Saturday, September 12, 2020

2014 Ali Shan and Dong Ding oolongs





Getting to some samples that were included from back when I ordered teas from Tea Mania (provided by the vendor, Peter). To me their sheng pu'er are just amazing, and a great value.  That was covered in detail in this 2018 Jing Mai arbor review, and 2018 Yiwu "Lucky Bee," and many earlier posts, but this re-review of how the 2016 Lucky Bee Yiwu version is progressing really tells that story. 

I've come to expect that everything from them will be better than one would expect from even good sources. Then again there are levels to source types, and quality and pricing, so I just mean that the teas seem to be on the higher end for quality, while typically in the middle for pricing, a rare occurrence. 

Oolong being aged for 6 years is new to me. I've only tried a couple of examples of well-aged oolongs, over 20 years, and that aging effect wouldn't be the same over a shorter time period. I'll get around to guessing about expectations in comments about the experienced aspects, but without actual background experience to set up a baseline that's not worth much. 

Heavily roasted Wuyi Yancha are said to improve a lot over even a year or two, and would mellow and become more pleasant over this time-frame too, with the roast effect softening and diminishing. That's not how this will go; you can tell from appearance the Ali Shan was light to begin with, and the Dong Ding was never relatively fully oxidized or charred, as Taiwanese "red oolongs" and high-roast Anxi Tie Guan Yin can be, respectively. 


Vendor descriptions: 




This Qing Xin Oolong tea from Ali Shan is a classic Gao Shan Cha (highland tea). Ali Shan, along with Li Shan and Shan Lin Xi, is one of the three regions in Taiwan with highland tea plantations. 

The Ali Shan Qing Xin is warm, full-bodied and has a complex taste profile. The aroma is clearly floral but there are also notes of ripe fruits. The sweetness reminiscent of dark forest honey with a slight woody undertone. The tea is light and airy, but the sweet honey smell lingers in the empty cup for a long time. 

Harvest: Spring 2014 
Taste: Honey sweet with floral aroma and notes of ripe fruits. 
Oxidation: appx. 40% 
Roasting: light-medium Origin: Ali Shan, Nantou, Taiwan. 
Preparation: Per serving 5g, temperature 95°C, time 15s. Rinse leaves gently with hot water before infusing. 

That was selling for 20 CHF, or $20 US, for 50 grams. 


The next tea: Dong Ding  (selling for $25 /  50 grams instead)


Dong Ding is a classic and rightly famous Taiwanese Oolong tea. This Dong Ding is a good example of flavors that a highland tea (Gao Shan Cha) can develop. Delicate floral scents, honey notes and subtle roasted aromas delight the palate and linger in the mouth and cup long after the last sip. 

Like other famous teas, Dong Ding is often and often imitated. Dong Ding is a limited mountain area with limited tea production. Because of its special aroma, Dong Ding style tea is produced in many other tea growing areas. But, even if the cultivar, the style and sometimes even the tea master are the same as on the Dong Ding, its quality and aroma is never achieved. 

Harvest: Spring 2014 
Taste: Flowery, light toasted and delicate honey flavor. 
Oxidation: appx. 40% Roasting: medium Origin: Dong Ding, Lugu Xiang, Nantou, Taiwan. 
Preparation: Per serving 5g, temperature 95°C, time 15s. Rinse leaves gently with hot water before infusing. 


I should add a few thoughts about all that, without getting too far into covering review content, since I've already tried the teas and write this part during editing.  A lot of people would go with full boiling point water; that kind of goes without saying.  It's easier to recommend someone tries both and see what they think than running back through all that.  Given that these have smoothed out a lot with age and some of the more forward, "higher end" flavor has diminished it might be all the more true for them, that hotter water would work better.

It also goes without saying that the Qing Xin reference is to the main, older plant type used for oolongs in Taiwan.  Other posts have covered that; I'll skip going further with it here.


Qing Xin is a more updated transliteration of Chin Shin, table from here



It's not what I expected but not completely surprising that the Dong Ding is oxidized to the same level as the Ali Shan.  I'd have guessed that the Ali Shan wasn't oxidized that much, but this Dong Ding isn't pushing the envelop towards black / red tea range.  The roast input will change character in ways that isn't identical to more oxidation, but it can be tricky splitting back out the two inputs.

I think if I re-tried the Ali Shan I might be able to break down flavor range better, in relation to clarifying what fruit seems to be represented.  I agree that it's primarily floral, and that made it hard to get far with that secondary range, but I suspect that the flavors warming and deepening pull them more towards fruit than when this tea was on the young side.  That oolong version was complex enough that to some extent the broad range of flavor inputs seemed non-distinct, covering floral tone, some fruit, and a touch of supporting mineral, trailing into spice effect just a little.  The Dong Ding seemed to include more straight cinnamon, but it was complex too, with a lot going on in feel range.

I dropped out essentially all discussion of aftertaste range, probably mostly related to experiencing an unfamiliar tea type, and also due to rushing the tasting process.  My normal weekend morning routine is to wake up, eat something, mess around and become more fully awake, then to do a tea review with notes.  Yesterday I got a haircut instead after step 2, and went to a lunch, and then a play area with my kids at noon.  I am concerned about "doing the teas justice" when they are this good and this novel, but if I waited until I had a 3 or 4 hour block of free time I would stop review blogging.  This will be a bit quick and rough as reviews go, because I don't have that much time (so the standard process).


Review 


I let these brew for too long the first round, not because of some strategy of getting them to start faster, just due to looking at something on the internet for half a minute. Not an auspicious start.  This is a little later than I typically start the day for ingesting any caffeine, late morning instead of right away. 

If these had been sheng I'd be talking about how overbrewing teas lets you analyze flaws or limitations in different ways, but for these I'm not sure how it will work out. 



Alishan: very pleasant; floral and fragrant. I expected some of the high end to dissipate, with these evolving more depth to compensate, and it will be interesting to see how that goes. The most intense and forward high end is diminished, even though I let this soak a bit long (towards a minute). A warm spice-like character fills in other range; that's interesting. This is floral too, but it's a warm, muted floral range, shifted from brighter tones to a deeper, warmer floral type. There's no edge to this at all, even for being slightly over-brewed, but that's not really a surprise. 

Dong Ding: this is warmer yet, with cinnamon as the most intense flavor aspect. Again the sharpest, brightest high end flavors seem to have evolved out, with depth and smoothness filling in more character range. I must have mentioned it in the later intro but I have no experience with 6 year old Taiwanese oolong range, that I remember, so it's unfamiliar to me how these are "supposed to be." 

There's a perfume-like character to this that shows up in really good quality oolongs across a broad range. I've mentioned it so many times I don't want to go far with explanation, but it's a little like cognac, not just the floral tone a perfume brings across, but seemingly tied a little to the solvent range. 

