Zettelkasten Forum


The Collector's Fallacy is closely related to the Exploration-Exploitation Dilemma

The Collector's Fallacy, which Christian Tietze has written about, is an example of the Exploration-Exploitation Dilemma, also known as the multi-armed bandit problem. From Wikipedia:

The multi-armed bandit problem models an agent that simultaneously attempts to acquire new knowledge (called "exploration") and optimize their decisions based on existing knowledge (called "exploitation"). The agent attempts to balance these competing tasks in order to maximize their total value over the period of time considered.

In the case of the Collector, the "agent" explores indefinitely and adds to their collection but postpones making the decision to do something with it. Wikipedia gives a list of practical applications of the multi-armed bandit problem, but I can't resist pointing out that the problem of deciding which professor's class to take is almost never counted among such lists, perhaps because professors compile them. Someone choosing among Zettelkasten implementations without really settling on one is another.

Given that the multi-armed bandit problem has a name, has been extensively studied since at least the middle of the twentieth century and has been solved in important cases, one question is whether some of these solutions could guide the Collector toward more productive uses of their time.

ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex. Erdös #2.

Comments

  • Haha! But they'd have to consider all the more productive uses of their time first :wink:

  • edited September 11

    @GeoEng51 said:
    Haha! But they'd have to consider all the more productive uses of their time first :wink:

    Well, that's not the usual setup of the multi-armed bandit problem. The collector of Zettelkasten implementations, as I understand this, isn't trying to calculate the opportunity cost of implementing a Zettelkasten one of three ways versus buying 1000 shares of Novavax in the open market, although that is possibility. The problems are more limited than the central problem of ethics (how to live) or related problems such as whether to live in moment or to consider the future consequences before acting--though there are proposals for "when to live" too.

    The question concerns heuristics to inform the decision to stop exploring alternatives, given limited information. (Investigate three alternatives, and choose the best of those. ) Beyond the multi-armed bandit, decision making under deep uncertainty is a subject with its own literature.

    But I see your point: it's past time to stop digging.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex. Erdös #2.

  • Thanks for sharing, I resonate quite a bit with the Exploration-Exploitation Dilemma, so it's nice to have a scientific name for the phenomenon so I can explore the concept further.

    I tend to bounce between modes of Exploration and Exploitation, depending on my mental state and energy. Adversity pushes me into Exploration while growing confidence in my knowledge encourages Exploitation. It feels like a natural process and not subject to my perceived "value" of either mode, as both yield the dopamine response that's likely the real motivation behind the behavior.

    BTW, the link you gave above with text 'proposals for "when to live"' is a 404.

  • @ZettelWise said:

    BTW, the link you gave above with text 'proposals for "when to live"' is a 404.

    The link is https://blogs.dickinson.edu/buddhistethics/files/2020/02/Kim_Parikh_20_Final.pdf

    ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex. Erdös #2.

  • @ZettelDistraction

    It was just a poor attempt at a joke; nothing deep or with hidden meaning :smile:

  • @ZettelDistraction said:
    The Collector's Fallacy, which Christian Tietze has written about, is an example of the Exploration-Exploitation Dilemma, also known as the multi-armed bandit problem.

    This is very interesting! Thanks for sharing. It reminds me a bit of Meno's paradox. I feel like this is especially true when trying to break into a new area of research. It's hard to properly explore the existing knowledge on a subject without some degree of already existing personal knowledge, but you can't build up that personal knowledge until you've explored the existing knowledge...

    Someone choosing among Zettelkasten implementations without really settling on one is another.

    I definitely feel this! I've switched programs and implementations so many times over the last year and a half. I've learned a lot about what processes do and don't work for me, but so many notes had to be archived because it would be too much work to fully translate and combine everything into one system. I'm glad to have explored as much as I did, but I do wonder how my notes would look today if I had stuck with them instead of jumping around in different programs.

  • @prometheanhindsight said:

    I definitely feel this! I've switched programs and implementations so many times over the last year and a half. I've learned a lot about what processes do and don't work for me, but so many notes had to be archived because it would be too much work to fully translate and combine everything into one system. I'm glad to have explored as much as I did, but I do wonder how my notes would look today if I had stuck with them instead of jumping around in different programs.

    Do you think one of the drivers for this was a heavy desire to find the "perfect" system for creating a ZK, rather than attention to creating the ZK itself? I don't mean to be critical - just wondering what you think most influenced your approach. You may have some good advice to others who are new to the ZK world.

  • @GeoEng51 said:

    @prometheanhindsight said:

    I definitely feel this! I've switched programs and implementations so many times over the last year and a half. I've learned a lot about what processes do and don't work for me, but so many notes had to be archived because it would be too much work to fully translate and combine everything into one system. I'm glad to have explored as much as I did, but I do wonder how my notes would look today if I had stuck with them instead of jumping around in different programs.

