Zettelkasten Forum


In which I ask myself: does building a second brain distract from doing hard work in my real brain?

edited November 2017 in Random

In @ctietze comments here: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/335/#Comment_335 was the phrase

dozens of hours of processing notes.

This phrase strikes home for me:

Up till about six months ago I would take ridiculous amounts of notes on every kind of media I encountered: podcasts, videos, books, articles, papers... if I read, watched or listened to it I would take notes and "process" what I had learned into my growing "knowledge base". I would go back through my notes and re-write them, edit them, sort them, work with them, thinking about how they related, and how they linked together. I was determined with a vengeance to build a second brain. (I even spent countless hours building, testing, and improving tools for myself, both software and hardware!)

But all to what end? I had never questioned my motivations for such intense cataloging of knowledge. I just assumed integrating all this knowledge outside my head would "free up my brain to think". I accepted as "common sense" that building a second brain would prevent me from forgetting important information, and would enhance my cognitive abilities.

I was a little startled one day when it occurred to me the kind of thinking I was doing while processing notes and working with my Zettelkasten might not be the same kind of thinking I was doing when actively trying to understand something in my own head. This concerned me.

I began to wonder if by not really working to do all the thinking in my own head I was slowly degrading my ability to think in certain important ways? As in: "If you don't use it, you lose it" -- Was I over-practicing a specific kind of "processing" and under-practicing a specific kind of deep thinking?

Then another question occurred to me: How competent am I to determine the contents of my second brain in the first place? Do I have the necessary knowledge in my own head to be able to determine what should and should not be included in any specific note? How does my current point of view influence how I write any specific note? Would a future-me summarize that note in a different manner? (If so, does this imply I should re-visit source texts in future to compare them to the notes in my Zettelkasten?)

Put another way: if I am incompetent in "processing" notes into my second brain because of a poor point of view in my first brain could I unknowingly create a bias in my second brain and thus set me in a track of thinking I might never find my way out of? (This of course made me wonder if a generalized non-project specific second-brain Zettelkasten shouldn't be deleted and built up from scratch again every few years to give a clean start?)

And of course the ultimate question, rather bluntly put: What is the point of developing a second brain at all if one has the opportunity to develop a first brain? Why spend time at all working in my second brain if it takes time away from working in my first brain?

These questions ran completely counter to my original perspective and understanding on note-taking. I assumed I had all the answers. But I didn't! and still don't! And I have other questions too, more poorly formed than these. (And these are rather poorly formed to be honest. Re-formulations welcome!!)

So I find myself in an odd place at the moment. I still take lots of notes out of habit. But increasingly my notes begin to take the form of expressive writing of some kind: externalization of my own interior rumination. (They take the form of "thinking on paper" or "scratch pad thoughts" -- (mostly they are half-ideas and partial-concepts and hardly something I would include in a zettelkasten.) I find myself increasingly less likely to write notes summarizing someone else's writing. Why should I, when I can just re-read what they already wrote and think about it a little more deeply?

As you can see I have more questions than answers right now. I'm curious to hear any and all responses. I have no personal stake in the matter, as I'm just trying to think about ways to think better. To that end, any criticism is welcome!

Open-mindedly,
Nick

Post edited by toolboxen on
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Comments

  • edited November 2017

    Thank you for sharing this, Nick, and good to have you back, by the way :)

    I was determined with a vengeance to build a second brain. (I even spent countless hours building, testing, and improving tools for myself, both software and hardware!)

    But all to what end? I had never questioned my motivations for such intense cataloging of knowledge. I just assumed integrating all this knowledge outside my head would "free up my brain to think".

    Yeah, I can relate to that!

    It's a lot like programming without a clear vision. Every feature you add, every bug you fix solidifies the current state and puts a handful of follow-up actions on the plate to pick from. Add some user feedback and you might be headed towards designing (or rather, not designing at all!) a terrible piece of software with little coherence. But it's very easy to get lost in the process completely.

    With knowledge work, I like the feeling of getting lost in the flood of ideas. And I love to write and type. It's all very satisfying. But sometimes I notice that I didn't pay as much attention as I should have during the past minutes. "What am I doing this for?", or as the hours pass by: "Is this really of importance, moving me towards some end, or is this just pleasurable idling?"

    Well, "obtaining more knowledge" sounds like a very good end, and it's easy to cheat oneself into commiting to high-level busy-work. To a bystander, it seems as if you do something profound; but on the inside, you sometimes know perfectly well that this is just your geeky version of hanging around on Facebook, but with 100% self-made imaginatory friends.