This is full in feel in a really novel way too. It's creamy, but not in the same range of senses I would usually mean that. Real cream actually feels quite heavy in your mouth, related to the way it coats your tongue and the rest, and this matches some of that, almost a coating type feel. Lots of oolongs feel thick, and sheng pu'er exhibits a broad range of types of feel and structure, but this is different. 


Second infusion: 





Ali Shan: this picked up "higher end" floral intensity, or maybe that's just from the brewing time difference shifting balance (brewed for 20 seconds or so, drawn out a little to account for not maxing out the proportion). The feel has a pleasant thickness, just nothing like the other version. The warmer range depth isn't different, just less intense. There is some light mineral tone to this, characteristic of Taiwanese high mountain oolongs, but that seems to have softened with the aging process, along with the bright, intense floral range that always reminds me a little of new car smell. Right, like plastic, but more pleasant in effect, and somehow similar, in a way that I'm sure most people wouldn't see as associated. 

It works well; it's clearly very good tea. I personally probably would've liked this better when new; trading out that front-end intensity and brighter range for depth just doesn't improve things, to me. It is interesting experiencing a slightly different version though. This is amazingly clean and smooth; the character is just different. It's not "plummy," the flavor range that more aged oolongs tend to pick up (per limited exposure to those and hearsay input). 

Dong Ding: more of the same; very pleasant. Again warmer tones and cinnamon stand out in this. It was definitely roasted more, and while I'm guessing a well-balanced higher level of oxidation also led to this positive outcome. It is just a guess but I'd expect both contributed to this character, with anything remotely like a "char" edge having dropped out years ago. 

Again I'd probably rather try this as a slightly rougher-edged new version, trading out this smoothness and unusual depth for front-end intensity, even if a bit more astringency and some slightly rougher flavor comes with that. "Rough" is within relative standard range, of course; this had to start out very drinkable as sheng, green, and black teas go. I'll go back to giving these a longer soak for the third round to ramp up intensity (30 seconds), since there are absolutely no negative aspects to "brew around" in these. 


Third infusion: 





Ali Shan: floral range shifted in character. That will be hard to describe, since I've not even grappled with breaking down distinct floral tones so far. This seems closest to lotus flower in nature to me. Before it was complex enough that it probably covered a range, and two or three flower-type descriptions would've been required. That's still true, but that one lotus flower range aspect bumped up. It's not so different than orchid, and given how there are many types of orchid that's already a range, that must cover some scope, but lotus flower has a sweet, rich depth to it, and a unique character. 

It's interesting how this bridges over to spice range as well, with some warm, more neutral floral tones filling in the space between those. A hint of dry mineral gives it depth, but that's adjoining slightly warmer tones that drift into aromatic wood, towards cedar, just not exactly like that. It's odd how this comes across as somewhat simple and approachable but really there is a lot going on, when you focus in on noticing it.  Versus this being interpreted as covering a broad floral range with some mineral and spice I think that fruit tone interpretations would make sense too, related to ripe fresh peach or dried apricot, but it all integrates well enough and covers so much flavor scope that it's hard to break apart.

Dong Ding: straight cinnamon might have picked up a little. Again at first "glance" (in the taste-sensation range) this isn't so different than soaking a cinnamon stick for a minute or two, but really a lot more goes into underlying that experience. There is floral tone supporting that, and a creamy feel that teas almost never exhibit, never mind spices. Vanilla is an exception; real vanilla bean gives an infusion so much texture that it's almost too creamy, like a custard in mouthfeel, and this overlaps a little with that experience, except for the "going too far" part. That liquer / cognac / perfume like aspect isn't pronounced but it also rounds out the rest. 


I'll give these one more longer soak, up towards a minute, and leave off, because I'm due at a lunch today. 

Fourth infusion: 





Ali Shan: not so different than last round, so I'll just say that it's not transitioning much. 

Dong Ding: this also seems to have leveled off, and may even be fading a bit, with those longer infusion times taking a toll on it. These teas are far from finished but they may be declining from here on out. Transitioning aspect range through longer infusion time and more roasting seems to come at a cost for the number of infusions a tea can produce, so it wouldn't be that unusual if this was a round ahead of the other in terms of progression through a cycle. 


Conclusions: 


Excellent teas, interesting in style. Aging seemed to have brought on the changes I would've expected, with the teas picking up some depth at the cost of higher end intensity. They were interesting, novel, and pleasant, clearly very good quality teas, as I would have expected. For someone interested in owning truly aged oolongs, versions aged to older than a decade, buying some like this in a mid-range and hanging on to them might be a great option. Time passes quickly, and any 10+ year old oolong version is going to be really expensive. I didn't check yet what these are selling for but at a guess it's on the moderate side, for what they are.

(Back later) ok, they're $20 and $25 per 50 grams; how to place that?  I'd expect that's about what these would typically cost when new, based on an informed guess about quality level, and you just can't find aged versions like this easily.  When tea types relating to any factor are all but impossible to turn up supply and demand concerns become strange; if there is significant demand the price is whatever the vendor wants it to be, and the type could no longer be available at some point even given high pricing.  I reviewed a comparably aged Oriental Beauty version once and said roughly the same thing, but that was selling for an order of magnitude higher cost than this, several dollars per gram.

To me aged oolong is a strange thing to begin with.  Letting well-roasted Wuyi Yancha settle makes perfect sense but I don't completely "get" aged light rolled oolong.  That said, why not consider an opposing viewpoint from people who do get it.  James of TeaDB writes to advocate the general type here.  He never really gets far with describing that appeal, limited to this statement:

I enjoy drinking pu’erh and happen to own enough that I’ll be aging it for a very long time. But I I also really do enjoy aged oolong… And for partly inexplicable reasons have hardly even a pu’erh cake worth of oolong put away for the long haul.


Liking it is the thing, I guess.  He mentions his own criteria for what he considers as aged in that post:  15 to 20 year old versions.  Buying these particular teas, that I just reviewed, and waiting another 9 years would be a long term project.

Looking back through their earlier posts there isn't much describing what is commercially available for aged oolongs.  Those would tend to come and go, and be found in one-off examples that later disappear, many of which wouldn't necessarily be that exceptional anyway.  James reviews a lot of versions in this post, most contributed by friends, with this conclusion:

Sorry guys. I can’t really wholeheartedly recommend any of the available teas from this report. The western landscape is barren, even more so than matured pu’erh. It’s littered with re-roasted oolongs which can be OK and overly tart/mis-stored teas but aren’t really the same thing as un-reroasted oolongs. There are some OK options (Everlasting Teas, Floating Leaves, Chawangshop, and Tea Urchin) but you’re guaranteed to pay more and expect less.


