PKM and Thomas Bayes – Tags vs Folders

I am/was struggling with a well known problem: how to organize my knowledge? There are numerous recipes available, lately supported by computer software. I tried many of them – Notion, Obsidian, Logseq, Heptabase, Rem, Capacities, Kosmik, Muse, Scrintal. I tried with great endeavor and failed at last: there is no one and only perfect solution. I realized why this is difficult (for me) and I want to share my insights. Skip the following paragraph if you are interested in what the headline means. Just my life history.

My problem has nothing to do with software (or hardware if I would go back to my beloved Zettelkasten used while being at university). It is a mindset or a thinking trap: you have to be clear about how to tackle problems. Perhaps this depends on how you think: I know I think “bottom up”. Did this forever. Never knew how to think top down, although this was a paradigm demanded in software development, one of my jobs while studying laying the foundation for later teaching. Thomas Bayes was a pastor, therefore having much time to think about problems, and so he did (read more about this at Bill Brysons “A short history of private life”). He published two works during lifetime, one of it being “Divine Benevolence, or an Attempt to Prove That the Principal End of the Divine Providence and Government is the Happiness of His Creatures“. I did not read this essay, although nowadays this would attract me more than anything else. After his death some of his thinking about probability was discovered and is known by his name until now. Rightfully. Although his work was based on works of Moivre and later Laplace.

Organizing your atomic notes (or documents) into ONE folder inevitably leads to problems, when there is more than one fitting. As duplicating a file is nonsense obviously and using file system links is cumbersome you have to decide a main criteria. And you have to remember it. I am convinced that the necessity of search engines even in a filesystem is due to this problem. I am stunned that mind maps, which suffer from the same dilemma are that successful (of course there are workarounds drawing dashed lines between two items on different branches). This is just another folder paradigm, many tools allow to change the display to either form.

So what? Tags are a partial solution allowing an item to have two tags, so it is living in two “folders”. But how about a graphical solution? Scrintal, which I am using since more than a year does exactly that: it allows to build arbitrary graphs, connecting an item to any other. You can use tags too – but you don’t have to, as concept maps, cards containing links to related items do the same). This IMHO is a universal concept allowing anything to be organized. And it is the analogy to the Zettelkasten used in former times.

And Bayes? His famous theorem is about organizing items using one criterion (A) or the other (B). Both are correct, but clearly different. This is hard to understand without using diagrams. And reality, mapped to our PKM graphs, is much more complex.

(By Gnathan87 – Own work, CC0)

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