    Edit: My Zettelkasten suggested a connection to Matthew B. Crawford (2010): Shop Class as Soulcraft. An inquiry into the value of work, Penguin Books:
    As an electrician, flipping the switch and seeing that it becomes light is "an experience of agency and competence." (Crawford 2010, p 14) It is a pleasurable moment. The same thing happens when you write tests for your code and the tests pass; it's addicting. I think creating a new Zettel and putting a link to it somewhere is very similar. It gives you a feeling of agency: you are in control, period. The repetition of feeling in control can make it addictive. (I bet @Sascha has something to offer on this with reference to dopamine.) Put more poignant: Processing Zettel notes but may result in prioritizing the wrong thing: pleasure over accomplishment.

    How does my current point of view influence how I write any specific note? Would a future-me summarize that note in a different manner? (If so, does this imply I should re-visit source texts in future to compare them to the notes in my Zettelkasten?)

    This is highly probable, and it's an effect that can be both disastrous and immensely helpful.

    • Disastrous, because lots of my old notes are at the brink of uselessness; I was writing something about the content under some headline, but it was by no means streamlined for later retrieval or re-use in my own writing. I was thinking through writing, but I didn't discard all the garbage that I created in proces, resulting in huge notes or lots of interconnected notes that could be "refactored" into fewer but more meaningful Zettel.
    • Helpful as in: you enable your Future Me to add his own take. If you don't write down what you think today, then you cannot respond, correct, extend, and learn tomorrow. You'll "just" think something different. (Unless it's a technical problem or a puzzle in my life that I'm constantly rolling around in my head, I hardly continue a train of thought from the day before, so whenever I think about a topic twice, the mere act of recall and thus re-construction will make the result different. I'm not implying never continuing a thought is good or healthy. :))

    Put another way: if I am incompetent in "processing" notes into my second brain because of a poor point of view in my first brain could I unknowingly create a bias in my second brain and thus set me in a track of thinking I might never find my way out of?

    Tough question! I had similar doubts, I think, when I realized how shitty my first 2000 notes really were. As my mode of work changed, so did my notes improve. But maybe it's not the change of modes of work, from collecting for the fun of it to creating notes to make progress in specific projects (or come up with new project ideas to put together otherwise orphaned notes). Maybe it's just the frequent discussions with Sascha and having someone else's work to relate my own stuff to.

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • edited November 2017

    @ctietze said:
    Thank you for sharing this, Nick, and good to have you back, by the way :)

    Thanks! And thanks for your thoughtful response. Here are some initial thoughts:

    Processing Zettel notes but may result in prioritizing the wrong thing: pleasure over accomplishment.

    This was one of my unformed questions. To what degree does our tools & workflow incentivize us to prioritize temporary reward over real work?

    You mentioned Facebook. Back in 2012 Nir Eyal described the concept of a "desire engine" created to capture your attention through behavioral triggers and hook you in to a product to keep you engaged by hijacking your reward mechanisms. This kind of habit-forming technology has become the norm since 2012 and I've been wondering lately how much of the learned behaviors from this kind of technology are seeping over into how we think & work?

    If we spend hours every day interacting with systems designed to induce expectation of quick reward, wouldn't it follow that we might inadvertently begin to fashion tools & workflows that induce the same sort of expectation of quick reward? Would this lead to a detrimental affect on our ability to really think? On our ability to create something profoundly new as opposed to just incrementally new?

    Unless it's a technical problem or a puzzle in my life that I'm constantly rolling around in my head, I hardly continue a train of thought from the day before, so whenever I think about a topic twice, the mere act of recall and thus re-construction will make the result different.

    I've recently begun playing around with the idea of "thinking in themes" as a way to help myself continue a thread of thought from the day before. My idea was: perhaps I can add a narrative structure to my cognition to enable a sort of story-line along which I can move forward and back in time. Giving me a high-level view to see how I have developed an idea, and how it influenced other aspects of my thinking.

    Maybe it's just the frequent discussions with Sascha and having someone else's work to relate my own stuff to.

    I've noticed the effect even a basic conversation has on my thinking. How often do we miss something important or impactful if we focus only on processing Zettel notes without conversing about them?

    Is there a way we could test how conversation about a Zettel note might improve the understanding of that note, and better inform how that note relates to the rest of the zettelkasten body? I'm not suggesting a collaborative Zettelkasten, although that might be interesting! I'm just curious how one might go about testing this in more than an anecdotal fashion.

  • Constantly interacting with systems like Facebook does have the effect you mention. -- Again, @Sascha has done research on this, I cannot cite anything scientific from the top of my head (including my Zettelkasten).

    I can only add anecdotes:

    • It makes focus worse: colleagues report how they noticed getting a restless feeling more often and quickly throughout the day since they wear an Apple Watch with sound/vibration notifications
    • Ditching push notifications improved my work: I isolated myself from most push notifications and don't hang around on Facebook or Twitter. At first I threw the baby out with the bathwater when I started my permanent "smartphone detox", sometimes not answering calls, but found a good setting nowadays. In any case I found my ability to concentrate improve, holding items in my head longer than before, which did improve some programming activities (esp. refactoring).

    I've recently begun playing around with the idea of "thinking in themes" as a way to help myself continue a thread of thought from the day before.

