Mark S. asked ...
Perhaps with your background you could explain Zettelkasten. There seems
to be an almost cult-like culture around a system of taking notes (by
software or index cards). https://zettelkasten.de/ .
S. asked me that interesting question in another thread, started by
Mat, comparing TW to other "similar software". I been thinking about
Mark's question. I wasn't sure if people here are interested in this,
but then I thought well, hey, they might be ...
just the German for "card indices" in general. https://zettelkasten.de/
is a specific "Zettelkästen Methodology" derived from the work done
originally (on physical cards) by the brilliant prolific sociologist and
systems theorist Niklas Luhmann.
He was one of several social
scientists who prefigured issues that would come up in the development
of software for "soft data" and "emergent structure". The point being
that in the social sciences, a lot of the time, theories/patterns emerge
during research, so you need flexibility--its not like hard science
which is more driven by strict prior hypotheses that have clear "data
slots"--nor is it like birth & death records, nor address books etc.
In short, social science (especially ideographic fieldwork) needs an
"open" way to record information.
The PRACTICAL issue for the
Luhmann style Zettelkästeners, in software, was (1) how to maintain the
integrity of the record (the card) AND (2) relate that record to other
records (the cards) in an EMERGENT way. In other words NOT be a strict
database that only had determined prior slots (hypothesised
significant). At the time of emergence of such work it was a hot issue.
"Zettelkästen Methodology" is interesting and clearly is still used to
good effect. Not so remarked upon, but significant, is that quite a lot
of the sense-making in it is EXTERNAL to the computer. Its about guesses
external to the data itself to find pattern.
Luhmann make two
Zettelkästen (manual, physical) in his life, with thousands of records
each, and they informed and structured most all of his voluminous
writing. It worked. But I'm not convinced it worked without HIM doing
"in head" most of the cross-connection work.
Methodology now looks a bit like a "blast from the past" ... I mean the
oft discussion of the vitality of "Tags" OVER "Topics/Categories" is already
a done deal on the net nowadays. So in that sense its a bit like a
Philosophy of Knowledge that's done it job already.
the comparison of TiddlyWiki and Card Indices ... which OFTEN users
point to and celebrate ... well it works for SOME TiddlyWiki set up that
way. No harm in using that analogy. BUT the analogy quickly breaks
Card Index systems (& computer equivalents) are base on the sacredness of the record (Card)
whilst TiddlyWiki is based on the equality of the fragment (Tiddler)
So what in the Zettelkästen Methodology is seen as a "basic unit"
(card), in TiddlyWiki might also be a card, but could also be composed
of fragments (Tiddlers), decomposed and reassembled multiple ways.
Methodology also has no conceptual way of dealing with "the software
itself" and "the organisational system itself" being also equal
components. In Zettelkästen Methodology you have Cards, then an external
software framework to organise them. These are not distinct in
IMO, a Tiddler is hardly an "index card" at all in any normal sense. Its outstanding characteristic is its a CHAMELEON :-).
to give some perspective to this issue, the "card analogy" actually
owes its greatest realisation in computing to stricter database
The Index Card as an idea probably got its first
airing in the 1640s in Harrison's "The Ark Of Studies". Serious early
application was by Linnaeus to be able to organise the taxonomy of
species in a flexible way where records could be added and re-ordered at
will (1760's). Then the Dewey library card index system (1870's) was
very significant, which was widely adopted, with Index Cards beginning
to be adopted widely for all sorts of purposes--police records, doctors
records, address "books" etc.
A big step towards computing was
the development of index cards with punched holes at their edges that
were then "notched" into when the card was in a "category". Say you had a
thousand cards and only wanted to see cards about "cats" ... you
threaded a slim long knitting needle through the "cat hole" and then you
could lift off all the records that were not for cats to just see cats
(basic filtering). A bunch of different mechanical systems for doing
this were developed of varying degrees of sophistication. These
"Knitting Needle Machines" were conceptually important to the later
development of relational databases
Extending from the
needle hole idea, a next step was to replace the data recorded on the
body of the cards with punched holes on the card--the "punch card"--made
on a kind of typewriter. Data that previously were in written language
became holes. These could be analysed by mechanical devices that fed the
cards through a kind of pianola that notched up a count for when there
was a hole.
In turn, all this partly fostered punch-tape that in
early "on-line" computing WAS your computer program... you'd feed it
into a machine and it would transmit signals to a remote computer (they
were all remote at the start) according to the pattern of holes.
Punch-Hole Index Card metaphorically matched BINARY thinking vital to early computing to do with fundamental
"gates" ... that could convey information as "1" (hole), "0" (no-hole),
or on computer as "signal on", "signal off".
So, overall, the
Card Index was pretty central to concepts of organised knowledge first,
and computer realisation of that knowledge, later. An important social
and technological bridge from the past to now.
But I don't think
metaphorically TiddlyWiki has other than a quite generic relationship
to card indices. No more than many ordinary programs do.