- Apr 2023
My biggest realization recently is to do whatever the opposite of atomicity is.
Too many go too deep into the idea of "atomic notes" without either questioning or realizing their use case. What is your purpose in having atomic notes? Most writing about them online talk about the theoretical without addressing the underlying "why".
They're great for capturing things on the go and having the ability to re-arrange and reuse them into much larger works. Often once you've used them a few times, they're less useful, specially for the average person. (Of course it's another matter if you're an academic researcher, they're probably your bread and butter.) For the beekeepers of the world who need some quick tidbits which they use frequently, then keeping them in a larger outlined document or file is really more than enough. Of course, if you're creating some longer book-length treatise on beekeeping, then it can be incredibly helpful to have them at atomic length.
There's a spectrum from the small atomic note to the longer length file (or even book). Ask yourself, "what's your goal in having one or the other, or something in between?" They're tools, choose the best one for your needs.
- Dec 2022
- Oct 2022
In his delightful autobiography, Memories Migrating, the late John Burrow records his perplexities when this injunction was conveyed to him by his graduate supervisor, George Kitson Clark: ‘I brooded on this. What was a fact? And what made it one fact? Surely most facts were compound. How would I know when I had reached bedrock, the ultimate, unsplittable atomic fact?’
Historian John Burrow brooded over the definition of the atomicity of an idea in his autobiography Memories Migrating (2009).
Individual facts link together into small networks to create context for each other.
- Sep 2022
In writing my dissertation and working on my first book, I used an index card system, characterized by the "one fact, one card" maxim, made popular by Beatrice Webb.
Manfred Keuhn indicates that Webb popularized the idea of "one fact, one card", (and perhaps she may have helped re-popularize the idea in the 20th century) but Konrad Gessner (Pandectarum sive Partitionum Universalium. Zurich: Christoph Froschauer, 1548) had already advised "A new line should be used for every idea." Since Gessner then says that each line was to be cut up into an individual slip, the ideas are equivalent.
- Aug 2022
Historical Hypermedia: An Alternative History of the Semantic Web and Web 2.0 and Implications for e-Research. .mp3. Berkeley School of Information Regents’ Lecture. UC Berkeley School of Information, 2010. https://archive.org/details/podcast_uc-berkeley-school-informat_historical-hypermedia-an-alte_1000088371512. archive.org.
Interface as Thing - book on Paul Otlet (not released, though he said he was working on it)
- W. Boyd Rayward 1994 expert on Otlet
- Otlet on annotation, visualization, of text
- TBL married internet and hypertext (ideas have sex)
- V. Bush As We May Think - crosslinks between microfilms, not in a computer context
- Ted Nelson 1965, hypermedia
- Michael Buckland book about machine developed by Emanuel Goldberg antecedent to memex
- Emanuel Goldberg and His Knowledge Machine: Information, Invention, and Political Forces (New Directions in Information Management) by Michael Buckland (Libraries Unlimited, (March 31, 2006)
- Otlet and Goldsmith were precursors as well
four figures in his research: - Patrick Gattis - biologist, architect, diagrams of knowledge, metaphorical use of architecture; classification - Paul Otlet, Brussels born - Wilhelm Ostwalt - nobel prize in chemistry - Otto Neurath, philosophher, designer of isotype
- wrote bibliography on law
- book: Something on Bibliography #wanttoread
- universal decimal classification system
- Le Corbusier - architect worked with Otlet for building for Mundaneum; See: https://socks-studio.com/2019/05/05/the-shape-of-knowledge-the-mundaneum-by-paul-otlet-and-henri-la-fontaine/
Otlet was interested in both the physical as well as the intangible aspects of the Mundaneum including as an idea, an institution, method, body of work, building, and as a network.<br /> (#t=1020)
Early iPhone diagram?!?