    How do you "implement" this? Sit around and remember themes to continue thinking about? Journaling and continuing entries?

    Is there a way we could test how conversation about a Zettel note might improve the understanding of that note, and better inform how that note relates to the rest of the zettelkasten body?

    Testing, as in quantifying?

    I was thinking about keeping parts in the public to talk in the open, too, one day, to leverage a mechanism like open source project's peer-reviewing. -- But who wants to subscribe to (parts of my) idiosyncratic note archive and keep up with changes? That's very impractical. It's not made for consumption.

    To talk about stuff to some purpose, I believe you end up with an article that is a published form of notes, hence commenters will not be giving feedback to the Zettel but the product of Zettel notes. Which beats the initial purpose.

    • Then again, let's say you blog about your research constantly so friends, co-workers, etc. can provide feedback, the act of blogging makes you use your notes more quickly and more often.
    • Using notes for blog posts means you go through the whole knowledge management cycle from "research" to "publish". That means you get feedback about note usefulness earlier, thus learn to write better notes directly. (That's the mechanism I presuppose.)
    • Also, peer pressure can help drive the focus of your Zettelkasten work. Instead of doing anything, pressure to publish a blog post narrows down the possible set of next actions.

    Maybe publishing articles/blog posts and opening the source notes for review could be cool for a look behind the scenes.

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • edited November 2017

    @ctietze said:
    I can only add anecdotes...

    I have similar anecdotes as well. Your smartphone detox sounds like mine! But I'm also curious as to the long term effects beyond the loss of focus & distractions. What happens to human cognition when the very tools we use prevent us from thinking in (possibly very important) ways? (referencing mcluhan here: medium is the message)

    I've recently begun playing around with the idea of "thinking in themes" ...

    ...How do you "implement" this?

    I'm still working on that! Here's one idea I mentioned before: can I develop a narrative structure to my thinking? This is similar to the idea of a memory-palace, but in time instead of space. The linearity of a story-line coupled with the development of a particular idea can add a perspective to understanding my relation to the idea.

    Another approach is inspired by Einstein's approach to thinking -- combinatory play. He used multiple thought-modes or "psychical entities" as he called them. Symbols and signs to be combined and re-combined. Playing directly with the "real stuff" that words & language refer to.

    Certainly journaling and writing can help either of these approaches to assist in the process, but they would remain assistive and not form the core of the processes.

    I was thinking about keeping parts in the public to talk in the open, too, one day, to leverage a mechanism like open source project's peer-reviewing. -- But who wants to subscribe to (parts of my) idiosyncratic note archive and keep up with changes? That's very impractical. It's not made for consumption.

    Sure, I can understand. It's personal work, unfinished thought-stuff!

    To talk about stuff to some purpose, I believe you end up with an article that is a published form of notes, hence commenters will not be giving feedback to the Zettel but the product of Zettel notes. Which beats the initial purpose.

    One idea (riffing on your ideas here) is to incorporate into your workflow a discipline of discussion on specific notes. Do a quick summarization of one or more notes and bring that working version to a friend or group of friends for discussion. The discussion can be formal or informal, in writing or orally. By doing so you clarify your own thoughts on the matter, and also glean insight from others. Then take that back into your Zettelkasten to improve the note(s).

    So you're extracting bits of the work out into the world, live-testing them, giving others opportunity to react, discuss and think over them, and bringing them back improved in some way. This process also gives yourself the practice of doing the process of refining thoughts for communication, and listening for response from others. It's like a mini iterative design loop on specific notes. This is more nimble than even writing a blog post. It's just "talking about your zettel" with others.

    Maybe publishing articles/blog posts and opening the source notes for review could be cool for a look behind the scenes.

    Blogging would be a good way to implement the discipline of discussion. I like your point of how adding the blogging deadline helps to focus your work.

    Perhaps some tools could be developed to help easily publish parts of a Zettelkasten via blog, email or even audio/video? It would be cool to have a web-published version of a note that didn't require the user to maintain a full website, but was just a simple clean URL displaying my note. If I'm using Sublime Text I could run a command within the app, and update my thought-blog with a new note, or update an existing note, and not have to worry about web hosting or paying for a domain.

  • I wonder what the stuff Einstein did means in practice? I'm not good at thinking without a pen in hand, maybe I'm not creative enough :)

    Perhaps some tools could be developed to help easily publish parts of a Zettelkasten via blog, email or even audio/video?

    For sure! When the next few important apps in the workflow are done, I'll work on scripts and other tools to make publishing as a blog and ebook easier for laypersons -- and people in a rush. (In terms of free blogging, I'm thinking about starting with a GitHub hosted page with Jekyll to copy & edit notes for discussion, and then expand from there.)

