John Eikenberry on "Linux and Philosophy"

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"...our tools are not separate
entities so much as extensions of ourselves. As such the computer is an
extension of the mind and must be understood from the psychological perspective
that we can, and should, attempt to know its workings. Having free access to
all parts of the system is a core requirement to allow for this exploring and
understanding of your own mind...."

"...Non-free software just doesn't make sense.
You are basically granting someone else control over part of your mind..."

-- John Eikenberry, M.A, M.S.


1. Please tell us something about yourself.

I studied psychology, philosophy and artificial intelligence in school. Getting
an BA, a MA and an MS along the way. I've been using free software and Linux
for going on 13 years now. I am married with 2 children currently residing in
Georgia, US. I work for a great little company (Kavi) based in Portland, OR,
US doing back-end web application development.

2. Which distribution do you use and why?

Debian. I've used Debian for the last 7 years or so and have almost always been
happy with it. Its breadth of packages, high quality, rock solid stable
distribution, technical excellence, vast community support and openness have
kept me loyal even while always on the lookout for something better. Previous
to Debian I used Slackware then RedHat, while occasionally dipping my
proverbial toe in others (eg. Caldera, Arch, Ubuntu).

3. How would you link Philosophy and Linux?

Philosophically I am most interested in Phenomenology, particularly in relation
to psychology and the philosophy of the mind. Historically this translates into
fairly diverse group of authors such as Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Nietzsche,
William James, John Dewey, Joseph Campbell, George Herbert Mead, Adi Shankara,
and many others.

Influenced by the above I consider a few basic principles guide my
philosophical approach to computers and the appeal of Linux and free software.
The first is the seemingly simple insight that our tools are not separate
entities so much as extensions of ourselves. As such the computer is an
extension of the mind and must be understood from the psychological perspective
that we can, and should, attempt to know its workings. Having free access to
all parts of the system is a core requirement to allow for this exploring and
understanding of your own mind.

Pragmatically (a la William James) non-free software just doesn't make sense.
You are basically granting someone else control over part of your mind. This
point is particularly poignant with the growing restrictions propagated in
proprietary software, particularly in operating systems. Things like the
disabling of dtrace for itunes in Leopard or Vista's registered drivers are
prime examples of this.

4. Does writing about Linux bring you revenue? If not, then why do you write about it?

I do not get paid for my writing per se. As a developer I get paid for my
ability to solve technical problems, and my experience and knowledge with Linux
do play a part in this. But this is not really directly related to my
writings.

I write about Linux and free software primarily as a way to give to the
community. The free software community is built, at least partially, around the
idea of sharing for the common good. Basically I do what I can to give back to
free software as I can. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

5. How do you feel about Linux the way it is now (in terms of trends,
prospects, future,)?

I'm not much for prognostication, at least without a large grain of salt, but I
think it is pretty easy to see where things are headed if there are no dramatic
events to alter the course. Free software is on the slow and steady course to
fill all the commodity aspects of software. It is going to take a while, due to
the strong network effect in software, but I don't see any other outcome.

Beyond that it is harder to say. The basic principle of 'building on the
shoulders of giants' that free software embodies seems to have done very well
for the scientific community over the past few centuries. So I see the
potential for free software becoming the prime mover in advancing computing.
But, this is starting to get into the realm of science fiction, so I'll stop
there.



More know about John Eikenberry and his contribution to the FOSS community at http://zhar.net/

He currently works for Kavi a leading provider of enterprise solutions for standards organizations.

Works:

"Linux and Artificial Intelligence"
http://linuxgazette.net/issue19/ai.html

Programming Scripts and Projects
http://zhar.net/projects/

1999 Interview