With that advice being offered in 2016 all of the versions he mentioned as commercially available, and less interesting than the others he tried, would probably no longer be available.  Then again I just pulled up one of those vendor pages and found Tea Urchin still does carry a 1985 Dong Ding, selling for $1 per gram; a steal, if it's a good version.  It's a commonly encountered theme that storing an average quality tea for a long time never tends to convert it into an exceptional aged version, and anything short of relatively optimum storage conditions can turn out a lot worse than that, regardless of the starting point.  That Tea Urchin version description sounds great, and also addresses this point:

After first infusion, the gaiwan lid wafts with sweet notes of honey, toffee apples, salted fluffy white butter popcorn, mixed with heavier aromas of sandalwood, camphor, leather, musty herbal medicines. The tea liquor is a dark amber with the aroma of dried orange peel. The tea floats on the tongue - light bodied but viscous, with a smooth clean mouthfeel. There is very little sourness often found in teas of this age. 


Right, I like teas that are not so sour.  A comment on the first TeaDB post mentioned by Shah (one of those few real tea experts who turn up) covers all this in a short space:

Speaking as that proverbial hard-bitten veteran, who isn’t a huge fan of aged oolongs in the first place, a few comments:

1) Anything that can be said for oolong, can be said for hongcha and baicha. In my experience, hongcha is a better age-performer as a whole. Ie, my home aged hongcha is much tastier than my home aged oolong, for me.

2) Twenty years is not a realistic view of a hobbyist’ perspective of time. Not for puerh, not for wulong.

3) Initial quality matters. As a practical matter, given that aging rich and bitter/astringent puerh makes it more drinkable, you can start with somewhat lower quality and end up with better tea. Aging seems to erode an oolong’s harsh qualities much slower than it does for properly processed sheng. I have not enjoyed some 70’s yancha because of this. Which leads to the next point…

4) For me, age-worthy oolongs have only gotten in rough comparison to puerh within about the last four years. Cheaper yancha is much better processed than it used to be. And puerh is much more expensive than it used to be. I do not typically like aged oolongs much because they tend to be very one-dimensional, and if I want mellow, then I want high quality shu, usually. If one is going to age anything on purpose, it’s best to buy a kilo+ of the highest quality yancha/balled oolong you can afford...


Related to that last comment, then it's back to the same to waiting-game problem, that of setting something aside for 15 years.  I plan to still be alive in 15 years but I'm not setting aside anything but sheng to hang out for a long time and drink later.  Even for that type the quantity and range of what I have on hand is pathetic; I just don't have the tea budget to set aside some extra tongs.  I can buy a little more than I drink from year to year but that's about it.

Related to "setting aside a kilo+" it doesn't really make sense to buy a 100 grams of any tea to age it.  If you try it a few times to see how that's progressing only half would make it through the process, and then it would be gone soon once that extended time had passed.  Sinking $200 or $250 on an aging experiment to buy a kilo of these (or $225, to buy half of each) would be a reasonable expense to some, but for many it would make a lot more sense to set aside 4 or 5 $50 sheng cakes instead.  That would amount to a kilo and a half of tea that wouldn't just become a bit mellow and plummy, although depending on selection some versions might just fade over the long term.

Preference is a funny thing though, and I can definitely relate to the value of pursuing different experiences.  It was interesting trying these very moderately aged oolongs, and they were quite novel and pleasant.


that lunch; decent Thai food, great company



for some reason I don't remember seeing her in jeans.  she often wears dresses.


one part of that play area



I gave up the "second pandemic wave" look



Thursday, September 3, 2020

Gopaldhara Summer Beauty Muscatel and China Muscatel

 

Summer Beauty left, China Muscatel right, in all photos


I'm trying two more samples from Gopaldhara, after initially reviewing what seemed to be relatively close to classic first and second flush versions in this post.  

I would expect these to be standard second flush range as well, but I'll not check that prior to doing review notes, and will add their descriptions here during editing.  My thinking is that they have been developing some really novel oolong type (or influenced) variations, and one more round of more familiar range will help me reset a baseline before starting on those (from a number of samples provided for review).  I've been more on sheng pu'er for a couple of years, although I never really stop drinking Dian Hong (Yunnan black tea), and I've tried more Thai black tea than I usually get to this year.

The "beauty" part should refer to a link with Oriental Beauty.  Per my understanding there is a natural link between that and second flush Darjeeling anyway, since both pick up additional muscatel and citrus range flavors related to a similar, or potentially identical, insect biting the leaves.

The leaves of this Summer Beauty version look a little different than any Darjeeling I ever remember seeing.  It looks like Oriental Beauty; more whole leaves, a good proportion of bud content, and especially the same color variations, the light tan part, dark brown, and reddish brown colors, all mixed.  The scent is really sweet and fruity as well.  The other looks nice not so broken, more uniformly brown, and also sweet with pronounced muscatel, but the Beauty version seems to lean more towards including both muscatel and a berry range.  This should be interesting.

I'll brew them Gongfu style, letting the times run a little long to account for my most standard tea range, sheng, requiring a lighter touch, but except for planning to let these brew for around 15 seconds instead of 10 it will be the same approach.


Vendor descriptions of the teas (added after review):


I would imagine this is the "China muscatel" version, although I can't be certain:

Gopaldhara Muscatel – Special Darjeeling Black Tea

Gopaldhara Muscatel – Special Darjeeling Black Tea is a pure Darjeeling black tea made by frosted leaves at the highest elevation of Darjeeling tea plantation. This is from more than 150 years old high-quality bushes planted by the British. It is grown at the 7000 ft. of Gopaldhara Tea Estate and processed by the experts... It brews into a rich orange cup that gives abundant sweet, fruity and muscatel flavor. This special Darjeeling black tea gives mouthful and rounded taste to the pallet. 


The cultivar listing "Chinese bushes" would refer to this being a variety Sinensis plant type, versus the often used AV2 cultivar (the background of which I've written about, but it's been awhile).  I would imagine the other tea is this:


Rohini Summer Beauty Muscatel 2020

This is a Second Flush or finest Summer Tea prepared from high quality AV2 bushes. Summer Beauty Muscatel consists of brownish black leaves and few silver tips. It brews into an aromatic bright amber cup with a very smooth flavor without any astringency. The tea has a mouthful sweet and fruity muscatel character with a finish of honey and mango flavor. It has no astringency and is a very compelling make. It is definitely one of the best teas produced by Rohini Tea Estate.


It's interesting how close that marketing description is to my own notes.  If I had read "mango" prior to tasting it I probably would have even been seconding that.  Mango covers a lot of scope; I've been exploring those this year, and although there is a narrow set of flavors that matches the most distinctive mango taste they cover lots of types and range.


Review:




Summer Beauty Muscatel:  that is on the incredible side, even for being a little light, as first infusions almost always are based on how I usually brew teas.  Pleasant citrus range including muscatel extends a lot further than that.  The citrus is also light, to me tasting most like tangerine, but covering some range.  Berry notes do stand out, again a complex range of those, like very fresh blueberry, also towards raspberry.  

