Field Note #61. On "Notes"

Sources of Inspiration:
(1) Sonke Ahrens, How To Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning, and Thinking (2017)
(2) Christian Tietze,

The Problem.
One problem when interacting with and evaluating crypto ecosystems is that of information "smog" (see e.g., Field Notes 3 on info overload and 6 on crypto info diets).  Adding an additional layer of waste is poor information digestion.  I found increased indigestion from classical note taking and so investigated alternatives.

Traditional note taking emphasizes information capture.  As a result, notes are banished to a coffin, rarely revisited, and if revisited, completely decontextualized, requiring re-reading source materials as if from scratch.

A Solution.
Establish a note-taking approach--essentially a version of "Zettelkasten" / "slip box"--that displays the following attributes or principles:

  1. Less Hierarchical.
    Instead of treating notes as file management systems that exist in pre-determined a priori categories, notes should be seen as less centralized. In this way, the connections can cluster and emerge, leading to cross-disciplinary insight and genius. This decentralized system / process enables insight. After all, you can’t plan for insight. Rather, you can only create the conditions to invite it.
  2. Atomicity.
    Notes must be reduced to the core idea. This facilitates clear connections.
  3. Associative Ontologies, not Hierarchies.
    Forget about classifying notes. Instead, allowing the connections to organically emerge in a “structured meander” prevents insights missed due to rigid and forced categories.
  4. Future Proof.
    Notes must be self-contained such that my future self would understand the note fully without needing any outside context, let alone having to re-read the source material.
  5. Cure Archive Fever.
    See also "collector’s fallacy."  Resist the seduction of compiling reading material--and even reading binges--without interacting with the material by making it my own and connecting to the network of notes.
  6. Writing as Inseparable from Thinking.
    “Notes on paper, or on a computer screen… do not make contemporary physics or other kinds of intellectual endeavors easier, they make it possible.” (Neil Levy, Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics)
  7. Combat Confirmation Bias.
    The criterion for placing a note in the system is whether it adds to the discussion, not whether it confirms the discussion.  Therefore, disconfirming evidence is just as useful as confirming evidence. The emphasis shifts from our preconceptions to being open to whatever connections arise.  The note system is agnostic to information it is fed; all it cares about is relevance.
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