Concept maps for

Many thinking tools provide a concept map of the users' notes, either off the shelf or via plug-ins. These maps, however, won't currently appear on the web-facing version of a Should they, and if so how should they work?

(This post is massively incomplete. Please dont let that stop you contributing, as I've taken a permanent version snapshot (see Revision notes).

A few months ago Jerry Michalski recommended Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined to me. It's huge, covering 1000s of years of human history in almost 850 dense pages, followed by 60 pages of notes, another 60 of references and a 50-page index.

I found myself regretting, as I finished it, that I hadn't read it with my laptop alongside me, making notes as I go. There are just so many ideas in it, each supported by a web of data, scientific papers and other ideas, that it's impossible to hold all of it in my head. The book's notes, references and index are useful, but they're locked away in my bookshelf, not here where I need them in my notes.

So it got me thinking: if I was to note what I found in a book like Pinker's, how would I organise and present those notes so I could get the most out of them? And how could I share and discuss them with other people? After all, as with any significant book, there's been no shortage of opposing challenges and critiques.

More than a list of notes

After all, the book is not a mere enumeration of ideas and their supporting facts: it provides a structure of interlocking ideas to explain downward trends in the level of violence over the past centuries - paraphrasing Wikipedia's summary, he sets out what I'll call here 15 high-level ideas:

  • Six trends of declining violence, from the Pacification Process (from the anarchy of hunting, gathering, and horticultural societies to the first agricultural civilizations) through to the Rights Revolutions since the end of WWII
  • Five inner demons: psychological systems from Predatory violence through to Ideology
  • Four better angels, which despite being outnumbered seem to have gained the upper hand: Empathy, Self-control, Moral sense and Reason.

Crucially, a lot of the data he introduces in support of one idea also supports other ones, while occasionally he'll mention data which supports some ideas but seems to oppose other ideas. Science is like that.

Concept maps

A good set notes from such a book would not be a useless hairball of interlocking markdown files - it should reflect this structure as well as the actual (sub)chapter structure of the book itself.

Users of Obsidian know that, unlike Roam Research, it comes with a pretty useful graph view - here's a snapshot of a graph of the notes in this, taken as I write this:

But I'd like something a little more sophisticated, like this:

Going social

Coincidentally, shortly after I finished the book, I was invited to an Obsidian Book Club: a bunch of people who read the same book, write their notes into a Dropbox-shared Obsidian vault, and meet every week to literally compare notes.

Revision Notes