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How to Get Started Building an Antinet Zettelkasten


Scott P. Scheper

Downtown San Diego, CA




Thursday 5:19 pm

"If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water"
— Ernest Hemingway

Dear Friend,

Take out a pen. Black ink.

Take out a 4x6" notecard.[1]

On the blank side of the notecard, in the top-right corner, or top-left corner,[2] write, 1000 (no comma).

In the center write, Arts & Humanities (Trunk).

Take out another notecard.

In the corner write 2000, and in the middle write Social Sciences (Trunk).

Take out another notecard.

In the corner write 3000, and in the middle write Natural Sciences (Trunk).

Take out another notecard.

In the corner write 4000, and in the middle write Formal Sciences (Trunk).

Take out one more notecard.

In the corner write 5000, and in the middle write Applied Arts & Sciences (Trunk).

Now, stack all five of these cards in sequential order from 1000 to 5000, and place them in a shoebox.

Now pull out 26 blank notecards and set them in front of you.

With the first notecard, in the top-left corner write, A (1).

Under this A (1) draw a horizontal line from the left-end of the notecard to the right-end of the notecard.

If you are using notecards that are ruled (aka, index cards), then alternatively you may use the ruled index card size.

It should look like this:

Do the same exact thing for the remaining twenty five letters in the alphabet.

Now, stack the 26 cards in alphabetical order, from A (1) - Z (1), then place the stack of 26 cards in a different shoebox than the first shoebox.

The first shoebox is your antinet. Your antinet is a forest containing trees of knowledge. Right now the forest contains only five trees, each with only a trunk (1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000). There are no branches on the trees, nor are there any leaves on the trees.

The second shoebox with 26 cards is your index. Your index is the map you create as you explore and build your forest. As you swing from branch to branch, tree to tree, stem to stem, leaf to leaf, you will want to continually add more details onto it. Your index helps you navigate your forest, your antinet.

Now, pull out another blank notecard.

On this notecard, write out the following quote:

"One of the most basic presuppositions of communication is that the partners can mutually surprise each other. Only in the way can information be produced in the respective other. Information is an intra-systematic event. It results when one compares one message or entry with regard to other possibilities. Information, accordingly, originates only in systems which possess a comparative schema—even if this amounts only to: "this or something else."

Where should we place this card?


It seems the quote is a thought entailing something to do with information and/or communication. I guess it could be filed in either an information branch, or a communication branch. But which one? Actually, we don't need it to be perfect. We only need a rough starting point.[3]

OK, so back to the question, where the hell should we place this card?!

I know what can help us figure out this conundrum. Let's consult the academic disciplinary fields to see if they can provide us with some direction.

Let's use wikipedia's academic disciplinary fields pages. There are two pages which are very helpful:

Wikipedia's Outline of Academic Disciplines

Wikipedia's List of Academic Fields

Let's navigate to the first one, and let's agree on another thing: we'll decide on the main idea in this quote revolves around information.

Now, let's open up the Wikipedia page on Outline of Academic Disciplines, and search the term information.

Hmm... there are 21 search results for the term on the page, meh. And the first three seem irrelevant...

But alas!

The fourth result seems intriguing... it's something called Information theory. What the hell is Information theory? Let's find out.

Pull out another blank notecard. In the middle write:

Information Theory (Branch)
Information theory studies the transmission, processing, extraction, and utilization of information.

Still with me?


You should now have two cards in front of you. One with the quote written on it, and the other for Information Theory (Branch). If you don't, retrace your steps (and get your shit together).

Let's keep going.

So, now we have two cards with handwritten stuff on them.

Where should we file these?

Let's start with the second card we wrote. The one on Information Theory (Branch).

By consulting Wikipedia's Outline of Academic Disciplines, we can see that Information Theory falls under the field of Formal Sciences, and specifically within the subfield of Computer Science. Cool, we're getting somewhere.

Pull out another blank card.

In the top-corner write, 4200 and in the middle write:

Computer Science (Branch)
Computer Science is the study of computation, automation, and information.

Now, consult your Index. In your Index box find the card C (1) and pull it out.

With the card C (1), write a bullet point entry that reads Computer Science: "4200".

It should look something like this:

Now place C (1) back inside the Index, and file the card 4200 behind the card 4000 in your antinet.