This is the probably the closest thing I've tasted to raspberry since I've lived in Thailand, for well over a decade.  Growing up my grandparents (on one side) had a giant raspberry bush; this takes me back.  The other set had a giant blueberry bush, which was more like a patch, as both were; visiting both worked out for eating fruit.  The first also had a pear tree and some unusually rich tasting grapes (a section of vines), and the second a golden apple tree, with strawberries and mint growing in their garden.  I miss that area.

 

China Muscatel:  much warmer; a lot of cinnamon joins the citrus in this.  It includes astringency as well; I almost forgot to notice that the first did not, at all.  The "Beauty" feel and range is exactly like an Oriental Beauty oolong, given the smoothness, depth, and flavor range, and lightness in tone.  The astringency in this is in a nice balance, definitely not harsh, or out of proportion.  Cinnamon stands out more than the muscatel (which is also a soft and complex citrus tone, but not bright like the other).  I wouldn't be surprised if that's just how it works out brewing this tea Gongfu style, the aspect that gets "stripped out" the fasted, but then I also wouldn't be surprised if it hung in there as a main flavor aspect.

Since both of these are brewed a little light there will be more to add in the next round.  Flavor intensity is really good in these infusions, in spite of them being brewed light, but feel and the rest will pick up as it brews while more saturated.  I don't get the sense that moderating astringency would be a factor for either but dialing in an optimum for experiencing them will still apply.


Second infusion:  




I didn't get the amounts exactly identical in these, I think related to not accounting for how long and twisted the Beauty version leaves were, and some of the China version being more broken.  The proportions are so close that it won't change much, and I can guess about what it did change in the notes, how that factors in.  Using two different infusion times would account for that, but that gets tricky.  I'll just pour out the second tea first to adjust process timing by those extra seconds.


Beauty:  earthiness picks up, an underlying light malt range black tea tone.  Fruit still stands out the most, by a lot.  The brightest citrus and berry notes have tapered off just a little, towards warmer, richer tones and other range.  That warm maltiness also leans a little towards cinnamon spice; this is pretty close to Oriental Beauty for character.  There's a faint edge of astringency now that pairs with a light flavor like biting a tree bud (or flower stem, if that's easier to imagine, but it's really tree bud).  Altogether it makes this a complex and pleasant experience.  It covers a lot of range; I suppose it's conceivable that someone could see that as negative, but if so I couldn't relate to that opinion.

That astringency seems to show more towards then end, pairing with a trace of bitterness and mouthfeel tightening as you swallow it and just after.  It's still really soft and rich, as black teas go, still balanced towards being not very astringent at all, but the bit that is there does relate to a standard Darjeeling range, it's just the proportion that's unusual, being that light.


China:  astringency is stronger in this; I think that could also partly relate to being brewed slightly stronger, being based on a higher proportion.  The first Beauty version is at a more ideal infusion strength for these teas.  I'll try a fast infusion next time, more like what I would use for a lot of Chinese teas, and see how that goes.  

I do tend to stretch out timing a bit for Dian Hong, which I do usually also brew Gongfu style.  I last had one of those about two days ago; it's interesting having that close a baseline for another character.  This tea has slightly more of an edge, but that's not the case for the Beauty version, which is full and rich but very soft.  Dian Hong also tend to be really soft in character.  I think that's because they use the trees to make sheng in the spring harvest, then pick more for a much milder summer second harvest version that they use for black tea, then back to sheng in autumn.  Or maybe that's completely wrong; to be clear I'm passing on hearsay here, not well-developed knowledge.  And any given tea producer could do whatever they want.

The cinnamon is still pronounced in this.  I think scaling back time will drop out some astringency, without giving up much for flavor intensity, and this tea will work out better.  That's the nice part about brewing Gongfu style; you tend to get 10 or more chances to dial in the infusion time that works best for the tea at that stage, along with experiencing more transition that way.


Third infusion:




Beauty:  this works really well brewed on the moderate strength side; I'm not sure why I was thinking the teas would need longer at this proportion (more than 10 seconds).  All the flavor aspects tend to integrate more at this stage; it's still covering that laundry-list of flavor range, but it combines into a complex, unified experience.  Complex fruit tone stands out, which could be interpreted in different ways.  Mineral undertone changes, adding a touch of copper taste, but that integrates really well too.  There's a rich, round feel to it.  For astringency dropping back to being a faint balancing input this is just great.  

It's well-synchronized, all completely integrated.  It's very clean in effect, with sweetness level high but balanced.  It goes without saying after all that but this is one of the best Darjeeling versions I've ever tried.  That seems to almost extend past personal preference as a factor; the quality level and balance is undeniable.  I guess someone could miss more astringency edge?  The feel isn't thin, it just doesn't have a bite, and none of that near-bitter flavor that seems to tie to that edge.


China:  this is the best it has been too; this moderate infusion strength works perfectly.  To be clear I'm not "brewing these light;" when you use a very high proportion of tea to water using a very short infusion time is just standard process.  These wouldn't be so different in infusion strength if I had brewed 2 grams of tea for 4 minutes, or probably for rounds of 3 and 4 minutes, "cashed out" after those two rounds.  To some extent that just combines the experience of many transitions into two.

This has that touch of astringency I said that someone might miss in the last sample notes, but it's very moderate, very balanced.  Again it shows up more after you drink it, as an aftertaste effect, than you notice during the time the tea is in your mouth.  It if was stronger it would seem like a slight dryness, and it still is close to that, but that light it seems odd referring to it as that.  Cinnamon is hanging in there; this flavor range covers mostly that and non-distinct or mixed citrus range, muscatel and perhaps more like orange peel zest.  

It's interesting trying this then the other, seeing how bright that comes across in comparison.  That flavor is towards berry, really, but a flash of a first impression is almost towards banana instead.  I don't want to overextend this point since it's a tangent, but people in the US don't really know what a flavorful banana tastes like.  You're not missing that much but if you travel in South East Asia sometime you should try some other types of bananas (or in India, I'd imagine).

Referring back to the vendor description (in the editing part, after making tasting notes), mango would also work.   The banana note I was talking about is not the normal light, mild, somewhat neutral flavor common to those sold in the US, more of a sweet, rich, almost bubble-gum flavor, towards a warmer range, not unlike some mango.  It's hard to describe which mango since the names here don't mean a lot to me, and I keep trying different versions.


closest to an aspect in the sangkhya type, I think, in the upper middle


versions from home, growing in the yard, picked before the squirrel got them


Fourth infusion:  


the Beauty version is less oxidized, probably more in a normal oolong range



I'll make a few fast notes since I'm off to a yoga class, appropriate enough to be drinking Indian teas prior to that.


Beauty:  a verbal description does nothing to convey how this tea really is.  It's almost absurd even making these notes.  Sure, I can try to isolate the parts of what I experience as a flavor list, or draw a comparison, or say things like "balanced, integrated, refined," but it wouldn't help.  It's too integrated to be broken apart, too complex and refined to be captured in words.  Good Taiwanese Oriental Beauty is like that too.  In a limited sense it's on the basic side, refined in general character, rich in feel, and very complex in flavor, so in one sense a flavor list does it justice and in another not at all.

