Friday, September 27, 2013

Brecht's "Externalism"

Bertold Brecht once noted (in 1930) that he "thought in the heads of others and in his head others thought as well" (Er dachte in anderen Köpfen, und auch in seinem Kopf dachten andere. Das ist das richtige Denken.) This is no special accomplishment. Indeed, that's what we all do when we think—whether we want to or not. Nor is it restricted to "the political," as Walter Benjamin suggested in 1936. "Private thinking," like Wittgenstein's "private language" does not really exist. It's a myth.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

One of the Advantages of External Memory

As I have pointed out before, Luhmann considered his Zettelkasten or slip box as his "external memory" and partner in communication with his internal memory. What are some of the advantages of external memory? Recent psychological research strongly suggests that our internal memory does not work like a filing cabinet that can be used simply to retrieve items stored independently of recall. Rather, it seems to rely heavily on "reconstructing" memories. This process is not always reliable. It is also likely to degrade over time, to be influenced by emotional factors, and subject to confusions. External memories, like those kept in a good note-taking system are not subject to such influences. They are "fixed" We can rely on them with more confidence than we can on internal memories.

A similar thing thing holds for the their connections and the further growth based on such connections—or so it seems to me. Internal memories do not support creative interaction with past results in the way in which notes or external memories do.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Luhmann's Frugality

One of the faithful readers of this blog sent me a copy of the catalog of the Marbach exhibition on Zettelkästen for which I am very grateful. It is entitled Zettelkästen, Maschinen der Phantasie and edited by Heike Gfereis and Ellen Strittmayr. Johannes F. K. Schmidt reports on Luhmann's Zettelkasten (pp. 84-92). It's an informative article. Among other things, it makes clear something that I knew already—at least sort of—namely that Luhmann's Zettelkasten contains actually two strata (one from about 1951-1962) when Luhmann was a public servant, the other from about 1963-1996 when Luhmann was more interested in sociology. In the illustrated part, under "k" for "Kommunikationspartner," there are four pages of pictures. In the Introduction we find out that Luhmann was a very frugal person and therefore used bills and other documents which contained text on just on side to write his notes. Since these documents were usually DIN-A4 and his Zettelkasten used DIN-A5, he could easily cut the originals in half. In another publication I read that he even used the pictures his children had made in school for this purpose. Accordingly, the quality of the paper is uneven and often inferior. His mythological machine does not look like much. Nor does it easily give up its intellectual secrets to the uninitiated observer.

Still, his Zettelkasten was (and is) a great inspiration for me, even though his theory leaves me rather cold.

What Young Academics Can Look forward to

Here is an article that chronicles—no pun intended—the what happened to someone who was an "adjunct" for twenty-five years at a major academic university. It is too bad that the corporate university is finding adjuncts more and more convenient. It isn't just the restaurant industry that is making "living wage" a dirty word. Underemployment seems to be the future for our grandchildren.

Is it any comfort that not every highly qualified academic will meet with this fate, and that some will be lucky?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hand-Written Outlines, Timelines and Charts by Famous Authors

See here. I am fascinated by the differences! I don't think any of these "ways" would work for me.

No further comments!

On Flashcards

Flashcards are not really about note-taking, unless you want to commit your notes to memory and thus make them part of your very own being. (There was a reason why education in times that now seem long gone insisted on learning things "by heart." It may not be a bad idea even now, even if the texts you may want to remember are non-standard, that is, not consisting of the catechism or "standard" poetry.) But flashcards are the best way to learn things by heart. Here is a very nice post on flashcards and their various way of implementing them. It is very extensive and discusses flashcards realized in various media.

The discussion of flashcards on BBEdit suggested to me a way to implement flashcards in ConnectedText. There is now way to represent the back and the front in a flashcard. However, it would be possible to create a page or several pages containing links that lead to cards explaining the concept, like [[Wohnungsberechtigungsbescheinigung]] would contain: "Die Wohnberechtigungsbeschinigung chein (WBS) stellt eine amtliche Bescheinigung dar, mit welcher der Bürger befugt ist, eine öffentlich geförderte Wohnung zu beziehen. Die wohnungsberechtigungsbescheinigung wird uch Wohnungsberechtigungsschein genannt. Sie ist für die Dauer von einem Jahr nach Ausstellung gültig ... Gesetzliche Grundlage ist das Wohnungsbindungsgesetz (WoBindG)." It means in English that this is a certification that you are eligible for public housing, or better, for semi-public housing, or apartments that were built with government mortgages. The owner can only let under-privileged people live in them until he has paid off that mortgage. I chose the example because it is neither religious nor poetic.

So you could guess what the link "[[Wohnungsberechtigungsbescheinigung]]" means, and then click on it in order to see whether you were right. It would also be possible to move words or links that have been learned from "active pages" to a page that contains "concepts already learned."

It would be even easier to set up than the way described for BBEdit.

By the way, this way of implementing the flashcards could just as easily be done in nvALT or any other application that allows free links.[1]

1. For Freelinks, see this link.