UPDATE 2022/10/31: See this post for an update on this.
TLDR: I have started a Personal Knowledge Base to improve the quality of my learning. It is linked here
Just the other day someone sent me something rather interesting, and of course, I soon got around to reading it. As I read the piece, information was being absorbed, but I somehow couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling that I would soon afterwards forget it.
I have recently found myself once again in a “learning” phase of life, albeit this time as an autodidact. What I have found is that the lack of examination pressure has (as expected) increased the comfort and efficiency of my learning. I have also found however that the difficulty in retaining this knowledge in the long term, at a high quality, remains.
It is a frustrating feeling, especially when you are bombarded by content from experts all the time. How are these people so knowledgeable? How did they think of that? How did they make that connection?
I try to avoid comparing myself to people. Life is not a race, and doing so can weigh you down emotionally. But pragmatically speaking it can be useful to observe what people who are doing well, do, and copy that or adapt it for yourself.
Someone who I look up to is Gwern. One of the principles of Gwern’s website is longevity, a tool for him to retain knowledge in the long term.
In a way, Gwern uses his website as a Personal Knowledge Base. This is, in simple words, a collection of a person’s knowledge, organized in such a way that makes it easily searchable, and reveals links between knowledge pieces as one navigates through it.
There’s a lot of theory behind all this, and to be honest I still have to distill most of it. What I do know is that writing things down helps. And that minimizing the friction against writing them down helps. And that explicitly forming links helps, as it mirrors the eventual links that can form in your brain, and can lead to serendipitous discovery.
To Twitter users, this may sound a lot like what Roam Research offers. But the reality is that you don’t need a fancy software tool to get this done. You especially don’t need a proprietary software tool to get this done. You just need a method.
I looked for Knowledge Base curation (Knowledge Management?) methods, and, in theme with my recent obsession with German compound words, found the Zettelkasten method. This lines up quite well with the above, focusing on unique, atomic notes, explicitly interlinked and tagged as deemed necessary.
I still have to get fully accustomed to the Zettelkastenphilosophie but have decided to dive in and started my own Zettelkasten (paper box), as my knowledge base. I try to default to open, so I plan to share as much of my Zettelkasten as possible, in case anyone else may find it of use in the future.
As such, my Zettelkasten will be accessible from my website to the world. It is empty now, but hopefully now that I have set it up, it will soon fill up.