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • @ctietze said:
    I wonder what the stuff Einstein did means in practice? I'm not good at thinking without a pen in hand, maybe I'm not creative enough :)

    I wonder too! From what I've read so far he didn't consider it just "visual thinking" as we use the term today, but I am definitely digging deeper. And to be clear I don't think creativity is at all correlated to pen usage ;)

    For sure! When the next few important apps in the workflow are done, I'll work on scripts and other tools to make publishing as a blog and ebook easier for laypersons -- and people in a rush. (In terms of free blogging, I'm thinking about starting with a GitHub hosted page with Jekyll to copy & edit notes for discussion, and then expand from there.)

    Cool! I've got some ideas for sharing Zettel's that might be useful in an academic or research settings for example where someone might need to share lab data and results.

  • Sounds good! If you want to dump the ideas somewhere, feel free to open a new topic/discussion or just shoot me an email!

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • @ctietze said:
    Sounds good! If you want to dump the ideas somewhere, feel free to open a new topic/discussion or just shoot me an email!

    Cool, thanks!

  • I am currently writing a part of the script for the upcoming course which covers an important difference in reading modes. I think it could be interesting for you:

    The big difference is in interpreting the text or just covering its content. Take the following abstract for example:

    Evidences are presented to show a strong and long-lasting analgesic effect after injection of dynorphin into the subarachnoid space of the spinal cord in the rat. Taking the amplitude and time course of the increase of tail flick latency as the indices of analgesia, dynorphin elicited dose-dependent analgesic effect in the range of 2.3-18.6 nmol. Calculating on a molar basis dynorphin was 6-10 times more potent than morphine and 65-100 times more potent than morphiceptin, another mu opiate receptor agonist. Dynorphin analgesia was completely reversed by intrathecal injection of anti-dynorphin IgG and partially reversed by naloxone. Acute tolerance to morphine analgesia did not affect the occurrence of dynorphin analgesia, indicating the absence of cross tolerance between morphine and dynorphin. Evidence from different lines of approach suggests that dynorphin may bind with kappa opiate receptors in the spinal cord to exert its analgesic effect. pubmed

    In my first iteration, I made the mistake that I just focused on the effect. Dynorphin elicts an analgetic effect via the kappa opiate receptor. But this is just me following the interpretation of the researchers.

    But there are several caveats:

    • They injected in the subarachnoid space. Semiochemicals have different effects in different areas. Noradrenaline in the blood functions as a stress hormone in the nervous system it serves as a neurotransmitter.
    • There are a couple of issues with the tail flick test

    What I should have done was the following: First, just describe the phenomenas. What was done, how and when. Second, formulate everything as an hypothesis.

    A couple of years ago, many of my notes were infested with these kind of mistakes. At least for sciency stuff, now I am pretty ok with my notes because I always have the phenomena at hand and can reinterpretate as I like.

    This approach was not inspired but heavily reinforced by my lecture of Nassim Taleb:

    What science call phenomenology is the observation of an empirical regularity without a visible theory for it. - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile1

    Theories are superfragile; the come and go, then come and go, then come and go again; phenomenologies stay, and I can't believe people don't realise that phenomenology is "robust" and usable, and theories, while overhyped, are unreliable for decision making -- outside physics. - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile1


    1. Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2012): Antifragile. Things that Gain from Disorder, St. Ives: Penguin Books. ↩︎ ↩︎

    I am a Zettler

  • edited November 2017

    @Sascha said:
    What I should have done was the following: First, just describe the phenomenas. What was done, how and when. Second, formulate everything as an hypothesis.

    Very insightful, thank you for sharing. Brilliant approach, and this is the direction I've found myself heading, but your articulation of your approach has clarified my thinking.

    A couple of years ago, many of my notes were infested with these kind of mistakes. At least for sciency stuff, now I am pretty ok with my notes because I always have the phenomena at hand and can reinterpretate as I like.

    I imagine this can be extended to any kind of phenomena, not just sciency stuff? And yes, one of the problems I had with my early notes was preemptive interpretations, thus reducing my ability to re-engage with my notes at a later date.

    And I really like Nassim's point about working directly with phenomenologies. I haven't read his book yet (although I will soon) but already I think it ties into my comment here: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/308/#Comment_308 where I mention some methods to integrate knowledge directly in the brain. I just realized that each of these methods are "phenomenological" in concept i.e. they work through collecting and integrating phenomenology directly, and then afterwards making decisions and testing ideas based on the real phenomenon. Phenomenology first, idea/theory/decisions as a result of the collected & integrated phenomenon.

    Good stuff @Sascha many thanks!

  • @toolboxen said:
    And I really like Nassim's point about working directly with phenomenologies. I haven't read his book yet (although I will soon) but already I think it ties into my comment here: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/308/#Comment_308 where I mention some methods to integrate knowledge directly in the brain. I just realized that each of these methods are "phenomenological" in concept i.e. they work through collecting and integrating phenomenology directly, and then afterwards making decisions and testing ideas based on the real phenomenon. Phenomenology first, idea/theory/decisions as a result of the collected & integrated phenomenon.

