Replied to Chris Rock's zettelkasten output process by thread by Chris, Andy, Sascha (Zettelkasten Forum)
Chris is going to keep insisting that any set of slips is a Zettelkasten, and Sascha is going to keep insisting that a Zettelkasten is a cohesive and coherent system.

My impression is that human brains are very much of a pattern, that under the same conditions they react in the same way, and that were it not for tradition, upbringing, accidents of circumstance, and particularly of accidental individual obsessions, we should find ourselves—since we all face the same universe—much more in agreement than is superficially  apparent. We speak different languages and dialects of thought and can even at times catch ourselves flatly contradicting one another in words while we are doing our utmost to express the same idea. How often do we see men misrepresenting one another in order to exaggerate a difference and secure the gratification of an argumentative victory!
—H. G. Wells, “The Idea of a World Encyclopedia.” Harper’s Magazine, April 1937.

I’ll agree with Wells that most of our difference here is nitpicking for the sake of argument itself rather than actual meaning.

Because we’re in a holiday season, I’ll use our holiday traditions to analogize why I view things more broadly and prefer the phrase “zettelkasten traditions”. Much of Western society uses the catch-all phrase “Happy Holidays” to subsume a variety of specific holidays encompassing Christmas, Hannukah, New Years, Kwanzaa, and some even the comedically invented holiday of Festivus (“for the rest of us”). Each of these is distinct in its meaning and means of celebration, but each also represents a wide swath of ideas and means of celebration. Taking Christmas as an example: Some celebrate it in a religious framing as the birth of Christ (though, in fact, there is no solid historical attestation for the day of his birth). Some celebrate it as an admixture of Christianity and pagan mid-winter festivities which include trees, holly, mistletoe, lights, a character named Santa Claus, and even elves and reindeer which wholly have nothing to do with Jesus. Some give gifts and some don’t. Some put up displays of animals and mangers while others decorate with items from a 2003 New Line Cinema film starring Will Farrell. Some sing about a reindeer with a red nose created in 1939 as an inexpensive advertising vehicle in a coloring book. Almost everyone differs wildly in both the why and how they choose to celebrate this one particular holiday. The majority choose not to question it, though some absolutists feel that the Jesus-only perspective is what defines Christmas. 

I have only touched on the other holidays, each of which has its own distribution of ideas, beliefs, and means of celebration. And all of these we wrap up in an even broader phrase as “Happy Holidays” to inclusively capture them all. Collectively we all recognize what comprises them and defines them, generally focusing on what makes them mean something to us individually. Less frequently do we focus in on what broadly defines them in aggregate because the distribution of definitions is so spectacularly broad. Culturally trying to create one and only one definition is a losing proposition, so why bother beyond attributing the broader societal definitions, which assuredly will change and shift over time. (There was certainly a time during which Christmas was celebrated without any trees or carols, and a time after which there was.)

Zettelkasten traditions have a similar very broad set of definitions and practices, both before Herr Luhmann and after. Assuredly they will continue to evolve. One can insist their own personal definition is the “true one”, while others are sure to insist against it. Spending even a few moments reading almost anything about zettelkasten, one is sure to encounter half a dozen versions. I quite often see people (especially in the Obsidian space) say that they are keeping a zettelkasten, when on a grander scheme of distributions in the knowledge management space, what they’re practicing is far closer to a digital commonplace book than something Luhmann would recognize as something built on his own model, which itself was built on a card index version of a commonplace book, though in his case, one which prescribed a lot of menial duplication by hand. The idiosyncratic nature of the varieties of software and means of making a zettelkasten is perforce going to make a broad definition of what it is. Neither Marshall Mathers nor Chris Rock are prone to call their practices zettelkasten—primarily because they speak English—but they would both very likely recognize the method as a close variation to what they’ve been doing all along. 

Humankind has had various instantiations of sense making, knowledge keeping, and transmission over the millennia classified under variations of names from talking rocks, menhir, songlines, Tjukurpa, standing stones, massebah, henges, ars memoria, commonplaces, florilegia, commonplace books, card indexes, wikis, zettelkasten and surely thousands of other names. While they may shift about in their methods of storage, means of operation, and the amount of work both put into them as well as value taken out, they’re part of a broader tradition of human sense making, learning, memory, and creation that brings us to today. 

Perhaps it’s worth closing with a sententia from Terence‘s (161 BC), comedy Phormio (line 454)? 

Quot homines tot sententiae: suo’ quoique mos.

Translation: “There are as many opinions as there are people who hold them: each has his own correct way.” Given the limitations of the Latin and the related meanings of sententiae, one could almost be forgiven for translating it as “zettelkasten”… Perhaps we should consult the zettelkasten that is represented by the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae?

social media (n):  /ˌsoː.ʃəl ˈmiː.di.aː/
A DDoS, usually perpetrated by surveillance capitalists, on a person’s attention preventing them from traditional sensemaking, clear thinking, learning, and generally otherwise experiencing life.
Read Modern Recipes: A Case of Miscommunication by Peter HertzmannPeter Hertzmann (
Chef and food instructor takes a look at the history of recipes and how they're frequently misinterpreted.
(Hat tip to Jeremy Cherfas and his excellent Eat This Podcast episode Making sense of modern recipes: It’s not your fault; even professional chefs encounter problems for directing me to Hertzmann’s paper; some of my favorite episodes feature Jeremy interviewing him.)

