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Antinets (aka, Analog Zettelkastens) and The Power of Tree Structures


Scott P. Scheper

Downtown San Diego, CA




Thursday 8:07 pm

Dear Friend,

Where did I leave off?

Oh yes, that's right... taxonomies. Fun, fun.

But seriously, it is fascinating for information science wannabe nerds like myself! If you're reading this now, I'm going to assume you meet this characteristic as well.

And by the way, I include an asterisk (*) next to the "You" in the "To" field above because, I'm only writing to You, if You is characterized by the page I wrote about you![1]

Anyway, let's get into things.

The bottom line is this: Luhmann's antinet (analog zettelkasten) was not of taxonomical nature. It was not centered on organizing information into a hierarchical structure for retrieval by the masses. It was not standardized. It mirrors, quite literally, how one's very own mind works—and everyone's mind is unique.

You cannot standardize how a human ought to experience life, and you cannot standardize how a human ought to think!

One mistake I see proponents of oxymoronic digital zettelkastens make is this:

First, they create a digital note text file (e.g. a markdown file). They then create a table of contents (quite literally an associative array), and associate some human-readable phrase to a different text file. (I'm not talking about HTML, of course. No, thiz so much moar profoundz! I'm not talking about these things: <a href=""> no, of course not! What I'm talking about is but a new profound invention—it's a wikilink! Yes, seriously, they call it a wikilink, and treat it as some groundbreaking innovation. Hate to break it to you... but you're not going to write 70 books and 550 research papers because of wikilinks. Nor will you do so because you call a table of contents a Structure Zettel or a Map of Content.[2] Nor will you do so because you buy into whatever other digital invention becomes popular and sexy. Luhmann was a publication machine because he did things the hard way—the time-intensive way—the best way.

Anyway, I digress...

Back to the point.

The scholar who studied Luhmann's system closest is Johannes Schmidt.[3] I like how Schmidt referred to Luhmann's system. Schmidt calls Luhmann's antinet not an order of contents but a fixed order of positioning.[4] It's not a system of random morphing structure zettels or maps of content.

"Defining a system of contents (resembling a book’s table of contents) would imply committing to a specific sequence once and for all (for decades to come!)"

Indeed, many of the structure zettels aim to be a home-base hub; something of an evergreen table of contents that require constant pruning. Such a concept gets in the way of the actual important work—the writing part, and the thinking part.

So, Scott, What The Hell Type of Structure IS an Antinet?!

Well, in the absence of actually testing out an antinet on your own (which will be easier to do once I publish my book on it!), allow me to share an analogy with you in the meantime.

Think of an Antinet as a Tree

Each leaf on the tree is a notecard or card. Every single leaf is the same in terms of its rank. There's no super leaf, or king leaf, or parent leaf, or child leaf.

Second, there's an ID on each leaf, a notecard ID (aka, card ID). The ID on each leaf refers to its position on a branch of a tree. That's all.

The card ID represents the location of the leaf. Its address, if you prefer. Not some type of hierarchical class, or order of its status. They're all just leaves. Some grow stale, even. You'll come to recognize this as a necessary and good part of the system.

A leaf at branch 21, and a leaf at branch 21/4 just means a leaf on branch 21, and the fourth leaf positioned on that branch. That's all. No superiority complex here. Trees are pretty chill characters, honestly!

There are branches on trees (think major sections, which morph over time because they're not taxonomies, or fixed).

There are also stems on trees. Think of stems as flowing thoughts and insights that span over cards consecutively—usually during those times you have a flash of insight. For an example of this see Luhmann's card ZK I: Note 17/11e.[5] Those red letters are sorta like relative links. They point down-stem to other leaves on the current stem of thought.

There are also vines on trees. Vines allow you to swing from one area of your tree to another area on your tree. You can swing from one branch to another branch. Or even from one stem directly to a leaf! The way you do such is through Notecard Links (aka, Cardlinks). An example cardlink would be a vine from 17/11e to 17/11eC.[6]

How are vines created?

They rely on one thing: Card IDs.

"Cool, Scott," you're probably thinking, "all this tree talk is cute... now why the hell should I care?!" Here's why:

I propose that the most powerful systems have tree-like properties.

I propose that the very best systems do not just have the property of emergence, but also have the innate structure of trees.

Github, for instance, is built on a tree-like structure. When Github arrived to the version-control arena, it quickly blew away the other systems (which were rife with horrid version conflicts and syncing issues; think technologies like SVN).[7]

The characteristic providing antinet zettelkastens with infinite internal extension and growth—organically (in a way mirroring biology) centers on its tree-like structure.

