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Universe 25 & Solitude

Updated: Apr 8

Sounds of tires driving through the snow, distant dog barks, the whistle of the wind & fresh breeze of snowy mountains around. It is sunny enough to get a “mountain tan”, but cold enough to get really chilly during the walk to the car. Created myself a weekend getaway to the mountains, and the need for integration with nature kicked in. I am accompanied by music when I feel let’s say “groovy” or by an app called “Endel” which is highly advised.

It is hard to get an Iced Americano in rural places, however, I managed to re-create one. Topped it off with an omelette, sliced cucumbers & freshly baked bread. You know the drill. I haven’t written in a while & usually changes in scenery or routine pushes me to do so. 

I had not much plan with the screen time, but you know how it goes, we keep bullshitting ourselves a lot. I was thinking about my desire to come here, and decided to deconstruct that “urge” & that string in my brain reminded me of a very historic experiment.

Before we move on with the experiment & solitude. I would like you to see the beauty I am surrounded by. Let me remind you it is just a drive away from Baku. I think being able to reach this beauty within hours is a luxury.

Universe 25 experiment: Insights into solitude

Universe 25 experiment: Insights into solitude

Universe 25 experiment was a study conducted by American behaviorist John B. Calhoun in the 1950s and 1960s. It was arguably one of the most influential experiments in the field of behavioral psychology, as it was primarily focused on discovering the effects of overcrowding in small spaces on animal behavior.

In this study, he took four breeding pairs of mice and placed them inside a “utopia”. The environment was designed to eliminate problems that would lead to mortality in the wild. They could access limitless food via 16 food hoppers, accessed via tunnels, which would feed up to 25 mice at a time, as well as water bottles just above. Nesting material was provided. The weather was kept at 68°F (20°C), which for those of you who aren’t mice is the perfect mouse temperature. The mice were chosen for their health, obtained from the National Institutes of Health breeding colony. Extreme precautions were taken to stop any disease from entering the universe.

It was a utopia for the mice, all their needs were met & there were no predators. They pretty much were the only residents of the food chain. They were not being hunted nor needed to search for food.

Universe 25 experiment: Insights into solitude

This is the utopia that John has created

When the population hit 620, that slowed to doubling around every 145 days, as the mouse society began to hit problems. The mice split off into groups, and those who could not find a role in these groups found themselves with nowhere to go.

The experiment was conducted in the University of Maryland’s Rat Colony 2 (also known as Universe 25) in the late 1950s. The study consisted of a 15x15x12 foot enclosure filled with rats of both sexes. The rats were well-fed and their environment provided access to plenty of water and food, as well as hiding places and other forms of entertainment.

In addition, Calhoun also provided the rats with technological advancements to help them survive and thrive. These advancements included plastic tunnels which allowed the rats to go through complex pathways within the enclosure while avoiding direct contact with other rats.

The experiment ran from 1958 to 1965 and its most remarkable result was the effect of overcrowding on animal behavior. Calhoun’s findings showed that as the enclosure became increasingly overcrowded, the rats began to exhibit abnormal behavior patterns. These patterns included a drastic decrease in social interaction, increased aggressive behaviors, and an increase in “loneliness”.

As a result of this study, Calhoun concluded that overcrowding in living conditions can have drastically negative effects on an animal’s mental health and well-being. This experiment still resonates today, and its findings are used in today’s society when discussing how the physical environment can influence behavior.

“Males who failed withdrew physically and psychologically; they became very inactive and aggregated in large pools near the center of the floor of the universe. From this point on they no longer initiated interaction with their established associates, nor did their behavior elicit attack by territorial males,” read the paper. “Even so, they became characterized by many wounds and much scar tissue as a result of attacks by other withdrawn males.”

This was all during the first phase of the downfall of the “utopia”. In the phase, Calhoun termed the “second death”, whatever young mice survived the attacks from their mothers and others would grow up around these unusual mouse behaviors. As a result, they never learned usual mice behaviors and many showed little or no interest in mating, preferring to eat and preen themselves, alone.

