In the end it is all about sex

Or is it?

As a behavioural and evolutionary biologist I constantly end up with this conclusion … well, in the end it is all about mating. Sexual dimorphism, secondary sexual traits, courtship behaviour, territoriality, but also the more subtle things like cooperation, communication, life history or even  predator avoidance strategies.

For a biologists it appears to be quite simple: it boils down to individual fitness. If your genes are not represented in the next generation, well, then there is nothing left of you. If this is not only true for yourself, but also for your group, population, or maybe even species then say hello and line up with all the other extinct species.

Is it true? Certainly. Is it sad? On the contrary. To put it with the words of biology’s all time celebrity Charles Darwin the ‘struggle of life’ produced a copious collection of forms, patterns, behaviours, and strategies that are fascinating, puzzling, captivating, intriguing, or just: beautiful. I couldn’t imagine a better thing than exploring this world with all its facets. Even if in the end it is all about sex.

How to search for R related problems?

If you work with R and try to solve problems by googling you might frequently run in to the problem that Google doesn’t accept R as a search term in itself. Sometimes it just searches for the letter ‘r’ or omits it from the search completely.

James Lavin asked users on stackoverflow what their strategy is. Here are some ideas of a long list:

  1. Use a different search engine
    • rseek.org is mentioned several times, and indeed it is a very good tool
  2. Adjust your search query to indicate that you really mean R. For example with
    • [R] search term (works for me)
    • +R (the plus sign indicates google that you want to search for the term ‘as is’)
    • .R search term

For more information just follow the link to stackoverflow.

Happy coding!

Why are humans so nosy?

You can see it when something happens. There is a car crash somewhere and sometimes there is another one when people drive by very slowly to see what happened (Update: just found out that there even is a term for this. It’s called Rubbernecking). Or there are the blinking lights of police, ambulance or fire fighters, and immediately people gather around. Someone was beaten up or killed in your home town and immediately there is an urge to know the circumstances.

So, why are humans inherently nosy (and I don’t mean this in a negative way)? One answer to this question appears to be: because we want to understand, how to avoid dangerous situations, how to protect ourselves, and basically learn from the failure of others.

There was a fire a couple of streets away from your house. Fire has an immediate importance to our life. Not only can it burn all your possessions but it can also kill you. Our parents preached on and on not to play with fires, matches, candles and so on. If we assume that everyone parents did this and everyone is as cautious with fire as we are, why then was there a house burning down? There are two reasons and only one of them is really important to us:

(1) something happened that we would have avoided (because we believe that we were more careful), or
(2) something happened that could have also happened to us (because for example we would not have expected that a phone charger can cause a fire).

While the first reason would be a perfect topic for a pub discussion (humans just love to talk about the carelessness and unwariness of other people), the second is the one we can actually learn something from. Thankfully, nothing happened to our health and property. Thus, without putting anything at risk we learned how to reduce the risk of fire in our own homes.

And there it is again: social learning. We learn by interacting with or observing of others, while simultaneously avoiding costs for this type of learning. The opposite type (individual learning) where insight is yielded by trial-and-error would have cost us a lot more (in this specific case). Thus, in my opinion, many cases of curiosity and nosiness in humans can be explained by social learning and the attempt to reduce learning costs of individual learning (Note: this is of course a very condensed statement, but I want to keep it brief for this blog post).

See also:

Blogger Travis Okulski complaining about Rubbernecking people

Wikipedia entry on Rubbernecking 

A study on the influence of Rubbernecking on Urban Freeways

Phone charger causing fire