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Science vs. witchcraft.

This BusinessWeek interview with Linus Torvalds contains a very interesting point: Torvalds compares the open-source way of developing software to the scientific method. Programmers put ideas forward; they’re critiqued publicly; and, if they stand up to scrutiny and to repeated testing, these ideas are incorporated into the overall body of work; other people then build on that framework.

Seen in this light, open source isn’t as novel as it might have once seemed. Of course, this view also makes it much more radical, because it’s not so much a system as an attitude–a mindset of skepticism, curious inquiry, and empiricism–and that can be much more thoroughgoing.

“I compare it to science vs. witchcraft. In science, the whole system builds on people looking at other people’s results and building on top of them. In witchcraft, somebody had a small secret and guarded it — but never allowed others to really understand it and build on it.

“Traditional software is like witchcraft. In history, witchcraft just died out. “


  1. quanta

    I’m not sure if that is a particularily good analogy…a better analogy would be pre-Revolution science vs. modern science. For example, Pythagoras formed a cult to keep his Pythagoras Theorem a secret. Rivalry caused Isaac Newton to hide his work on calculus for thirty years!

    Now, we have peer review and published journals, and science has propelled forward because of this. People see that science and its benefits belongs to humanity as a whole.

    Open source is just an extension of this principle of sharing information to enhance and improve upon existing concepts.

  2. Dirk

    Cooperation is the natural thing today. The more people can put their opinion/skill into something, the more people to choose what to take into the final product the better it can get.

    I like the analogy.

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