Personal Knowledge Management

Key Ideas Underlying Concept Maps – Part 2

Martha, a rote learner, has more misconceptions in grade 12 than she had in grade 2

Personal Knowledge Management

Key Ideas Underlying Concept Maps – Part 1

Meaningful learning requires an emotional commitment to integrate new with existing knowledge.


The Adventure of Your Life

Something’s becoming more apparent to me. My life’s work is not literally wanting to make life like an MMORPG. Rather it’s seeing all of these different systems, methods, and concepts that when integrated together, allow you to adventurously live your life in a radically different way than the conventional norm of trying to plan it out all in advance, thus leaving no room to play with who you are.

Personal Knowledge Management

A Safe, Solid Harbour to Explore The Unknown

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been frustrated with trying to organize and categorize the knowledge on my websites over the years. The best way I’ve described this in the past is feeling like you don’t have solid ground to stand upon.

This is poignant because I recently stumbled across the following within Andy Matuschak’s notes that explains what a good note taking system (like Evergreen notes) feels like.

These small, self-contained notes represent regular checkpoints. Each note takes only a few minutes to write, but because they’re Evergreen notes, each note is solid ground to stand on—fairly complete relative to its own concept. Of course, we’ll iterate on their contents over time, but each time we do, that note will remain a mostly-complete, self-contained unit.

Andy Matuschak, Evergreen notes permit smooth incremental progress in writing 

What’s important to realize here is that by explicitly mapping out the conceptual meaning of your knowledge, you’re also confirming or denying that you actually know something and thus actually are standing on solid ground versus just believing you are (i.e. you actually know what you know).

But if you can explicitly verify what you know then that feeling of standing on solid ground gives one the courage to use it as a safe, solid harbour to adventurously explore a larger unknown worldview of meaning and understanding that lies beyond one’s awareness and consciousness.

The question that I have is that “What does this look like within a concept map or note taking system?” For example, I know that when you reach the edges of your existing worldview and start exploring a larger one, you start crossing paradigms that effectively turn your old worldview inside out. In effect, what you used to believe was bad could actually turn out to be good (i.e. change and chaos are bad…but wait, now they’re good, as they’re sources of creativity).

But what does a paradigm look like within a concept map and how does it update your concept map because understanding the paradigm transforms your perception and worldview, thus transforming and changing the relationships in your concept map in new ways. In effect, the concepts as objects in your concept map remain but the relationships linked between the concepts dramatically change, thus creating new meaning from old concepts.

Personal Knowledge Management

How to Make a Concept Map

A proposition is just a meaningful statement made up of two concepts and a linking description.


The Space In Between

by Jan Blomqvist

Can’t figure out how we got here
Living on decay
The 7 Words left on paper
Will disconnect the day


Creating New “Anchors” of Stability

Personal Knowledge Management

Understanding Note Systems That Replicate Concept Maps

And how they can help us to explore and share our larger story and world(view) within us.

I’m realizing that there is something deeper that I’m not seeing with regards to concept maps and how it ties into what I feel is missing from note taking and personal knowledge management, specifically with regards to the ability to show a meaningful “big picture” view of something.

I think one of the best places to start in understanding this is with an article by David B. Clear on the Zettelkasten method of note taking entitled Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive. To start, this quote below from the article really touches upon my frustration of trying to organize and categorizing knowledge unsuccessfully on different iterations of my website over the past couple of decades.

Now imagine that instead of the Web being a web, all of the world’s webpages had just been dumped into a big folder without any links. All Wikipedia pages, all blog posts, all Medium stories, all the web articles of different newspapers, all YouTube videos, all the gazillion webpages that make up the Web, all just piled onto one big heap inside a folder. You’d never make any sense of it.

Now imagine further that someone proposed that the solution to this mess was to use tags. You’d consider the idea ludicrous. What? I should organize the gazillion webpages in this folder by using what? A million tags? That’s absurd!

No, the way to organize a massive amount of information and make sense of it is to use a web. That’s why the world’s webpages, as well as the neurons in your brain, are organized as a web. And that’s why you should organize all the interesting ideas you want to keep track of over your lifetime as a web of notes as well.

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive

David then further describes the benefits of a concept map but also their downside as well, that being a concept map of your entire knowledge over your entire life would be a pretty huge visual map.

If we now consider mind maps, concept maps, and outlines, we’re getting closer to a solution. These tools are a good approach to find relations among ideas. The problem, however, is that they only allow you to properly work with a few dozen ideas. You’re certainly not going to put 90,000 ideas into a single concept map over the time span of 40 years and draw connections among the ideas. But that’s precisely what Luhmann did with his Zettelkasten!

