Trying to get this to work for me
First of all, if it sounds like I’m overthinking this, I almost certainly am. I REALLY struggle to get my brain to grasp concepts and I tend to have to think through principles very, very carefully in way too much depth before I grasp them. And this is also a difficulty with studying itself, as you’ll see. Once I get something, I do really well. Getting it seems to be a very specific struggle for me. I’m separately seeking an assessment about whether my brain is ‘meant’ to work like this and to see if there’s anything that I can do to work with it differently; in the meantime this technique is my attempt to work with it.
Okay, so I’m studying philosophy at undergraduate level in my own time without any previous experience of it, on a course with no tuition and very little structured material. We get a fairly brief overview of the key topics that we need to know, a reading list (that tends to be quite advanced rather than a ‘noddy’s guide to…’, access to past exam papers and the examiner’s comments, and that’s pretty much it. So I have to find my own ‘introductory’ level texts, and because it’s philosophy, everything is really a point of view or argument rather than a ‘fact’, so everything has to be read with that in mind.
Let’s say I’m studying Aristotle’s ethics, and let’s say there’s 5-8 key areas that regularly come in exams, and let’s say one of those is the Function Argument (FA). I find I’m simply not able to understand a topic (the FA here) until I have a broader view of the ethics in general and have read enough different texts to get a set of mental hooks.
Question 1: How to make this all work for me. I go into a loop – I read a paper / introduction, have no mental hooks so don’t quite get it, so it seems impossible to write something meaningful. So I read more widely, slowly getting enough mental hooks to write something meaningful, but by then I’m utterly overwhelmed. The alternative is that I try to write down whatever I understand after reading the first guide / introduction / paper, but I with no mental hooks that feels overwhelming in itself. At this stage I’m taking notes purely to understand the concepts but these are not well structured and can take weeks (literally) to click at a level that I feel I can summarise into a meaningful slip, which is unsustainable. Any tips?
Question 2: How to structure the slips. Let’s say I start with reading a general guide to the FA. I can see how I might make a slip about the FA. This seems okay. So then I read PaperX by Author1 that covers the FA amongst other topics. Those other topics may or may not be relevant to me later. Do I do a slip on ‘PaperX by Author1’ and refer briefly to all topics in there, so that I can use it as a reminder / signpost to read that paper again on other topics in the future? And what about the more detailed notes on Author1’s argument on the FA? Do I do a slip on ‘Author1’s view on FA’ as a separate slip, or do I add this account to my slip on the FA? Not sure if that makes sense. I guess the question is, given that any one paper might cover three or four topics- would you do a slip on each of these topics and link to them from a topic structure note, or keep them on one slip on ‘PaperX’, or something else?
Question 3: I find the zettel titles with the numeric coding hugely visually overwhelming. I simply can’t visually scan The Archive and pick out what I think might be useful, and this applies to reviewing search results. So I’m really reliant on structure notes. Is this normal? It seems to me that writing notes for one essay would mentally easier for me if the headings of the slips were purely the sub topics / arguments, but I can also see that this does not contribute to the long term usefulness of the technique.
PS, I have read the book on Smart Notes. I’m just reading it again. I understand the key principles, I’m just tripping up trying to put them into practice.
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