(roughly) armchair to do the things in the web of life (Nelson quote) (get full quote and source for use) (circa 19:30)
compares Otlet to TBL
Michael Buckland 1991 <s>internet of things</s> coinage - did I hear this correctly? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_things lists different coinages
Turns out it was "information as thing"<br /> See: https://hypothes.is/a/kXIjaBaOEe2MEi8Fav6QsA
sugane brierre and otlet<br /> "everything can be in a document"<br /> importance of evidence
The idea of evidence implies a passiveness. For evidence to be useful then, one has to actively do something with it, use it for comparison or analysis with other facts, knowledge, or evidence for it to become useful.
transformation of sound into writing<br /> movement of pieces at will to create a new combination of facts - combinatorial creativity idea here. (circa 27:30 and again at 29:00)<br /> not just efficiency but improvement and purification of humanity
put things on system cards and put them into new orders<br /> breaking things down into smaller pieces, whether books or index cards....
Otlet doesn't use the word interfaces, but makes these with language and annotations that existed at the time. (32:00)
Otlet created diagrams and images to expand his ideas
Otlet used octagonal index cards to create extra edges to connect them together by topic. This created more complex trees of knowledge beyond the four sides of standard index cards. (diagram referenced, but not contained in the lecture)
Otlet is interested in the "materialization of knowledge": how to transfer idea into an object. (How does this related to mnemonic devices for daily use? How does it relate to broader material culture?)
Otlet inspired by work of Herbert Spencer
space an time are forms of thought, I hold myself that they are forms of things. (get full quote and source) from spencer influence of Plato's forms here?
Otlet visualization of information (38:20)
S. R. Ranganathan may have had these ideas about visualization too
atomization of knowledge; atomist approach 19th century examples:S. R. Ranganathan, Wilson, Otlet, Richardson, (atomic notes are NOT new either...) (39:40)
Otlet creates interfaces to the world - time with cyclic representation - space - moving cube along time and space axes as well as levels of detail - comparison to Ted Nelson and zoomable screens even though Ted Nelson didn't have screens, but simulated them in paper - globes
Katie Berner - semantic web; claims that reporting a scholarly result won't be a paper, but a nugget of information that links to other portions of the network of knowledge.<br /> (so not just one's own system, but the global commons system)
Mention of Open Annotation (Consortium) Collaboration:<br /> - Jane Hunter, University of Australia Brisbane & Queensland<br /> - Tim Cole, University of Urbana Champaign<br /> - Herbert Van de Sompel, Los Alamos National Laboratory annotations of various media<br /> see:<br /> - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311366469_The_Open_Annotation_Collaboration_A_Data_Model_to_Support_Sharing_and_Interoperability_of_Scholarly_Annotations - http://www.openannotation.org/spec/core/20130205/index.html - http://www.openannotation.org/PhaseIII_Team.html
trust must be put into the system for it to work
coloration of the provenance of links goes back to Otlet (~52:00)
Creativity is the friction of the attention space at the moments when the structural blocks are grinding against one another the hardest. —Randall Collins (1998) The sociology of philosophers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (p.76)
- mnemonic devices
- Emanuel Goldberg
- semantic web
- W. Boyd Rayward
- Charles van den Heuvel
- Paul Otlet
- index cards
- idea links
- atomic ideas
- Ted Nelson
- Randall Collins
- Jane Hunter
- Wilhelm Ostwalt
- Otto Neurath
- material culture
- Universal Decimal Classification
- S. R. Ranganathan
- Vannevar Bush
- Michael Buckland
- materialization of knowledge
- atomic notes
- Herbert Van de Sompel
- Open Annotation Collaboration
- Tim Berners-Lee
- octagonal index cards
- Web 2.0
- Le Corbusier
- Tim Cole
- atomist philosophy
- Herbert Spencer
- Jun 2022
Sometimes you know a project is coming and can startsaving things to a project folder in advance,
no mention of the affordances of being able to cross-link things or even transclude them from an original location (which works for one currently) to another useful location.
- May 2022
The last element in his file system was an index, from which hewould refer to one or two notes that would serve as a kind of entrypoint into a line of thought or topic.
Indices are certainly an old construct. One of the oldest structured examples in the note taking space is that of John Locke who detailed it in Méthode nouvelle de dresser des recueils (1685), later translated into English as A New Method of Organizing Common Place Books (1706).
