# Is there an inverse for the collector's fallacy?

edited February 2020

Thank you for this forum. My first post here but have spent a lot of time reading the thoughtful posts by others.

I'd like to discuss the collector's fallacy, which I think is a good observation. Mindless hoarding simply creates dissonance when we need to engage with the material that we have collected.

On the other hand, can there be a case for the opposite - maybe call it The Salience Fallacy?

I've been maintaining something vaguely resembling a zettelkasten for several years. I've observed that I sometimes clip an interesting idea, that I know nothing about. I think I clip it because its novel (or perhaps I have an instinct that it is somehow related to my interests...) then I forget about it. Then something interesting happens. I start spotting the same idea in the wild, and eventually what started as a random, unknown piece of information, slowly integrates into my existing understanding of a subject.

Example: Covert Attention (psych) clipped in 2016 - which I knew nothing about, connects to a note on Attention Schema Theory, which I wrote a few days ago. I think this is more than coincidence because I see this happening often.

Does finding something I don't understand, kick off a pattern-spotting routine until I eventually collect enough pieces to grokk the subject?

Can I treat my own attention as the first level of filtration? i.e My very noticing of some idea as novel constitutes the first level of filtering from the ocean of ideas that is outside my zettelkasten. (Why did I find the idea interesting in the first place? Maybe this - https://simplicitytheory.telecom-paris.fr/ )

The second level of filtration is the act of clipping it. Intentional activity on my part, when I could have just ignored it.

Perhaps this very act primes me to recognize similar/related information when I see it out in the world, and eventually, there is a bottom-up process of the idea being fleshed out over time.

So even in 'blind' collection and hoarding, there seems to be some implicit filtration.

So the question is:

By invoking the collector's fallacy as a heuristic when collecting information, will we block out the potential for such randomness to take place? Is salience a gradient rather than binary - important/unimportant.

BTW, I understand that the point of a zettelkasten is to have a place where ideas are summed up in your own words, ideally atomised. In my case, I use a wiki like notebook (zim-wiki) and I have two folders - one called ARCHIVE which holds web-clippings, slightly annotated. The other called Zet which holds only notes written, summarised by me. I heavily link to ARCHIVE though because of the number of ideas in there.

The observation of salience is related to my ARCHIVE (web-clippings) folder. My Zet folder is very small because I really have to think through what I'm putting in there and write it out, while my ARCHIVE holds several times more information.

Also, there is a good chance I haven't thought this through yet and am hoping to use you as my external brain

Anyway, what do you think?

• @JorgeSoupWreath said:

Perhaps this very act primes me to recognize similar/related information when I see it out in the world, and eventually, there is a bottom-up process of the idea being fleshed out over time.

That's an interesting point! I don't know if that's the case, but I think it's a compelling narrative or explanation. Maybe it's different for others, but I can relate to that: you find a new topic, like, say, the Attention Schema Theory, and for a good while the topic and its terms circulate in your mind.

I don't know if the clipping is an important step there, though I cannot refute your argument that putting in some conscious energy will mark the clipped item as more important in your life than not clipping it.

My point would rather be: does this effect scale? Does it matter (in the long run)? Or is the bonus of attention too small to make a difference, are items too easily replaced in the back of your head?

--- That'd be an empirical question we cannot answer. But we can make an argument based on the approaches instead: a slight uptick in investment for a 1:1 clipping is less impactful than even a very short comment when you want to make remembering it in other contexts more likely. That's less impactful long-term than a proper Zettel. So it's probably better to invite a web clipping into one's life than doing nothing at all. Sounds like a pragmatic argument of bandwidth. (insert fitness metaphor about doing the next step one is capable of here)

I know stuff that was so interesting and captivating when I stumbled upon it that I began to look for excuses to apply it to everything else. System theory, term from cybernetics, that kind of stuff. Mind blowing. I don't even have that many notes on these things, but since the terms became relevant tools for my life, I know them, even though my Zettelkasten is oblivious to their detail (I don't want to extrapolate that not putting notes in my Zettelkasten makes them stick more, though.)

