What Happens When All Our Needs in Life Are Met?
Lessons we can learn from the Universe 25 experiment
Whenever we want to carry out an experiment, we love to use mice as test subjects.
Why is that?
They’re very similar to us in terms of physiology and genetics, so the results we get with them can give us a pretty good picture of how it would apply to us. Plus, it’s cheap to maintain mice in an enclosed environment and look after them.
With that being said, the experiment of Universe 25 using mice as test subjects, can give us an eye-opening picture of what happens when all needs are met in a society and what the consequences to its inhabitants are because of this.
First and foremost, what’s the Universe 25 experiment?
John Calhoun was an ethnologist and behavioral researcher that wanted to study the behavioral effects of mice when living in crowded environments.
These studies would serve as a precedent of what could happen to humanity given similar conditions.
He created a series of enclosed spaces for mice to flourish and provided them with everything they needed to live a wonderful life.
A sort of utopia at least in mouse terms.
They had access to unlimited supplies of food and water, and they were free from any dangers of the outside world (predators).
And thus, Universe 25 constitutes experiment number 25 of this series of studies.
This experiment started with 4 pairs of healthy mice put in this utopian environment. The mice went through different phases which can offer some really interesting insights into what could happen in a similar scenario with humans when all needs are met.
First and second phase
These phases were all love and honey. Mice reproduced, marked their territories, began nesting, and this little society prospered quite well.
The population growth increased exponentially and by around the 300th day, the “country” had 620 mice. Keep in mind that the overall capacity could hold 3,000, which made them very comfortable there.
Space was abundant but somehow mice stuck to certain areas, sharing the same food source despite having ample space around them.
These areas became like a social gathering zone, but each of these compartments could house just a limited number of creatures. Thus, the society grew around a few compartments instead of spreading through the whole enclosure site.
In phase three things started to get weird. Males separated into high and low status, and alpha males dominated the scene. The low-level mice, unable to interact with females, withdrew to another region where they felt safe and dedicated themselves to the care of their bodies.
They had no interest in mating or have social interactions with the others. They just ate, drank, and groomed themselves.
These were called the “beautiful ones”.
And when everything went to hell, with the rapes and killings between each other because of the high population density, these mice were spared from all the violence.
Sadly, they’d already lost touch with their inner nature. They didn’t maintain a social behavior, they didn’t have sex nor cared for the young ones. They were just immersed in a state of apathy.
Eventually, the society collapsed due to all the violence and lack of coping mechanisms and everyone perished.
The beautiful ones, did they halt their development?
Painting by John William Waterhouse taken from Wikipedia
While you could say that their total apathy was due to being banished from society, there’s one more interesting fact in this story that can lure you into another line of thought.
Since they were always grooming themselves and they didn’t participate in any fights, their physical appearance was outstanding among the rest of the colony. Their fur was intact and they didn’t have any bite marks or scratches.
And that made them very appealing to the females. The ladies constantly came to try to engage with them, but these Apollos were uninterested in any social or mating act. They always kept to themselves.
So even in the chance of a positive change, they rejected it.
They repeated a never-ending cycle: eat, drink, groom, sleep. They were completely satisfied with their lives. They didn’t require anything else and that resulted in shutting themselves from the world and its amazing opportunities.
They didn’t allow anything or anyone to disturb their apparently perfect lives.
Is life enough this way?
While reading about the case of Universe 25, I remembered an eye-opening episode from one of my favorite series, the Twilight Zone. In this 30-minute story, a thief ended up in what he thought was heaven after being murdered in a violent confrontation with the police.
A man, posing in white, greeted him to the afterlife and fulfilled any of his wishes.
The thief was in awe.
Everything he wanted, apparently reduced down to just money and women, was offered to him in abundance. All his wishes were granted by this man.
But after a while, he was fed up with all of it. All his needs were met without posing any challenge to get to them. Everything he could think of became a reality. An endless river of positive outcomes was too much for him, drowning his spirit into a profound despair.
He couldn’t bear having everything he wanted.
He asked the man in white to stop all of this nonsense, but little did he know that he was stuck in hell. Condemned to live the afterlife surrounded by all his wishes come true.
Ironically, he became his own damnation.
This amazing episode makes you wonder what could happen if life consisted of an endless stream of benefits just piling up without the need for any effort from our part.
If there’s no negative counterbalance, or at least a struggle to achieve things, would we be able to find meaning and a will to keep going?
We might think that satisfying all our needs will be heaven on Earth and although that may seem great at first, we might not be prepared for the other consequences that come with that achievement.
The Universe 25 experiment was meant to show what the consequences of crowd density on the behavior of its inhabitants were, but another byproduct related to the effects of having all your needs met and how this manifested in mice’s overall behavior.
In the case of the mice that retrieved to a life of self-indulgence, once their needs were satisfied, everything else became unimportant. They entered into a never-ending cycle, repeating the same behaviors over and over again. Eat, groom, sleep. Repeat.
Their development was stagnated even in the presence of appealing opportunities to better themselves (like having a mating partner actively pursuing them).
These are just mice, but as mentioned in the beginning, the effects on these creatures are usually seen as a precedent for the possible outcomes on our species. We might need much more needs met before we stagnate, but there’s always that possibility on the horizon.
Will the state that we seek to be in, be our own damnation?