Communication with Zettelkasten?
I'm trying to figure out what Luhmann meant when he wrote he "communicates" with his Zettelkasten but I don't understand what he means by "communication" here. It does not seem to match my understanding of the word.
Luhmann seems to consider his Zettelkasten as a communication partner just like people.
It concerns me and someone else, namely my slip box [or index card file]. [...] For both of us, that is myself and my slip box, it is easy to think of systems theory. [...] But what about the slip box? How must it be conceived that he will acquire the corresponding communicative competence? -Luhmann
What does Luhmann mean by "communication"? Would he concede his slip box some intelligence like a Chinese Room?
One of the most basic presuppositions of communication is that the partners can mutually surprise each other. Only in the way can information be produced in the respective other. -Luhmann
This does connect well to Shannons Information Theory which can be described as Information is surprise.
Is a surprise enough for communication to happen?
As a result of extensive work with this technique a kind of secondary memory will arise, an alter ego with who we can constantly communicate. It proves to be similar to our own memory in that it does not have a thoroughly constructed order of its entirety, not hierarchy, and most certainly no linear structure like a book. Just because of this, it gets its own life, independent of its author. -Luhmann
We note a Zettelkasten requires some critical mass of information.
Every new entry can of course become isolated, like with the key word “Picasso” for the Picasso exhibition. If, however, we seek communication with the slip box, we must seek internal possibilities for linkings which result in the unexpected (i.e. information). We could try to generalize the experiences of Paris, Florence, New York under general concepts like “art” or “exhibitions,” or “crowding” (inter-actionistic), or “mass,” or “freedom” or “education,” in order to see how the slip box reacts. Usually it is more fruitful to look for formulations of problems that relate heterogeneous things with each other.
In any case, communication becomes more fruitful when we succeed to activate the internal network of links at the occasion of writing notes or making queries. -Luhmann
This means the actual association to more general concepts must be done by the human. The surprise connection occurs when a general concept is already present and linked to other notes.
What about other associations than generalizations?
Wikipedia describes communication as "the act of conveying meanings from one entity or group to another through the use of mutually understood signs, symbols, and semiotic rules." and lists 8 steps. Most are implicitly covered by writing and reading. The interesting ones in this context are message composition (2) and interpretation (8). The human certainly composes (writes) and interprets (reads) messages but in what way does the Zettelkasten system do either of those?
What is "meaning" by the way? Wikipedia is not helpful because it defines "meaning is the information or concepts that a sender intends to convey, or does convey, in communication with a receiver." This definition forms a circle with communication. Neuroscience has something better:
We understand the meaning of an object in terms of the meanings of other objects – other chunks of reality to which our brains have assigned certain characteristics. In the brain’s taxonomy, there are no discrete entries or “files” – just associations that are more strongly or more weakly correlated with other associations. -Ben Thomas in Huffpost
So we can equate meaning with hyperlinks. A Zettelkasten does not create links by itself, so it does no interpretation. That would be an interesting venue to explore. I heard Roam shows "backlinks" from other pages which just reference the title. That might be a first step. Anyways, Luhmanns physical Zettelkasten certainly did nothing like this.
Does a Zettelkasten write something on its own? In software we could consider search results as such. Again, Luhmanns physical Zettelkasten did nothing like this.
Conclusion: I still have no idea what Luhmanns means when he writes his Zettelkasten "communicates" to him.
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