    I would disagree. I am not familiar with the actual processes of these gentlemen you reported from. But It seems more that they stress:

    1. Be active with the stuff you learn.
    2. Connect what you have learned.

    The second part reads to me that you should be actively interpreting stuff your learn. But stressing them or not. You understand what I wrote. So, I feel happy. :smile:

    Actually, I talked today with a friend and we got to a skill I discuss regularly with my clients: How long can you think about something without having an opinion.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited November 2017

    @Sascha said:
    The second part reads to me that you should be actively interpreting stuff your learn.

    Sure. As far as I can tell, they both use a process similar to the scientific method: delaying interpretation as long as possible in deference to constant acquisition of new knowledge and actively re-shaping existing opinions/points-of-view in relation to the newly acquired knowledge.

    I note you are making distinction about: "actively interpreting stuff". Are you suggesting a benefit to indefinitely delaying the interpretation process?

    ... a skill I discuss regularly with my clients: How long can you think about something without having an opinion.

    Seems like a useful skill to practice. Any suggestions on books or resources on this? Thank you.

  • @toolboxen said:

    I note you are making distinction about: "actively interpreting stuff". Are you suggesting a benefit to indefinitely delaying the interpretation process?

    Definitely not indefinitely. :smile:

    To me, that is more like an exercise.

    ... a skill I discuss regularly with my clients: How long can you think about something without having an opinion.

    Seems like a useful skill to practice. Any suggestions on books or resources on this? Thank you.

    I think I heard this principle from a rabbi. But I am not sure. I do such exercises with clients and by myself. Delaying interpretation is more of a spiritual thing. (I wrote that to illustrate my point).

    But it is also embedded in the books on philosophy of science I read. But they are in German. Mmh, I need to keep that in mind. I have a writing project naming "The scientific method for non-scientist". When I happen to extend the part of phenomenology I will publish it here via the blog.

    I am a Zettler

  • Thanks for your thoughts @Sascha, I look forward to reading future blog posts from you on these sorts of subjects.

  • I began to wonder if by not really working to do all the thinking in my own head I was slowly degrading my ability to think in certain important ways?

    What is the point of developing a second brain at all if one has the opportunity to develop a first brain?

    Yes. Unless you train your mind, it will degrade. As you will never have too much information, it is better to train your real brain than your virtual one.

    Also calling a ZK a 2nd brain is like calling AI intelligent.

    As in: "If you don't use it, you lose it" -- Was I over-practicing a specific kind of "processing" and under-practicing a specific kind of deep thinking?

    I see that in myself aswell. I process thoughts automatically instead of actively reflecting. But I also see the neccessity of proceeding in spite of a lack of creativity of brain power - be it temporary due to overwork or in general due to a lack of mental exercise.

    How competent am I to determine the contents of my second brain in the first place?

    Trust comes in.

    on the inside, you sometimes know perfectly well that this is just your geeky version of hanging around on Facebook, but with 100% self-made imaginatory friends.

    I like for people to agree with me. I am not out to get disagreement. So if my imaginatory friends agree with me, I prefer them. I haven't seen my notes as friends though.

    Would a future-me summarize that note in a different manner?

    Yes it would. The question is, why does it matter to you? There are those sayings of "the early Habermas or the late one", I only care for the late one.

    I find myself increasingly less likely to write notes summarizing someone else's writing.

    That's a good idea.

    It's a lot like programming without a clear vision. Every feature you add, every bug you fix solidifies the current state and puts a handful of follow-up actions on the plate to pick from. Add some user feedback and you might be headed towards designing (or rather, not designing at all!) a terrible piece of software with little coherence. But it's very easy to get lost in the process completely.

    I can relate to this thinking very well. The problem arises when you have to execute the details just like the general approach. Therefore, before you focus on the small tasks make sure that the general direction you are heading to is right.

    "What am I doing this for?"

    Good question. I want to make the system suggest new topics of interest for me as well as show possible connections between notes that I did not see.

    "Is this really of importance, moving me towards some end, or is this just pleasurable idling?"

    Just like in programming you need to define your goal first.

    Processing Zettel notes but may result in prioritizing the wrong thing: pleasure over accomplishment.

    What if pleasure was more important than accomplishment?

    If we spend hours every day interacting with systems designed to induce expectation of quick reward, wouldn't it follow that we might inadvertently begin to fashion tools & workflows that induce the same sort of expectation of quick reward?

    Do you have proof for that?

    I've noticed the effect even a basic conversation has on my thinking. How often do we miss something important or impactful if we focus only on processing Zettel notes without conversing about them?

    You mean discussing with your colleagues or here?

    I wonder what the stuff Einstein did means in practice? I'm not good at thinking without a pen in hand, maybe I'm not creative enough

    Give your brain a break from time to time. Having everything in there is a big ask.

