Zettelkasten Forum


Hierarchical Branched Note Taking and The Archive App(is topography important?)

I'm very new to the Zettelkasten method of note taking.

My understanding is that Niklas Luhmann organised his notes through sequential numbering, sub numbering, and branching.

So his notes would be initially numbered something like

1
2
3
4

and when needed he would insert notes so it could become something like

1
1-1
1-1a
1-1b
1-2
1-2a
2
3
3-1a
3-1a-1
3-1a-1a
3-2a
3-2a-1
3-2a-1a
3-2a-1a-1
4
5

Then when writing Niklas could follow the physical topography of the notes (which also contained references to other more distant notes) and have an outline of an interesting line of reasoning/related concepts.

Is it recommended to use this hierarchical naming when using The Archive? Or is it more a hang-up of a pre-digital method that can be replaced with tags and links within the notes so long as the notes have a unique identifier?

Comments

  • I've just found the following posts which seem to comprehensively respond this question.

    Looks like folgezettel was the term I needed to search!

    https://zettelkasten.de/posts/luhmann-folgezettel-truth/

    https://strengejacke.wordpress.com/2015/11/01/you-underestimate-the-power-of-the-dark-folgezettel/

    https://zettelkasten.de/posts/luedeckes-follow-up/

  • @iiiii said:
    Is it recommended to use this hierarchical naming when using The Archive?

    NO

    Or is it more a hang-up of a pre-digital method that can be replaced with tags and links within the notes so long as the notes have a unique identifier?

    YES

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

  • I will respectfully disagree with @Will here and offer a counterpoint.

    For the last few months I have been experimenting with a hybrid approach: using "Luhmann-numbering" to organize (structure) my notes, each of which is still assigned with the time-stamp-style Unique Identifier. I end up with notes titled as follows: 202003021623 {2,2,a,1 } The post-Kantian willful self became apparent in 1800s.txt

    The use of curly-brackets and comma-separated digits and letters in the Luhmann-number sequences facilitates the KM macros I use to find, sort, and auto-update a full or partial index of these Luhmann-numbered files.

    Searching for just an open curly-bracket gives me the full index:

    Searching for a few numbers/digits in a sequence gives me a subset:

    Pressing enter in this macro automatically appends a list of the selected notes, in order, in what I call my "operating index" file. At the top of the file, I have links to a few key "entry points" into the system (as Luhmann did). At the bottom of the file is where the full or partial list of files is automatically appended. It's where I can get a look at the the "topography" of my notes, as you put it, either as a full index or as a list of a subset of notes that I am currently working on.

    This effectively just me experimenting with a different kind of "structure note," one with a bit more structure incorporated. I found that structure notes without Luhmann numbers were becoming undifferentiated lists of notes, with no "topography," as you put it. I'm sure there are other ways of dealing with that problem (more structure notes? structure notes of structure notes?), but this is what I'm trying right now. And I will say, it's been reallllly fun. :wink:

    It is important to note that these files and indexes exist totally within but are nonetheless totally distinct from the rest of my zettelkasten---which continues to exist and operate just as before. So if this experiment stops working for me, nothing is lost.

  • Thanks for the share @argonsnorts . I'm always inspired by the breadth of ideas on this forum.

  • @argonsnorts said:
    The use of curly-brackets and comma-separated digits and letters in the Luhmann-number sequences facilitates the KM macros I use to find, sort, and auto-update a full or partial index of these Luhmann-numbered files.

    Mind sharing that KM with us? Looks like something I would enjoy tinkering with. :smile:

  • @frandsoh of course!

    This macro appends the selected Zettel to the index file.

    You'll have to modify the two actions highlighted in orange. Insert the path to your zk folder in the the first highlighted action, and insert the path to your chosen "index" file in the second highlighted action.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/cwd7b3f5542272a/Append Zettel Index.kmmacros?dl=0

  • @argonsnorts

    This is pretty neat! Please, keep us updated as you make more experiences with this.

    This effectively just me experimenting with a different kind of "structure note," one with a bit more structure incorporated. I found that structure notes without Luhmann numbers were becoming undifferentiated lists of notes, with no "topography," as you put it. I'm sure there are other ways of dealing with that problem (more structure notes? structure notes of structure notes?), but this is what I'm trying right now. And I will say, it's been reallllly fun.

