Zettelkasten Forum


Antinet Zettelkasten

edited September 21 in The Zettelkasten Method

On the zettelkasten subreddit I came across a post linking to an article on the method (shared by the author of the article). In it he was making some bold proclamations, so I thought I'd ask what this community thought?

The core argument seems to be

Today, however, I shall provide one fundamental component of Luhmann's system. This fundamental component is missing from an estimated 96% of digital zettelkastens.

Luhmann outlines this fundamental component in the very beginning of his paper on how his zettelkasten works.

Information is an intra-systematic event. It results when one compares one message or entry with regard to other possibilities. Information, accordingly, originates only in systems which possess a comparative schema—even if this amounts only to: "this or something else."

You see, built into every single note in Luhmann's system is one requirement: he must decide where the note belongs. It forces associations, and associations stand as the fundamental building block of human memory. One must decide if the note is associated with this or something else. It is a comparative schema built into the very root of Luhmann's antinet zettelkasten, which surfaces the magic of his system.

Unfortunately, this fundamental component is watered down to near extinction in the world of digital zettelkastens.

(Source: https://daily.scottscheper.com/num/243/)

The idea of "must decide where the note belongs", while true, misses the point of multiple context within the zettelkasten, as Luhmann was trying to come up with an alternative to filing notes using folders. Or is he just rehashing the classic Folgzettel Debate?


Edited by @ctietze: Added source link for attribution

Post edited by ctietze on

Comments

  • My reading comprehension is, eh, sometimes not up to the highest standard's (ask @sfast :)) -- but I read this:

    One must decide if the note is associated with this or something else

    As an operative instruction. Given that some of Luhman's own work, and the cybernetic/complex systems thinking approach do align well with computer metaphors, here's how I decode this:

    "If I am looking for associations, I could treat myself as a stupid machine and compare each and every possible pair of notes in my Zettelkasten with the currently open note; the test is: is the note I'm pulling up associated with the current one? If yes, I make a link; if no, I continue with the next."

    This does not imply that there's only one connection. It's merely a formal distinction to resolve any pairs of notes into (a) associations that I have and inter-link, or (b) unrelated pairs that I don't do anything with.

    In other words, I don't think the author is saying anything new :)


    As stated initially, I might totally miss the point when I try to make sense of this because I'm looking for confirmation to my own conception of the ZK.

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

  • associations stand as the fundamental building block of human memory

    Actually, I'd have my doubts about that proposition. It has been stated that memory is constructive, and I think that is probably a better way to look at it. See this talk by Elizabeth Loftus, who has long specialised in research into false memory: https://ted.com/talks/elizabeth_loftus_how_reliable_is_your_memory.

    Luhmann had to decide where to put a note because he didn't have any choice with his paper system. And anyway, how could anybody remember where they had put a note if they had a hundred of them? Not many of us are like Luria's subject "S"! See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Shereshevsky.

  • I was just about to post a link to this. Glad to see someone else found it.

    This seems to be his key point:

    You see, built into every single note in Luhmann's system is one requirement: he must decide where the note belongs.

    which really just is a rehash of the Great Folgzettel Debate.

  • edited September 23

    Removed to avoid disapproval.

    Post edited by prometheanhindsight on
  • i do not appreciate the amount of cross posting seen recently. Is this some rivalry? Please pick a place for discussion and don't hop around all places. I don't mean to address anyone in particular, just stating my disapproval.

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • @zk_1000 said:
    i do not appreciate the amount of cross posting seen recently. Is this some rivalry? Please pick a place for discussion and don't hop around all places. I don't mean to address anyone in particular, just stating my disapproval.

    We are different communies. So, some crossposting is necessary to keep most people updated on what might be of interest in other communities.


    @MartinBB said:

    associations stand as the fundamental building block of human memory

    Actually, I'd have my doubts about that proposition. It has been stated that memory is constructive, and I think that is probably a better way to look at it. See this talk by Elizabeth Loftus, who has long specialised in research into false memory: https://ted.com/talks/elizabeth_loftus_how_reliable_is_your_memory.