At some level Wuyi Yancha oolongs have an odd, very pleasant quality that I refer to as liquor like, or perfume like, meaning that those can be complex, across floral and other flavor range, similar to part of the experience of a cognac or perfume.  This is a little like that, but more fruity instead of floral.  I guess that's the way to describe it, to get all poetic.  Maybe Geoffrey Norman should be writing this review.


China:  More of the same.  Again the balance really works.  Again it's warmer, and across vaguely related range but into warmer citrus and more cinnamon.  Astringency is almost a non-issue, although some does round out the feel.  That dropping out may have related both to getting the infusion strength right and a natural transition across rounds.  It has more structure, and a very light dryness shows up in aftertaste, and that's about it.  It's odd how that experience seems to occur after you drink it, but then I've already said that.

Both of these have lots of rounds to go, and both may transition a good bit, but I may or may not make more notes.  It's hard to get back to the same level of focus, and a lot of the story has been told already.


Later infusions:  over the next couple of rounds I needed to stretch out the timing a bit to keep up infusion strength.  The Beauty version seemed to pick up a nice heavier grape flavor, not so far off muscatel, but a little towards Welch's grape juice.  The China version kept the hint of dryness but a lot of that earlier astringency edge dropped out.  Cinnamon hung in there but citrus range stood out more in the flavors.  

Both thinned a little in overall complexity, and feel range thinned, but stretching times picked up the underlying mineral tones in both.  Both are still really pleasant, and will keep going beyond that, but they're dropping off.


Those are both really exceptional tea.  The "Beauty" version is that little bit more exceptional, a real treat for anyone who loves the Taiwanese oolong Oriental Beauty.  Of course it wasn't exactly like that, maybe in between that and a second flush Darjeeling character.  For all of these teas being this good it should be very interesting and pleasant to see where the oolong processed versions ended up.

Calling this Summer Beauty version oolong would've been fair enough.  I looked back at the listing description and it does say that it's semi-oxidized, it just doesn't add that extra category label.  I think people take the type names too seriously anyway; as I interpret their use labels and groupings should help define the type and expectations.  Being based on an AV2 cultivar and grown in Darjeeling this couldn't be identical to the Taiwanese oolong Oriental Beauty version, but it's a lot closer than I expected it to be.  It doesn't make any sense to judge if a single tea version is as good as a different and separate category, but it is really good tea.


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Calhoun's Universe 25 mice experiments; overpopulation effects related to modern social themes


This is the third post in a row branching off the subject of tea, which I will get back to.  It has been nice mixing things up.

I've just ran across a really interesting summary of some social structure oriented experiments on mice by a researcher in the late 60s through the 70s, John Calhoun's rat and mice experiments related to the effects of overpopulation.

There's a lot to get through, and I have a number of comments on how I see it potentially relating to what we experience today, so I'll need to keep this moving.  I'll pass on a short summary of what I see as the overview, then cite a summary I ran across that offers a somewhat abbreviated and highly interpreted version, then comments on what doesn't seem right in that.  Then on to comments about how I see the mice and rat findings relating to current social trends, which play out in the most obvious fashion in social media use patterns and social groups.  


That topic outline:

1. overview of the experiments (focusing mainly on one set of findings)

2. summary article

3. likely errors in that summary

4. key findings overview

5. links to modern trends, especially related to social media trends and groups

6. final conclusions


1. Overview of the experiments


The "Universe 25" part relates to one experiment trial, obviously enough the 25th in a series.  The idea was to set up rat or mice "utopias," isolated living conditions where they had ample food, shelter, safety, and separated living areas to see what the forms or stages of their breeding and behavior would be, as their population naturally increased.  If I'm remembering correctly Calhoun anticipated a relatively high population would develop relatively quickly, about as fast as normal breeding timing allowed for, and the results didn't match that.  

I'll add links to two separate research papers by him, and one multiple-part video interview.  I would recommend that anyone who finds this theme as interesting as I do doesn't take my summary and conclusions as accurate, reviewing his take as well.  Some of what I've seen in summaries seems clearly wrong, and I'll speculate beyond what the original researcher concluded.  It may be hard to clearly identify that cut-off, even though I'll try to make it explicit.

It's hard to separate why he started doing this, what the original goals were, from later positioning and research direction, on to what he had already discovered and was looking to clarify.  In a sense what he initially expected doesn't matter, versus what he later found out through results.  Even his own interpretation is worth keeping separate from the actual findings details, noting what seems to be clearly identified facts (breeding population numbers, behavior patterns) from cause and effect sequences, why the rats and mice were doing what they were doing.  Earlier on he had been working with rats and changed that to mice, so by the time of "Universe 25" he was dealing with mice populations instead.

I won't go into the details of the experiment set-up, how the zones were constructed, what the animals were fed, how initial subjects were selected, and so on; all of that is in the summary papers.  It's probably as well to let that medium length summary cover the findings from this basic framing, and then correct errors (as I interpret them), and condense that down to a clear set of simple findings, to work with in extension to compare to human social trends.  

That last step of a comparison with people seems to have dropped out in review of this work back in the 70s and 80s, but that probably relates mostly to me only reading and citing some earlier content.  It would be easy to conclude that people and mice are two different things, and that these isolated and unusual circumstances just never would relate directly to actual human living conditions or behavior patterns.  

It's also worth noting that in a field I did actually study more, philosophy, entire directions and approaches were deemed unfruitful at different times, so that if you go back 45 years to read what philosophy was and how it was approached all of that would be unfamiliar.  It's a little strange seeing some of the same thing occur related to core texts that never really went away, like Plato or Kant's work, so that earlier interpretations just seem odd in comparison to the terms they later came to be defined in, and the conclusions.  

In a second video section of the one reference Calhoun anticipated that there was a window of time to apply these findings to develop human social sciences, and that the same patterns wouldn't occur in human societies until around the present time (2020; now), and not in the more extreme forms until around the time-frame of 2040.  He thought the damage would have been done by then, that overpopulation would have led to the negative changes seen in rats before that time, on the order of when there were 7-8 billion people alive, so now.  Why he thinks there is an earlier window for resolving root causes prior to the full impact of social crowding or overpopulation effects setting in becomes clear in the findings details; keep that connection in mind.


By Waldir - Own work, based on the data of File:Population curve.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9669828

That raises an interesting tangent; in that second video segment he is able to accurately predict human population change over the next 50 years, up until now, because he did that simple graphing in 1970 in that video reference.  It looked a lot like what I've just shown here, a log-log scale graph of time and population, with his mapped pattern shown as a straight line.

