Sunday, February 12, 2006

Linus' Law as an Ultimate Hypothesis

Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux (which is also where Linux gets it's name), has been credited with the law (though he might not have put it this way himself) that "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow". What this means for non-hackers is that the more people you have looking at a problem, the greater the probability is that someone will find a solution.

This has been a powerful tool for the development of Linux. Linux, once a user has climbed the learning curve associated with it, is a much more stable and powerful operating system than Windows. The development model of Linux allows for greater innovation. It also allows for greater schisms as well. As of now there probably somewhere around a hundred plus different types (or as linux users call them "distributions") of linux. Each one of these has it's costs and it's benefits. For example: The distribution of Linux that I use is called "Ubuntu". This is by far the best distribution for users who believe (like me) that computers are a means to an end. It's not the quickest distribution, and there isn't as much software for it as there are other distributions. But from the moment it is installed it just works. You don't have to fiddle around with it to get it to work.

Another distribution, Gentoo, is a complete pain in the ass to install. You have to basically build your computer from the ground up. Every single bit of code that gets put on you hard drive is put there by you the user. However, every bit of code that gets put on your hard drive is chosen by you. Gentoo gives the end user WAY more choice as to what the end operating system will be. Through some very innovative programming, Gentoo also allows you to install nearly any linux program from it's source code, unlike Ubuntu. Because of the way Gentoo is setup, it is a very fast distribution. But the wo/man hours needed to get an Ubuntu system up and running is way more than the average user of a computer would ever want to put in.

Enough about linux. What I want to focus on here is Linus' Law (LL). Computers are not the only environment where LL applies. The way I see it, it has been at work for thousands of years. If we assume that the causal relations of geography and culture/technology put forth by quite a few people, including Jared Diamond (of Guns, Germs and Steel fame) holds true, than we can formulate an hypothesis regarding LL and cultural development.

History shows that the technologies that led to European dominance were not unique to Europe. In fact, they were variations on a theme of technologies that were brought from the ajacent longitudes along similar lattitudes. The land area from Asia to Europe is immense. The amount of people in this area is also immense. Therefore, we have more eyes looking at the same, or at least very similar sets of problems. LL then predicts that as the population increases in this area, the rate of advancement should also increase, which is what we see. Someone could probably develop an equation that models this process. When innovations occured they traveled in a latitudinal direction.

Applying LL to cultural development explains why the tribes that were indigenous to what is today South Africa didn't develop as fast as those populations in Eurasia. The South African climate is very similar to that of the parts of Eurasia that had fast technological growth. However, the land mass of this advantageous climate is much smaller than that of Eurasia. It is also isolated from for similar climates. For the domestic animals that flowed from the Middle East to Europe, getting to South Africa requires travelling through drastically different climates. It would be impossible for a cow, which requires an enormous amount of grazing land to survive. A cow would not be able to survive in the deserts and jungles that separate North Africa and South Africa long enough to make it through to South Africa. This assumes that someone consciously intended to bring domestic livestock to South Africa before colonialization by Europe.

LL, however does not explain why Europe developed guns from Middle Eastern bombards, and why Europe developed moveable type from the print making techniques of Asia. LL also does not take into account that some problems require well educated, and highly specialized types of knowledge. This are things to be expounded on some other day.


At 3:13 AM, Blogger bugsweeper said...

There is a book about this called "Guns, Germs and Steel." Visit the PBS website that addresses your idea at .

At 7:16 PM, Blogger linguizic said...

My first post on this blog is about "Guns, Germs and Steel". This entry was merely expounding on Jared Diamond's work.


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