    This the conceptualisation of memory (constructivism) Luhmann uses as I remember. :)


    The idea of "must decide where the note belongs", while true, misses the point of multiple context within the zettelkasten, as Luhmann was trying to come up with an alternative to filing notes using folders. Or is he just rehashing the classic Folgzettel Debate?

    Luhmann's own writings: Given this technique, it is less important where we place a new note.

    "less important" is a translation that reflects the tone of Luhmann's writing. You could easily argue that "not important" would be a translation that is in the spirit of Luhmann actually meant.

    The whole point of his then new way is to make the decision of where to put the note inconsequential. So, to argue that the actual placement of the note or, in the digital world, even create a technique that simulates a place, means going directly against what Luhmann intended. One might argue that Luhmann himself is wrong and the position of the note is important. But that is not what is happening here.

    So, in my view, he is not just rehashing the classic Folgezettel Debate but even takes a weaker position than any proponents of the Folgezettel Technique I encountered so far. Actually, it might be the weakest position possible on that matter. At least, I cannot think of any weaker position.

    Sadly, he does not seem to be interested in actually discussing the matter. Or I rubbed him the wrong way (but I never encountered example of other people rubbing him the right way).

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    We are different communies. So, some crossposting is necessary to keep most people updated on what might be of interest in other communities.

    To be fair, my comment was a bit of snark around his Saschakasten cult comment. It wasn't a particularly valuable contribution.

    Sadly, he does not seem to be interested in actually discussing the matter.

    That's been my impression, too. I'm actually surprised he isn't planning on selling his book. He seems less interested in discussing these ideas and more interested in preaching that analog ZK is the only right way. It feels like the lead up to some form of monetization, though he has said several times that he isn't planning on selling anything.


    The whole point of his then new way is to make the decision of where to put the note inconsequential. So, to argue that the actual placement of the note or, in the digital world, even create a technique that simulates a place, means going directly against what Luhmann intended. One might argue that Luhmann himself is wrong and the position of the note is important. But that is not what is happening here.

    Would you say that structure notes simulate a place? The way that I use them does highlight note sequences which have some directionality, moving from the top of the sequence to the bottom. When I put a note in one or more of these sequences, it feels like I'm making a physical location for that note.

  • edited September 24

    Thanks for this discussion, which has helped me to advance a little project: Digital Zettelkasten Step-by-Step.

    @Nick quoted https://daily.scottscheper.com/num/243/:
    You see, built into every single note in Luhmann's system is one requirement: he must decide where the note belongs.
    ...
    Today, however, I shall provide one fundamental component of Luhmann's system. This fundamental component is missing from an estimated 96% of digital zettelkastens.

    Pretty dramatic! The first assertion is ambiguous and seems to suggest that a note has a unique (physical) place within the ZK. However, there are several possible placements, based on the topological relation of a note to another one. According to Schmidt, J. F. (2018). Niklas Luhmann’s Card Index: The Fabrication of Serendipity. Sociologica, 12(1), 53–60. https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.1971-8853/8350, Luhmann's solution was local: add the note and choose its numbering based on an existing note, if there is one.

    Since I'm interested in a concise, straightforward step-by-step interpretation in a digital ZK of Luhmann's process with a physical slip box, here is the physical to digital correspondence: physically placing a note in a (physical) ZK in relation to some other note and numbering it accordingly corresponds in a digital Zettelkasten to choosing a related existing note, if it exists, and linking from that note to the new note. Problem solved. It's a local solution, as there may be several such predecessor notes, as Schmidt writes:

    But the positioning of larger subject areas as well as individual cards in the collection was not only the historical product of Luhmann’s reading interests and note-taking activities. It also owed to the difficulty of assigning an issue to one and only one single (top-level) subject, which is a matter of ambiguity or so to say conceptual indecisiveness. Luhmann solved this problem by seizing it as an opportunity: instead of subscribing to the idea of a systematic classification system, he opted for organizing entries based on the principle that they must have only some relation to the previous entry without also having to keep some overarching system in mind. One could say: there must be a local solution (i.e. connection or internal fit) only. This indicates, accordingly, that the positioning of a special subject within this system of organization reveals nothing about its theoretical importance — for there are no privileged positions in this web of notes: there is no top and no bottom.