He also predicted that population control measures would have been implemented by the beginning of this century, or there would be a natural tendency for populations to stabilize, although he didn't anticipate that process would be relatively complete until there were around 9 billion people, in the 2040's time-frame.  So far all that seems right.  It might seem like all that is a completely different subject than what these rats went though, and that I never do get it to link together.  That's it, I won't; Calhoun's expectations of predicting future human society changes is really kind of a separate subject, an extension of what I'll consider.

The main core finding relates to the concept of "behavioral sink:"


"Behavioral sink" is a term invented by ethologist John B. Calhoun to describe a collapse in behavior which can result from overcrowding.


2. Universe 25 summary article (Quora answer)

If this is a personal summary then this link is already a complete attribution, but more typically these are cut and pasted, and the real source is missing, which is even implied in the question framing.  Either way:


What is something that you read recently and is worth sharing


Read about The "Universe 25" experiment it is one of the most terrifying experiments in the history of science, which, through the behavior of a colony of mice, is an attempt by scientists to explain human societies. 

The idea of ​​"Universe 25" Came from the American scientist John Calhoun, who created an "ideal world" in which hundreds of mice would live and reproduce. More specifically, Calhoun built the so-called "Paradise of Mice", a specially designed space where rodents had Abundance of food and water, as well as a large living space. 

In the beginning, he placed four pairs of mice that in a short time began to reproduce, resulting in their population growing rapidly. However, after 315 days their reproduction began to decrease significantly. When the number of rodents reached 600, a hierarchy was formed between them and then the so-called "wretches" appeared. The larger rodents began to attack the group, with the result that many males begin to "collapse" psychologically. As a result, the females did not protect themselves and in turn became aggressive towards their young. As time went on, the females showed more and more aggressive behavior, isolation elements and lack of reproductive mood. There was a low birth rate and, at the same time, an increase in mortality in younger rodents. 

Then, a new class of male rodents appeared, the so-called "beautiful mice". They refused to mate with the females or to "fight" for their space. All they cared about was food and sleep. At one point, "beautiful males" and "isolated females" made up the majority of the population. As time went on, juvenile mortality reached 100% and reproduction reached zero. 

Among the endangered mice, homosexuality was observed and, at the same time, cannibalism increased, despite the fact that there was plenty of food. Two years after the start of the experiment, the last baby of the colony was born. By 1973, he had killed the last mouse in the Universe 25. John Calhoun repeated the same experiment 25 more times, and each time the result was the same.

Calhoun's scientific work has been used as a model for interpreting social collapse, and his research serves as a focal point for the study of urban sociology.


3. Likely errors in that summary

It's not bad, actually.  I'm interpreting these as errors, based on reading two of Calhoun's own papers, and other summaries and interpretations, and watching a video of two interviews of Calhoun, and one other interview summary (and I'll add the links at the end).

Errors / clarification:


1. 25 trials:  He didn't run 25 identical experiments, he kept changing the parameters, and kept finding similar trends.  Maybe he did run "universes" 25 through 50 using identical parameters but it seems more likely this is just an error.  He even changed the initial form from using rats to using mice.  It makes for an interesting context for it to have worked out exactly the same 25 tests in a row (here described as "running" 25 times after one complete test), but it still works if the findings kept repeating, but in different forms based on using different set-ups and contexts, which is how I understood it really did happen.


2. Ideal world / paradise:  it was a test for checking on how overpopulation worked out in a rodent test environment, so in a sense that was a "mouse paradise," but in another sense it was set up to run until failure.  Calhoun would've been surprised if the mice had developed some sort of ideal mouse-society structures and behaviors.  There was ample food, water, living space, restriction of external threats, and elimination of disease, to the extent possible, but of course it was going to get hellish eventually.


3. Steady state prior to decline, rodents attacking each other:  a number of distinct social roles came up, not just that of larger male dominant mice who attacked others.  I'll map out my understanding of the results in the next section but this requires that breakdown to serve as corrective commentary:


alpha male:  one role was that of dominant males, who would take over residence areas and only allow females to enter.  It could be clearer-seeming different in different citations--but males who had dropped intention of breeding may have been allowed in the same areas.  At any rate the main point of this simple summary is right, except that it doesn't frame this point as clearly as it might, that some males set up local zones they dominated individually.  Calhoun wasn't using the "alpha male" terminology; that seems to have evolved in common use later, or else he just didn't take it up.


females related to alpha male:  this didn't seem like some odd version of human polygamy, pair-bonding extending to a group, as in a Mormon society, but per one description something like this seems to have occurred.  Then most of the mice also lived grouped as crowded into common spaces, including both less dominant males and females.


males other than alpha males:  the dominance competition didn't end with some few males claiming territory; it continued in the form of ongoing fighting between other males.  The "winner" in these competitions wouldn't be completely consistent, although some male mice would more consistently lose or else drop out of this competition.   A concept of a "beta male" doesn't emerge, but two other forms of non-competitive males are described.  In the video interview Calhoun describes the stress levels of mice being tested and indicates that stress levels were very high for mice living in the crowded group areas.  I think this is a critical point, that the reactions of the mice all relate mostly to long term stress responses.


probers:  some male mice transitioned to performing relatively constant exploratory behavior, even though there really wasn't much for them to keep exploring.  This seemed to be described as a fall-back behavior related to continually losing the dominance competition.  

It could be completely unrelated but Jordan Peterson once described how in early experiments done on cats (which would now be regarded as unacceptably inhumane) parts of their brain could be removed, even most of them, and the cats could still function normally, for the most part, but would become hyper-exploratory.  It was as if the normal function of many higher order types of "reasoning" in cats led to restricting or tuning behavior in cats, in different ways, and without that processing the cats just kept looking around, as these mice did.  Attitudes towards animal testing seems to have changed a lot; none of these types of things would seem as acceptable now.


beautiful ones:  per my read on Calhoun's comments these included both males and females, not just males, as summarized in that Quora answer.  These mice are identified as socially non-competitive, not interacting with others in the same ways, only concerned with eating, sleeping, and grooming.  For whatever reason they hadn't been raised with normal social conditioning and normal behaviors, or else they chose to reject those.  Calhoun's description, from his 1962 paper:


Two other types of male emerged, both of which had resigned entirely from the struggle for dominance. They were, however, at exactly opposite poles as far as their levels of activity were concerned. The first were completely passive and moved through the community like somnambulists. They ignored all the other rats of both sexes, and all the other rats ignored them. Even when the females were in estrus, these passive animals made no advances to them. And only very rarely did other males attack them or approach them for any kind of play. To the casual observer the passive animals would have appeared to be the healthiest and most attractive members of the community. They were fat and sleek, and their fur showed none of the breaks and bare spots left by the fighting in which males usually engage. But their social disorientation was nearly complete. 