The population peaked at 2,200 – short of the actual 3,000-mouse capacity of the “universe” – and from there came the decline. Many of the mice weren’t interested in breeding and retired to the upper decks of the enclosure, while the others formed violent gangs below, which would regularly attack and cannibalize other groups as well as their own. The low birth rate and high infant mortality combined with the violence, and soon the entire colony was extinct. During the mouse apocalypse, food remained ample, and their every need was completely met.

Calhoun termed what he saw as the cause of the collapse “behavioral sink”.

“For an animal so simple as a mouse, the most complex behaviors involve the interrelated set of courtship, maternal care, territorial defense, and hierarchical intragroup and intergroup social organization,” he concluded in his study.

“When behaviors related to these functions fail to mature, there is no development of social organization and no reproduction. As in the case of my study reported above, all members of the population will age and eventually die. The species will die out.”

He believed that the mouse experiment may also apply to humans, and warned of a day where – god forbid – all our needs are met.

To what extent this experiment’s “season finale” can be applied to humans is a question to debate. However, the plot twists within the experiment can be applied big time.

Within the experiment, you have observed that, within the “utopia” where all needs are met & overcrowding arises, a lot of psychological changes occurred. One of them can be labeled as a group – loneliness, need for solitude, lack of interest in mating or interaction.

You and I cannot deny that, living in such a socially interactive age & populated cities we constantly develop that urge as well. We are much more complex creatures than mice though, our behaviour-changing variables are much larger in quantity.

Solitude is the state of seclusion or isolation—being alone without the company of others. Although it’s often viewed as a state to be avoided, it can actually be beneficial in our everyday lives.

As humans, we have a natural desire for meaningful connection with others. Our need for emotional support and intimacy is essential for our well-being. But at the same time, there are benefits to regularly spending time alone.

Studies show that spending time in solitude can foster creativity, concentration, and self-reflection. Solitude can help us process our emotions and gain clarity about our values and goals in life. This can be particularly rewarding for introverts, who may feel more energized by alone time than time spent in social situations.

Solitude can also offer a sense of freedom and liberation. It can provide much-needed time away from oppressive environments or keep us from feeling overwhelmed. It offers us a chance to recover from a challenging day and take a break from stressors.

On the other hand, too much solitude can have negative effects. It can lead to overthinking and rumination, worsening our worries rather than helping us escape them. It can also cause loneliness, which can have serious consequences for our mental and physical health.

To maintain a healthy balance of solitude and company, it’s important to recognize our primary needs and adapt our lifestyle accordingly. We may need to push ourselves to get out of our comfort zone and make an effort to connect with others or take a break from overstimulation by getting away from social situations. Finding the right balance between our need for connection and our need for solitude is essential to our well-being.

No matter what our lifestyle looks like, carving out time to be alone can be beneficial. We need to practice self-care and check in with ourselves often to ensure we are living a healthy and balanced life.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected “me time” tendencies in several ways, particularly for those who are working from home or juggling additional family responsibilities. For many, the all-encompassing pandemic has made it difficult to carve out time for self-care and personal pursuits. With more online gatherings and remote work, it can be difficult to unplug, leading to an increased sense of stress and anxiety. Many have found it helpful to set boundaries and create rhythms to their day that can help to get in some “me time”. Some have found value in scheduling out free time or short breaks during the day where they can step away from their obligations and be present with themselves. Additionally, some have found that digital decluttering or limiting their time looking through social media can help carve out moments of self-care throughout the day.

Henry David Thoreau is one of the most famous authors associated with the theme of solitude, writing extensively on the concept in works such as Walden.

What to avoid when you want to be alone? Here is what I do.

1. Crowded places – Avoid areas with large crowds such as shopping malls, movie theaters, and sporting events. 

2. Social media – Refrain from checking social media, as this can lead to distractions, notifications, and invitations to socialize.

3. Interruptions – Let your family and/or friends know that you want to be alone and not to be disturbed. 

4. Too much noise – Find a quiet spot or use earplugs, headphones, or a white noise app to help create a peaceful environment.

5. Screen time – Put down the devices and try to find activities that don’t involve screens. 

6. Guilt – Don’t feel guilty if you need to take some time for yourself. Taking time to be alone is important and shouldn’t be dipped.

The last one is the most crucial point, guilt-free!

I think you and I had enough. Have a pleasant day!

Pura Vida!


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