- Sep 2023
Merchants and traders have a waste book (Sudelbuch, Klitterbuch in GermanI believe) in which they enter daily everything they purchase and sell,messily, without order. From this, it is transferred to their journal, whereeverything appears more systematic, and finally to a ledger, in double entryafter the Italian manner of bookkeeping, where one settles accounts witheach man, once as debtor and then as creditor. This deserves to be imitatedby scholars. First it should be entered in a book in which I record everythingas I see it or as it is given to me in my thoughts; then it may be enteredin another book in which the material is more separated and ordered, andthe ledger might then contain, in an ordered expression, the connectionsand explanations of the material that flow from it. 
—Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Notebook E, #46, 1775–1776
In this single paragraph quote Lichtenberg, using the model of Italian bookkeepers of the 18th century, broadly outlines almost all of the note taking technique suggested by Sönke Ahrens in How to Take Smart Notes. He's got writing down and keeping fleeting notes as well as literature notes. (Keeping academic references would have been commonplace by this time.) He follows up with rewriting and expanding on the original note to create additional "explanations" and even "connections" (links) to create what Ahrens describes as permanent notes or which some would call evergreen notes.
Lichtenberg's version calls for the permanent notes to be "separated and ordered" and while he may have kept them in book format himself, it's easy to see from Konrad Gessner's suggestion at the use of slips centuries before, that one could easily put their permanent notes on index cards ("separated") and then number and index or categorize them ("ordered"). The only serious missing piece of Luhmann's version of a zettelkasten then are the ideas of placing related ideas nearby each other, though the idea of creating connections between notes is immediately adjacent to this, and his numbering system, which was broadly based on the popularity of Melvil Dewey's decimal system.
It may bear noticing that John Locke's indexing system for commonplace books was suggested, originally in French in 1685, and later in English in 1706. Given it's popularity, it's not unlikely that Lichtenberg would have been aware of it.
Given Lichtenberg's very popular waste books were known to have influenced Leo Tolstoy, Albert Einstein, Andre Breton, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. (Reference: Lichtenberg, Georg Christoph (2000). The Waste Books. New York: New York Review Books Classics. ISBN 978-0940322509.) It would not be hard to imagine that Niklas Luhmann would have also been aware of them.
Open questions: <br /> - did Lichtenberg number the entries in his own waste books? This would be early evidence toward the practice of numbering notes for future reference. Based on this text, it's obvious that the editor numbered the translated notes for this edition, were they Lichtenberg's numbering? - Is there evidence that Lichtenberg knew of Locke's indexing system? Did his waste books have an index?
- waste books
- note taking advice
- Sönke Ahrens
- idea links
- Konrad Gessner
- Dewey Decimal System
- Niklas Luhmann's zettelkasten
- accounting influence on note taking
- fleeting notes
- intellectual history
- John Locke
- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
- open questions
- zettelkasten numbering
- zettelkasten transmission
- numbering systems
- academic writing
- Mar 2023
The ‘top level’ category was too fixed, and it was hard to know when you needed a new category i.e. 1004 versus 1003/3.
The problem here is equating the "top level" number with category in the first place. It's just an idea and the number is a location. Start by separating the two.
- Feb 2023
A long alphanumeric ID is an immediate indicator that a train of thought has been developing.
- Dec 2022
7.106.1 of 5 State of the School 2019
At the opening of the video he describes his numbering system: 7.106.1 is shorthand for 7th year, 106th day, video number 1. This is a chronological numbering for tracking things and not a relational sort of numbering often seen in zettelkasten contexts.
- Oct 2022
Stephanus pagination is a system of reference numbers used in editions of Plato based on the three volume 1578 edition of Plato's complete works published by Henricus Stephanus (Henri Estienne) and translated by Joannes Serranus (Jean de Serres).
See also: - Bekker numbering (for Aristotle) - Diels-Kranz numbering (for early pre-Socratics)
- Sep 2022
re all filed at the same locatin (under “Rehmke”) sequentially based onhow the thought process developed in the book. Ideally one uses numbers for that.