That clearly identifies the "beautiful ones" as a sub-type of males, but it seems like that's not how the behavior pattern is described elsewhere, although I could be drawing on other summaries that get that wrong.  Note that citations from the 1962 paper relate to rat behavior, not mice, tied to Calhoun's practice of using experiments based on rats earlier on then on mice later.  That second mouse type mentioned in the last citation was the "prober" group, already introduced, here described further:


Perhaps the strangest of all the types that emerged among the males was the group I have called the probers.  These animals, which always lived in the middle pens, took no part at all in the status struggle. Nevertheless, they were the most active of all the males in the experimental populations, and they persisted in their activity in spite of attacks by the dominant animals. In addition to being hyperactive, the probers were both hypersexual and homosexual, and in time many of them became cannibalistic.

Calhoun seems to link the degraded behavior patterns with females putting less emphasis on raising offspring, paying less attention to them.  In some cases female mice would even kill their offspring, or neglect them to the extent that the young mice died.  These social patterns, of social non-participation or other pathological tendencies, seemed to relate to these female parenting patterns affecting the next generations, brought on by changes in female mouse behavior.  It's not completely clear that this was mostly related to stress response.  The isolated females should have experienced less stress, intuitively, but since the mouse social patterns led to eventual extinction this couldn't have resulted in a stable set of responses.


Other factors brought up but not treated at length include infant mortality, a lack of breeding (failing to have any offspring), homosexuality (or something like that, related behaviors), and cannibalism.  I'll cover more about those in a next section summarizing results more clearly, again in the form of my own interpretation.


4. Key findings overview

What all this means relates to two separate levels of analysis:  the points I didn't describe yet (eg. why the mice committed cannibalism), and how to interpret these patterns.  

Calhoun takes one very large step beyond drawing experiment conclusions in the second video interview, extending what he identified as discovered application to human interactions, then projecting that onto a time-frame for when these types of experiences would apply more directly to people.  He never "pushes" that far enough to speculate those specific forms, how human societies or individual behaviors would fail in the same ways, at least in that video.  For example, he doesn't guess if cannibalism will occur among people in greater numbers, or homosexuality, or predict how the dominant male to group of related females breeding pattern would be enacted, since humans could never experience directly parallel circumstances.

Let's start with the granular description first, how those other details seem to fit in with the rest, then move on more to interpretation after that.


cannibalism / homosexual behavior:  these Calhoun seems to interpret as related as behavioral anomalies, not so different than the continual exploration / "probing" behavior.  It seems to be how the mice react to high-stress conditions that shatter their normal social role patterns.  Aggressive behavior also relates; the descriptions of mice continually fighting ties to these others.  A comment in a Quora discussion claimed that Calhoun was really trying to link homosexuality with crowding and psychological stress, but in at least the two papers and two short video interviews he really doesn't expand on that topic at all.  No doubt other commentary and interpretation by others has added more to that discussion, and it's possible Calhoun addresses it further in other material.  

Of course the mice aren't pursuing homosexual, pair-bonded relationships, they are only mimicking the sex act with other male mice.  In common understanding this could relate to dominance demonstration (although obviously I'm not trained in psychology, so I'm not trying to pass on a developed interpretation).  Per the short references it didn't seem to be tied to that, just to abnormal behavior instead, as the fighting not related to sexual selection dominance was, or the mice and rats biting each others' tails without clear purpose.  From the context of Calhoun's comments it didn't even seem like the mice were necessarily seeking sexual gratification, as if they could just be behaving somewhat erratically for parting ways with pre-conditioned social responses so drastically.

Calhoun's own related description from the 1962 paper is interesting:


Below the dominant males both on the status scale and in their level of activity were the homosexuals-a group perhaps better described as pan sexual.  These animals apparently could not discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate sex partners. They made sexual advances to males, juveniles and females that were not in estrus. The males, including the dominants as well as the others of the pansexuals' own group, usually accepted their attentions. The general level of activity of these animals was only moderate. They were frequently attacked by their dominant associates, but they very rarely contended for status. 


Cannibalism wasn't explained or expanded on either.  It seems implied that both young mice and adults were killed and eaten, related to stress response, but without a more complete analysis or without more background that pattern isn't clear.


die-off:  this seems to relate to mice losing social conditioning to fulfill normal roles, with that new set of mice lacking that conditioning simply stopping breeding.  Calhoun defines the transition in terms of a "first death" when successful, normal social conditioning stopped, in terms of that step leading to death, and also the more metaphorical death of the mouse culture (or end of successful social conditioning patterns, if one would rather).  It's odd that this could occur so completely that the mouse colonies would completely cease to exist, but that's an interesting and disturbing part of the study findings, that they are counter-intuitive.

This is why Calhoun interprets these findings as being so dire, in relation to drawing a parallel with human societies.  He doesn't just see these patterns as indicating unhealthy trends that may repeat among people, but as representing the potential downfall of human societies as a whole.  It would take time, and would occur over some stages, as it did with the mice.  Even if it would never relate to this final level (extinction) the earlier negative patterns aren't as reversible as they might seem, at least in the case of the mice.  

Intuitively the alpha males and related females should have been able to set up a new mouse behavior paradigm that could repeat over the long term, but that's not what they observed.  This interim steady-state context was only stable over the short term, with some degree of further decline built into those conditions, at least within the context of that experiment.


lessons learned:  really I didn't get far with this part, even though it's really the likely crux.  Calhoun mentioned that in other experiments it was possible to set up a similar context, along with learned-response reward systems, to build in goals and evolving positive response cycles for the mice, and avoid the negative conditions and final terminal end state.  Those lessons and conditions may really fall too far from human experience to be as useful, or that really could relate to the entire experiment structure.  

If humans could be confined to a limited space, with limited outlets, for example in an underground city space, some of this context and the findings may apply more directly.  Even then people are more self-aware than mice or rats, with the potential to set up more shared boundaries, roles, and restrictions, and may be able to avoid some of the same endpoint states, even under the most identical conditions imaginable.  It would be interesting to compare these results to studies of social behavior patterns among long term prison inmate populations, to see if there really would be any carry-over.  It seems a stretch, as if the parallel would be more complete observed over human lifetimes, versus decades, with prison population turn-over renewing social expectations and perspectives too much to replicate these negative transitions.


interpretation and criticism of Calhoun's work:  Edmund Ramsden & Jon Adams wrote a good 2008 summary of the experiments, specific findings, conclusion interpretations, and later acceptance and rejection of these ideas and methodology in Escaping the Laboratory: The Rodent Experiments of John B. Calhoun & Their Cultural Influence.  

The point here is to consider these ideas, and then interpret other later isolated but related patterns in human societies as potentially similar or not.  It's a different kind of thing to speculate about how patterns found in rodent social experiments might inform us of human society behavior.  It might seem like I've just contradicted myself, but as I see it the two themes can stay separate.  We can look for and consider underlying human society patterns that superficially mirror these study results, without ever expecting the studies to necessarily predict or relate to the other human conditions.  Partial parallels could be interesting and informative, even without expecting underlying causal connections.

