The Slipcase Method, or “Why I’m reading so slowly.”

In my previous post about my reading of Royce I mentioned that I’m only about half way through the survey text in question, and that I started reading in December. The book is only about four hundred pages and, while it is a dense philosophical text, I usually read much more quickly. So why the lag?

When I was in school I was never really good at studying: taking notes on texts or lectures and reviewing them. I never really learned how to take notes or use them, so I just sort of wrote stuff down as it seemed relevant and then reviewed it before a test or while writing an essay, and this served me pretty well. After I was done with whatever task I had taken the notes for, I would just toss them in the trash. As an adult when studying for technical certifications I made heavy use of note-cards, which I would use for “brute-force” memorization of test “gotcha” questions. Again, what did I do with the cards after passing the test? Into the trash.

Late last year I realized this haphazard approach wasn’t working for me anymore. I’m not studying for school anymore. I’m trying to understand myself and the world around me. Having reached middle age, and spent most of my life reading, I don’t suffer from a lack of material. There’s always more to learn and read, but what I really need now is the ability to correlate, synthesize and understand, not accumulate and regurgitate isolate facts. So I did what I usually do when I want to learn about something. I buy a book.

This book details the notation method of prolific sociologist Niklas Luhmann called the “slip box” or “Zettelkasten” method. It’s an interesting read, but the method itself is simple and can be explained in few minutes.

The main focus of the “Zettelkasten” is the construction of one’s own personal reference system of inter-connected notes. This is the “Slip-case” itself. My understanding is that Nikals Luhmann had a wooden card cabinet. Some people use electronic versions today. You can also buy something appropriate on Amazon or at Office Depot.

slipcase

This will serve as your central note repository. The purpose of this is not the same as the old library card catalog. It isn’t for locating texts. It’s for making connections.

As you’re reading a text, or listening to a lecture, you make brief reference notes as normal, taking care to note the source briefly. I like to read a section all the way through first for context, and then re-read it while taking notes, but your mileage may vary. This is the first note set of three. Some people like to save their reference notes (somewhere other than the slip-case) but I think of them as temporary.

Slipcase_reference

Once you have your reference notes you write what’s called a “literary note”. You can think of this as just an expanded version of your reference notes, or a very short essay. The idea is to put your reference notes in some kind of context and in your own words. You can re-write these literary notes as much as necessary until they make sense. You’ll often find that what seemed clear when you were jotting down your reference notes requires a fair amount of intellectual “digestion” before you can construct a proper literary note.

The literary note forms the basis of a permanent note. I use 5 x 8 note cards. I believe Luhmann used half sheets of paper. I find that the transition from literary note to slip case card is much easier than the transition from reference note to literary. My note cards end up being just a slightly edited version of the literary note, with an emphasis on clarity and brevity. The permanent note goes into the slip case. It is important to record the source on the note card for future use. I like to use contrasting color and just use book title and page number. Some people like to make more detailed source references on the back. The permanent notes are numbered and you can also reference other cards by number.

Royce_beginning

How are they numbered? Sequentially at first, and then intuitively. Initially the cards can be just numbered by the order you write them. The first card will be 1. The second card can be 2. If you feel that a single literary note spans several cards you can use a sub-numbering system. So if the reference notes on a given chapter about… I don’t know… Josiah Royce’s understanding of the self results in a two and a half page literary note, and this in turn results in three permanent 5 by 8 note cards, these could be numbered 6, 6a, and 6b respectively. If you feel that a card really “belongs” in a sequence between two cards you have already filed, you can further divide the sequence. To continue the above example, you can insert other cards on the same topic of “the self”, perhaps from the same reference text and author, or perhaps from a completely different source, in at 6a1, 6a1a, 6a2, 6a2a1b.

At the beginning of the card catalog you can write a brief table of contents. If necessary, each section can also include a shorter table of contents reference card. Feel free to make up your own cross references and organizational systems. The point here is avoid per-determining how subjects and interests will fit together but to allow them evolve naturally over time, encouraging previously unnoticed connections to emerge organically.

As you add notes from multiple sources to the slipcase you will end up not with separate notes but with one complete set of notes relevant to your own personal intellectual journey. If you then feel the need to extrapolate on a given subject you’ll already have your research done for you. Just flip through your slipcase and extract the relevant sections.