Previously commonplace books had been structured with headwords done alphabetically. This meant starting with a preconceived structure and leaving blank or empty space ahead of time without prior knowledge of what would fill it or how long that might take. By turning that system on its head, one could fill a notebook from front to back with a specific index of the headwords at the end. Then one didn't need to do the same amount of pre-planning or gymnastics over time with respect to where to put their notes.
This idea combined with that of Konrad Gessner's design for being able to re-arrange slips of paper (which later became index cards based on an idea by Carl Linnaeus), gives us an awful lot of freedom and flexibility in almost any note taking system.
Building blocks of the note taking system
- atomic ideas
- written on (re-arrangeable) slips, cards, or hypertext spaces
- cross linked with each other
- cross linked with an index
- cross linked with references
are there others? should they be broken up differently?
Godfathers of Notetaking
- Aristotle, Cicero (commonplaces)
- Seneca the Younger (collecting and reusing)
- Raymond Llull (combinatorial rearrangements)
- Konrad Gessner (storage for re-arrangeable slips)
- John Locke (indices)
- Carl Linnaeus (index cards)
If you're in software development, start your zettelkasten by documenting the step-by-step instructions to fresh install your development environment. Windows Utilities, Dev Tools, IDE, all those config options not already in your dotfiles, etc...I promise it'll be useful and get you started
I tend to take a much narrower view of the use and function of a zettelkasten for the reuse of atomic ideas. As a result, from experience I'd recommend these sorts of details are probably better suited for future search in your blog, a personal wiki, or even a commonplace book format than for use in your zettelkasten. I've outlined some of the broad idea for this in an article: Zettelkasten Overreach. On the other hand, if an outline form of these things is imminently abstractable for future very active reuse in other programming environments, then perhaps it's worthwhile, but then you'd need to reach the appropriate level of abstraction for this reuse and you may have lost the more specific details for direct recreation needed as reminders for your future self.
Article that focuses on how important it is to create links between atomic ideas in a zettelkasten.
- Feb 2022
Make permanent notes.
The important part of permanent notes are generating your own ideas and connecting (linking them densely) into your note system. The linking part is important and can be the part that most using digital systems forget to do. In paper zettelkasten, one was forced to create the first link by placing the note into the system for the first time. This can specifically be seen in Niklas Luhmann's example where a note became a new area of its own or, far more likely, it was linked to prior ideas.
By linking the idea to others within the system, it becomes more likely that the idea can have additional multiple contexts where it might be used and improve the fact that context shifts will prove more insight in the future.
Additional links to subject headings, tags, categories, or other forms of taxonomy will also help to make sure the note isn't lost completely into the system. Links to the bibliographical references within the system are helpful as well, especially for later citation. Keep in mind that these categories and reference links aren't nearly as valuable as the other primary idea links.
One can surely collect ideas and facts into their system, but these aren't as important or as interesting as one's own ideas and the things that are sparked and generated by them.
Asking questions in permanent notes can be valuable as they can become the context for new research, projects, and writing. Open questions can be incredibly valuable for one's thinking and explorations.
- Dec 2021
I think smaller projects that are faster to build are better for research in this space. Building many smaller projects rather than large ambitious ones have helped me because I avoid getting too attached to one particular idea or product, and with smaller-scoped prototypes I can try many more iterations against the same question or problem. It also lowers the barrier to entry to try more risky ideas – “I’ll try this for a weekend” is much easier than “I’ll have to shift my schedule the next couple weeks to fit this in; is it worth that?” A culture of shorter, more atomic projects will also encourage everyone to break down large ideas into smaller ones that are individually testable, which I think is a good practice regardless of whether those ideas are for a product or an experiment. On the other hand, cycles that are too short obviously run the risk of keeping us from trying more ambitious or complex ideas.
Atomizing projects and research ideas is very similar to the idea of the atomic note.
If useful things can be turned into re-usable building blocks, then it can be easier to build and design larger and more complex systems out of them.