Prefer associative ontologies to hierarchical taxonomies

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. Our file systems, organizational structures, and libraries suggest that hierarchical categories are the natural structure of the world. But often items belong in many places. And items relate to other items in very different hierarchical categories. It’s better to let networks of related ideas to gradually emerge, unlabeled: Let ideas and beliefs emerge organically. Once you can see the shape, then you can think about its character. This is one reason why Evergreen notes are a safe place to develop wild ideas.

  • This is great in theory, but this is the big issue for me when considering a Zettelkasten-like system over a traditional hierarchy:

    One consequence of following this advice: It’s hard to navigate to unlinked “neighbors” in associative note systems.

  • Two solutions:

    1. “Outline notes” can create pseudo-hierarchies with order and structure by linking to many child notes. Then we need the UI to support navigating between neighbors “through” these outline notes.

    2. Tags (especially hierarchical tags) can help, but they lack authored order and structure: Tags are an ineffective association structure.

  • Hierarchies are more comfortable because there’s not as much anxiety over losing (or not being able to find) a note, but this is definitely an interesting idea to consider, especially when my hierarchy is better fleshed out.