You get that? The linear recording of information, as in a notebook, sucks. Non-linear notetaking, and especially graphs and concept maps, rock. And what is a Zettelkasten if not one massive graph or concept map?

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive

He then describes how asking a question, lets you explore a Zettelkasten note system which is exactly how a concept map works in that it should be based around a question. This ties in metaphorically with how I see questions as quests for your life and the greater your questions the more adventurous your life will be which will help you “level up” and psychologically mature in turn.

This is poignant because he describes how a Zettlekasten must have reached a certain level of maturity itself as well. So it mirrors your own stages of psychological development and “levels” of consciousness which relates to vertical development. In effect, think of your current concept map for life, as your map of meaning for it, often more commonly referred to as your worldview. The more evolved your concept map of life is, the more evolved your worldview will be, and the more mature you are which means you’re able to make sense and meaning of the greater complexity in life.

Now compare that to a mature Zettelkasten, which contains thousands and thousands of ideas. You have a question and with that question in mind you dive into your Zettelkasten, moving from one idea to another by following links among notes. Since it contains so many ideas, which you’ve been collecting over a time span of years, you’ve forgotten a huge chunk of them. The Zettelkasten is bursting with ideas that you added years ago and no longer remember. Thus, if you explore it with a question in mind, the Zettelkasten will provide answers in surprising ways. In this sense, the Zettelkasten is smarter than a duck and it’s why Luhmann described it as a conversation partner.

Of course, to reap these benefits, the Zettelkasten must have reached a certain level of maturity. At the beginning it will just contain a few notes which you won’t find that surprising since you just added them recently. Over time, however, your Zettelkasten will grow from an apprentice to a full-fledged writing collaborator. Meanwhile, it will be at least as good a repository for your notes as a notebook or some fancy app. In fact, a Zettelkasten will probably already be a better notetaking system from the first day as the method has some further advantages.

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive

David then describes one of the key foundations of note taking systems that is often overlooked and how it should replicate how concept maps work as a relationship of concepts.

I think the Zettelkasten’s power as a thinking aid is explained by three main factors.

First, using the Zettelkasten method forces you to write. In particular, according to the method you have to write notes using your own words to ensure that you’ll understand them in the future. And as anyone who’s done any writing knows, writing things down forces you to turn vague notions into clearer thoughts.

Second, whenever you add a new note, the Zettelkasten method forces you to look for already existing notes you can link to. That broadens your thinking by forcing you to consider how new ideas relate to others you’ve encountered before.

Third, a Zettelkasten can store a train of thought. A train of thought is nothing but a sequence of ideas and a Zettelkasten is all about linking ideas. Thus, you can have a train of thought today, store it in your Zettelkasten as a sequence of interlinked notes, and then, anytime in the future, you can continue that train of thought by adding new notes and linking them to the previous ones.

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive

He then highlights why these relationships are so important because they help us to be more creative.

A Zettelkasten is designed to find connections between any past idea you’ve recorded and any present or future ideas you’ll record. This makes a Zettelkasten into a tremendous tool for creativity. After all, creativity is nothing more than connecting ideas.

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive

This is a poignant statement to make because it relates to what Beau Lotto said in his book Deviate about how creativity only seems magically from the perspective of someone else because they can’t see the steps to achieving it, instead they just see a leap across a meaningless chasm of seemingly disconnected thoughts and concepts. This is exactly why I believe so many people today are misinterpreting their reality, it’s because they’re misinterpreting the meaning of what they know. To put it another way, the concept map of their life’s knowledge has many relationships that are incorrectly linked.

But finally David summarizes the key principles of a Zettlekasten, which repeats what was said above about keeping each note focused on a single concept and linking them together similar to a concept map, whereby you’re explaining relationships and connections between them as you’re making them. This one principle below really stood out though.

Don’t worry about structure: Don’t worry about putting notes in neat folders or into unique preconceived categories. As Schmidt put it, in a Zettelkasten “there are no privileged positions” and “there is no top and no bottom.” The organization develops organically.

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive

His mention of how the organization of your notes should “develop organically” mirrors exactly with what Andy Matuschak said about his Evergreen note taking system.

Let structure emerge organically. When it’s imposed from the start, you prematurely constrain what may emerge and artificially compress the nuanced relationships between ideas.

Andy Matuschak, Prefer associative ontologies to hierarchical taxonomies

Now to try to bring this all full circle, I’d like to clarify what a concept map is and how it relates to what was said above by relaying some quotes from an article entitled The Ultimate Guide to Concept Maps: From Its Origin to Concept Map Best Practices.

A concept map illustrates a set of meaningful propositions about a topic.

