What is Atomic Knowledge?

Atomic knowledge is a system focused on managing individual ideas we encounter in information. Each individual idea is referred to as an ‘atom’.

The Atoms Analogy

Atoms are building blocks assembled together to create a bigger structure or molecule. This is a similar process to taking the ideas you have collected and assembling them together. This assembling helps you to gain deeper understanding and create something ‘bigger’ from those ideas. Your ideas can have come from other people and places and from your own brain.

Collecting Interesting Ideas

When coming across an interesting idea that we want to remember, we typically add them into notes. We continue reading and find more ideas, so they are added into the note too. Over time, you end up with a collection or list of ideas within one note or document.

Once our summary is complete, we are faced with 2 important decisions:

  1. what do we title this summary containing ideas spanning a variety of topics?
  2. where do we store this summary?

This system stores all the key ideas and interesting take-aways together just one place. And usually under an unrelated Summary title.

The Problem with Summaries

Some time goes by, and you remember that you came across a great idea and added it to a summary. But where was it stored? And which summary is it in?

To refind it, you can wait until you remember some more information about where it’s stored. Alternatively you can dig through every summary document you have saved, or go refind a new source of that idea. None of which get us to that idea quickly

Summaries vs Atomic Knowledge
on the left is a typical bullet point summary of information, where you store many ideas in just one place.  Alternatively on the right is an Atomic Knowledge approach, where you store each idea individually as an Atom

Collecting Atomic Knowledge

Atoms are an alternative approach, where each interesting idea you encouter is stored individually.

Each atom can now be accessed since it isn’t hidden within a summary document, which can make it easier for you to refind the idea you are looking for.

Atoms are your highlights, insights, annotations, idea notes, fleeting notes, aha moments. We use Atoms as a catch-all for any knowledge that you want to save for the future

As you add Atoms you can navigate to refind knowledge of use to you quickly, as you can search through your knowledge at the Atoms level, rather than the Summaries level.

Atomic Knowledge on Protolyst

On Protolyst you can upload sources of your knowledge, highlight the insights you want to add as an Atom, hit ‘Capture Atom‘ and the Atom will be created and added into your workspace.

Atoms have different names in different places. You might have come across the idea of Atomic Notes, which is well summarised by Vicky Zhao here and in this article in relation to Zettlekasten here.

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