    Do you think one of the drivers for this was a heavy desire to find the "perfect" system for creating a ZK, rather than attention to creating the ZK itself? I don't mean to be critical - just wondering what you think most influenced your approach. You may have some good advice to others who are new to the ZK world.

    The search for the perfect system definitely influenced it, though my desire was for a perfect system for me rather than a perfect system for ZK. Once the newness of ZK as a method wore off, I started to question the utility of the ZK method. Or, rather, I started to question what I wanted to get out of my notetaking and writing, and whether ZK best served those purposes. I started to wonder if close adherence to ZK principles was necessary, or if I could take what I had learned and utilize it in a more generalized approach to personal information management. I guess I was questioning whether the principles of ZK were fundamental, or if trying to closely replicate Luhmann's system was just a productivity cargo cult.

    ZK was obviously built upon useful principles, but it can feel like a strict adherence requires a degree of digital asceticism that gave me a bit of FOMO. I think that a very ungenerous read of this moment is that I was being attracted by shiny new toys--namely, Obsidian and Roam. I wanted aliasing and block linking and the ability to separate different notes into different folders. A more generous read of this moment is that I felt like these newer tools (Roam moreso than Obsidian) filled holes in my workflow that weren't being filled by ZK.

    Experimenting with other tools, I always ran into hard walls once the newness wore off. What I did identify is something probably already understood by many on these forums. While ZK is a flexible tool, it is a tool with a specific purpose. I think that trying to build a one size fits all personal information management system is a fools gambit. At least, it is for people whose livelihoods are built around a high throughput of new information to keep track of. Trying to have everything--daily notes, tasks, hundreds of papers worth of reading notes, my lab notebook, personal reading, drafts of writing, etc.--in a single system leads to a muddled space with little utility in the long run. It doesn't scale well.

    So, I once again started over from scratch. Instead of starting with ZK and then trying to figure out how to incorporate all of the other bits of my workflow, I started with my basic workflow and waited for the need for ZK to arise. I'm using emacs for all of my general life management purposes. I like that it works with plain text, and that I can build each org-mode file to act like its own workspace while still being able to query across multiple "workspaces" simultaneously. After a couple months using emacs, I arrived at the same place that I started at the beginning of 2020 when I first read about ZK. I had a lot of notes about specific papers, but those notes were trapped in the context of the paper. I wanted to liberate them and put them into a more personal context. And so that is what I do with my ZK.

    I can't claimed to be cured of my perpetual wandering of different notetaking programs. I only just started building a ZK again a couple weeks ago (in The Archive). The newness of emacs has definitely worn off, though, and I don't feel the itch to find a new system. I think that's a good sign. I'm also growing very tired of the pain of translating an ever growing amount of notes into a new system structure or syntax or risk losing them. I really just want to have a system that I can trust and that scratches all of my PIM itches.

  • edited September 18

    Since I cannot think of a better place to interject some hastily written and disjointed comments on managing the information glut with Zettelkasten, I'm adding them here.

    Ahrens wrote (citation needed) that digital ZK and the ZK Method addresses the need of academic and non-fiction writers to manage the Internet information glut. A reviewer of Ahrens's book faulted Ahrens for his uncritical attitude toward the economic and political pressures that necessitated books like his How to Write Smart Notes to begin with. Those pressures included the so-called neoliberal university, in which faculty oversight (or "shared governance") is ceded to an ever-expanding pro-business administration, which prefers a consumer orientation to faculty-mediated standards of scholarship facilitated by academic freedom--the value of scholarship is its value on the job market.

    Anyway, several things can be said about this in relation to ZK, the rise of social media, and the difference between information and knowledge--ZK is sometimes said to be a knowledge management system. I'm going to assume that most of the input for the typical ZK comes from the Internet. Even if it is false that most of the input for the typical ZK comes from the Internet, specifically social media, it's fair to ask how the ZK Method helps to distinguish knowledge from information and belief. Perhaps it's neutral. In any case, the user of a "Personal Information Management" system is still faced with the Internet information glut.

    Accordingly, I'm going to mention some tools for reasoning about the Internet information glut. Whether knowledge management really is the purpose of the ZK Method, some applied epistemic logic will illuminate what the online ZK user--among other users--is up against.

    One useful source for this is "Infostorms: Why do we 'like'? Explaining individual behavior on the social net," by Vincent F. Hendricks and Pelle G. Hansen. Infostorms is more important than its title suggests: the book concerns the ability of social media to undermine democratic institutions, by circumventing the "traditionally slow gate-keepers of truth and validation." This aspect of the Internet has been termed "the epistemic crisis of the 21st century" by University of Chicago professor Brian Leiter in publications and on his blog Leiter Reports.

    The authors of Infostorms deploy epistemic logic and other tools of mathematical social science to analyze the failure of information on social media to track the truth, and to analyze the difference between the virtual public spaces of social media versus real public spaces, among other social media phenomena. Social media distributes information and knowledge in the service of market and non-epistemic imperatives, but lacks and often inhibits the crucial and politically powerful property of real public spaces, which is to promote common knowledge. Distributed knowledge and common knowledge have precise technical meanings that the authors use to describe the "information structure" of online versus real public spaces.