Generally, a concept map should be woven around a focus question, which is the problem or the issue the concept map seeks to resolve. The better the focus question, the richer the concept map will be.

Concept maps are based on Ausubel’s Assimilation theory. This is built around the fact that new knowledge can be learned effectively by linking it to what is already known.

As you identify these connections put down the linking words or phrases to indicate the relationship between the two concepts you are linking.

The Ultimate Guide to Concept Maps: From Its Origin to Concept Map Best Practices

Even more importantly, if you dig further into what Ausubel’s Assimilation Theory means, more poignant quotes can be found. Note the description of “high level” learning.

David Ausubel’s Assimilation Learning Theory focuses on what he describes as ‘meaningful Learning’. This is a process where new information is related to an existing relevant aspect of the individual’s knowledge structure. This component of his theory fits with the concepts of short and long term memory in cognitive information processing.His theory integrates the cognitive, affective and psychomotor.

He identifies two aspects of learning – rote learning and meaningful learning. I am sure we have all experienced these two as a learner and a teacher! Rote learning is learning – but it is not high level learning and has implications for recall and transferability.

Ausubel’s Assimilation Theory

More specifically in terms of meaningful learning, note how it differs from traditional rote learning. If I say so myself, this is exactly the type of learning that is needed in our rapidly changing world today, as it helps us to “level up” through vertical development and understand higher complexities of order in life.

Deliberate effort to link new knowledge with other higher order concepts

Learning related to experiences

Can be applied in a variety of new problems or contexts (transferable)

Ausubel’s Assimilation Theory

All said and done, I’d like to leave you with something Justine Musk said in her article Don’t Lose The Snake: Creativity, Difference The Bold Point of View (via the Internet Archive) which I’ve been trying to figuring out how to achieve for sometime now which I think this “concept map” note-taking system might be able to do.

It might be worth asking yourself, what do you believe that nobody else believes? How can you express that belief through your product or service in a way that someone else might find relevant and even self-enhancing? Don’t just ask, who is your consumer – ask, who do you want your consumer to become? What kind of story can you tell around your product or service to help him become that? How can you build out the world of your story so that the consumer can find different ways of entering it and interacting with it — especially in this day and age of social media?

I don’t think in terms of platform anymore; your platform is your storyworld for the consumer to explore and get lost in.

Justine Musk, Don’t Lose The Snake: Creativity, Difference The Bold Point of View

What I’m getting at here is what if you could make your note-taking system not just your own map of meaning and worldview for understanding yourself but it could also be your “storyworld” which others could “explore and get lost” in at their own pace, thus helping them to understand you in turn as well. Again this mirrors with my approach of seeing life metaphorically as an adventure, one whereby you are exploring beyond your existing world(view) to “level up” but also where others can explore where you have already explored in turn as well.

Vertical Development

Adapting World Views Using Maps of Meaning

Going beyond knowledge and intelligence to adapting with awareness and consciousness.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve stopped all of my work and have just been reflecting on things. I’ve done so because I feel like I’ve hit a wall, whereby I don’t see how I can effectively communicate and continue my work anymore because the depth of it is often misunderstood and paradoxical to conventional minds.

Simply put, my work seems counter-intuitive and thus illogical to most people.

The crux of this has to do with the conventional belief that most of the worlds problems are due to people being stupid (i.e. “vast empty minds needing filling”) and they just need to get smarter, obtaining more knowledge. Once they do, everything will be better. The problem with this approach though is that everyone thinks they are smart now and know everything, while everyone else is seen as stupid.

Therefore the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough smart people. The problem is that we don’t have people aware and conscious enough to know if they are smart or not. It reminds me of quote relating to Darwin which articulates how intelligence isn’t the end all and be all.

According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.

Leon C. Megginson

There also seems to be this current belief that the world is getting stupider. I disagree. It’s not. If anything, we’re just becoming more aware of how many people are actually ignorant of things that we assumed they understood. Note I said ignorant not stupid. In effect, these people assume and believe they understand the world but are unaware that they don’t.

Why are we becoming aware of this now though? It’s because the world is rapidly changing. Back when things were more stable, everyone fit into their roles and place, with little cause to question things. Yet now that things are rapidly changing, people’s awareness and understanding of the world is being put to the test on almost a daily level, causing them to question everything. And how they answer these questions determines whether they truly understand the meaning of things or not.

And I think therein lies the problem which lies within us, lying to us. How we make our meaning is determined by how we perceive our world (aka worldview), thus relating to our beliefs and assumptions. Therefore, intelligence is not the end all and be all. What is more important than intelligence is our consciousness and awareness of things because it is the context of which our intelligence is contained within.

