Zettelkasten Forum


Hello

Someone once asked Phillips Brooks, "When were you born?" And he said, "I will tell you about it. It was one Sunday afternoon about 3:30 just after I had finished reading a great book."

The Majesty of Books, written by Sterling W. Sill, where I read this quote, had the same effect on me. I read it when I was 19 years old, and it was the first book that opened up a hunger and thirst for knowledge and understanding, that has stayed with me my entire life.

The author recommended reading with "a pencil in hand" to "underline, make notes, and add any ideas of his own," and I have done this ever since. On my shelves and office drawers, I have dozens of books and notepads filled with notes. Going electronic in 2005 with a mind-map based program called The Brain (https://www.thebrain.com/), I was able to expand my interests by capturing ideas on a wide range of subjects.

I don't work in academics; my brain is a work of pure joy. I started following this group after reading a review of the book "How to Take Smart Notes," which referenced the Zettelkasten method. I never bought the book but felt an instant kindred spirit in the posts and blogs written by Christian and Sascha.

I'll admit this has been a difficult concept for me to grasp. Or rather, taking the 30,526 notes that I already have existing in my brain software (see also The Collectors Fallacy) complete with 48,660 links, 23 tags, and 1559 keywords, and I was at a loss on how to implement this "next level" strategy into my study habit.

For the past year, I have read the blogs, I joined the forum a few months ago, knowing that I was missing a vital link. I continued my note collection, adding personal insights and relationships. But I never quite felt like I could call them a Zettel note or that I was converting my process into anything closely resembling Niklas Luhmann's Zettelkasten.

In December 2019, Christian posted "You Should Read David B. Clear's Summary of the Zettelkasten Method," and David's great graphic examples of Luhmann's approach to capturing, then connecting these fragments of ideas, to create a web made a lot of sense. But I still couldn't make the connection.

It soon dawned on me I had seen a similar graphic recently and reviewed Zettelkasten member Gerrit Scholle's blog article entitled "The Zettelkasten as a Lattice of Thought Strings" that everything finally clicked into place. Gerrit's illustration of "emergent structures" I realized is the same illustrated by David Clear in his web reference. However, Gerrit's simple extension of thought to form a "combinatory note" from the various "pooled" sources together into one document was the clarity of insight I needed to boost my brain to the next level.

My existing research notes contain bits and pieces of information collected over years of reading, cutting, pasting, journaling, and blog writing. Now I create new Zettel notes in my Zettelkasten using pooled sources gathered together by keywords. I find that writing the new Zettel note in the "Blog" format helps my thinking process and that I can convert my notes and insights into a running "white paper" of thoughts around a subject. I have already been able to use my prose from one topic as an explanation in another. And because it is my prose, I can change a little text here and there to match the new theme. Exciting.

A shout out and a big thank you to all who post thoughts and ideas for everyone to learn from and a special thank you to Gerrit for his post, which quite literally will change my life. Thank you.

Comments

  • I love this post @Steve625. It's an ode to the joy and, yes, "excitement," of learning new things and digging deeper into 'old' things. Thank you for this reminder of why we all are here.

    Started ZK 4.2018. "The path is at your feet, see? Now carry on."

  • Great to meet you. Love this kind of sharing.

    @Steve625 said:
    I don't work in academics; my brain is a work of pure joy.

    Yes indeed, it is a joy to work in my Zetelkasten. You have captured the thrill, the mystery, the magical feeling one gets when connecting one topic with another through writing. Writing is thinking made physical so it can interact in the world. One note interacting with other notes through shared prose and shared narrative.

    I have already been able to use my prose from one topic as an explanation in another. And because it is my prose, I can change a little text here and there to match the new theme. Exciting

    Beautiful.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • This was a joy to read. I'm glad you're here.

    Observations logged here: write.as/via-poetica

  • So many fascinating ideas and interesting people here. Thanks for zetteling with us and adding to the conversation. I also enjoyed your introduction.

    @Steve625 said:
    The Majesty of Books, written by Sterling W. Sill, ...... ..... it was the first book that opened up a hunger and thirst for knowledge and understanding, that has stayed with me my entire life.

    Now I have another interesting book to add to my reading list. πŸ‘
    I look forward to more of your postings.

  • Welcome to the forums, and I'm happy the Zettelkasten journey changed your thinking to the better! :) That's why we run this show πŸŽ‰

    Author at Zettelkasten.de β€’ https://christiantietze.de/

  • Greetings!

    I am a Zettler

  • Welcome. Loved reading your post!!! Just curious about your mission for notetaking and how it has impacted you? I like you am not in academia. and love to read on broad topics. I am tired of reading and not retaining the material.

  • @VDL1516 said:
    Just curious about your mission for notetaking and how it has impacted you? I like you am not in academia. and love to read on broad topics. I am tired of reading and not retaining the material.

    My mission for notetaking is a quote from Leonardo da Vinci.

    "This is to be a collection without order, taken from many papers, which I have copied here, hoping afterwards to arrange them according to the subjects of which they treat; and I believe that I shall have to repeat the same thing several times; for which, O reader, blame me not..."