    Can you share a screenshot of an use case of such a Structure Zettel? (I forced myself to use "Structure Zettel" after the poll came out. Now, I am basically the only one. My life is nothing but hell. :disappointed: )

    I am a Zettler

  • @argonsnorts said:
    @frandsoh of course!

    You're the best! Going to take a look at it now :smile:

  • @argonsnorts, this macro, and the concept are brilliant!'

    Using the conventions of including (the way you did) the thought chain (network) identifiers, folgezettels, flogechains, (whatever they are called) in the filename/titles using the macro you can walk the chain and see the associated notes.

    The Omnibar does the same. What does the KM macro do for you that the Omnibar doesn't?

    I didn't pay attention to this discussion between March 6 - March 8. I am glad @ctietze redirected us back to this discussion from the 2nd Anniversary blog post.

    I experimented and this is what I saw. Very cool.

    {1

    {1,

    {1,1

    {1,1,

    {1,1,b

  • Just wanted to note here: I'm someone who uses The Archive as a full Electronic Writing Desk (blog post in progress). I'm constantly working with the dynamic between "pure" Zettelkasten in the way y'all in academia use it, and a blend of lots of different kinds of notes (drafts, fragments of fictions, etc). I'm currently experimenting with this technique as a means of distinguishing between Zettelen (sp?) per se and the other kinds of things. Basically, if something is an atomic thought that is part of an explicit taxonomy, it gets a { } label. This lets me filter very rapidly to these ideas.

    I'm not sure if this will stick, of course. Just wanted to note a slightly expanded use case, and to say thanks for this idea @argonsnorts .

  • edited March 29

    @argonsnorts This is brilliant. The way I see it, it's an easy way to connect the newer notes without going through the process of creating explicit structure notes for everything.

    If {2,2,a} is connected to {3,1,b}, it can be stated inside the note.

    It's hierarchical yet decentralized; it combines the best of Folgezettel (organization) and UIDs. I'm gonna steal this from you, great job :smile:

    This forum really is awesome. I'm happy it's (still?!) free for everyone to join.

    Edit: One variation used a different style of Folgezettel; I'll call that Folgezettel 2.0. @argonsnorts, your shit is v5.0

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

  • @sfast said:

    Can you share a screenshot of a use case of such a Structure Zettel?

    Hi @argonsnorts I share this sentiment and request of @sfast - is there an example you can share?

    So far I haven't yet used it but I have been running into the same difficulties as those noted by @mediapathic - and the tip "if something is an atomic thought that is part of an explicit taxonomy, it gets a { } label" is something I am gonna start doing.
    Hopefully that will give both an extra search vector in the OmniBar to get chains visible and also to give a sidebar visual indication of what are atomic notes and what are other notes (like my regular Structure, draft, bibliographic, et cetera notes.

    While writing this reply I just came up with another potentially very useful thing: this way of working may even edify or build on my practice of 'three layers of evidence', in that, for example, I have 'fact based primary literature, empirical scientific study notes' on brain structure, metaphor study findings, and what not. These can be set apart from this folgezettel-chain-note markup (like my standard notes) and in that way, these folgezettel-chain-note sequences can actually be my musings upon and interpretation of primary literature. We'll see how that works out.

    I am a Zettler, ie 'one who zettles'
    research: pragmatism, 4e cognitive science, metaphor | you can't be neutral on a moving train

  • @John I'm afraid there's really nothing to take a screenshot of that would be more illuminating than the list of notes in the post above

  • @argonsnorts If your Structure Zettel were merely lists they weren't Structure Zettel.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast If this and this are structure zettel, then it's not clear to me what the difference is between a structure zettel and a list.

    It seems that each of these indicates at most two levels of structure. Do you have some structure zettel that are more complex?

  • @argonsnorts

    Yes. Some are more nested. But if they become to nested I rather encapsulate items with many subitems to Structure Zettel themselves. The first one is a good example. It is a Structure Zettel that links to Structure Zettel that link to Structure Zettel. If every Structure Zettel has two levels the overarching structure would have six levels.