While Heyde spends a significant amount of time on encouraging one to index and file their ideas under one or more subject headings, he address the objection:
“Doesn’t this neglect the importance of sequentiality, context and development, i.e. doesn’t this completely make away with the well-thought out unity of thoughts that the original author created, when ideas are put on individual sheets, particularly when creating excerpts of longer scientific works?"
He suggests that one file such ideas under the same heading and then numbers them sequentially to keep the original author's intention. This might be useful advice for a classroom setting, but perhaps isn't as useful in other contexts.
But for Luhmann's use case for writing and academic research, this advice may actually be counter productive. While one might occasionally care about another author's train of thought, one is generally focusing on generating their own train of thought. So why not take this advice to advance their own work instead of simply repeating the ideas of another? Take the ideas of others along with your own and chain them together using sequential numbers for your own purposes (publishing)!!
So while taking Heyde's advice and expand upon it for his own uses and purposes, Luhmann is encouraged to chain ideas together and number them. Again he does this numbering in a way such that new ideas can be interspersed as necessary.
Many know from their own experience how uncontrollable and irretrievable the oftenvaluable notes and chains of thought are in note books and in the cabinets they are stored in
Heyde indicates how "valuable notes and chains of thought are" but also points out "how uncontrollable and irretrievable" they are.
This statement is strong evidence along with others in this chapter which may have inspired Niklas Luhmann to invent his iteration of the zettelkasten method of excerpting and making notes.
(link to: Clemens /Heyde and Luhmann timeline: https://hypothes.is/a/4wxHdDqeEe2OKGMHXDKezA)
Presumably he may have either heard or seen others talking about or using these general methods either during his undergraduate or law school experiences. Even with some scant experience, this line may have struck him significantly as an organization barrier of earlier methods.
Why have notes strewn about in a box or notebook as Heyde says? Why spend the time indexing everything and then needing to search for it later? Why not take the time to actively place new ideas into one's box as close as possibly to ideas they directly relate to?
But how do we manage this in a findable way? Since we can't index ideas based on tabs in a notebook or even notebook page numbers, we need to have some sort of handle on where ideas are in slips within our box. The development of European card catalog systems had started in the late 1700s, and further refinements of Melvil Dewey as well as standardization had come about by the early to mid 1900s. One could have used the Dewey Decimal System to index their notes using smaller decimals to infinitely intersperse cards on a growing basis.
But Niklas Luhmann had gone to law school and spent time in civil administration. He would have been aware of aktenzeichen file numbers used in German law/court settings and public administration. He seems to have used a simplified version of this sort of filing system as the base of his numbering system. And why not? He would have likely been intimately familiar with its use and application, so why not adopt it or a simplified version of it for his use? Because it's extensible in a a branching tree fashion, one can add an infinite number of cards or files into the midst of a preexisting collection. And isn't this just the function aktenzeichen file numbers served within the German court system? Incidentally these file numbers began use around 1932, but were likely heavily influenced by the Austrian conscription numbers and house numbers of the late 1770s which also influenced library card cataloging numbers, so the whole system comes right back around. (Ref Krajewski here).
(Cross reference/ see: https://hypothes.is/a/CqGhGvchEey6heekrEJ9WA
Other pieces he may have been attempting to get around include the excessive work of additional copying involved in this piece as well as a lot of the additional work of indexing.
One will note that Luhmann's index was much more sparse than without his methods. Often in books, a reader will find a reference or two in an index and then go right to the spot they need and read around it. Luhmann did exactly this in his sequence of cards. An index entry or two would send him to the general local and sifting through a handful of cards would place him in the correct vicinity. This results in a slight increase in time for some searches, but it pays off in massive savings of time of not needing to cross index everything onto cards as one goes, and it also dramatically increases the probability that one will serendipitously review over related cards and potentially generate new insights and links for new ideas going into one's slip box.
- Aug 2022
While Heyde outlines using keywords/subject headings and dates on the bottom of cards with multiple copies using carbon paper, we're left with the question of where Luhmann pulled his particular non-topical ordering as well as his numbering scheme.
