September 30, 2022

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Universe 25 – Is The Survival Of Any Society An Utopia?

In the 1970s, “Universe 25” experiments showed that the long-term survival of any society could be nothing more than a utopia.

Universe 25
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Thanks to advances in technology, medicine, and a general improvement in living conditions and food supply, the number of humans on planet earth has grown dramatically in the last few centuries. In the twentieth century, there was a world population explosion that has reached almost 8 billion human beings on the planet today. Beyond what many media have said about zero growth, it is good to remember that these data refer only to the rich part of the world. If we analyze the picture from a general perspective referring to the whole of humanity, the number of human beings continues to grow and not decrease, now. All of this obviously has cascading consequences.

The mathematical balance between resources and the number of inhabitants is not the only determining factor for a possible collapse of society. Other components must also be considered, and the main among these is the behavior of individuals within the community.

Experiments Universe 25 – John Calhoun and the birth block

The ethnologist John Calhoun, starting from the second half of the 1900s, conducted a series of experiments, on different communities of rodents, aimed at demonstrating that the main factor that leads to the decline of a society is not only the lack of resources but also the social dynamics that inevitably develop within society itself. He referred to these factors as the “behavioral sink“.

In 1947 he began to conduct his experiments on a colony of Norwegian mice placed in an enclosure, finding that the number of the population did not reach the expected total. Intrigued by this, he expanded his studies to better understand what determined the birth block.

John Calhoun then repeated the research in 1962, subjecting another species of rodent, gray rats, and finding the same dynamics and results as a few decades ago.

He, therefore, understood that to observe and deeply analyze all the details of his search he had to rebuild a real society of rodents, a perfect society, a perfect utopia. Thus, was born “Universe 25“.

Universe 25 experiments – The utopia of a perfect society

Researcher John Calhoun then set up the ideal habitat for four pairs of mice. Unlimited resources for food, ideal temperature around twenty degrees, no interaction with external dangers, frequent cleaning of the environment, enough space to accommodate up to 3,800 mice.

The healthiest specimens provided by the National Institute of Mental Health were selected, and placed in an enclosure with tunnels, separate nesting areas, and water dispensers continuously in action. As expected, the mice began to reproduce, with the population doubling every 55 days. Immersed in the “paradise of Eden” in less than a year they reached a population of 600 specimens. Until then everything seemed to be working perfectly.

The first problem that arose concerned the social roles that were determined within Universe 25. It was noted that once a certain number of specimens had been reached, a generational change no longer took place. Instead, a hierarchical structure was formed where each male rodent strenuously defended his status, even at the cost of attacking his own offspring.

The female specimens, on the other hand, were forced to hide in separate areas of the colony, with the aim of protecting their children. This, however, did not stop the growing aggression of “alpha males”. We gradually came to episodes of extreme violence that even resulted in cannibalism, bringing the mortality of puppies up to 96% of cases. Furthermore, the inevitable removal of female specimens from aggressive males leads to a further decline in births due to the lack of reproduction.

The society of Universe 25 was pushed towards pansexualism (emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction towards an individual without giving importance to his gender). In addition, a daily battle routine was generated where the founding element, in order not to be marginalized by society, was the struggle and prevarication. Those who gave up fighting, isolating themselves from the group, were classified by the researcher with the denomination of the “beautiful ones”, since their hair and body were preserved from wounds. However, “the beautiful” remained on the fringes of society, self-isolated, limiting their existence to simply feeding and isolating themselves from everything else.

The maximum number of specimens hypothesized at the beginning of the experiment, 3800 specimens, was never reached. A maximum peak of 2200 specimens was reached which was followed by a drastic decline.

The pregnancies continued to decrease in number despite all the comforts and unlimited resources and after 4 years from the start of the experiment, in 1973, the last mouse of Universe 25 died.

The researcher then identified and defined “the first death”, the social one, which preceded the second, the physical one.

Universe 25 – Conclusions

In a clear and disturbing parallel with our society, the researcher has highlighted a very delicate aspect of our existence.

No matter how sophisticated man thinks he is, once the number of individuals able to fill a social role largely exceeds the number of available roles, the consequence is the destruction of social organization. Referring to the “behavioral sink” it was explained how unlimited resources have actually been an aggravating factor for internal struggles. The colony focuses only on interaction and not on survival.

This is not science fiction. These are facts, and empirical data supported by years of repeated research, and all concluded with the same epilogue.

Half a century later, Universe 25 recalls the aspects of the world we are living in.

Once again, the facts show that if we want to survive it is necessary to deeply understand the true dynamics of our mechanism of existence and rework them towards something that is still completely unknown to us, incomprehensible at the moment. Any other way is only a utopia, a shortcut to an inevitable end.

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Adriano Margarone for

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Behavioral sink
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