(Part 1/3) Universe 25 / Mouse Utopia : The Study

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Universe 25 / Mouse Utopia

Within my manuscript (version 1.4), I decidedly omit two big topics (to keep overall readability concise) – Overpopulation, and Social Privacy. Having read the works of John Calhoun (most notably his mouse “Universe” experiments) however did stop me in my tracks. 

One of his many published studies, grimly titled “Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of Mouse Population” attempted exploring curiosities at establishing a “Perfect” world. A “Universe” with unlimited (given) Resources.

Picture this – “Climate Change” does not exist. Resources so plentiful whereby literally – there’s just nothing – as in meritocratically nor objectively nothing – to steal out of anyone for anything of “value”. Nothing to exchange. Nothing to fear – from outside predators. 

Enter the “Perfect” Universe (for mice).

Enclosed within this Utopia – were numerous “apartments” capable for supporting up to 4,000 mice “citizens”.

Litters and all waste were cleaned (voluntarily by humans obviously) ensuring no bio-chemical threat confounder.

According to the study the overall food and water availability / prepared abundance was so immense; theoretically it sufficed to cater the population count of 9,500. The water supply was theorised to cater up to 6,144 citizens. 

All social & mating observations; from initiation to upbringing were assessed throughout the (almost) 1600-day written observational records.

Given the received controversial sentiments – the possibility of these mice’s behavioural analogy towards applied human concerns still remain disputable for decades on, even to this day. Reading the actual published paper itself still remains highly advisable because Calhoun himself attempted to address most (though not all) skeptical counter arguments and feedbacks of this experiment.

1600 days of observations. Four (4) phases or overall “evolutions”.

Universe 25 / Mouse Utopia
Jeremy Bishop @ Unsplash

Phase A “Strive”.

The “Genesis” in this Universe began with introducing four pairs of “Adam and Eves”. The first ever citizens freely roaming the “planet”. This marked the first of the four phases or evolutions – of which Calhoun titled as “Strive”.

A phase of exploration and adjustments within the Universe’s environment and physical acquainting of the distances between one “apartment” to the next. As well as how accessible were the consumable resources (food + water) throughout the Universe. Early territorial divisions were first noted as early settlements. However, territorial, social dominance or sighted conflicts amidst the early state of population – were not yet observationally significant.

A brave new world began. The curtain was opened.

Phase B – “Growth”.

Universe 25 / Mouse Utopia
Davide Ragusa @ Unsplash

An exponential increase in populations were noted. Signs of territorial boundaries seemed established.

The growth was immense; almost doubling over previously recorded quota on every 55 days (“20, 40, 80, 160, 320 to 620”).  Mating events successfully occurred as soon as sexual maturity age between the sexes were reached.

Throughout days #86 to #338 saw a period of territorial division/s. Despite food + water supply were scattered as evenly possible – some areas of the Universe seemed distinctly more concentrated in sexual mating events than others. In other words, some areas appeared “lonely”.

Social hierarchy seemingly began to take shape, seemingly by ways of “Dominance”. As Calhoun hypothesized – this seems largely rationalised on how “active” the males population were at initiating all sexual reproductive instincts. Seemingly towards such a goal at producing the highest number of offsprings possible. He termed this role as “Social Velocity”.

The more a space existed with younger communities; the higher probability existed amongst the dominant and most “active” males can easily be found. Mostly on the south western side of the Universe.

…The “older” aged population however; seemed increasingly “pushed” to the other corner (North Eastern of the Universe). This area produced the fewest offsprings compared to its opposite “younger” region. As quoted straight from the study: “The north east brood group produced only 13 young in 252 days where as the opposite South West brood group produced over eight times as many, 111.” (Calhoun, J. 1973).


Phase C – “Stagnation”.


Universe 25 / Mouse Utopia
Peter Lewicki @ Unsplash

Overall population began to plateau. In some areas they even declined. 

Increasingly “violent” activity seemed arising as possible attempt for dominances amongst the male (and later on – females). Rates of injuries and deaths amongst the lesser active and the lesser dominant males as invasions – were increasing.

Whoever seemed submissive – were immediately injured, or killed brutally – in packs. The growing numbers of “passive” males – especially noted by the scarring wounds on their tails  – congregated further – towards  the very epicentre of the entire Universe.

Yet overtime – the “centre” eventually became a confusing mix of the prior passive to now then turned – violent disruptions against one another. Especially when others were asleep, some (seemingly) took this as opportunity to mount more attacks. 

Maternity roles; whom the females responsibly nurtured their young optimally – seemed increasingly abandoned & neglected. As noted by Calhoun:

“Females transported their young to several sites, during which process some where abandoned. Many litters of a young age on one survey disappeared before the next survey….Such abandoning of young following survey disturbance is a particularly sensitive index of dissolution of maternal behaviour.” (Calhoun, J. 1973)

Almost all nesting sites that were once well protected – now ploughed in the process from overlapped invasions. Throughout this Phase, signs of aggression or of overall hostility of the females increasingly were matching to that of their male cohort. 

Whilst chaos persisted in the background – many who “survived” nevertheless were able to have found new territories – as seemingly unoccupied solitary spaces. Far and away from the violent areas.

These survivors were later then named by Calhoun – as “The Beautiful Ones”.


Phase D – “Death”.


Universe 25 / Mouse Utopia
David Cohen @ Unsplash

From day #600 onwards; more deaths were observed than births.

