Monday, December 29, 2014

Autolinks in DEVONthink à la Luhmann

In one of my last posts I pointed out that autolinks have the problem that they may lead to many unwanted links. This can be avoided, if you make all the title of the notes unique. Luhmann proposed a way to do this in "How to Communicate with Zettelkästen," proposing an organisation by numbers. "Every slip would receive a number, independently of the information on it, starting with 1, and potentially continuing to infinity. Since his slips were relatively small (slightly larger than 5 x 8 cards, or Din-A 6, to be precise), he often had to continue on other slips the information or train of thought started on one slip. In this way, he would end up with Numbers like 1/1 and 1/2 and 1/3 etc. He wrote these numbers in black ink at the top of the slip, so that they could easily be seen when a slip was removed and then put back in the file.

Apart from such linear continuations of topics on different slips, Luhmann also introduced a notation for branchings of topics. Thus, when he felt that a certain term needed to be further discussed or the information about it needed to be supplemented, he would begin a new slip that addded a letter, like a, b, or c to the number. So, a branching from slip 1/6 could have branches like 1/6a or 1/6b, up to 1/6z. These branching connections were marked by red numbers within the text, close to the place that needed further explanation or information. Since any of these branches might require further continuations, he also had many slips of the form 1/6a1, 1/6a2, etc. And, of course, any of these continuations can be branched again, so he could end up with such a number as:

21/3d26g53 for -- who else? -- Habermas."[1]

It is unlikely that "21/3d26g53" will occur anywhere else than in a title for a specific note. "1", "2", "3" will, but that problem can easily be solved by adding a letter to the end or the beginning of all the titles, like "21/3d26g53-l", "1-l", "2—l", etc. This would make for a rather faithful electronic reconstruction of his Zettelkasten, very much like a described it here.

Groups and tags would allow greater control over how the information is represented, of course. While one still has to be careful about not accidentally renaming topics, this approach has promise!

1. See my Luhmann's Zettelkasten for more.


Angry Thinker said...

I am a bit surprised about this post. I have read comments from you elsewhere saying that, while you respect Luhmann, you do not see any value in his system (or words to that extent).
Furthermore, you criticised Daniel Luedecke's app "Zettelkasten" as being too close to the Luhmann concept. To completely be decoupled from "Luhmann" you use ConnectedText.
Now you propose not only numbering notes, but numbering them à la Luhmann, with a numbering system that is not easy to maintain in an electronic environment.
Very curious.

MK said...

1. I criticized Luedecke's Zettelkasten for not being close enough to Luhmann's Zettelkasten (because he was using just tags to connect Zettel)—and I did so several times. He has changed that and now supports direct connections.

2. Yes, I do not see much value in Luhmann's systems theory. But I have always liked his concept of the Zettlkasten. In fact some of the earliest posts of this blog extoll the virtues of his Zettelkasten!

I know I have written almost a 1000 blog posts now, but A Faithful Electronic Version of Luhmann's Zettelkasten is the second post of the blog, written on December 17, 2007. The first one describes in detail how his Zettelkasten works, and in it I say: "I am fascinated by his method of keeping notes, and will therefore restrict my comments to this aspect of his work. But if you are interested, you can visit Niklas Luhmann for a short introduction to his theory. Clearly, his index-card-system and his sociological theory are connected in interesting, intricate, and not easily understood ways, but I will forgo investigating these for now" Luhmann's Zettelkasten.

So, you should not be surprised. I have always liked his Zettelkasten method method, and I have always disliked his system as a whole.

Angry Thinker said...

But you use ConnectedText becuase you state in the blog post you provide links for here that "I prefer ConnectedText in part because of it's remoteness from the paper-metaphor".
That to me sounds like a contradiction to your statements here.
Please do not think I am trying to trip you up, I just want to understand.

MK said...

Yes, I said that I prefer ConnectedText, and I still prefer ConnectedText. And one of the reasons is that it is not dependent on the paper-metaphor.

It also appears to me that using a combination of numbers and letters like Luhmann's system is indepndent of the paper-metaphor (to a significant extent). In fact, it is much closer to the concept of a database. In fact, there is a close connection between databases and index-card systems (that is also discussed somewhere in the comments of the blog).

I don't think you are trying to trip me up, but there is no contradiction here either.

ConnectedText might be more remote from the paper-metaphor than Luhmann's unique Stellplätze, but not by much, perhaps. See also this link.

I am not going to substitute DEVONthink for ConnectedText, and not only because it would be difficult to change at this point. I believe that direct links in wiki-fashion are superior.