Obviously this method takes a long time. Not only are you going through the same material in at least three passes, but you also need to accumulate a fair amount of material in the slipcase, from a variety of sources, before you can expect it to do anything for you. It clearly lends itself to academic and general non-fiction writing. It may be useful for fiction, but I’m not aware of any fiction authors who use it. It’s not for everyone. That said, Luhmann produced over 70 books and 200 scholarly articles using this method.

Blog Integration

Unknown to many (that’s a joke son), I actually have another blog dedicated to table top gaming, which has been even MORE neglected than this one. https://fiatluxfantastic.wordpress.com/

While it never amounted to much of a “plan” my intention was make a division between my serious stuff here and my fun stuff over there. I’ve been doing a little more gaming lately and I would like to start making blog posts about my favorite hobby. I also have a day job in tech, and the idea of having a tech oriented blog for career development purposes has been increasingly tempting.

But this presents a problem: split focus. It’s challenging enough to keep up on one blog, let alone three (or more). So, to that end, I’m going to consolidated into one blog to rule them all. I’ll be sorry to abandon the fun titles for this one and for my gaming blog, but hey, in writing you have to kill your darlings.

So this presents a new problem, namely, what should I call the new blog. I’m tempted just to use my real name. This simplifies things, and the commonality gathering all my interests together is… well… me. On the other hand, there are some downsides to that. First, it might cause me to self-edit, since my blog is readily searchable by prospective employers. Second, it doesn’t really communicate a theme. I could also just keep this name, “GreatNoonTide” has a certain ring to it, and I already own the domain. Hmm… decisions, decisions.

Frequency Update

Good morning internet, and happy Monday (with various definitions of “happy” implied). This will just be a short update on my posting frequency. Last week I said that I planned on doing some work here every weekday, Monday through Friday. That still stands, but I wanted to clarify how often I believe I’ll have an actual post published. For the sake for my own sanity, I’m going to aim for a new published post every Wednesday. I’d like to post more often, but many of the topics I want to tackle require more than an hour and a half stream of conscious rant while I finish my morning coffee. Also, I have other goals that require “extra-curricular” work, and my free hours are limited these days. If once a week goes smoothly I’ll try to branch out from there.

As a preview of coming attractions, I have three posts in the works:

#1 My in depth analysis of the Philosophy of Josiah Royce. This will probably be a multi-part series of posts and is minimally a month out.

#2 An explanation of the “Slipcase” note taking method, subtitled “Why it’s taking me so damn long to finish proposed blog post #1”

#3 Why I hate hipster-ism.

Also, more pretentious philosophical ramblings, as per usual.

You’re welcome,

– B

Royce, a (Very) Brief Introduction

Royce_beginning

In early December I started reading The Philosophy of Josiah Royce.

Before I go any further in this post, I must confess I’m only half way through, so I reserve the right to modify my opinion in the future, but as it stands now, I feel that the philosophy of Josiah Royce will be the new baseline from which I continue all my future work. When I search for words to describe my feelings on discovering Royce, I keep thinking of Nietzsche’s sentiment on his discovery of Spinoza, “I am utterly amazed, utterly enchanted! I have a precursor, and what a precursor!”

Royce is a forgotten, one may say almost unknown, American philosopher. He is generally considered to belong to the school of American Pragmatism. Pragmatism has sadly been neglected as a philosophical school in the modern age, although it still has some cache as an influence in psychology, due to the valuable work of founder William James, and in the largely misnamed social “sciences”, due to the fake pragmatist and general communist villain John Dewey.

You’d never know it from the wikipedia page, but Royce is one of the founding three members of American Pragmatism. I believe Royce has largely been excised because his philosophy is decidedly Idealistic and religious. By Idealism I mean philosophical Idealism, not the colloquial sense of being “well meaning but naive”. While the full implications of Idealism and by extension Royce’s philosophy go far beyond what I can express in a single post, Idealism generally assets that the fundamental nature of reality is consciousness or mental phenomenon. By religious I mean that Royce is most concerned with the profound questions of metaphysical significance and the nature of the supreme and absolute Being, aka “God” – both unfashionable avenues of exploration in today’s intellectual climate.