    My profession financial clerk
    My interests Thinking, tinkering and model making

  • edited November 2021

    Forgive me for invoking Psychology Today, the Reader's Digest of psychology, however, the mind is modular, meaning there are several minds within the brain, each with its own agenda. One might well assign one of the minds to the task of maintaining the ZK. Assign the task of second-guessing yourself to the weakest of them, one liable to fall asleep in mid-sentence.

    I too wouldn't dignify a ZK by calling it a second brain, unless it shares cerebrospinal fluid with your first brain. Calling it a communication partner as Luhmann did is more than sufficient. Perhaps approaching the Zettelkasten as a communication partner was for Luhmann a ritual, intended to induce the open frame of mind to pursue ideas wherever they may lead, and to resist the tendency to become a mental technician--someone whose thoughts are directed by external ends. Universities are under pressure to produce mental technicians ready to enter the workforce. The pressures are in the environment. Succumbing to them can become a habit. An intellectual working within the university will need to recognize and handle such pressures.

    That the Zettelkasten Method encourages the freedom to follow ideas wherever they lead is intrinsic to its appeal. The method is more suited to the cultivation of intellectuals than the training of mental technicians.

    Following worthwhile ideas takes judgment and experience.

    Speaking of second brains and other marketing notions, the diminutive sounding "digital garden" that one tends in one's spare time dramatically understates the big industrialized Agricultural ambitions some of us bring to our Digital Bedpans, as I prefer to call my Zettelkasten.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    Erdős #2. ZK software components. “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport. Replies sometimes delayed since life is short.

  • @GidoAdams @ZettelDistraction

    I also do not think of (or refer to) my ZK as a second brain. It's just a place where I store information that is important to me, in a way that I have designed to be accessible, and with content written (mostly) in a way that makes sense to me. It contains connections that I have either consciously made or somehow "discovered" (probably unconsciously made), so it captures more than just the raw data itself. It could serve a variety of purposes - for example, containing material that will later be turned into a technical paper or an historical document, (which requires a lot more work).

    Identifying, distilling and placing material into my ZK requires both creative thought and discipline (often, a huge amount of discipline). The process is as useful as the end product, and most of the time enjoyable.

  • I see that in myself aswell. I process thoughts automatically instead of actively reflecting. But I also see the neccessity of proceeding in spite of a lack of creativity of brain power - be it temporary due to overwork or in general due to a lack or mental exercise.

    I want to entertain this idea further. How do you make your digital Zettelkasten find connections that you did not find yourself before your brain dump into ZK?

    My profession financial clerk
    My interests Thinking, tinkering and model making

  • I don't know how the brain works, but mine's quite lazy. I don't think it is of great benefit to do all the mental work by head. Drawing on paper, or building a prototype helps me to think something through. It helps me finding loop holes, or avoid running in circles. It helps me tracking progress. Explaining how things work is a lot easier than explaining how it all begun.

    But it is slow. If you need to act really fast while making the right decision your only option is to train your mind.

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • edited November 2021

    @GidoAdams said:
    I want to entertain this idea further. How do you make your digital Zettelkasten find connections that you did not find yourself before your brain dump into ZK?

    One has to trust that the unconscious processes that contribute to the development of the ZK will enable sufficiently many worthwhile connections discoverable after the fact. The number of paths through the ZK leading away from a Zettel may be large, but the connections might not be worth pursuing --one has to rely on more than combinatorial possibilities. If trusting the unconscious is itself an issue, one might try litigation, along the following lines.

    20211101182011 Pro se injunction against the unconscious

    Effective November 4th, 2010 until the end of the universe, my unconscious mind is hereby ENJOINED from:
    1. the conduct of any activity whatsoever on a need-to-know basis with respect to my conscious mind;
    2. withholding or suppressing any motivation contrary to my expressed or implied conscious intentions;
    3. the use of symbolism, innuendo, archetypes, involuntary emotion, physical or psychological symptoms or other forms of indirection in any communication with the conscious mind or any other entity on any matter whatsoever;
    4. withholding, suppressing or concealing any information whatsoever from the conscious mind for any reason or without a reason, whether the conscious mind has requested such information;
    6. encouraging, manifesting, causing, producing or inducing pointless, distracting, disturbing, unnecessary, false, misleading, deceptive, undesirable or unproductive thoughts or feelings in the conscious mind or anywhere else;
    7. any act of insubordination as defined by the conscious mind;
    8. directing the attention toward extraneous cognitive load;
    9. directing the attention away from germane cognitive load;
    10. the use against the conscious mind of psychological or physical intimidation, force or threat thereof, to any degree whatsoever and in any form or representation, including but not limited to nightmares, generalized anxiety, insomnia or psychosomatic illness;
    11. and moreover, effective November 4th, 2010 until the end of the universe, my unconscious mind is hereby ORDERED to:
    12. align its motivations, priorities, values, goals, beliefs, aliefs, desires, intentions, habits, actions and any and all activities, named or otherwise, in full conformance and compliance with my conscious mind;
    13. proactively direct my attention toward germane cognitive load;
    14. proactively direct my attention away from extraneous cognitive load;
    15. proactively assist my conscious mind with the management of intrinsic cognitive load;
    16. assist my conscious mind with any cognitive and physical functions and activities as needed, including but not limited to problem solving, research, memorization, concentration, exercise, meditation, decision making, imagination, invention, inquiry, verification and discovery; and
    17. to do so efficiently, automatically and in real time.