While it's highly likely that Luhmann would have been familiar with the German practice of Aktenzeichen ("file numbers") and may have gotten some interesting ideas about organization from the closing sections of the "Die Kartei" section 1.2 of the book, which discusses library organization and the Dewey Decimal system, we're still left with the bigger question of organization.
It's obvious that Luhmann didn't follow the heavy use of subject headings nor the advice about multiple copies of cards in various portions of an alphabetical index.
While the Dewey Decimal System set up described is indicative of some of the numbering practices, it doesn't get us the entirety of his numbering system and practice.
One need only take a look at the Inhalt (table of contents) of Heyde's book! The outline portion of the contents displays a very traditional branching tree structure of ideas. Further, the outline is very specifically and similarly numbered to that of Luhmann's zettelkasten. This structure and numbering system is highly suggestive of branching ideas where each branch builds on the ideas immediately above it or on the ideas at the next section above that level.
Just as one can add an infinite number of books into the Dewey Decimal system in a way that similar ideas are relatively close together to provide serendipity for both search and idea development, one can continue adding ideas to this branching structure so they're near their colleagues.
Thus it's highly possible that the confluence of descriptions with the book and the outline of the table of contents itself suggested a better method of note keeping to Luhmann. Doing this solves the issue of needing to create multiple copies of note cards as well as trying to find cards in various places throughout the overall collection, not to mention slimming down the collection immensely. Searching for and finding a place to put new cards ensures not only that one places one's ideas into a growing logical structure, but it also ensures that one doesn't duplicate information that may already exist within one's over-arching outline. From an indexing perspective, it also solves the problem of cross referencing information along the axes of the source author, source title, and a large variety of potential subject headings.
And of course if we add even a soupcon of domain expertise in systems theory to the mix...
While thinking about Aktenzeichen, keep in mind that it was used in German public administration since at least 1934, only a few years following Heyde's first edition, but would have been more heavily used by the late 1940's when Luhmann would have begun his law studies.
When thinking about taking notes for creating output, one can follow one thought with another logically both within one's card index not only to write an actual paper, but the collection and development happens the same way one is filling in an invisible outline which builds itself over time.
Linking different ideas to other ideas separate from one chain of thought also provides the ability to create multiple of these invisible, but organically growing outlines.
However, he can also store all Lessing-relatednewspaper essays under “Z 1, 1”, or “Z 1, 2”, “Z 1, 3”, “Z 1, 4” and so forth.
This alternating patter also has the appearance of Luhmann's numbering system and may have made him think, why use the other system(s)? Why not just file everything based on this method from the start?
- Jul 2022
If it's continuing on 15a, then 15b would make most sense to me. Perhaps this example description helps? https://sociologica.unibo.it/article/view/8350/8270#the-system-of-numbering Try not to think "between" as it indicates links forwards and backwards, but what does this thought "continue on" or "follow"?
- Jun 2022
Das gerichtliche Aktenzeichen dient der Kennzeichnung eines Dokuments und geht auf die Aktenordnung (AktO) vom 28. November 1934 und ihre Vorgänger zurück.
The court file number is used to identify a document and goes back to the file regulations (AktO) of November 28, 1934 and its predecessors.
The German "file number" (aktenzeichen) is a unique identification of a file, commonly used in their court system and predecessors as well as file numbers in public administration since at least 1934.
Niklas Luhmann studied law at the University of Freiburg from 1946 to 1949, when he obtained a law degree, before beginning a career in Lüneburg's public administration where he stayed in civil service until 1962. Given this fact, it's very likely that Luhmann had in-depth experience with these sorts of file numbers as location identifiers for files and documents.
We know these numbering methods in public administration date back to as early as Vienna, Austria in the 1770s.
The missing piece now is who/where did Luhmann learn his note taking and excerpting practice from? Alberto Cevolini argues that Niklas Luhmann was unaware of the prior tradition of excerpting, though note taking on index cards or slips had been commonplace in academic circles for quite some time and would have been reasonably commonplace during his student years.
