An introduction to Luhmann's Zettelkasten, translated

Personal Knowledge Management, the Very Serious Name for “how do I store my notes so that I'll do something with it”. Second brain, idea gardens, personal knowledge mastery, etc. See previously on here.

One example that is often referred to is Niklas Luhmann's Zettelkasten. This German sociologist published some 50 books and 600 essays between the 50's and 90's of the 20th century. This intellectual productivity was in large part made possible through the 90.000 small paper notes of his thinking that he wrote, stored and linked in his so-called Zettelkasten (slip box).

Here's a video of a presentation by one of the researchers working to digitize this analog knowledge database. It's a good introduction, und also, the presentation is German spoken, so I created this rough but mostly complete translation

Luhmann worked this way to ensure that he would encounter many different perspectives when considering a certain topic or problem. At a certain volume of notes, the Zettelkasten became a generator of surprises, unexpected analogies, connections and perspectives, even for the very person who wrote all of them in the first place.


For me, when making art, the free exploration of ideas, forms and images is my way of trying to surprise myself. Especially with printmaking, what you put in is different from what you get out.

Surprising yourself in such a way can be a truly joyful experience. It's worth pursuing.

— A post by Roy Scholten