    SO ORDERED this 4th day of November, 2010


    Remarks on November 1, 2021. Legal and psychological consultation would have been advised before drafting this. It's unclear whether I had standing to sue my unconscious, to say nothing of epistemic standing. Number 3) is a recipe for trouble. In any case, the conscious mind is probably a latecomer to cognition—the last to know. Number 6) may make survival difficult. Believing one's own lies can be an effective survival mechanism. Number 17) may inconvenience the unconscious when it becomes necessary to sleep on something.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    Erdős #2. ZK software components. “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport. Replies sometimes delayed since life is short.

  • edited November 2021

    Perhaps, unlike me, you haven't gotten to the point of suing your unconscious. How do you measure whether you have developed your Zettelkasten at the expense of your brain? Questions of empirical verifiability aside, I doubt that anyone in this forum is a stranger to the subjective experience of mental effort. If developing your "second brain" at the expense of your wetware rises to the level of concern, try putting this proposal to address climate change in your Zettelkasten, and process it:

    In what follows, we propose that Congress should create a standalone public ratings agency that is insulated from both public and private institutions involved in green finance. The agency would be mandated to assess the economic viability and contribution towards decarbonization of project proposals. Their ratings would serve as a public signal for the state, investors, cities, and firms to back, fund, and undertake projects that are both viable and contribute significantly to decarbonization and resilience against climate change. Once there are reliable ratings, the United States can backstop private financing of green projects at scale, while conserving politically expensive tax dollars and maintaining financial stability. This strategy would unlock trillions of dollars in funding for green projects—going a long way towards closing the existing funding gap of $600 billion a year. Whatever institutional configuration emerges to fund the energy transition in the United States, an independent public ratings agency must be a pillar of green finance.

    Anusar Farooqui & Tim Sahay. Investment and Decarbonization: Rating Green Finance


    In the Uncivilized States of America where I come from, carbon taxes are a political non-starter. There's more to be said about this proposal (I see dollar signs myself), among the things to add to a ZK that won't decrease one's grey and white matter, but I'll stop here.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    Erdős #2. ZK software components. “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport. Replies sometimes delayed since life is short.

  • I don't know how the brain works

    I'm glad to find someone prepared to admit this. Too many people think they do, when the evidence suggests that they actually have no idea. The study of psychology is long and arduous (I speak feelingly, as someone who ploughed through a PhD in the subject, and has gone through several years of training in counselling/psychotherapy, and still feels that there is a vast amount out there to learn). Unfortunately, you cannot arrive at an understanding of how the brain/mind works by sitting and pondering on the subject and arriving at your own "insights". A lot goes on below the level of consciousness, and is therefore not normally accessible to our conscious thinking. The list of cognitive biases is huge, and seems to grow continuously. Wikipedia is not a bad place to start for an idea of this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases. Having digested that, one could move on to Daniel Kahneman's book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking,_Fast_and_Slow and John Bargh's work on automaticity: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35011639-before-you-know-it. This will leave one a little better placed to understand the workings of the human mind/brain. But it is only a start ... Robert Sapolsky's book "Behave" will add a few layers https://goodreads.com/book/show/31170723-behave?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=oVun8kOhQX&rank=1.

  • @GidoAdams

    Unless you train your mind, it will degrade.

    This a common-sense, intuitive idea, but I wonder how true it is. The study of psychology shows that there are plenty of such ideas that turn out to be completely incorrect, or at best incomplete or misleading. I can't, at present, think of any studies that deal with this question, but I will look around and see if there are any obvious ones. But it bears stating that the mind is not like a muscle. It is both vastly complex and mysterious and its workings are influenced in all sorts of ways that we are not usually aware of. As Nisbett and colleagues showed, culture has a powerful effect on the ways we think: https://alice.id.tue.nl/references/nisbett-et-al-2001.pdf. It is debatable whether we can escape such cultural influence, as Colzato and colleagues showed that even simple visual perception can be influenced in a durable way by culture: www2.psych.utoronto.ca/users/ferber/teaching/visualattention/readings/Oct6/2010_Colzato_Cognition.pdf.

    In short, the workings of the human mind, and its "efficiency", are not merely the product of "training", though long years of being immersed in a particular cultural context could also be considered "training". Then again, losing the ability to think analytically might not be considered a decline in ability in certain cultures. I like the story of some psychologists who went to the Pacific and tried to give intelligence tests to the islanders. They filled them in as a group, because they could not conceive of intelligence as being a property of an individual. For them, it was the group that was the natural unit, not the individual person. I think these are all things that are worth considering when we talk about the mind and its workings.

