    But very important: Work with your archive a lot. I was surprised how theory and practiced differed after my archive grew bigger and I began to write texts with them.

    Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It's shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad'Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson. - Frank Herbert, Dune

    (A bit over the top quote, but I am waiting for opportunities to cite this masterpiece of literature all the time :smile: )

    Additionally, it could be helpful to try a couple of different software solutions to get a feel for the different solutions for the challenge of knowledge work.

  • @sfast said:
    I talked with Johannes Schmidt, the main researcher on Luhmann' Zettelkasten. At that point, we agreed that the position of the note is not that important. At least, this is my current state of knowledge. The first advantage Luhmann mentioned is not causally titled "arbitrary internal branching".

    I agree with you, Sascha, that folgezettel (physically sequenced notes) seem to be a consequence of the physical nature of Luhmann's Zettelkasten and not something necessary or really beneficial to try to replicate in a digital ZK. I think this is something Johannes Schmidt articulates nicely in his article.

    Yes, the course is in the making.

    As you might imagine, this is very exciting news. :smile:

  • @argonsnorts Thanks for the Johannes Schmidt, "Fabrication of Serendipity" reference. I found it helpful.

    @sfast Question? From the above-mentioned article, a keywords index is described as The Central Key. In fact Luhmann had 4500 key words accross both collections. How might this be implimented? At first blush this seems like tagging gone amuck. Is this related to tagging as implemented in TA? I read you blog post about bad and good tags and I agree that tagging, as often used in modern digital systems quickly runs wild and unusable. But so wouldn't Luhmann's keyword index?

    Will Simpson
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @sfast Great to hear about the video course and also thanks for letting me know I am on the right track. I will keep tinkering away.

    I find it interesting how for someone new to this (I only came across the Zettelkasten concept about a week ago, I wish I had access to this approach a decade or more ago) how simple and yet complex the Zettelkasten is at the same time. It seems deceptively simple and yet if you don’t take the underlying complexity of the Zettelkasten seriously it becomes about as useful as a pile of unsorted notes.

    Also thanks to everyone else who has posted in this thread. I am checking out everything you’ve linked to.

    Cheers.

  • edited December 2018

    @Will said:
    From the above-mentioned article, a keywords index is described as The Central Key. In fact Luhmann had 4500 key words accross both collections. How might this be implimented? At first blush this seems like tagging gone amuck. Is this related to tagging as implemented in TA? I read you blog post about bad and good tags and I agree that tagging, as often used in modern digital systems quickly runs wild and unusable. But so wouldn't Luhmann's keyword index?

    It is rather the key word index that was crucial for Luhmann. But this ties back to his physical Zettelkasten. He didn't have the luxury of just doing a full text search or even seeing titles for his notes. His index had the purpose to find the central nodes in his archive (for example: Where are most to the notes on "boundaries"?). For a user of a digital archive this is a non-issue.

    @Abe The simplicity is comparable to chess. Quite a few rules but it unfolds a nearly infinite inner complexity. Funny side note: Even Luhmann wrote about this. A rough translation could be: You reduce complexity to unfold (inner) complexity.

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