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SCIENCE EXPERIMENT «UNIVERSE 25»: «mouse paradise» as a prophecy of the future

SCIENCE EXPERIMENT «UNIVERSE 25»: «mouse paradise» as a prophecy of the future
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Mikhail Gladyuk. «Autopsy of the 2020s». Cardboard, pencil, acrylic, varnish, 2019. Facebook «Sil-Sol»


«Universe 25» — that was the name of the famous social experiment on mice, which was conducted in 1972 by the American scientist-ethologist John Calhoun together with the National Institute of Mental Health.

You may ask why rodents are mainly used for such experiments. It’s very simple. First, they have, according to recent studies, about 98% of known genes coincide with human genes.

This means that the biological processes of mice and humans are similar. In addition, it is easy and cheap to get a large population of rodents: they breed quickly, and their life cycle is short, so the result of the experiment can be seen quickly enough.




The National Institute’s goals were quite practical. For example, to understand the critical population density, at which aggression will start to grow in society and spontaneous rebellion will occur. 

This is important when calculating the optimal area for prisoners or the number of patients in clinics.

In general, the topic of «superfluous people» in the years of the post-war baby boom worried many people, fueling interest in apocalyptic prophecies of the death of mankind as a result of the overpopulation of the Earth.

However, the question, «Are there too many of us on this small planet?» still pops up in scientific and public discourse.

The Earth’s population is rapidly increasing, emptying the planet’s natural bounty no worse than rodent emptying barns.

This is despite the fact that outside the «golden billion», the conditions for the existence of most people are far from ideal. And what will happen if we create such ideal conditions and give everyone everything, organizing a kind of communism?

That’s what Calhoun decided to test on mice. In the Cold War era, the experiments with the «communist paradise» were also clearly propaganda in nature, so John was given as much time and money as he asked for.

The last study — «Universe 25» — brought the scientist such fame that he expressed a desire to personally meet with the Pope.

The press of the 70s gladly published photos of God’s Vicar on Earth shaking hands with the creator of the «mouse paradise».




The final experiment, as the name implies, was the 25th experiment. Just like all the previous ones, it ended in an apocalypse for the «mouse universe».

To describe the catastrophe, the scientist even introduced a special term — «behavioral sink», denoting the transition to destructive and deviant behavior in conditions of overpopulation and overcrowding.

In addition, Calhoun created the theory of two deaths based on the results of the experiment.

«The first death» is the degradation of natural behavioral patterns: refusal to participate in the social hierarchy, to reproduce, to defend territory and offspring.

The «psychological breakdown» of the potentially active part of the community is inevitably followed by the «second death» — the physical extinction of the entire population.

Here, perhaps, it is appropriate to make a parallel with other studies of social despair among 45-54-year-old Americans (see «Death by Despair and the Future of Capitalism»), which appears to be a symptom of the collapse of the modern system of capitalism.




It seems that the experiments of the ’60s and ’70s with Calhoun’s mice were prophetic. Look at what is happening to the «civilized» consumer society.

Against the backdrop of aging populations and negative demographics, most developed countries are facing the phenomenon of «sexual recession» — the loss of young people’s interest in intimate relationships.

Research data shows that 23% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have not had a single sexual encounter in the last year.

The Japanese are the worst with the instinct to reproduce. In the Land of the Rising Sun, 43% of unmarried citizens are virgins.

Perhaps the history of the «mouse paradise» will help us understand what went wrong with the «golden billion». But does «civilized» humanity really want to know the bitter truth about itself?

It is interesting that for the next 48 years, no one has had the desire to check the results obtained by Calhoun and repeat the experience on a different technological and scientific basis.

At the same time, the experiment is well known and repeatedly described in popular literature, although it seems there is still no verified complete translation of Calhoun’s scientific work into Russian. In brief, it consisted of the following…


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In a tank measuring 2×2 and with a height of 1.5 meters, from which it was impossible for the test animals to get out, Calhoun arranged a forced «mouse paradise».

With comfortable temperatures, no infections, no diseases, and no predators. Water and food were plentiful, as were the many nests for the females. «Paradise» could feed 9,500 and water 6,144 mice at a time — there was more than enough space to live.

However, the maximum number of individuals in the population never exceeded 2,200. It was to this number that the «Adams» and «Eves» — the 4 pairs of mice that were placed in this «Eden» — multiplied. Every 55 days the number of mice doubled. On the 315th day, the rate of reproduction slowed.

When the population numbered 600 mice, a hierarchy began to form, and a kind of social life emerged. A caste of «outcasts» appeared — young individuals who huddled together in the center of the tank.

They periodically became the object of aggression on the part of «authorities», who lived in paradise conditions for a long time and were not in a hurry to give the young access to feeders and females.  

The «outcasts» fell into total despair and stopped defending themselves, their females, and their offspring.

At first, their females themselves began to perform defense functions — to show aggression unaccustomed to them. Often, the mothers’ victims were cubs whom they killed.




After suffering, the females stopped giving birth, fell into apathy, and cowered in far corners. As the death rate rose and the birth rate fell, the population of mice, which Calhoun called «beautiful».

They no longer fought over females and territory but only ate, drank, slept, and shined their pelts. At some point, the childless «beautiful» and single females who refused to breed became the majority.

The population size began to shrink, although the average mouse’s lifespan increased from 200 days to 776. On the 1780th day of the experiment — in the midst of an abundance of food, water, and space to live — the last inhabitant of the «mouse paradise» died.

When the results of the experiment were made public, analogies with the possible fate of mankind suggested themselves. The first interpretations were given by Calhoun himself, who argued that stress and lack of something are necessary conditions for the life and development of the human species.

Under pressure, man learns to survive, his behavior becomes more complex. Otherwise, he has no reason for creativity and willful effort — it is «death of the spirit».

The simplification of the behavioral strategy based on challenge avoidance is followed by a «second» physical death.




The conditions of the Universe 25 experiment were subsequently criticized many times. Critics found many vulnerabilities in the study. Starting from the questionable quality of biological material and ending with a «closed» space, detached from the natural environment.

An example was given of rabbits brought to Australia, which in an open ecosystem not only did not become extinct but multiplied in incredible numbers.

It was pointed out to Calhoun that he had created not a «paradise» but an advanced high-tech prison with unlimited consumption possibilities. In the long run, however, this rebuke is ultimately more in Calhoun’s favor.

His «paradise» tank was made of, as we would now say, non-ecological materials. However, back in 1785, the Italian scientist F. Gardini conducted a series of experiments that proved the negative impact on living materials, shielding natural electric fields.

But isn’t it the same artificial environment in which the population of cities is placed today, living in «paradise tanks» of apartments and offices made of plastic, stainless steel, glass, and concrete? 




It is obvious that modern urban civilization is no less artificial, limiting, and in many ways demotivating environment.

Today, the ideas of a guaranteed «basic income» and a «society of control» are simultaneously gaining popularity, the possibilities of which have been greatly expanded by new digital and information technologies.

Will they not lead mankind to the same outcome as Calhoun’s «paradise prison» of mice? Will the growth of consumption and life expectancy and the development of robotics, medicine, and biotechnology bring us only benefits?

The experiment with the «mouse universe» showed that an isolated environment, where there are no viruses, and where it is warm and well-fed, changes the collective consciousness, not for the best.

It is not a bad idea to keep this in mind when reinforcing artificial restrictions and isolation under the pretext of fighting an epidemic.  

Because any distortion of natural behavioral patterns, no matter how plausible the pretext, has its own and, as a rule, fatal price.


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