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

• I think @JorgeSoupWreath observation is closely related the idea of a knowledge cycle. Being aware of something is the first step in the process of learning it.

Yet I also think there is a clear distinction to Collector's Fallacy. The collector's fallacy, as far as I understand, deals with equating collecting information and knowing it/having useful information. I have several bookmarks and articles I haven't read, albeit it is nice to collect them, I shouldn't fool myself into thinking they contribute to my thinking.

Adding notes for interesting concepts and ideas is one step up from this. The notes in the Zettelkasten have at least a chance of being connected and expanded upon.

• --- That'd be an empirical question we cannot answer. But we can make an argument based on the approaches instead: a slight uptick in investment for a 1:1 clipping is less impactful than even a very short comment when you want to make remembering it in other contexts more likely. That's less impactful long-term than a proper Zettel. So it's probably better to invite a web clipping into one's life than doing nothing at all. Sounds like a pragmatic argument of bandwidth. (insert fitness metaphor about doing the next step one is capable of here)

That's definitely how I think about it as well. Due to the vagaries of my software of choice and my method of working, clipping takes little effort to clip, tag and cross link - but it goes into my ARCHIVES section. Very rarely does a clip get turned into a zettel. They serve the function of a sort of glossary of everything im interested in.

Zettels on the other hand are always the result of serious reading (thanks to the ZK.de blog and other sources that taught me to wriead instead of just read. I've only just started this, so i expect that with practice, wrieading will become second nature.

I know stuff that was so interesting and captivating when I stumbled upon it that I began to look for excuses to apply it to everything else. System theory, term from cybernetics, that kind of stuff. Mind blowing. I don't even have that many notes on these things, but since the terms became relevant tools for my life, I know them, even though my Zettelkasten is oblivious to their detail (I don't want to extrapolate that not putting notes in my Zettelkasten makes them stick more, though.)

I understand exactly what you mean. When a novel new idea is banging around in my head, I start seeing patterns everywhere. I have an inbox in my Zet folder whose job it is to hold my zettels for a day or two until they settle down in my head. That is also enough time to think about where they ought to fit in and how they connect with other notes before I move them to their permanent location.

BTW, I devoured all the Range videos you posted. Thank you. I can't wait to see the next book you process.

• @henrikenggaard said:
I think @JorgeSoupWreath observation is closely related the idea of a knowledge cycle. Being aware of something is the first step in the process of learning it.

Thank you. That feels right to me - and to extend your train of thought... I wonder how many new things I come across that I miss simply because of lack of awareness. When i'm not aware enough to grasp its importance or meaning.

So I wonder if the act of becoming aware is itself of relevance somehow. A signal in the noise? (Just speculating)

This is from one of the clips in my ARCHIVE. From Luhmann's learning how to read

"The large mass of not especially significant words (Füllmasse) necessary for formulating a sentence is not accessible to conceptual regulation. Take the phrase “not accessible” in the previous sentence, for example. This problem cannot be avoided. It cannot be avoided even if we are very careful and pay a great deal of attention to the differentiation and recognizability of those words which have special conceptual importance. They will only form a very small part of the entiretext (Textmasse). And how shall a reader find these words which are decisive?"

• @JorgeSoupWreath said:
Thank you. That feels right to me - and to extend your train of thought... I wonder how many new things I come across that I miss simply because of lack of awareness. When i'm not aware enough to grasp its importance or meaning.

So I wonder if the act of becoming aware is itself of relevance somehow. A signal in the noise? (Just speculating)

It took some searching, but I finally hit upon the right terms to dig the concept out. It is, apparently, called the frequency illusion or Baader–Meinhof effect. From Wikipedia

The illusion in which a word, a name, or other thing that has recently come to one's attention suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency shortly afterwards (not to be confused with the recency illusion or selection bias).

At least from what I read, it is somewhat related to what you describe, but I think you observation that it can be used to grow or develop understanding is quite interesting.

• It think it is empirical. Does this habit lead to more and better or less and worse idea and text production? Could be both.

I do clip as the wikipedia article on cognitive biases. But I just add it to my research file which I use if I dig into new topic to have initial material.

I am a Zettler