    Imagine how to frame the body. Let's say the body is compromised of organs. We could then translate some users and their organs into such a Structure Zettel:

    • argonsnorts

      • a. heart
      • a. liver
      • a. kidney
    • will

      • w. heart
      • w. liver
      • w. kidney
    • sfast

      • s. heart
      • s. liver
      • s. kidney

    But organs are each compromised of parts themselves. Each organ Zettel could have some childs:

    • argonsnorts
      • a. heart
        • mitral valve
        • atrioventricular valves
      • a. liver
        • left lobe
        • right lobe
        • caudate lobe
      • a. kidney
        • renal pyramid
        • renal artery

    This could go quite detailed because each part could be analysed further and result in more subitems. The Structure Zettel would have many intendations. But you could create a Structure Zettel for each person's organ and make the original Structure Zettel leaner.

    A structure Zettel can also contain more than just lists. My Structure Zettel on Psyche and mind (NOT psychology) has disclaimer:

    Only descriptive. Norms and self-development of psyche and mind: Ethics and self-development [[ID]]

    Sometimes, I decided not to mark the structure by intendations but with headlines of different levels or combine them. This is the reason, I state that the principle is hierarchy. You can introduce it with headings of different levels, intended lists, links structures etc.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited April 1

    Thanks for this description @sfast . What happens when you create notes that are not on the specified topic of the present Structure Zettel? For example:

    • argonsnorts
      • a. heart
        • mitral valve
        • atrioventricular valves
        • shaped like a weird potato, not like a heart ideograph :heart:
          • the heart ideograph came from the fruit of the Silphium plant, a contraceptive
            • medieval Christians worked to sanitize the ideograph, dissociating it from casual sex by associating it instead with Christ's love
              • medieval Christians had a habit of coopting pagan symbols
                • the ichthys ("jesus fish") was an ancient symbol for life/fertility
                • Romans used evergreen trees during the festival of Saturnalia in late December

    Do you create a new structure note on one or many of these topics? If so, where? And what would you call them? Would you have one on symbols? And another on medieval Christianity? Would you add those new structure notes to a list of structure notes? Like an index?

  • edited April 1

    I think I can answer all the questions by a single answer: My hierarchies are meaningful. You nested items that are just somewhat associated. The sample Structure Zettel is ontological sorted. That means that each item represents a real thing in the world. The Zettel "shaped like a weird potato, not like a heart ideograph" is not specific to your heart but to heards in general and therefore wouldn't be placed there but on a Structure Zettel that deals with general anatomy.

    If I scan your list I see at least the following Structure Zettel:

    • Anatomy of forum users (My sample)
    • Symbols
      • Christian symbolism
      • Roman symbolism

    I am writing on that specific topic at the moment. You use hierarchy in their arbitrary and therefore meaningless version like Luhmann. Luhmann created his hierarchy to paradoxically rob hierarchy of its meaning so each Zettel can be placed anywhere. Placing is not a problem of a digital Zettelkasten. It is achieved with any ID (even with just a title which comes with other issues). I rob the meaning of each placement by creating the possibility of infinite hierarchies (infinite Structure Zettel, infinite Structure Zettel of Structure Zettel, infinite levels of heading levels, etc.). But within each hierarchy (here: an explicit one on a Structure Zettel) there is meaning which allows to create meaningful order out of chaos.

    This has quite some implications on application: The Luhmann-ID creates meaningless hierarchy and therefore no meaningful order. It is meant to be like that. But that is the reason why Folgezettel do not provide any prominence over direct linking. It can be even misleading by giving the impression. But if you just "Folgezettel" you metaphorically mind wonder which is nicely demonstrated by the quite chaotic and meaningless list (not a critique of your list. It is meaningless by design of the Folgezettel).

    I use hierarchy meaningful. If I think about a topic I start from the Structure Zettel on that topic. If I write a book I go to the Structure Zettel that serves as the outline. If I think about a problem I go to the Zettel on that problem. An individual Zettel might be placed on all of that Structure Zettel because it can be an expansion on the topic, and part of a book, and dealing with a model I am using to solve a problem.

    Here lies the key to the self-scaling nature of the Zettelkasten Method. Each Structure Zettel is the physical manifestation of an implicit pattern in the Zettelkasten which I can manipulate without touching any other -- equally possible -- pattern.