Indeed, the human mind and memory rely on an analogous structure (which I will be writing about more in the future).

Now, not to get too metaphysical, but it's time to get... well... metaphysical af.

Not only do tree-like structures have applications of the practical sort, trees are a very powerful symbol in human nature. Indeed, trees serve as the central motif for humankind's most moving belief systems. Let's explore:

Trees are the core symbol of the most important stories ever told in theological systems—both Eastern and Western.

In the West, the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth serves as perhaps the most prolific story in theological history. The motifs, according to one scholar, center around life after death (creating a legacy out of one's work). Yet more pertinent stands the scholar's reflection of Christ on the Holy Rood.[8] The holy rood is the cross made out of a tree, referred to as The Tree of Redemption.[8:1]

There's also the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge, from The Book of Genesis. If you were ever wondering why there's evil in the world, here's why...

Because of that God-damn Eve woman who ate from The Tree of Knowledge!. Gahhh...

Anyway, let's move into Eastern theology.

In the East, we have the foundational story of The Buddha's Enlightenment. The motifs of this story center around once spoiled aristocrat—turned ascetic named Siddartha Gautama. One day, when sitting beneath to bodhi tree, for something like seven days straight, young Siddartha became enlightened. This, in turn, became known as the Tree of Enlightenment. The Bodhi tree created what we know as Buddha.[9]

Not only in perhaps the most prolific instantiations of Eastern and Western religion do we find the import of trees as a symbol. We also see such in our modern mythological stories. Think Harry Potter, and the wand used as the source of power. Think of the Ents (tree creatures), from The Lord of The Rings. Think of The Game of Thrones, and the core symbol of Winterfell, the heart tree.[10] In Grame of Thrones, Think of Bran meeting (and becoming) the Three-Eyed Raven in the place beyond the wall. Who was the Three-Eyed Raven? Basically, he was an old dude with a tree up his ass (had to lighten up all this mythological tree talk... Sorry, not sorry).

OK, now let's tie this all together... well sorta.

Here's the deal: Over time, new leaves emerge and grow between old leaves. They're always changing.

The system is a combination of several parts. Branches, stems, leaves, and vines. Again, like all leaves, some grow stale. Some areas of the tree grow and flourish unexpectedly. Luhmann himself stated, "some things fade away; some notes are never seen again."[11] You'll come to recognize this as a necessary and good part of the system. The reason why you should invite this centers around the antithesis occurring. Ideas you had that were initially positioned to play a minor role in what you're working on, come to dominate the system, as the leading scholar on Luhmann's system writes.[12]

When you take the red pill, you enter the world of the antinet. You enter the world of physically and metaphysically building your own Tree of Knowledge.

The only question is whether or not you want to stay in wonderland, and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Until then,

Peace and love.

And always remember...

To stay crispy my friend.


Scott P. Scheper

P.P.S. I'd love for you to express any other ideas, or positive experiences you've had with an antinet (i.e. an analog zettelkasten).

Here's how you can help:

I'm active on the Reddit Zettelkasten community and intend to source your questions and comments there.

Here is a link to the Reddit Zettelkasten community:

You can find me on some thread there. Here's my user profile:

  1. ↩︎

  2. See:;; ↩︎

  3. Disclaimer: I'm not using Schmidt as an appeal to authority. So if you want, you're free to discard everything I'm about to say, and cast it aside as an appeal to authority argument (and carry forth with your mouthbreathing ways.) ↩︎

  4. Schmidt, Johannes. “Niklas Luhmann‘s Card Index: Thinking Tool, Communication Partner, Publication Machine.” Forgetting Machines. Knowledge Management Evolution in Early Modern Europe 53 (2016). Page 300. ↩︎

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  6. ↩︎

  7. ↩︎

  8. See Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. Bollingen Series XVII. (Novato, Calif: New World Library, 2008), page 25. See also ↩︎ ↩︎

  9. Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. Bollingen Series XVII. (Novato, Calif: New World Library, 2008), Page 25. ↩︎

  10. ↩︎

  11. Schmidt, Johannes. “Niklas Luhmann‘s Card Index: Thinking Tool, Communication Partner, Publication Machine.” Forgetting Machines. Knowledge Management Evolution in Early Modern Europe 53 (2016). Page 300. ↩︎

  12. Ibid, p. 300. ↩︎


Thursday 10:38 pm

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