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

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Universe 25 / Mouse Utopia

Within my manuscript (version 1.4 thus far), I decidedly omit two big topics (to keep overall readability concise) – Overpopulation, and Social Privacy. Having recently read the works of John Calhoun (most notably his mouse “Universe” experiments) did almost stopped me in my tracks as I gradually understand the volatile relationships between those two very large and intertwined – issues of our time.  

That published study, grimly titled “Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of Mouse Population” attempted exploring all such curiosities at establishing a “Perfect” world. A “Universe” without physical end of consumable resources.

Picture this – “Climate Change” does not exist. An environment with resources so abundant whereby literally – there’s just nothing – as in meritocratically nor objectively nothing – to steal out of anyone for anything of “value”.No instruments of exchange. 

Enter the “Perfect” Universe (for mice).

Beyond infinite abundance (that is; food availability). Also safe protection from outside predators (absolutely NO outside interventions/alien contributors for violence). With consistent “ideal” climate control. 

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 that no external / environmental bacterial infections ever becomes a confounding bio-chemical threat.

According to the study the overall food and water availability / prepared abundance was so immense; that it became inconsequential as a detrimental factor to the entire experiment. It was theoretically calculated that food abundance suffices to the population count of 9,500 but for water supply – suffices 6,144 citizens. 

The “Space” available within this Universe #25; be it for social, tribal / territorial divisions, off-spring bearing, expansion/s and raising were at least designed to be considered plentiful. Even though the mice could not “climb” out of the gated / walled Universe; any fear of “overspilling” weren’t practically possible unless if the population exceeded more than (exactly) 3,840 at any given moment.

All psycho-social observations; from maternity, nurturing aspects, mating, and reproductive frequencies were assessed throughout the (almost) 1600-day written observational records.

Given the received controversial sentiments amongst the public (and Scientific) communities – the possibility of these mice’s behavioural analogy towards human characteristics or traits still remain disputable for decades even to this day. I HIGHLY ENCOURAGE EVERYONE to read the end of the actual published paper itself; as Calhoun attempted to address most (though perhaps not all) skeptical counter arguments and feedbacks.

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”. Them being the first ever citizens; freely roaming the “planet”. Effectively triggering the first of the four phases or evolutions – of which Calhoun titled as “Strive”.

This was simply 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 across all communities; given that some signs of territorial boundaries seemed well established. Such growth were 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 an interesting division of population density as dictated as per by their locale / territorial divisions. Meaning that even though food + water supply was scattered as evenly throughout and both easily accessible – some areas of the Universe seemed distinctly more concentrated in sexual mating events versus those that seems far less. 

Social hierarchy seemingly began to shape, seemingly by ways of “Dominance”. As Calhoun hypothesized – this seems largely rationalised on how “active” the males population were in 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 much higher probability existed amongst the dominant and most “active” males can easily thus be found to perpetuate greater reproductive successes. They seemed to propagate mostly on the SOUTH WESTERN side of the Universe.

…The “older” aged population however; seemed increasingly “pushed” to the other corner of the Universe (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). Competitions inbetween the sexes as such grew increasingly fiercer. So too, did the rates of injuries and deaths found amongst the lesser active and the lesser dominant males as invasions seemed rife.

Whoever seemed submissive – were quickly killed brutally in packs. The growing numbers of “passive” males – especially the scarring wounds on their tails  – congregated further and 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 opportunity to bloody heights. 

Maternity roles; whom the females responsibly nurture their young as optimally and healthily as possible 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 before well protected – now ploughed in the process as a result from ensuing invasions. Seemingly as attempt for totalitarian, territorial dominance. Exposing the females to greater collateral threats overtime seemed to replicate instincts to that of the males; which were quite unusual. That is, violent aggression matching to that of their male cohort. 

Whilst chaos persisted in the background – many who “survived” such nevertheless able to have found new territories as seemingly unoccupied solitary spaces. Far and away from the violent landscape. Since then, these survivors were later 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 were seen. In-between genders and even same maternal line courtships; began proliferating in huge number of attempts. All expressions of resistance contributed to more violence, as a result.

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 (almost) all mice groups.  

Perhaps the most interesting, was 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. 

They did not incite nor evoke – random acts of violence either. They eat, sleep and groom themselves exemplarily on repeat. Bleached white skin, gentle furs, large alert and bright red eyes. Free from battle-scars and chewed/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 nill.  

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

However, from there on; all inhabitants of Universe 25  proceeds to decline rapidly; seemingly headed for total extinction. Deaths from all territorial wars for dominance ensued.

Despite new births were seen as successful; the offsprings were immediately abandoned again. Mortality rates increased quickly as compounded by the (solitary) deaths of The Beautiful Ones from old age. So too combined with premature deaths from all newborn youth; their helpless exposure to collateral invasions further compound the death toll. 