    I am a Zettler

  • Meaningful to whom and how? That's the historical problem that @argonsnorts and I face. You think the inclusion of medieval Christian ideas is perhaps arbitrary, but the idea is not arbitrary if you are doing a history of that time and it is not arbitrary to those people. So you could make a separate structure note on symbolism, sure. But this also assumes that for medieval Christians these ideas belong to symbolism only (or to categories of them). And how we decide how to interpret these historical structures is not divorced either from our modern structures as we translate one to the other. We need both. So to address this problem in understanding (and for a draft - if we are just using the zettelkasten to understand) you need many different structure notes that are interrelated with unclear hierarchies.

    Historically speaking, a note on "Roman symbolism" or "Christian symbolism" is so massive as to be functionally unusable. Those are zettelkastens unto themselves, like Luhmann's theory of society.

    Even still, for this example I wager you could produce the structure zetteln for me here, but I think a lot of the decisions you would have made in sorting that structure come from ideas outside the zettelkasten: your assumptions about what is meaningful, modern taxonomies/hierarchies of value, or your own drafting purposes.

    That's fine for what you want to do, but historical work aims to acknowledge all of these levels of interpretation simultaneously. To bring out meaningful comparisons between different (and often contingent) value systems. So you have to do something in-between just reproducing their value system or just re-producing your own.

  • You are exactly right @sfast, Luhmann's folgezettel bankrupts hierarchy. That's why I like it.

    My zettelkasten is designed to navigate and uncover multiple and often opposed hierarchies at once, so this is ok. It is, after all, a thinking tool and a discovery tool.

    You're right that structure notes are much more... structured than folgezetteln (obvious is obvious?), but they are also closer to draft structure too (which is definitely an advantage). I'm not ready to draft yet in my zettelkasten, and I have seen problems where I have decided to early in the zettelkasten what the draft was going to say and going to be before I had done the thinking and processing of verzettel-ing.

    The "meaning" of the structure of lists like @argonsnorts or my own do not come from the whole but from granular interrelation. It is a lot like note linking (which I think we both still use too), but I can see more of those significant links at once. Like a simple, reduced graphviz.

    Some of these links are arbitrary, and Luhmann owned that. I do too. My zettelkasten is an expression of my whims as I navigate the notes, but this is also essential to the serendipity of its creative generativity.

  • You can make infinite Structure Zettel, each capturing a different view on the same cluster of Zettel. :smile: You do not need to make a decision. You can create one, replicate what you seem to do with Folgezettel and later on re-arrange it as long as you please. :smile:

    I have some material for historians. What you are describing is mostly worked out but first I need to finally finish those videos for the two guys.

    It seems to me that you assume that I am oblivious to the requirements historians but I am not. Some of my own work is historical, I studies some semesters history (mostly methodology) and am developing the material in a way that it fits the greatest common divisor of the sciences and humanities.

    I am a Zettler

  • The ability (and need) to create infinite structure zetteln is the exact problem I have with them.

    It's like having to keep up with a keyword index but this time for concepts or ideas.

    Except there's multiple of them!

    That's fine for an outline for a draft, but now we are talking about writing.

  • Although I use a hybrid of Folgezettel (for visibility) and UID (easy links), I see the same advantage in structure notes.

    In fact, I also incorporate Structure notes to explain some Folgezettel trails that caused eureka moments; I actually have a dedicated index for structure notes and literature notes.

    Don't you think this dissolves the apparent disadvantages of both systems?

    TL;DR
    Structure notes add value to links.
    Folgezettel makes links easier to visualize.
    I use both; does this solve the problem?

    I really do think there can be a better digital version of Folgezettel and that's why I'm doing it.

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

  • @pseudoevagrius said:
    The ability (and need) to create infinite structure zetteln is the exact problem I have with them.

    It's like having to keep up with a keyword index but this time for concepts or ideas.

    Except there's multiple of them!

    That's fine for an outline for a draft, but now we are talking about writing.

    If you have some time and energy: Could you give us some insights to your practice with Structure Zettels? I think we are stuck at a point where the discussion is to theoretical. Real world examples could make the difference.

    I am a Zettler

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