    So, the "fundamental component is missing from an estimated 96% of digital zettelkastens" [sic] is the practice, when adding a new note to a digital ZK, of choosing a related pre-existing note in the ZK, and linking to the new note from it. A good point, but our critic didn't seem to notice--or didn't mention--the straightforward remedy in the digital case. And that incidentally is just what I needed for the checklist I'm developing.

    Of course I now need to revise my ZK :blush:

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

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

  • @ZettelDistraction said:

    Since I'm interested in a concise, straightforward step-by-step interpretation in a digital ZK of Luhmann's process with a physical slip box, here is the physical to digital correspondence: physically placing a note in a (physical) ZK in relation to some other note and numbering it accordingly corresponds in a digital Zettelkasten to choosing a related existing note, if it exists, and linking from that note to the new note. Problem solved. It's a local solution, as there may be several such predecessor notes, as Schmidt writes:

    This was the idea that got me off of Folgezettel when I first started. If anything, it's an easier decision. Since the notes context is defined by links, I don't have to choose between multiple possible note locations. My new note can be connected to all of those at once.

    The only thing that I can see being useful in an analog ZK that doesn't feel like it can be reproduced in a digital ZK is the act of rifling through cards. I can see how physically handling the notes surrounding the new note's location could lead to some serendipitous discoveries. Though maybe that's putting more importance or emphasis on the physical location of the note than I should.

    Now that I think about it, I would love to have the ability to filter a list of notes to show notes within N links of the note that I'm on. I know that Obsidian can do this with its graph view, but I would much prefer being able to do it with a list of notes like in The Archive. I love how searching for an ID (or following the link) turns up a list of all notes that reference that ID. It'd be useful if this could be expanded to include 2nd and _N_th order connections.

  • edited September 24

    @prometheanhindsight said:
    This was the idea that got me off of Folgezettel when I first started. If anything, it's an easier decision. Since the notes context is defined by links, I don't have to choose between multiple possible note locations. My new note can be connected to all of those at once.

    Another good point. Is this how your ZK is organized? In what direction is the new note linked to the others?

    The only thing that I can see being useful in an analog ZK that doesn't feel like it can be reproduced in a digital ZK is the act of rifling through cards.

    There is another physical to digital correspondence I overlooked: adding a note digital ZK would seem to correspond to both a backlink and forward link(s) to a choice of one, some or all related note or notes, since in a physical ZK the Luhmann numbering would give the adjacent related note. So there is something to be said for adding a backlink in this case.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

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

  • @ZettelDistraction said:
    So, the "fundamental component is missing from an estimated 96% of digital zettelkastens" [sic] is the practice, when adding a new note to a digital ZK, of choosing a related pre-existing note in the ZK and linking to the new note from it. A good point, but our critic didn't seem to notice--or didn't mention--the straightforward remedy in the digital case. And that incidentally is just what I needed for the checklist I'm developing.

    What about choosing MULTIPLE pre-existing notes for 'positioning'? If a link in a digital ZK is equivalent to "positioning" a physical notecard, then a note can be quickly and frequently "positioned" in two or more places in a digital ZK. Hard to do with physical note cards. This limitation of physical notes might be one of the fundamental components is missing from an estimated 100% of analog zettelkastens. :wink:

    I like Gawande's idea of following a checklist. A checklist helps with remembering the small steps that, when missed, lead to disaster. I'd be interested in seeing what you come up with.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a futzing, second-guessing, backtracking, compulsive oversharing, ZK-maniac, in other words, your typical zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing, Cognitive Workload, Python, Data Science
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited September 24

    @Will wrote:
    What about choosing MULTIPLE pre-existing notes for 'positioning'? If a link in a digital ZK is equivalent to "positioning" a physical notecard, then a note can be quickly and frequently "positioned" in two or more places in a digital ZK. Hard to do with physical note cards. This limitation of physical notes might be one of the fundamental components is missing from an estimated 100% of analog zettelkastens. :wink:

    @Will good point, with a zinger for our critic. @prometheanhindsight also mentioned it previously. Choosing one, some or all pre-existing related notes to link to the new note is a possibility. This is a case where backlinks might be indicated too (the backlink would be to a "distinguished" prior note corresponding to the physical case, if there are multiple predecessor notes--I have to think this through). Since the links are directional, it might be better just to choose a direction, "backwards" from the new note to one or more pre-existing notes to provide context. Later the note can be revisited with additional related links.

