Monday, January 18, 2010

Zipf's Law

On the Universality of Zipf's Law
Zipf's law is the most common statistical distribution displaying scaling behavior. Cities, populations and firms are just a few of the examples of this seemingly universal law. Although many different models have been proposed, no general theoretical explanation has been shown to exist for its universality. Here we show that Zipf's law is, in fact, an inevitable outcome of a very general class of stochastic systems. Borrowing concepts from Algorithmic Information Theory, our derivation is based on the properties of the symbolic sequence obtained through successive observations over a system with an unbounded number of possible states. Specifically, we assume that the complexity of the description of the system provided by the sequence of observations is the one expected for a system evolving to a stable state between order and disorder. This result is obtained from a small set of mild, physically relevant assumptions. The general nature of our derivation and its model-free basis would explain the ubiquity of such a law in real systems.

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