I would like to say more, and will in the future, but that’s all the time I can devote to the blog today.

Best wishes,

– B

The Eternal Return of the Blog

Hello internet, I’m back.

I find it hard to believe I haven’t posted since 2017. To be honest, I have never been what one would call a regular blogger. Sporadic is the phrase that comes to mind. If you’ll forgive the self indulgence, I’d like to say a few words in my defense and lay out my future plans for this space.

I started this blog way back in 2012. Prior to that I was active on LiveJournal when it was the “hot new thing” – post MySpace but before Facebook. More specifically I was active in a particular LiveJournal subculture. From around 2000 till I believe 2013 I was an active member of the Ordo Templi Orientis. (I was also involved in some smaller related organizations, but those were mostly adjuncts to my main “occulture” investment). LiveJournal was, for a while, very popular in among that group of people, and we would discuss, fight, argue, joke around. In the larger world, no one gave a shit about us, but we had our own celebrities, scandals, power plays, politicians, jokers, entertainers, intellectuals and fans. I was attached to what could be called a reformist movement. We saw ourselves as fighting for the future of our group and by extension civilization as a whole. We had a dangerous “bad boy” reputation, and we loved that. We felt important, and would chat for hours both on and offline about our struggles and in group drama.

Things eventually went sideways. The details will have to wait for some future time but I’ll give you the short version: I was “all in” for a long time… and then I wasn’t. This divorce was messy and ugly and took years to play out in full. I lost friends, but far more challenging than that, I lost a core piece of my identity; not because I was that attached to being a member of any particular group, but because my confidence in the underlying paradigm behind these organizations could no longer be sustained. Call it a crisis of faith if you will. Around the same time-period, and not entirely unrelated, I went through an actual divorce. It was a rough period.

I eventually found my feet again, with a renewed interest in philosophy, new friends (and closer relationships with the friends that stuck with me) and eventually a new marriage, a new career, and a more recently a family. With all the change going on in my life a commitment to blogging just couldn’t be sustained. I tried to channel the fruits of my reading and thinking through this space, but that was haphazard at best. I even considered deleting it, closing up shop, and moving on.

The initial impetus to create this blog was muddy. I was trying to find my feet again philosophically, but I also wanted to make something that other people would find interesting. I missed the heady days of LiveJournal and I wanted some of that feeling back. In the back of my mind, I also was cognizant of the growing market for a new intellectual movement. I wanted to be part of the conversation. I also missed having a creative outlet. All of those are good honest reasons to write, but when you’re working full time, starting a family, and trying to hit the books in the little free time you have, a muddy conglomeration of interests just isn’t a luxury for which you have the time.

So why am I back now? The most honest answer is that I can’t stay away. True, I have a little more time now – maybe an extra hour or two a day, but that doesn’t explain why I’m using that time to write a blog that very few people read. I’m doing it because I have to speak my truth, and this is as good a place as any. For some reason, preparing a piece that I know is going to be put “out there” forces me to put my thoughts together in a way that writing in a personal journal does not. Even if no one else reads this, it’s useful for me, but useful doesn’t tell the whole story.

When I was around thirteen I decided I wanted to be a writer. I would dabble in it from time to time and then do something more pressing. I told myself that “one day” I would come back to it, but there was always a reason I couldn’t do it “right now”. After twenty plus years I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to write, for me. Even if no one else reads what I write, even if I still have to struggle to fit it in between my day job and my family and friends and exercise and all the other demands of life, I need it. When I don’t write I feel like I’m not being true to myself; like something is missing or I’ve forgotten something important that I just can’t quite remember. When I’m not writing, I feel like I’m shirking my duty to myself. I guess after half a lifetime of wondering if this was something I really wanted to do, I’ve discovered it’s something I have to do – whether I “really want to” or not.

For now, I’m going to keep my plans loose. Fate permitting, I’ll be working on a blog post every day Monday through Friday. I can’t promise I’ll be able to publish every day. It will depend on the nature of the post and, as always, the vicissitudes of life. I’m mostly writing this post today to clear my mind and prime the writing pump. We’ll see what happens.

Best wishes,

– B