Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sinking into Oblivion

Sinking into Oblivion

During the mid-twentieth century, scientist John B. Calhoun conducted a series of experiments to determine the effects of overpopulation on mice and rats. In the 1960s he conducted his most famous experiment, known as “mouse universe” or “mouse utopia”, which provided optimal living conditions for the mice: limitless food and water, ample opportunities for socializing and mating, plenty of nesting material, lack of predators, lack of disease, and so forth. His experiment presented the mice with only one challenge: overpopulation.

Mouse utopia started off as a measly eight mice living the dream, but their optimal living conditions detonated an explosion in population growth that doubled their numbers again and again. In less than a year the population soared from the initial eight to a chaotic circus of six hundred and twenty, which proved to be the mouse population’s breaking point. Unable to cope with such constant and severe overcrowding, the mice began to exhibit a multitude of abnormal behaviors such as acute social withdrawal, strong disinterest in courtship or mating, and mothers abandoning their young. Calhoun referred to these and other abnormalities as “behavioral sink”, and they triggered catastrophic full scale societal collapse that eventually ended with the mouse population’s extinction.

Japan’s own massively overpopulated society mirrors these three examples of mouse utopia’s behavioral sink — almost verbatim — through the Japanese social phenomenon of hikikomori (acute social withdrawal), sōshoku danshi (strong disinterest in courtship or mating), and “coin locker babies” (mothers abandoning their young). Is this pure coincidence, or does a genuine correlation tie this all together? Perhaps Japan’s overpopulation contributes to another form of behavioral sink, embodied by the unconscious gentleman pictured here — and several more to follow — who collapsed into a woeful and heartbreaking posture: hunched over himself, face buried in his folded arms, as if lamenting his very existence.

To consider another, more optimistic possibility, perhaps these unconscious and apparently distraught fellows are not wallowing in misery, but rather this sort of seemingly sorrowful slumping simply happens to be the most practical position to collapse into. This possibility is supported by the nonchalant and relatively emotionless demeanor with which many of these very same gentlemen will spontaneously resurrect, assess their whereabouts, and then wander off into the night, exhibiting no indications of the grief that had seemed to rack them only moments prior.