Are there handbooks, guides, or manuals in the early 1900's that detail these sorts of note taking practices?
Perhaps something along the lines of Antonin Sertillanges’ book The Intellectual Life (1921) or Paul Chavigny's Organisation du travail intellectuel: recettes pratiques à l’usage des étudiants de toutes les facultés et de tous les travailleurs (in French) (Delagrave, 1918)?
Further recall that Bruno Winck has linked some of the note taking using index cards to legal studies to Roland Claude's 1961 text:
I checked Chavigny’s book on the BNF site. He insists on the use of index cards (‘fiches’), how to index them, one idea per card but not how to connect between the cards and allow navigation between them.
Mind that it’s written in 1919, in Strasbourg (my hometown) just one year after it returned to France. So between students who used this book and Luhmann in Freiburg it’s not far away. My mother taught me how to use cards for my studies back in 1977, I still have the book where she learn the method, as Law student in Strasbourg “Comment se documenter”, by Roland Claude, 1961. Page 25 describes a way to build secondary index to receive all cards relatives to a topic by their number. Still Luhmann system seems easier to maintain but very near.
<small><cite class='h-cite via'>ᔥ <span class='p-author h-card'> Scott P. Scheper </span> in Scott P. Scheper on Twitter: "The origins of the Zettelkasten's numeric-alpha card addresses seem to derive from Niklas Luhmann's early work as a legal clerk. The filing scheme used is called "Aktenzeichen" - See https://t.co/4mQklgSG5u. cc @ChrisAldrich" / Twitter (<time class='dt-published'>06/28/2022 11:29:18</time>)</cite></small>
- Roland Claude
- public administration
- Niklas Luhmann
- Paul Chavigny
- law school
- numbering systems
- note taking
- conscription numbers
- Niklas Luhmann's zettelkasten
- house numbers
- Antonin Sertillanges
Before we begin, please note that this piece assumes intermediate familiarity with Zettelkasten and its original creator, the social scientist Niklas Luhmann (1927–1998).
Even the long running (2013) zettelkasten.de website credits Niklas Luhmann as being the "original creator" of the zettelkasten.
We really need to track down the origin of linking one idea to another. Obviously writers, and especially novelists, would have had some sort of at least linear order in their writing due to narrative needs in using such a system. What does this tradition look like on the non-fiction side?
Certainly some of the puzzle stems from the commonplace book tradition, but this is more likely to have relied on natural memory as well as searching and finding via index methods.
Perhaps looking more closely at Hans Blumenberg's instantiation would be more helpful. Similarly looking at the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss and his predecessors like Marcel Mauss may provide at least an attack on this problem.
My working hypothesis is that given the history of the Viennese numbering system, it may have stemmed from the late 1700s and this certainly wasn't an innovation by Luhmann.
link to: https://hyp.is/hLy7NNtqEeuWQIP1UDkM6g/web.archive.org/web/20130916081433/https://christiantietze.de/posts/2013/06/zettelkasten-improves-thinking-writing/ for evidence of start of zettelkasten.de
- zettelkasten origin myth
- Vienna University Library
- Marcel Mauss
- Claude Lévi-Strauss
- numbering systems
- Hans Blumenberg
- Niklas Luhmann's zettelkasten
- zettelkasten history
- Apr 2022
The project's structure is idiosyncratic. The convolutes correspond to letters of the alphabet; the individual sections of text— sometimes individual lines, sometimes multi-paragraph analyses —are ordered with square brackets, starting from [A1,1]. This numbering system comes from the pieces of folded paper that Benjamin wrote on, with [A1a,1] denoting the third page of his 'folio.' Additionally, Benjamin included cross-references at the end of some sections. These were denoted by small boxes enclosing the word (e.g., ■ Fashion ■).
It's worth look looking into the structure of Walter Benjamin's Arcade Project as the numbering system that he used on his zettels is very similar to that of both Niklas Luhmann's zettelkasten as well as the street numbers of 1770 Vienna.