The Study That Predicted Human Extinction

Andrei Tapalaga

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Image from John B. Calhoun, a picture of Calhoun in a mouse utopia in 1970Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The end of mankind as we know it has been referred to by many different titles throughout history. Philosophically speaking, since everything has an end, we have always anticipated it. Various religious texts attempted to depict what the end will be like, but those texts eventually came to be dismissed as mere fairy tales. Before 1954, when a guy by the name of John B. Calhoun conducted an 18-year-long research called Universe 25, humanity had not properly examined the potential of human extinction and what this would actually look like from a scientific standpoint.

A study dubbed "Universe 25" by American ethologist and behavioral researcher John B. Calhoun looked at the effects of overpopulation on rats and made grim predictions about what these effects will do to humanity. Calhoun created the perfect Mouse Universe for his studies in cooperation with the National Institute of Mental Health. The first seeming rat and mouse utopias with unlimited food and water, multiple floors, and individual nesting sites ultimately degenerated into chaotic congestion which led the population to fall and was subsequently followed by the members' disturbing and aberrant behavior.

He gathered four mating couples of mice for this investigation and put them in a "utopia." The environment was created to prevent issues that may result in death in the wild. They had unlimited access to water bottles above and 16 food hoppers that could feed up to 25 mice at once. These hoppers were reached by tunnels. Material for nesting was offered. It was maintained at 68°F (20°C), which, for those of you who aren't mice, is the ideal temperature for mice. The National Institutes of Health breeding colony's mice were chosen for their good health. Extreme measures were taken to prevent the spread of any diseases.

After years of method refinement, Calhoun conducted the "Universe 25" experiment 25 times at different scales, and each time he saw unsettlingly similar results. These shelters feature a simple layout. The layout's ten-by fourteen-foot rectangle was divided into four identically sized sections by electric fences. A food hopper, a water supply, and nesting areas that were comparable to one another were incorporated in each component. (As shown in the illustration below)

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Image from John B. Calhoun, sketched layout of a Mouse Universe Designed by CalhounNCBI

Only 2,200 of the 3,840 mice he had planned to use in his final experiment actually showed up in the room; as a result, the number of mice began to decline and exhibit a variety of strange, occasionally dangerous behaviors. The results illustrated the behavioral sink, or a rise in deviant behaviors brought on by the stress of a big population, as Calhoun termed it.

Occasionally, the dominant males would bite and hurt the tails of other members, especially the young ones. Females would exhibit this behavioral sink by having less ability to raise offspring and build nests. The infant mortality rate topped 90% because many females either adopted more aggressive behaviors or would completely forsake motherly obligations.

The "first death," which was characterized by the loss of a reason for living in addition to merely existing (such as the desire to mate, raise children, or establish a place in society), and the "second death," which was the actual death and the extinction of Universe 25, were the two stages of the death phase, in Calhoun's view.

Calhoun's idea, though hotly debated when it was initially presented, has sparked worry throughout the years that the societal disintegration of Universe 25 may ultimately serve as a metaphor for the course of the human race.

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