    My advice, at least until next time: put that in your Zettelkasten and process it.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex. Erdös #2.

  • I don't see your point. Knowledge has always been used for immoral things. Every tool can be used for immoral things, that doesn't say anything about the tool itself. The Zettelkasten is used to manage information, but so does writing and counting, the paintings on walls in the stone age and human language.

    Every knowledge in competing against credibility, the truth is completely irrelevant here.

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • edited September 18

    @zk_1000 This has nothing to do with my point, if there is a unique one. I'm not blaming Zettelkasten at all. I'm inquiring about this information glut that the ZK attempts to grapple with--assuming the Internet is a significant source of input into the "ZK system." I mentioned a review of How to Write Smart Notes, which suggested that Athens missed an opportunity to say something about the larger social context in which ZK becomes desirable.

    I thought I might say something about that larger context--though perhaps not obviously along the lines the reviewer suggested (economic considerations do play a role, but this takes time to develop). Since one of the virtues of the ZK is controlling the geyser of information produced by information technology, one might say something about this geyser of an input. The take-away is: read the book Infostorms.

    Aside from that, since we're talking about linking notes together, the rest is what happens when I link notes together...

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex. Erdös #2.

  • edited September 18

    By "virtual public spaces of social media versus real public spaces" do you mean social space? I would assume the difference is mainly a higher vulnerability due to a larger attack surface.

    Edit: never mind, i wasn't aware of this problem.

    The book appears to focus on a problem more than on a solution and, worse than that, on multiple problems at once. Did you find it helpful?

    Post edited by zk_1000 on

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • @prometheanhindsight

    Thanks for your response to my question - I hope others (especially new to the ZK world) see it and gain some value / wisdom from it.

    I've played with various databases and systems for organizing information and knowledge over the years. As you recommend, I believe a practical approach is best. For me, that means finding simple systems and using them for the purpose for which they were designed. Don't get over-complicated and don't get side-tracked by fancy new toys (applies particularly to computer hardware and software).

    Of course, that comment doesn't apply to cars :wink:

  • edited September 19

    @zk_1000 said:
    The book appears to focus on a problem more than on a solution and, worse than that, on multiple problems at once.

    What's wrong with applying the techniques of mathematical social science to related problems of importance and interest? Have you read the book?

    @zk_1000 said:
    Did you find it helpful?

    Yes. It shows that online virtual public spaces differ from real public spaces in crucial ways that are manipulated by commercial and special interests seeking to control common knowledge and to replace it with distributed information. It gives rigorous definitions of mechanisms that enable falsehoods to spread through social networks--mechanisms such as information cascades and pluralistic ignorance. As to solutions:

    "...is there really an alternative to the prevailing commercialization of public spaces that is occurring all over the world? It seems that there is. In 2007, the world’s fourth-largest metropolis and Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, became the first city outside the Communist world to put into effect a radical, near-complete ban on outdoor advertising. Lei Cidade Limpa, or Clean City Law as it is called, meant that the city was stripped of advertising. No posters. No flyers. No ads on buses. No ads on trains. No adshels, no 48-sheets, no nothing. The law was an immediate and unexpected success, owing largely to the determination of the city’s mayor and the help of key allies among the city’s elite. Surveys indicate that the measure is extremely popular with the city’s residents, with more than 70  % approving. One of the first effects after the introduction of the ban has been reported to be the sudden entry into public consciousness of previously hidden shantytowns and backyard factories with illegal immigrant workers. [1]"

    -- Hendricks, Vincent F.; Hansen, Pelle G.. Infostorms (p. 47). Springer International Publishing.

    The book shows why "...[i]t is simply false, as the whole Internet demonstrates, that 'more participation means a more vibrant and eclectic breeding ground for culture'...." It's useful to know why, and to know the epistemic logic that shows why the Internet does not lead to an expansion of common knowledge. In fact, social media impedes it.

    "... But while the Internet provides open access to more or less all the information and knowledge produced by the human species in recent times, this knowledge is distributed in the system— i.e., it is only potential knowledge of the group. Consequently, the growth of open access information online does not make us any wiser as a society. It only makes us potentially wiser."

    -- Hendricks, Vincent F.; Hansen, Pelle G.. Infostorms (pp. 47-48). Springer International Publishing.

    The book explores the mechanisms through which social media acts to prevent society from becoming any wiser, and to ensure that the information structure (a term defined in the book) of actual public spaces, which foster common knowledge, does not arise in social media.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex. Erdös #2.

  • I'm not familiar with social science.

    I was reading the table of contents. It seems to be very accessible and not to require previous knowledge.

    This is a very interesting discussion, thank you very much for recommending the book.

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • @zk_1000 I'm pleased that you find it interesting. It is an accessible, important, immense and wide open area of research. That's according to a historical figure in mathematical logic who recommended it.

    ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex. Erdös #2.

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