Learning a little every day

Via die zo makkelijk beïnvloedbare social media vond ik een artikel over Zettelkasten. Wat? Ja, dat wist ik dus ook niet. Daarom een kleine ‘deep dive‘. ;)

Zettelkasten is de methode die de Duitse socioloog Niklas Luhmann ontwikkelde om ideeën en kennis te verzamelen, te ordenen en makkelijk terugvindbaar te maken. Waarmee hij in 40 jaar tijd 70 boeken en 400 wetenschappelijke artikelen schreef. Zonder een computer te gebruiken. Bryan Kam’s analogie legt het concept al een beetje uit:

(..) you might say that Zettelkasten is to a wiki what GTD is to a todo list.

Wat Zettelkasten allereerst oplost is dat het een systeem biedt om ideeën met elkaar te verbinden, en er vervolgens dieper over na te denken. Maar het gaat verder. David B. Clear verzamelde 12 basisprincipes van Zettelkasten:

  1. The principle of atomicity: The term was coined by Christian Tietze. It means that each note should contain one idea and one idea only. This makes it possible to link ideas with a laser focus.
  2. The principle of autonomy: Each note should be autonomous, meaning it should be self-contained and comprehensible on its own. This allows notes to be moved, processed, separated, and concatenated independently of its neighbors. It also ensures that notes remain useful even if the original source of information disappears.
  3. Always link your notes: Whenever you add a note, make sure to link it to already existing notes. Avoid notes that are disconnected from other notes. As Luhmann himself put it, “each note is just an element that derives its quality from the network of links in the system. A note that is not connected to the network will be lost, will be forgotten by the Zettelkasten” (original in German).
  4. Explain why you’re linking notes: Whenever you are connecting two notes by a link, make sure to briefly explain why you are linking them. Otherwise, years down the road when you revisit your notes, you may have no idea why you connected them.
  5. Use your own words: Don’t copy and paste. If you come across an interesting idea and want to add it to your Zettelkasten, you must express that idea with your own words, in a way that you’ll be sure to understand years later. Don’t turn your Zettelkasten into a dump of copy-and-pasted information.
  6. Keep references: Always add references to your notes so that you know where you got an idea from. This prevents plagiarism and makes it easy for you to revisit the original source later on.
  7. Add your own thoughts to the Zettelkasten: If you have thoughts of your own, add them to the Zettelkasten as notes while keeping in mind the principle of atomicity, autonomy, and the need for linking.
  8. Don’t worry about structure: Don’t worry about putting notes in neat folders or into unique preconceived categories. As Schmidt put it, in a Zettelkasten “there are no privileged positions” and “there is no top and no bottom.” The organization develops organically.
  9. Add connection notes: As you begin to see connections among seemingly random notes, create connection notes, that is, specific notes whose purpose is to link together other notes and explain their relationship.
  10. Add outline notes: As ideas begin to coalesce into themes, create outline notes. An outline note is a note that simply contains a sequence of links to other notes, putting those other notes into a particular order to create a story, narrative, or argument.
  11. Never delete: Don’t delete old notes. Instead, link to new notes that explain what’s wrong with the old ones. In that way, your Zettelkasten will reflect how your thinking has evolved over time, which will prevent hindsight bias. Moreover, if you don’t delete, you might revisit old ideas that may turn out to be correct after all.
  12. Add notes without fear: You can never have too much information in your Zettelkasten. At worst, you’ll add notes that won’t be of immediate use. But <ahref=””>adding more notes will never break your Zettelkasten or interfere with its proper operation. Remember, Luhmann had 90,000 notes in his Zettelkasten!

Zoiets op papier gaan doen klinkt niet direct als iets heel aantrekkelijks. Maar het kan ook gewoon in Dropbox, met Markdown-tekstbestanden. De schrijver doet dat zelf zo:

My Zettelkasten is a folder in Dropbox. This allows me to access my Zettelkasten from my computer, my phone, or any web browser. Each note is a separate text file kept within that folder. There are no subfolders. Everything is kept flat.

Whenever I create a new note, I create a new text file, whose filename is given by a timestamp followed by a title, as advocated by Christian from For instance, right now it’s 16 December 2019 and the time is 13:52h. So if I were to create a note titled “Zettelkasten is amazing”, it would become a new text file named 201912161352-Zettelkasten-is-amazing.txt.

I then write the contents of the note using a combination of markdown and wiki-style double-bracket links. So the file 201912161352-Zettelkasten-is-amazing.txt might contain the following:


# 201912161352 Zettelkasten is amazing
#notetaking #writing #productivity
The Zettelkasten notetaking system is the best notetaking system ever.
## Links
- [[201912070830-Zettelkasten-principles]]
- [[201912080935-Niklas-Luhmann-short-biography]]

Tegelijkertijd klinkt het ook wel erg als een blog met simpele wiki-functionaliteit. Eigenlijk gebruik ik mijn site ook vooral om ideeën en interessante links op bij te houden. Dus waarom zou dit niet mijn Zettelkasten kunnen zijn?

Update: Ton heeft ook gedachten over Zettelkasten. Zoals hij stelt:

A personal knowledge management process is extremely important, and needs to be supported by the right tools. Specifically for more easily getting from loose notions, to emergent patterns, to new constructs.

Je eigen personal knowledge management systeem inrichten is nog niet zo makkelijk. Maar ik blijf ermee doorgaan.


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