Posted in Psychology & Medicine


In 1972, John B. Calhoun designed a very specific mice cage called Universe 25, also known as the Mortality-Inhibiting Environment for Mice. Universe 25 was designed as a practical utopia for mice. It was constantly replenished with food and water, each wall had an intricate grid of nesting boxes connected by mesh tunnels and stairwells (like an apartment) and the cage was cleaned periodically. There were no predators, the temperature was set at a comfortable level and all mice resident were disease-free. In all ways, Universe 25 was an idyllic home for the mice.

Calhoun’s aim of this experiment was the same as the countless experiments before Universe 25: to see the effects of abundance on a population, and the consequences of that. Biologically speaking, a population only grows to the point that the environment can sustain it and then plateaus. So if the environment is completely abundant, the population will grow and grow without limitations (other than space). Thus, Calhoun’s main focus was overpopulation in societies. What did he find?

At the start of the experiment, four breeding pairs of mice were introduced to Universe 25. They began reproducing after 104 days of familiarisation and the population increased exponentially. The mice flourished in the prosperous environment. Around day 315, population growth slowed. By this stage, the mice population had grown to over 600, which made Universe 25 very crowded. Although there were still plenty of resources, the problem of overpopulation still remained. As the population grew and space became limited, male mice found it too difficult to defend their territory and eventually gave up doing so. The mice began losing their ability to form social bonds and these mice (“failures”) began congregating at the centre of the cage. This group of mice gave up on all normal social behaviour, leading to constant violence. The violence soon spread throughout the cage, with the mice society descending into chaos. The females, stressed and confused by the violence, attacked and cannibalised their own young, after which they retreated to the highest nest boxes where they isolated themselves. Certain males (termed “the beautiful ones” by Calhoun) did not show violence or any interest in females, choosing only to eat, sleep and groom themselves, wrapped in narcissistic introspection. Because of these two isolated groups, procreation slumped and population growth slowed. Elsewhere, in the “inner city” group at the middle of the cage, cannibalism, pansexualism and violence became common. The entire society had collapsed.

On day 560, the population ceased to grow at a peak population of 2200. After this, the number of pregnancies dwindled to nothing and no young survived past infancy. Adult mice were also affected, with mortality rates skyrocketing at all ages and increased rates of diseases. It was clear that the population was headed towards extinction. Even after the population dwindled down to a much more sustainable number, the mice were incapable of (or chose not to) reproducing to regenerate the population. Not only did mice society die, but the mice themselves met a grim fate as well.

This result was repeated in all of Calhoun’s experiments, conclusively showing that overpopulation leads to the demise of a society. Calhoun described this as “crowding into the behavioural sink”. He explained that the mice served as a warning to what human societies are headed towards if we do not solve the problem of overpopulation. We can already see the effect overpopulation has on societies. It is a known fact that people living in the inner areas of a city are more prone to poverty, crime, violence and a lower quality of life. However, Calhoun was not a nihilist. Instead of saying “humanity is doomed”, he explored different ways of resolving the problem. The most effective idea he came up with was space colonisation.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


A gaze is defined as “to look fixedly, intently, or deliberately at something”, but its true meaning is far deeper than that. In art and psychology, the “gaze” is described as a complex medium of communication between the subject and the object being gazed at. There are many theories as to what the gaze signifies.

A popular explanation is the exertion of dominance by the subject by gazing at an object. In essence, this act objectifies something, such as a painting or a person, placing it on an inferior level relative to the observer. This applies to the concept of the “medical gaze” – where the doctor can see the patient as just an anatomical body, or a holistic being with a soul – or the “male gaze”, which feminists claim to be the tendency for films to objectify women and play to the male audience, providing them with the power and dominance. In this case, the gaze acts as a projection of the viewer, placing himself as a dominant figure indirectly interacting with the female being gazed at in the movie. Although the male gaze itself is questionable, there is no doubt that people tend to project themselves into the characters in a movie through gaze.
This theory explains the uncanny feeling brought on by a gaze, as it gives the impression that you are being defined by someone’s gaze, whilst becoming dominated.

The gaze plays a vital role in the development of babies as they pass through what is called the “mirror stage”. This is when babies first conceive the idea of self, as they see an external image of themselves in the mirror. At this point, the baby’s gaze defines the external image (reflection) while the reflection’s gaze gives the baby an uncanny feeling of “self”.
The concept of the gaze has been well-known throughout history, and is reflected in myths such as the evil eye (that brings bad fortune to those being gazed at) or Medusa (the gorgon who petrifies those who make eye contact with her). Interestingly, the story of Narcissus shows the danger of gaze by misidentifying “self”.

Artists use this concept of gaze effectively by either letting the audience simply gaze at the picture, essentially letting it be defined only when being looked at, or invite the audience in a “conversation” with the painting. This can be achieved when characters in the painting are gazing at the audience, giving the illusion that they can actually see past the two-dimensional plane, gazing into the viewer’s eyes. This produces a strange feeling, while also giving the viewer a heightened appreciation for the painting as he/she feels at level with the painting. 
Furthermore, as the gaze is a two-way conversation, there are also examples of “setting oneself at gaze”. This means that they are exposing themselves to be gazed at, a common example being nude art. Of course, this ties into voyeurism and scopophilia, showing just how complex the meaning behind the word “gaze” can be.