Any attempts at increasing stable population growth – seemed futile. Mating events now became disruptive and grew  unusual. Homosexuality and/or even familial incests began proliferating in large attempts. Males were frequently seen mounting with whomever irrespective of gender. The young from same maternal bloodlines even attempted mounting one with another.

Only a few numbers of births occurred, but this was greatly offsetted AND overwhelmed by the rising number of deaths amongst of (almost) all mice groups, irrespective of locale.

Perhaps the most interesting, were the rise (as well as solitary deaths) of the passive and non-warring participants whom Calhoun called “The Beautiful Ones”. These mice were not only exemplary of hoarding and overly protective – of their individualistic needs for solitude and simple living (that is – eating, “grooming”, and sleeping; on constant repeat). But curiously – their sexual reproductive instincts / desires – seemed muted. 

Neither did they evoke – random acts of violence either. They eat, sleep and groom themselves exemplarily on repeat. Bleached white skin, gentle furs, alert and bright red eyes. Free from battle-scars and/or  wounded tails.

However meanwhile – an increasingly premature abandonment from mothers and their children from the previous Phase (“C”) continued. Any signs of traditional raising patterns were almost nilDespite new (very few) births were seemingly successful; the offsprings immediately were abandoned by their mothers.

The last known recorded conception was noted in Day #920.

From there on; all inhabitants of Universe 25  proceeds to decline rapidly. Seemingly headed for total extinction. 

Mortality rates increased as compounded by the (solitary) deaths of The Beautiful Ones from old age. So too combined with premature deaths from all newborn youth; as their helpless exposure to collateral invasions further added to the death toll. 

Amidst all that calamity and violence continued persisting in the background – “The Beautiful Ones” – continued subsisting in solitary spaces. Their fates headed towards little else – than towards solitary deaths, of old age.

A mosaic of uncertainties and hysteria persisted. Until the dawn of day #1588 – was marked as the final day of Universe 25. 

An “inexorable decline”; as Calhoun wrote. What was left and recorded as final population count on this day – were just twenty-three (23) females and four (4) males.  

…The curtain was closed.


Universe 25 / Mouse Utopia
Elijah Flores @ Unsplash

The theory behind the decline – “Behavioural Sink” & its Critic/s

Decades on obviously have passed, yet still to this day maintain some very active debates. Among them was largely a critique on Calhoun’s causation hypothesis known as the “Behavioural Sink”. In short definition – through concentrated population density in any given localised area alone; leads to an observed hopelessness or oblivious irrationality.

We have however, one (opening) question; which remained somewhat unclarified from Calhoun. Was there ever a “choice” presented for the mice – a point of decision-making event amongst the mice to decide amongst them”selves”? Were the mice have any opportunity to rationalise a “choice”, if at all, given surrounding, coercive – chaos? In other words, was there any sort of individuality amongst all that chaos and violence?

This question pointed us to a legitimate critic raised against this theory.

A suggestion that perhaps Totalitarian in-clusivity was seemingly – encouraged given by overlapping (and warring) tribalism inbetween divisions. Much rather than embracing or seemingly accepting – individualist ex-clusivity.

Universe 25 / Mouse Utopia
Geralt @ Pixabay.com

Excess Totalitarian “In”-clusivity VS embracing “Ex”-clusivity.

Psychologist Jonathan Freedman was among the first who raised such a critique against the Behavioural Sink theory.

It was hypothesized that it was not so much about the physical aspect of “overcrowdedness” that played the biggest role towards violence which consequently declined the mice’s population. But rather – the already seemingly enforced expectation – for social in-teractivity rather than embracing or accepting – social ex-clusivity.

This may seem difficult to understand. But another likewise critique proposed by Dr. Edmund Ramsden summed it up in two part/s:

“…Moral decay could arise not from density, but from excessive social interaction,”  and (as continued) – ” It was the unwanted unavoidable social interaction that drove even fairly social creatures mad,” (Ramsden, E. 2008).

Notice the word “unwanted”. This hints that the mice did nevertheless attempt to rationalise for and amongst; a survival for their own selves. 

Consider those who survived and found solace in sparse distant locale’s; aka the rise of The Beautiful Ones. Perhaps these survivors’ behaviours – appeared to be of a gradual evolutionary instinct as means to evade – against the totalitarian “In”-clusivity. Or at least, it appears to be a reaction against violence.

So yes, this (group) indeed appeared to have human-like responses when examined closely. Because it seemed likely that the mice was able to rationalise themselves. By “not participating” in the violence, at all. 

Inspite sadly however, their solitary lone deaths quickly compounded to the overall decline; due to their blunted sexual instincts. Noting this, Calhoun’s colleague tried physically relocating them into another Universe for any hopeful reproduction with “adequate sex partners” (page 85). Yet failed miserably, as cited;

“Even placing them with adequate sex partners of the opposite sex, that had matured in uncrowded conditions, also gave very little indication of retention of any adequate reproductive behaviour.” (page 85).

Matthew Hamilton @ Creative Commons
Matthew Hamilton @ Creative Commons

…So what are “my” thoughts?

It depends on what context this question is aimed at.If it were me being squarely asked whether I believe the Behavioural Sink theory holds applicably true for humans? I’d say both yes and no.

It is impossible to curate my thoughts all in one writing. Hence, read on here to proceed for part 2 whereby I will be splitting my thoughts into several points. 

Nevertheless, it is hard to refute – that Nihilism is high on this contemplation. Discuss your thoughts below.

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