Keep in mind that the paper which is highlighted and excerpted here is a draft version and not for direct citation or attribution.

recipe is simply ‘a statement of the ingredients and procedure required for making something’.2 There is no guarantee implied or stated that the cook will understand either the statement of ingredients or the procedure.

–November 24, 2019 at 02:41PM

Fourteenth-century recipe collections that have survived to today, such as Viandier pour appareiller toutes manières de viandes, Libre de sent sovi, Daz bûch von gûter spîse, and Forme of Cury, were written by professional cooks to use as an aide-mémoire for themselves or other professional cooks.

–November 24, 2019 at 02:42PM

Le Ménagier de Paris, written near the end of the century was arguably the first cookbook written as a set of instructions for a second party to use when managing a third party, in this case, for the young wife of an elderly gentleman to use as a guide for household management including supervising the cook.

It’s not indicated well here in the text, but this was written in 1393 according to the footnote.

Le Ménagier de Paris, 2 vols (Paris: the author, 1393; repr. Paris: Jerome Pichon, 1846)
–November 24, 2019 at 02:43PM

The suggested alternative cooking technique ignores that braising is performed slowly, with low heat, and in a steam environment.

–November 24, 2019 at 03:15PM

Lincoln suggested that all volumetric measurements required an adjective such as heaping, rounded, or level.2

I’ve heard of these, but not seen them as descriptors in quite a while and they always seemed “fluffy” to me anyway.
–November 24, 2019 at 03:25PM

Kosher salt: This salt should in practice be referred to as koshering salt, its original purpose. U.S. chefs started using Diamond Crystal-brand Kosher Salt in the 1990s because it was the only coarse salt commonly available to them. Rather than specify a brand or coarseness in their cookbooks, they chose the unfortunate term of ‘kosher salt’. Kosher salt is not purer than other salts, and all kosher salts are not equal. When measured volumetrically, all kosher salts have different amounts of salt. Nonetheless, many authors insist on specifying a volumetric amount of kosher salt—‘1 teaspoon kosher salt’—but do not identify the brand being used.36

The only author I’ve known to differentiate has been Michael Ruhlman, but even he didn’t specify the brand and essentially said that when using “Kosher salt” to use twice as much as specified compared to standard table salt, presumably to account for the densities involved.
–November 24, 2019 at 03:38PM

This is to say, the ingredients and the quantities thereof are indicated by pictures which most illiterate persons can understand and persons with poor vision can see; and which are readily grasped by the minds of those who are not in the above classes.

an early example of accessibility UI in a cook book.
–November 24, 2019 at 04:00PM

Further, as stated, by merely glancing at the pictorially indicated recipe of the present invention the cook can ascertain at a glance the required ingredients, can ascertain whether such ingredients are on hand, and, if not, the needed articles will be more easily remembered in purchasing the days supply of groceries, etc.

an example in the wild of visual memory being stronger than other forms.
–November 24, 2019 at 04:02PM

The book goes closer to teaching the reader to cook than most modern books.

My thoughts as well. Ratio is a fantastic cooking book.
–November 24, 2019 at 04:04PM

At least one, somewhat successful, cookbook has been published claiming to teach cooking without recipes.40

Bookmark to read in future: Glynn Christian, How to Cook Without Recipes(London: Portico Books, 2008).

The numbering of the annotations is slightly off here….
–November 24, 2019 at 04:05PM

Most modern cookbook authors claim to meet the conditions for a ‘good recipe’ as described by Elisabeth Luard:42

A good recipe is one that first encourages the reader to cook, and then delivers what it promises. A well-written recipe takes you by the hand and says, don’t worry, it’ll all be okay, this is what you’re looking for, this is what happens when you chop or slice or apply heat, and if it goes wrong, this is how to fix it. And when you’ve finished, this is what it should look and taste like, this is what to eat it with. But above all, take joy in what you do.

In reality, most authors fail to meet the above conditions. It would probably be better if authors tried to match the writing of earlier recipe authors from the first half of the twentieth century when less space was given to fancy illustrations and more words were given to how to cook.

–November 24, 2019 at 04:09PM

Mount: A cooking technique where small pieces of butter are quickly incorporated in a hot, but not boiling, sauce to give bulk and a glossy appearance.

A definition I don’t recall having ever seen before.
–November 24, 2019 at 04:17PM

The technical term for the zest is the flavedo.

flavedo is a new word to me
–November 24, 2019 at 04:27PM

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Read How Journalists Are Redefining the Word 'Kicker' (
The word has long had a specific meaning in journalism. Now it has two.