    Wow, imagine if da Vinci had had a Zettelkasten!

    I have many journal entries expressing my frustration with research, and my attempts to solve that issue. One is exactly like yours, "I am tired of reading and not retaining the material." I tried to resolve this by setting up my notes on a reading schedule so that the record would appear for review periodically. That didn't work, and now I know why. Christian's Oct 25th, 2014 post "Stop Relying on a Source and Have Faith in Your Own Thoughts" is the hallmark blog for believing in your personal ability to interpret the text from another, creating unique insights and ideas.

    I now focus my efforts on taking my collection of notes and write my thoughts about a topic. I stick with Luhmann's advice of "I only do what is easy. I only write when I immediately know how to do it."[1] I review my notes, and when the word's form, I open my Zettelkasten and start to write. Today I wrote about Heart Rate Variability, yesterday the definition of "Whim" as viewed by Ann Rynd. Writing my own words where energy is readily available for me has made a massive difference in understanding and recall. Sorry for the long-winded response, but if you are "tired of reading and not retaining," make sure you are reading something that is inspiring to you and make Zettel notes in your own inspired words.
    [1] https://praxis.fortelabs.co/how-to-take-smart-notes/

  • Definitely not long-winded. Your post is full of great information and resources. I never read that post by Christian before and you lead me to it. This is what I needed. Clarification on the actual note. This for me is a difficult part and believe that is does in fact have to do with confusion in what the note should contain. My practice while reading really comes from Mortimer Adler. I read, write my thoughts in the margin and underline or circle. My problem has always been never returning to those marks I left and doing anything with them. I absolutely love reading though the process and time I put in is frustrating when recall is at a minimum. It is deceiving because you feel as if you are engaging in active reading. While I am engaged in the process it feels great, ideas are flowing and things appear to be clicking. In a week or so those thoughts and ideas are gone unless I revisit which to be honest I never do. I know this is my problem and the workflow is not efficient. That is why I searched many places for that next step, what to do with those notes I have been writing. The Zettelkasten appears to be the next logical step though I get confused as to what to put in the Zettelkasten. I am trying to do as Luhmann did and copy direct quotes and Christians post was directly in line with this. I was supposed to finish one book and process it a while ago though am getting to caught up in if I am doing it properly. So I have not started yet. Everyone on this blog has excellent insight and have provided great ideas. Sorry for the long-winded response, haha.

  • I would like to try it in analog form though I am not sure if that is the right way to go!!!

  • I started learning how to read properly with Adler/van Doren's guide as well and hit a similar roadblock. Extraction is the key, but it took me a while to figure that out. It's time-consuming, so I naturally wanted to make shortcuts everywhere. Now that's okay, not everything has to be consumed page-by-page if you just read it for inspiration. But my pile of shame of unprocessed books, of knowledge never truly assimilated, it was huge. -- Here's a trick to get out of the self-shaming: consciously decide, given your limited time, lifespan, and energy, which books you won't ever process. Reduce the backlog. Throw away stuff you don't need, so to speak. Nothing bad will happen, and you'll free energy for other things to worry about :)

    Author at Zettelkasten.de β€’ https://christiantietze.de/

  • @Steve625 wrote:

    "This is to be a collection without order, taken from many papers, which I have copied here, hoping afterwards to arrange them according to the subjects of which they treat; and I believe that I shall have to repeat the same thing several times; for which, O reader, blame me not..."

    Can you give me the bibiographical data?

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast
    The secondary source simply says "From the front page of one of Leonardo's manuscripts on physics" The secondary source is "How to think like Leonardo da Vinci, Curiosita" How to think like Leonardo da Vinci - Seven Steps To Genius Every Day, by Michael J. Gelb, Dell Publishing, 1998. p.57.

  • @ctietze thank you for providing this information. It is a great idea to start fresh and leave the unprocessed books and maybe at some point come back to them once I have an established system in place. This will help with reducing
    β€œ The Zeigarnik Effect,” thoughts about the unfinished work that have piled up pops into my head which is mentally exhausting. The reality hit that I engage in the collectors fallacy as well. My notability app is filled with a graveyard of articles that I will β€œcome back to.” My anti-library has grown quite a bit as well.
    Thanks for the help.

  • RE: Zeigarnik Effect, keep in mind that this effect, while providing a good story, might not be replicable by scientific studies. I didn't bother to investigate further than https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeigarnik_effect back in the day, but others might want to take a closer look.

    Author at Zettelkasten.de β€’ https://christiantietze.de/

  • @ctietze yes, I definitely agree and like to look at the scientific aspect of information and models as well. It was most likely my confirmation bias getting in the way. Lol.

  • The Zeigarnik Effect is convoluted with several other factors. The issue of being unfinished does not equal to motivation and therefore memory (recall is tied to motivation). Sometimes it shows up and sometimes not depending on how you can tie motivation to the unfinished-ness.

    I am a Zettler

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