Accidental profound wisdom

Well, this might not be the most appropriate title for this. I need to explain this, but first let me point to the article/email in question. Now that I have pointed to it, I want to note that there is a deeply profound set of statements in this email, which seems to be a series of responses to a discussion. Bear with me.


In this email, Linus Torvalds discusses some things about the licensing of Linux. Most of you probably don’t care about this. I do to a degree, but I won’t get into it here.

Note also, when I say accidental profound wisdom, I don’t mean that he or anyone else on the list is not wise. What I mean is that there is a far deeper profound meaning IMO in his words than he may have initially realized. Or maybe he did realize it and intentionally wrote it that way. I dunno.

Scroll down near to the bottom. You will see this.

It’s a bit like evolution: individual organisms matter to *themselves* and to their immediate neighborhood, but in the end, the individuals will be gone and forgotten, and what remains is the development.

This isn’t the really deep part, but it leads into it. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if a particular organism survives in order to have a surviving and thriving species, it is the genome that needs to survive, mutate, recombine, change, snp, …

The genome.

The source code.

We are setting up the profound aspect.

In those terms, I care about the DNA, and the *process* or recombination and the bigger picture. Any individual organism? Not so much. It’s all part of a much bigger tapestry, and closed hardware is more like an eunuch (or a worker bee): it won’t pass on its legacy, but it might help the people who do.

Yes. Exactly. The source code of our lives, as far as we understand it today, is represented in a primary sequence data of 4 amino acids, organized into strings that super-organize in the genes, chromosomes, etc. But this 4-letter alphabet is not the only way to encode information, and this is important as well. You have multiple levels of information encoding, including folding and geometric shapes (secondary structure), side chains etc (tertiary and quaternary structure), and so on. Mutation (subsystem replacement) occurs when major sections of the source code genome are edited, replaced, and so on. Often times, the old instructions are still there, just moved to another area. Patched out. Our genetic history is a very patched quilt of code edits, re-edits, and so on.

In some cultures, there are imprints of diseases impact upon our code. In all of us, we have the remnants of an ancient “infection” that turned symbiotic, and gave us our mitochondria. This code has been open source, and evolving for quite some time. No real source code control system in place, sort of the upload it to the biosphere and hope all the code streams remain intact. Lost code (lost genomes) represent extinction events.

The point is that the open source model allows an extension of a software genome. It allows it to evolve, either stably, or by speciation (forking)

And this is where the profound wisdom resides.

In those terms, I care about the DNA, and the *process* or recombination and the bigger picture. Any individual organism? Not so much. It’s all part of a much bigger tapestry, and closed hardware is more like an eunuch (or a worker bee): it won’t pass on its legacy, but it might help the people who do.

So instead of thinking of Tivo as something “evil”, I think of Tivo as the working bee who will never pass on its genes, but it actually ended up helping the people who *do* pass on their genes: the kernel (to a small degree – not so much because of the patches themselves, as the *mindshare* in the PVR space) and projects like MythTV (again, not so much because of any patches, but because it helped grow peoples understanding of the problem space!).

Closed source is, as he notes, a dead end. It will never pass on its genome, its advantages will not be combined with similar organisms to create new organisms which are better, faster, etc.

Long ago I postulated, somewhat cynically, that open source would be used by businesses who wanted to save money. That may be true, in part. But it is much more than that.

Open source enables people to fix things, and contribute those fixes back. It allows my company to focus on our value, and not have to engineer an entire stack. We get to stand on the shoulders of giants, who only ask that we allow others to stand on our shoulders. If we need to re-engineer a portion of the stack, we can, without having to own it all. And that lowers our costs.

The open source genome will continue to evolve and get better over time. This is how it is designed. Evolutionary dead ends will die out. This is what happens. The genome will survive, thrive, mutate, adapt. It will make itself felt in the world.

That is the profound wisdom.

See? In the big picture, individual devices and even projects won’t matter. In a hundred years, I’ll be long dead, and nobody will care. But in a hundred years, I hope that the “live and let live” open source mentality will still flourish, and maybe “Linux” itself won’t live on, but some of the memories and impact may. And *that* is what matters.

A Tivo? It’s just a toy. Who cares? It’s not important. But source code that evolves? THAT can change the world!

It already has.

Biologists like to say that you can tell when an organism that has adapted to its environment, when it successfully reproduces. Put another way, when it mixes its genome with another similar genome to perform a “genetic algorithm” of random trait selection, in order to maximize some “hidden” fitness function.

Open source does that. The DNA description is quite apt, even deeply profound. It will drive competition, and it will improve because of competition. Just like genomes.

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