If acts of intelligence focus broadly on doing, awareness is more about a state of being.

In fact, you could say that awareness is the space inside of which intelligence lives. I mean, how can you be “intelligent” about anything that’s outside of your awareness.

The Precision Principle

What I find remarkable about this is that instead of the typical belief that we need more knowledge to make everyone smarter and everything better, it’s actually the opposite in a way. We actually need to unlearn. And I think this gets to the roots of vertical development. It’s basically about challenging your assumptions and beliefs…before they are challenged by life itself, as they will most definitely be in our rapidly changing world today, as Alvin Toffler notes below.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Change is not merely necessary to life – it is life.

The responsibility for change…lies within us. We must begin with ourselves, teaching ourselves not to close our minds prematurely to the novel, the surprising, the seemingly radical.

A new civilization is emerging in our lives, and blind men everywhere are trying to suppress it.

Alvin Toffler

Another way of looking at this all is realizing that how we make our meaning and understanding of our world arises from how we perceive and see the relationship between things within it (including ourselves). And how we adapt, or more aptly transform the way we perceive our world and its meaning, is by changing these relationships. When we do so, we transform the meaning of our world and the way we perceive it, in turn.

Kegan explains that transformation is different than learning new information or skills. New information may add to the things a person knows, but transformation changes the way he or she knows things. Transformation, according to Kegan, is about changing the very form of the meaning-making system—making it more complex, more able to deal with multiple demands and uncertainty.

Jennifer Garvey Berger, A Summary of Constructive-Developmental Theory Of Robert Kegan

Why this is relevant is because I remembered a while back stumbling across learning about concept maps which are effectively maps of meaning which show our understanding of knowledge by showing the relationship between concepts and allowing you to narratively describe the meaning of something by following the relationship flows within it.

More importantly, it can also help you to see how you are misunderstanding the meaning of something as well, since you’ve explicitly extracted this meaning from within yourself and mapped the relationships of it, thus allowing you to see and manage it more easily.

All said and done, I think concept maps are something that I need to explore further, as a possible way to get beyond this wall that I’m hitting. In effect, I need a tool that is extremely simple and basic but can be used as a building block to articulate and communicate complex, even paradoxical, ideas. Yet more than anything, I have a funny intuition that it might be more effective in articulating and communicating the basic understanding and meaning of things in our world today that so many people are often misunderstanding.

In a sense, imagine as a traveller ending up lost in a small town and being told that your map is out of date. Getting a new local map, you compare the old and the new, seeing the now evident primary differences between the two. That’s what I feel like I’m looking for. Some simple way to visually show people the difference between their outdated conventional meaning of the world compared to a much larger reality.

Best of all, if I can figure a way to do this, I can use it to continually test my own assumptions and beliefs with my own development as well.

Web Technology

Emulating Featured Blocks in WordPress

Over the last day or so, I heavily modified my current Twenty Twenty WordPress theme to see if I could emulate Featured Block functionality that I’d like to see added to WordPress in a future update (probably as a “Make Featured Block” checkbox in compatible blocks).

This arose out of my thoughts the other day where I believed WordPress needed to go beyond Featured Images and shift to Featured Blocks, especially if it wants to be able to emulate old Post Format features that are comparable to features on other platforms.

Basically the first part of emulating this was easy by defining a specific block as Featured Block by just adding a class within the Advanced area of the block and calling it “featured”.

It got trickier though because you need to allow the Featured Block to be displayed on the blog list view but without the rest of the post content. Thus to achieve this, every post that you create has to have a “More” Block within it that the Featured Block has to be above, thus allowing it to be shown on the blog list view, with the rest of the post content below it, so it remains hidden in the blog list view.

After achieving these two things, the hardest part of all is then getting the Featured Block to be shown and stylized in the right way utilizing a Grid Card style (which I was easily able to activate using the Twentig plugin for the Twenty Twenty WordPress theme). Trying to get the Featured Block to move to the top of each card post was way too difficult to do using CSS alone, so I decided to use jQuery to move it there.

And last but not least, a butt load of CSS was finally done to stylize each specific Featured Block type I decided to use (i.e. Pullquote, Cover, etc).

All said and done, I’m pretty amazed I achieved this in such a short amount of time. Going forward, I’ll see if I can stylize and optimize it further.

Best of all though, this new theme layout finally allows me to feel comfortable writing in both short form and long form because the blog list view of the theme emulates Twitter’s card format. So if I want to write a short thought of a sentence or two, it looks great on the blog list view. Although I need some small simple visual indicator icon on the card that indicates if there is more to read, so that the reader knows if there is more content inside the card or not.