Inbetween all of the above; calamity and violence continued to persist in the background. “The Beautiful Ones” continued subsisting in solitary spaces; yet also their fates unknowingly sealed before their own eyes – 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

The media and the scientific communities have since from many years of the study’s publication back then; still to this day nevertheless maintains some very active debates. Among such was 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 overall hysteria of no return.He hypothesized these based on signs of further, free-form chaos as observed :

“…Many [female rats] were unable to carry pregnancy to full term or to survive delivery of their litters if they did. An even greater number, after successfully giving birth, fell short in their maternal functions. Among the males the behavior disturbances ranged from sexual deviation to cannibalism and from frenetic overactivity to a pathological withdrawal from which individuals would emerge to eat, drink and move about only when other members of the community were asleep. The social organization of the animals showed equal disruption.”

This “sinking” of moral cooperation was also thought to be mediated by the mice’s primal patterns of eating. Which then greatly confounds the effect of social relative proximity at determining desire to “eat”.

To put this in human analogy may sound strange – as nobody likes to be seen as “eating alone”. In some contexts, the “behavioural sink” theory nevertheless does somewhat resembles a-human like predicament.

Such that we are more likely to eat – in the presence of other socially motivated individuals whose settings of encouragement are to simply, well –  “eat”. Of course this is somewhat of a generalisation. But given if there is so much infinite abundance of food; this theory does remain valid as such that if you are indeed alone with nothing but food around you – then high “probability” would suggests you to not eat as much. Unless if you are surrounded by like-minded people, with like-minded interests to likewise encourage consumption in close together-ness.

But consider those who DO find it perfectly fine for themselves to eat alone – the very affirmed “acceptance” itself  after all- is that not a CHOICE to be decided for amongst the individual him/herself, are they not?

Thus – we have the above question; which nevertheless remained somewhat unclarified from Calhoun. Was there ever existing a point of decision-making amongst the mice to be able decide amongst them”selves”? Or a point  which the mice has had to make a “choice” whether to “join” the wider, (yet albeit) more violent and competitive tribe or to simply decide to perish alone through solidarity deaths (from old age?) Were the mice seeming to have an ability to rationalise a choice, if at all, given surrounding chaos? In other words, were they able to decide what is rational – for each of them-selves? Was there any sort of individuality amongst the chaos and violence?

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

Universe 25 / Mouse Utopia
Geralt @ Pixabay.com

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

Psychologist Jonathan Freedman legitimately raised a critique against Calhoun’s Behavioural Sink theory that it was not so much about the physical aspect of “overcrowdedness” that played the biggest role for the mice’s drastic decline in population growth. 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 Dr. Edmund Ramsden summed it up in two part/s:

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

Note the word “unwanted”. Perhaps this therefore hints that the mice did nevertheless attempt to rationalise for and amongst; survival for themselves. Given the near distance to chaos everywhere – the majority were seemingly left with a binary choice. Whether to join or “surrender” to the more violent tribes. Hence, “choices” were seemingly hinted as visibly there, but overwhelmed by something else more forceful. Hence, possible structural coercions already seemed in effect.

But what about those who survived and found solace in sparse, distant locale’s; aka the rise of The Beautiful Ones? NOW THIS is where this debate gets interesting.

These survivors’ behaviours also somewhat appeared to be a gradual instinct to counter or resist against the more violent and dominant invasive tribes. Perhaps because these mice have collectively observed from plain sight therefore; then to act as accordingly and as rationally akin to us humans; as a result from witnessing the increasingly more imbalance of social diversity.

In other words, perhaps they were given (some) liberal hope to make a choice. It’s either participate in the violence or die. So yes, the mice appears human-like, indeed. The mice was able to rationalise themselves a choice. By not participating at all. Even if the blunting of sexual instincts seemed almost 100% prominent there were no violence among them. Once again, perhaps these have mice have found safety, and appears thus rationalised in their choice to remain as such – away from the background chaos.

Nevertheless, below are still “open-ended” questions that warrant further discussions:

  1. Perhaps the mice nevertheless do resemble (akin to us); possessing similar instincts at ratifying different social hierarchies? Much akin to us to how we perceive different social classes via Structural Classism? Whereby we are more inclined to be somewhat submissive to whomever else’s markers of powers; be it territorial dominance, or immediate surface “Alpha” characteristics – to allow control, rule and coercions?
  2. Were the mice able to identify threats and anxiety simply by mere observation? Which then enables them to rationalise their logistical decisions accordingly? Aka. Decision Making? Or making a choice for amongst themselves? This is somewhat unclarified; however yet only hinted thus far ONLY as plausible; as per by Dr. Ramsden’s statement above as “unwanted” social interaction.
  3. Were the mice then / therefore – capable of showing self-comparative emotions similar to ours such as envy, jealousy, or insecurity? If so, these already validates question(s) 1 through to 2.


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. However, at this point of time; it is very difficult indeed to get past my Nihilistic reaction – that for all the reason/s I’m going to write them here is simply not practical to be covered in this one article.

Hence, read on here to proceed for part 2 whereby I will be splitting my thoughts into several points. 


In the meantime however; now is the time for all of us to gather and seriously reflect from this study. Whether you “agree” or “not agree” of this study’s relevance to human biology and psychology – I still nevertheless would like to hear your views.

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