(ORDO NEWS) — Over the past few hundred years, the world’s population has increased from one billion people in 1804 to seven billion in 2017 and is projected to reach 8 billion by the end of 2022.
Throughout this time there have been fears that our numbers might exceed our ability to produce food, leading to massive starvation.
Some scientists even believed that as resources were depleted, the population would “control” itself through mass death until a steady population was reached.
It so happens that thanks to advances in agriculture, changes in farming methods and new agricultural technologies, we have received enough food to feed 10 billion people ( at least it was before the onset of the pandemic and global climate change ), but exactly what how food is distributed can cause mass starvation.
As resources are used up and the climate crisis worsens, all of this may change, but so far we have always been able to produce more food than we need, even if we lacked the will or ability to distribute it to those who need it.
But while everyone was worried about the lack of resources, one behavioral researcher in the 1970s tried to answer another question: what would happen to society if all our appetites were satisfied and all our needs were satisfied?
The answer, according to his research, was massive amounts of cannibalism, soon followed by the apocalypse.
John B. Calhoun began a series of experiments in which rodents satisfied all their needs, and then tracked the effect on the population over time. The most infamous of these experiments has been rather dramatically named ” Universe 25 “.
In this study, he took four pairs of mice and placed them in a “utopian Paradise”. The environment has been designed to eliminate problems that would lead to mortality in the wild.
They could have unlimited access to food through 16 feed bins accessible through tunnels that could feed up to 25 mice at a time, as well as water bottles located directly above them. Nest material was provided. The weather was kept at 20°C, which is the ideal temperature for mice.
The mice were selected for their health and were sourced from an NIH breeding colony. Extraordinary precautions were taken to prevent any disease from entering Universe 25.
In addition, there were no predators in utopia. The experiment began, and as expected, the mice used the time that would normally be spent looking for food and shelter to engage in an excessive amount of sexual contact.
Approximately every 55 days, the population doubled, and stronger mice occupied the most coveted space in the paddock, where access to food tunnels was easy.
When the population reached 620 individuals, it began to double approximately every 145 days and problems began in the mouse society. The mice divided into groups, and those who could not find a place in these groups had nowhere to go.
“In the normal course of events in natural ecological settings, slightly more young individuals survive to maturity than are needed to replace dying or aging relatives,” Calhoun wrote in 1972. “The surplus, which has not found a social niche, emigrates .”
In this case, the “surpluses” could not emigrate because they had nowhere to go. Mice that couldn’t find a social role to fill there are so many master mice roles, and utopia didn’t need a Ratatouille-style chef became pariahs.
“Failed males withdrew physically and psychologically; they became very inactive and gathered in large groups near the center of the bottom of the universe.
From this point on, they no longer initiated interaction with their established mates, and their behavior did not cause attacks from territorial males,” – the article says. “Despite this, they developed a lot of wounds and scar tissue as a result of attacks by other male outcasts.”
During the attacks, the outcast males did not react, they lay motionless. Later they attacked others in the same pattern. The females of these isolated males were also withdrawn.
Some mice spent their days grooming themselves, avoiding mating, and never getting into a fight. Because of this, they had an excellent fur coat, and they were nicknamed ” beautiful “.
The disruption of normal mice behavior was not limited to strangers. The “alpha male” mice became extremely aggressive, attacking others without any motivation or benefit to themselves, and regularly raped both males and females. Violent encounters sometimes ended in cannibalism between mice.
Despite the fact that all their needs were met, mothers abandoned their cubs or simply forgot about them, leaving them to their fate.
The mother mice also became aggressive towards nest intruders, and the males that normally filled this role were banished to other parts of the utopia. This aggression spilled over, and mothers regularly killed their cubs. Infant mortality in some areas of utopia reached 90 percent.
All this happened at the first stage of the fall of “utopia”.
In what Calhoun called the “second death,” all the young mice who survived attacks from their mothers and others grew up surrounded by unusual mouse behavior. As a result, they never learned the normal behavior of mice, and many showed little or no interest in mating, preferring to feed and groom themselves alone.
The population peaked at 2,200 individuals – less than the actual capacity of the “universe” of 3,000 mice – and from that moment the decline began.
Many of the mice were not interested in breeding and went to the upper levels of the enclosure, while others formed into violent gangs below that regularly attacked other groups and engaged in cannibalism as well as their own.
The low birth rate and high infant mortality, combined with violence, caused the entire colony to die out soon after. During the mouse apocalypse, food remained plentiful and all their needs were fully met.
Calhoun called what he believed to be the cause of the collapse a “behavioral trap.”
“For an animal as simple as a mouse, the most complex behaviors involve an interconnected set of courtships, maternal care, territorial defense, and hierarchical ingroup and intergroup social organization,” he concluded in his study.
“When the behavior associated with these functions does not reach maturity, there is no development of social organization and reproduction. As in the case of my study, which I described above, all members of the population grow old and eventually die. The species will become extinct .”
He believes that the mouse experiment can be applied to humans as well, and he warns of the day when, God forbid, all our needs will be met.
“For an animal as complex as man, there is no logical reason why a similar sequence of events should not lead to the extinction of the species. If role-playing opportunities lag far behind demand from those who are able and expect to do so, it can only be followed by violence and disruption of social organization”.
At the time, the experiment and findings became quite popular, resonating with people’s feelings about overcrowding in urban areas leading to “decay”.
Recently, however, people have been wondering if the experiment can really be applied to humans so easily.
The end of mouse utopia may have come “not from density, but from excessive social interaction,” medical historian Edmund Ramsden said in 2008. “Not all of Calhoun’s rats went insane. Those who managed to control space led relatively normal lives .”
In addition, the course of the experiment has been criticized for not creating an overpopulation problem, but rather a scenario in which more aggressive mice were able to control territory and isolate everyone else.
As with real-world food production, it is possible that the problem was not with enough resources, but with how those resources were controlled.
What can people learn from Calhoun’s rodent utopia?
Continuing his observations of “beautiful individuals”, Calhoun later concluded that mice, like humans, need a sense of identity and purpose in the world at large . He argued that experiences such as tension, stress, anxiety, and the need to survive make it necessary to participate in society.
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