    NOTE: I don't want to disinter the forward/backward link discussion. Since the purpose of choosing a (virtual) location for a new note is to provide context for it, it's probably enough to link to one or more pre-existing notes from the new note.

    After some consideration, it helps to think of the process that the proposed checklist is intended to track, which leads to

    NOTE 2: At various stages in the development of a digital ZK, notes can be added or revised. When they are added, the decision is made about "where" the note relates to the prior notes. The note itself should contain the links it relates to, for context at this stage. We don't modify any other notes to point to this new one. That operation belongs to a revision. Also: adding links to the new note is less work than navigating around and modifying existing notes to point to the new one. Revision should be kept separate from addition.

    I have reversed myself on link ordering, but this is unavoidable. The phrase "problem solved" should have been a clue that the problem wasn't solved--only by linking from the new note to the related notes that provide context is the problem solved. The new note is considered "added" when context links are included. Presumably the context links are never modified. Later, other notes can be augmented with additional links.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

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

  • Mod Note:
    Here used to be @ZettelDistraction's Zettel template and glimpses at an ID set algebra; moved that to its own thread to not derail this one when discussing @ZettelDistraction's stuff.

    Continue to read here:

    https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/1982/zetteldistractions-zettel-format-with-bonus-set-algebra

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

  • @prometheanhindsight said:
    Would you say that structure notes simulate a place? The way that I use them does highlight note sequences which have some directionality, moving from the top of the sequence to the bottom. When I put a note in one or more of these sequences, it feels like I'm making a physical location for that note.

    Structure Notes can do all kind of things. But to be honest, I don't think there is any need to simulate anything regarding the analog architecture.

    The way I setup my Zettelkasten and also develop the more general approach to this kind of method is not concerned with any other thing than to go out of the way while I (or the user) do the things I want to.

    Example:

    To make the associative nature of the Zettelkasten work you need direct links that actually work like the thing in our head that says "that reminds me of that". Luhmann had two ways of achieving it: Is numbering system by nature of proximity (parent, child and neighbor notes) and by direct linking. So, I thought about his numbering system, tested it and adapted it, so it comes with other benefits (sort by date, cluster work sessions, automatisation, predictability, etc.)

    As you can see: I rather think about what a note having a place actually does regarding the Zettelkasten Method than to lump all the ontological layers (physical, functional, procedual etc.) by trying to do something like another thing.

    Luhmann has an awesome sentence that describes this way of thinking:

    Methodisch gesehen wählen wir also nicht den Weg der Analogie, sondern den Umweg der Generalisierung und Respezifikation. Der Weg der Analogie würde dazu verführen, Ähnlichkeiten für wesentlich zu halten. Der Umweg der Generalisierung und Respezifikation ist in dieser Hinsicht eher neutral zu halten; er wird jedenfalls die Analyse stärker für Differenzen zwischen den Systemtypen sensibilisieren. (Luhmann (1984), Soziale Systeme, 32)

    Modified deepl-translation:

    Methodologically, then, we do not choose the path of analogy, but the detour of generalization and respecification. The way of analogy would tempt to consider similarities as essential. The detour of generalization and respecification is more neutral in this respect; at least, it will make the analysis more sensitive to differences between system types.

    But more directly to your question:

    When I put a note in one or more of these sequences, it feels like I'm making a physical location for that note.

    I feel that way, too. I deem Structure Notes part of my work bench while the structural models I am using (TOC, commented TOC, tables, drawings etc.) are the tools to craft my piece.

    I close with the following picture of a note that could morph to a structure note:

    This is a flow model based on the works of Csikszentmihalyi but with some extensions by me. The form is given by the model. The machine I use to create the form is "scheme" with sub tools like "equilibrium", "distinct cases without distinct boundaries" etc.

    I you think about what "place" actually mean you can find that there is way more to it than just a position of a note in relationship to other notes.

    I am a Zettler

Sign In or Register to comment.