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Publication Detail
Zipf's Law Arises Naturally When There Are Underlying, Unobserved Variables.
Zipf's law, which states that the probability of an observation is inversely proportional to its rank, has been observed in many domains. While there are models that explain Zipf's law in each of them, those explanations are typically domain specific. Recently, methods from statistical physics were used to show that a fairly broad class of models does provide a general explanation of Zipf's law. This explanation rests on the observation that real world data is often generated from underlying causes, known as latent variables. Those latent variables mix together multiple models that do not obey Zipf's law, giving a model that does. Here we extend that work both theoretically and empirically. Theoretically, we provide a far simpler and more intuitive explanation of Zipf's law, which at the same time considerably extends the class of models to which this explanation can apply. Furthermore, we also give methods for verifying whether this explanation applies to a particular dataset. Empirically, these advances allowed us extend this explanation to important classes of data, including word frequencies (the first domain in which Zipf's law was discovered), data with variable sequence length, and multi-neuron spiking activity.
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