In the 1990s, people started to think in terms of patterns, driven by both software development and architecture. These abstractions made more sense than some of our existing fields of study because they looked at the mathematics and logic behind arrangements more than material form.
Information science arose out of this to explain the understanding of why these patterns emerge, something that is not quite mathematics or physics, but deals with a similar idea, almost like numerology, that shows how patterns arise in response to environmental constraints.
For those of us who see the Platonic underpinning of this area of study, information science seems like a better way of understanding how populations and civilizations work than looking too much at the particulars.
This does not imply that there are universal patterns so much as objective realistic needs and only a certain number of ways to address them. Every culture invents something to serve as a chair, even if for some it is pillows and others benches.
With this in mind, it makes sense to revisit Mouse Utopia and see what population dynamics we can identify as information flow patterns:
Four healthy breeding pairs of mice were allowed to reproduce freely in a ‘utopian’ environment with ample food and water, no predators, no disease, comfortable temperature – a near as possible ideal conditions and space. What happened was described by the author in terms of five phases: establishment, exponential growth, growth slowing, breeding ceases and population stagnant, population decline and extinction:
Phase A – 104 days – establishment of the mice in their new environment, then the first litters were born.
Phase B – up to day 315 – exponential population growth doubling every 55 days.
Phase C – from day 315-560 population growth abruptly slowed to a doubling time of 145 days.
Phase D – days 560-920; population stagnant with births just matching deaths. Emergence of many pathological behaviours.
Terminal Phase E – population declining to zero. The last conception was about day 920, after which there were no more births, all females were menopausal, the colony aged and all of them died.
To summarise – when four breeding pairs of mice were allowed to reproduce under ideal ‘utopian’ conditions, the colony entirely ceased to breed after three years, and then went extinct.
In an information science view, each creature in a group seeks to be both accepted by the group and to stand out from the group so that it may advertise itself for reproductive purposes.
When Mouse Utopia is new, breeding accelerates because a new space exists and each mouse can stake out a corner of it. Once all spaces are occupied, mice lose individuality and become a mass, at which point they can no longer sexually advertise successfully, causing them to quit the game.
This explains the pathological or compensatory behaviors. With no purpose left to their existence, individual mice vacate the biologically successful behaviors and replace them with attention-seeking behavior which, unrequited, turns inward into neurotic behavior.
In an environment with too many mice, only those with obvious desirable traits do well. The strongest and most aggressive mice breed the most, but this creates a certain equality in the offspring to the point where nothing stands out; after all, they are very similar in abilities.
Even more than overpopulation itself the threat becomes anonymity. A mouse who can find a corner, niche, or unique behavior stands to gain a mate who sees the value in this; a mouse who is just one more warm body in a press of them pushing forward is anonymous, and will not be selected.
Mathematically, or perhaps we should say informationally, the overcrowding denies the ability for any mouse to rise above the rest, creating a situation like heat-death where any option is as good as any other, so there is no point choosing any.
Our civilization probably hit this tipping point shortly after The Enlightenment™ when people became “equal” in the eyes of culture, and therefore there was no point for anyone to find a niche. Life became a matter of money, power, and prestige, and we gradually bored ourselves to death.
Reducing population at the same time we apply a quality filter would enable more niches, especially if we suspended the egalitarian bureaucratic administrative-managerial state, which tends to destroy niches in favor of standardization.
Mouse Utopia shows us the most interesting kind of pitfall in life since it arises from success and not failure. Ironically, success leads to failure, because success brings about new problems which are unrecognized by those in control.