- Jul 2021
I like the idea of some of the research into education, pedagogy, and technology challenges here.
Given the incredibly common and oft-repeated misconception which is included in the article ("But Zettelkasten was a very personal practice of Nicholas Luhmann, its inventor."), can we please correct the record?
Niklas Luhmann positively DID NOT invent the concept of the Zettelkasten. It grew out of the commonplace book tradition in Western culture going back to Aristotle---if not earlier. In Germany it was practiced and morphed with the idea of the waste book or sudelbücher, which was popularized by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg or even re-arrangeable slips of paper used by countless others. From there it morphed again when index cards (whose invention has been attributed to Carl Linnaeus) were able to be mass manufactured in the early 1900s. A number of well-known users who predate Luhmann along with some general history and references can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zettelkasten.
I suspect that most of the fallacy of Luhmann as the inventor stems from the majority of the early writing about Zettelkasten as a subject appears in German and hasn't been generally translated into English. What little is written about them in English has primarily focused on Luhmann and his output, so the presumption is made that he was the originator of the idea---a falsehood that has been repeated far and wide. This falsehood is also easier to believe because our culture is generally enamored with the mythology of the "lone genius" that managed Herculean feats of output. (We are also historically heavily prone to erase the work and efforts of research assistants, laboratory members, students, amanuenses, secretaries, friends, family, etc. which have traditionally helped writers and researchers in their output.)
Anyone glancing at the commonplace tradition will realize that similar voluminous outputs were to be easily found among their practitioners as well, especially after their re-popularization by Desiderius Erasmus, Rodolphus Agricola, and Philip Melanchthon in the emergence of humanism in the 1500s. The benefit of this is that there is now a much richer area of research to be done with respect to these tools and the educational enterprise. One need not search very far to discover that Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau's output could potentially be attributed to their commonplace books, which were subsequently published. It was a widely accepted enough technique that it was taught to them at Harvard University when they attended. Apparently we're now all attempting to reinvent the wheel because there's a German buzzword that is somehow linguistically hiding our collective intellectual heritage. Maybe we should put these notes into our digital Zettelkasten (née commonplace books) and let them distill a bit?
syndication link: https://browninterviews.org/suddenly-you-realize-that-your-house-is-not-equipped-with-a-water-hose-or-even-emergency-exit-we-are-not-prepared-for-e-learning-at-such-a-large-scale-brown-interviews-dr-jingjing-lin/#comment-637
Now that they are part of comedy history, it can be hard to imagine George Carlin’s most famous routines as anything but finished products. Whether the infamous “Seven Words” from his album Class Clown (released exactly 45 years ago Friday) or the monologues from his hosting of the first-ever episode of Saturday Night Live (which returns for its 43rd season this Saturday), these routines can seem to have sprung fully formed from his mind. But there’s plenty of physical evidence to the contrary.
It's rarely ever the case (my cognitive bias statement), that anything springs fully formed from the mind.
Generally there's an infrastructure, a system, a method by which ideas or physical things are aggregated, accumulated, and edited into existence.
When seeing them well done, they appear magical because we don't see the work or the process. We will often call them genius, when in reality, they're the result of long hard work.
Take the Pyramids of Giza. They look large and magesterial---and likely moreso in their non-degraded form. But is it so mystical how they may have been built if we were to see the structure and scaffolding that likely went into constructing them?
- Apr 2020
Johnson’s book (lively and well sourced – highly recommended) transcends the cliche of the individual innovator and shows the ways in which innovation depends on a form of social capital — the networks of people and ideas that innovators learn from and build upon.
It's rarely ever about the "lone genius".