  • It is true insofar that you can observe yourself. The mind could be like a muscle when it comes to knowledge. What you describe is the Unconscious, which might not be like a muscle.

    The ways we think is yet another branch, the how to.

    I am certain that we can escape cultural influence by learning and becoming aware of them. They might be in the subconscious and by becoming aware, they become conscious and the target of scrutiny and decision.

    The workings of the human mind, and its "efficiency", seem to be the product of conscious and unconscious training, with unconscious being immersion and conscious being learning.

    I admit that I doubt the story about the icelanders insofar that they are proof that wisdom was the result of teamwork.

    I especially like this quote (From http://web.stanford.edu/~csimoiu/doc/wisdom-of-crowds.pdf)

    In one of the largest experiments to date on the wisdom of-crowds effect—involving 1,000 questions, nearly 2,000 participants, and over 500,000 responses—-our results paint a nuanced picture of the phenomenon. When analyzing performance at the level of individual questions, as is standard in the literature, we find the crowd, on average, outperforms its constituent members. But there is also substantial variation across questions—even across questions within a single domain—indicating that the wisdom-of-crowds effect is sensitive to the exact context.

    Therefore your icelanders(your misspelling revealed your german heritage, as I am too, I'd love to continue this conversation in german, provided everyone here also understands it ) are like a single one-track specialist / person with special interests.

    My profession financial clerk
    My interests Thinking, tinkering and model making

  • @GidoAdams said:
    your misspelling revealed your german heritage

    Actually, I'm about as English as you can get (except that I am a quarter Welsh) and my knowledge of German is next to zero. I'm afraid you misunderstood -- that is not a misspelling. "Pacific islanders" is a blanket term that we English use to cover all the inhabitants of the island groups in the Pacific Ocean, so it covers Fijians, Tahitians, Samoans, etc, etc. The story was one that was told to us by one of my university lecturers while I was doing my masters degree in psychology. We must have been dealing with the extremely problematic nature of IQ tests, like the Stanford-Binet, which incorporated a strong racial and cultural bias. So the story of the islanders was not made up. It was another example of the problem posed by the western European bias in the field of psychology.

    I have spent about seventeen years studying psychology (culminating in a doctorate) and psychotherapy, and, as I hinted above, if that period has taught me anything, it has taught me that the workings of the human brain and the human mind are complex, often mysterious, and sometimes downright paradoxical. They are also frequently counter-intuitive, not to say scary. Some of our "common-sense" ideas about mental activity have received some interesting challenges in recent times. You might find it interesting to have a look at the titles listed below. The first is by John Bargh, and distils a lot of his work over twenty years on the phenomenon of automaticity. The second and third are more polemical, but interesting, as they challenge the idea that the conscious mind is in charge of everything. The fourth is a YouTube clip of a discussion involving Prof Robert Sapolsky of the University of Stanford on the concept of free will. Sapolsky is an outstanding teacher, and always worth listening to.

    Vor dem Denken: Wie das Unbewusste uns steuert
    Chasing the Rainbow: The Non-conscious Nature of Being
    Giving Up on Consciousness as the Ghost in the Machine
    Do We Have Free Will? | Robert Sapolsky & Andrew Huberman

  • @MartinBB said:

    @GidoAdams said:
    your misspelling revealed your german heritage

    Why do you recommend a german book if your knowledge of German is next to zero? According to my dictionary it is Icelanders(Not islanders as a german would derive it from "Isländer").

    It might be that the British use islander _and Americans use _icelander.

    So I accept my defeat and remove the title of being German from you.

    You now are only a brit.

    Did you verify the story of the icelanders?

    The workings of the human brain and the human mind might be complex, often mysterious, and sometimes downright paradoxical.

    Yet what I came to love are approximations.

    This is a strong part of machine learning, where you actually have a "learning rate" and an "average error".

    There is no right or wrong, just approximation. Less wrong and more right.

    But it is very convincing up to the point you might label the difference between right and wrong and approximation "semantics".

    Therefore going with what you know is better than making it more complex than it needs be, which might not contribute to our agreement, I am afraid.

    I am more of a reduce complexity person, you seem to widen your sea of options. Don't drown.

    Thank you for your references, I enjoy polemical books. I will come back to comment on them.

    My profession financial clerk
    My interests Thinking, tinkering and model making

  • It seems that my last post was removed. If you can restore it - or got a full notification you can quote - you can do that.

    My profession financial clerk
    My interests Thinking, tinkering and model making

  • @ctietze might be able to recover the post.

  • Restored from the spam review queue 3 posts above :)
    https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/13801/#Comment_13801

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • @ctietze Thanks Christian. :)

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