OK, now back to the Information Theory (Branch) card.

Where should we file the Information Theory (Branch) card?

Let's place it within the Computer Science branch, as according to Wikipedia's Outline of Academic Disciplines, that's where it falls under. So, let's choose 4212.

In the top-corner of the Information Theory (Branch) card write 4212. Now file it in your antinet behind card 4200.

OK, there should be one remaining card in front of you—the card with the long-quote on it pertaining to information (and communication). Let's figure out where to file this card.

Hmm... what does this card relate closest to?

That's easy. It relates closest to the Information Theory branch. Actually, let's file it within the Information Theory branch!

In the top-right corner of the card write 4212/1.

Hell yes! Everything's filed correctly, right?

Oops, not quite.

There's a few more things we ought to do.

Pull out the I (1) card from your Index.

Create an entry: Information Theory, and next to that write, 4212

It should look like this:

Ah, yes… there's another thing we ought to do (since we're pros).

Let's add an entry under our Index, C (1) for Communication within the context of Information Theory. Pull out C (1) and under it write Communication (within Information Theory): "4212/1"[4]

It should look like this:

OK, now file C (1) by putting it back in your Index.

In front of you, should be one notecard: 4212/1. Before you file it away, we have one more thing we need to do.

What you did was write down a quote.[5] There's one issue that remains, and that is: where did the quote come from? To answer this, we shall now dive into references.

Stay with me, we're almost done.

On a laptop or desktop computer, download Zotero by visiting

After you download and install Zotero on your computer, there is one more step. You must download the Zotero connector for your browser (i.e. Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Edge). Visit the following link and download the connector for the browser that you use:

After doing those two steps, here's what you're going to do now:

First, open up the Zotero Desktop Application.

Now, using the browser in which you have the Zotero Connector installed, visit the following URL:

This URL is where the quote originated from. In fact, Luhmann himself wrote that quote in his original paper on Zettelkasten.

Here's what we're going to do now:

While viewing this web page, click the Zotero icon which should now be installed in the panel of your browser. It should capture the page and add it as an entry to your Zotero Desktop application.

Now, switch over to the Zotero Desktop application. Click on the new entry. It should look something like this:

After clicking on the entry, you should see four buttons in the right-hand area: Info, Notes, Tags, and Related.

Click Tags.

Add a new tag and name it r.TDSSZ[6]

The "r." prepended to the reference identifier indicates that we're referencing an external reference stored in Zotero, or whatever reference management system you prefer.[7]

Ok, now let's jump back to the card, "4212/1".

Take out a pen. One with red ink.

In the bottom-right corner write the following, using red ink: "(r.TDSSZ)". This signals to us where this quote came from.

Now take a look at that beautiful card in front of you. Bask in its glory.

Now file it away behind notecard "4212".

That's it.

You're just getting started!

Warm regards,

Scott P. Scheper

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  1. If you are living in a geographic region ascribing to ISO standards, use the A6 paper size. Or, if you do not have access to 4"x6" notecards, or A6 paper size, just get creative. Cut a piece of paper to such a size. Niklas Luhmann, the man most-credited with devising the original analog zettelkasten concept used old pieces of paper from his father's brewery, as well as paper from his childrens' old coloring books. ↩︎

  2. Luhmann chose the top-left corner; I prefer top-right corner. ↩︎

  3. Luhmann's zettelkasten was not rigid, it was not dynamic and fluid, either. It was, as one scholar describes, a "rough" structure.

    Cf r.schmidt2 p. 7 ↩︎

  4. As a separator for indicating you're creating a "stem" of thought, and thus branching downwards, Luhmann used a comma (",") in his first Zettelkasten, and a period (".") in his second Zettelkasten. I prefer forward slashes ("/"); choose whichever on you prefer, or invent your own. ↩︎

  5. One myth propagated by Sönke Ahrens in his book on How to Take Smart Notes centers on the notion that Luhmann did not write down quotes. This is a false notion. ↩︎

  6. Since the website was created by yours truly, and since it is called The Daily Scott Scheper, and, since it is a page about Zettelkasten, that's where the abbreviation comes from: "TDSSZ". ↩︎

  7. You can even ditch the whole digital reference management system like Zotero (but how to do that is something I'm not going to cover here). ↩︎


Thursday 5:38 pm