It would be interesting if the forms of societal decay Calhoun expected happen next, or if that's what we are actually witnessing now.  As I've interpreted the little I've ran across he saw his own work as a starting point, not a detailed model, and definitely not predictive in that sense.  That's in spite of him anticipating that population growth would become a problem on a sociological level, as it was experienced individually through impact to social forms, not just in terms of resource depletion or scarcity.

In a Smithstonian Magazine reference a slight variation in interpretation is mentioned:


Now, interpretations of Calhoun’s work has changed. Inglis-Arkell explains that the habitats he created weren’t really overcrowded, but that isolation enabled aggressive mice to stake out territory and isolate the beautiful ones. She writes, "Instead of a population problem, one could argue that Universe 25 had a fair distribution problem."


At least at that level of detail this doesn't seem to add much.  The mice had more space than they needed, and unlimited food, so the limitation was on social relationships, between individuals competing for dominance.  It's odd framing access to female breeding partners as a "distribution problem," although I guess in some sense that might work.


I think it helps to keep the timeline in mind.  I've cited Calhoun's published work in two forms from 1962 and 1973, with a video reference from 1970 (all in a references section following).  The IBM PC was introduced in 1981, and the world wide web (file-type conventions) formally created around 1991, so Calhoun wasn't able to factor in the source of the main changes we've experienced in the last 40 years.  The following section doesn't do that either, but it does raise some related social changes that at least superficially resemble his mice behavior patterns. 


5. Links to modern trends, including social media groups and trends


This would also have to seem a stretch, and the ideas in this section will be quite speculative, but hear me out.  The idea here is to consider to what extent patterns in modern societies or social groupings may already replicate some of these isolated-mouse-society patterns, and why.  Obviously I'm not suggesting that human societies are falling apart in the same ways that these experiments predicted.  The idea is to consider some related effects, without the causes necessarily being similar.


incels (involuntary celibates):  obviously just summarizing this pattern or social group as either of those, a pattern or a social group, will be too problematic to fully justify, but there is an obvious clear parallel here.  I'll use a Wikipedia summary to cover that background faster:


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incel

Incels (/ˈɪnsɛlz/ IN-selz), a portmanteau of "involuntary celibates", are members of an online subculture who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one. Discussions in incel forums are often characterized by resentment, misogyny, misanthropy, self-pity and self-loathing, racism, a sense of entitlement to sex, and the endorsement of violence against sexually active people. 

The American nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) described the subculture as "part of the online male supremacist ecosystem" that is included in their list of hate groups. Incels are mostly male and heterosexual, and many sources report that incels are predominantly white. Estimates of the overall size of the subculture vary greatly, ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands.

At least six mass murders, resulting in a total of 44 deaths, have been committed since 2014 by men who have either self-identified as incels or who had mentioned incel-related names and writings in their private writings or Internet postings. Incel communities have been criticized by the media and researchers for being misogynistic, encouraging violence, spreading extremist views, and radicalizing their members...


So really two aspects seem to carry over:  the theme of some males (mostly males) representing themselves as not being able to successfully pair bond or mate with females, and resulting violence.  With "only" six mass murders being referenced one might wonder if that's a higher than average case proportion in the US (it surely is; the point here is that mass murder should be more of an anomaly than it actually is).  

It's not clear what causes this, why that pattern shows up as something a group of people all experience, but a sub-theme relates to an odd description of the context and potential causes:


The "black pill" generally refers to a set of commonly-held beliefs in incel communities, which include biological determinism, fatalism, and defeatism for unattractive people... as "a profoundly sexist ideology that ... amounts to a fundamental rejection of women's sexual emancipation, labeling women shallow, cruel creatures who will choose only the most attractive men if given the choice." 

...a belief that the entire social system was broken and that one's place in the system was not something any individual could change. An incel who has "taken the black pill" has adopted the belief that they are hopeless, and that their lack of success romantically and sexually is permanent regardless of any changes they might try to make to their physical appearance, personality, or other characteristics.


A bit extreme, right?  One part stands out to me, describing women as "choos[ing] only the most attractive men if given the choice."  There's no way to successfully do it, but that needs to be unpacked, to determine why that's not just a natural outcome, and why it relates to a problem of this importance in this context.  The higher level description is interesting, that "the entire social system was broken."

On to the guessing part, but first one more observation that links to that.  A online contact (/ friend; that boundary is hard to pin down) mentioned trying out dating apps (programs) and not being successful, not doing much dating as a result.  Someone else commented in that Facebook discussion--this was all being hashed out in an open forum--that per their experience the most attractive few men and women tend to choose each other and meet through dating apps, and the majority who aren't as attractive also choose those potential partners and then aren't selected.  That implies a lot more for sweeping general patterns than I intend, but how that could and probably does work, to some degree, is obvious enough.

Next one would wonder about the expected normal, conventional pattern of people of all different levels of being "naturally attractive"--possessing symmetrical features, clear skin, athletic appearance, lack of noticeable negative features, etc.--pairing based on shared interests, and acceptance that their partner doesn't need to look like a model or movie star.  Intuitively that should happen, and to some extent it must.

One factor or driver that might well "throw a spanner into the works" could be social status and income level related to males.  Men would tend to over-emphasize appearance, per my experience as a male, and general perception, but women would factor in a broader set of concerns, including appearance and these other two concerns.  It's not unheard of for people to describe themselves as "sapio-sexual," valuing intelligence, and other shared interests could always factor in (reading preference, passtimes, social groupings, personal interests, liking tea).  

But if we can assume that physical attractiveness and social status, largely linked to income, might be over-riding factors for females judging males then that could leave a significant majority of males out.  Many might see only the second half as open to being changed, their status, and even that might not be easy.  Of course weight issues and such can be addressed, or personal style concerns.  Sloppy clothing styles, poor grooming, poor posture, or even wearing a fedora might limit males' visual appeal.

Let's consider one or two alpha-male cases that might help place this, if only to a limited degree.  In the realm of Instagram influencers Dan Bilzerian is famous for putting out an image of himself as being surrounded by beautiful women who accompany him (an ex-military guy known for physique, attractiveness, cultivating image through gun ownership, and playing poker).  That's probably about as close as we could get to the alpha-male Universe 25 direct mapping.  Of course some of that is just image; he probably earns significant income from leveraging that social media persona, so to some degree that's also a business branding issue.  Then there are Hollywood stars who date many young women, a pattern that would repeat in more conventional forms.  Those women date multiple successful men too, no doubt, so the parallel isn't as clearly formed.

In both these extreme and relatively unconventional examples the paradigm of attractive men and multiple women partnering gets extended.  We're not seeing how people across a broader spectrum are in any way blocked from dating or finding a long term mate by this.  Only the mouse-society case of a significant number of dominant males maintaining multiple partners--both the very successful "alphas" and the temporarily successful mixed population mice--seems to set up this set of circumstances.

There are two ways this same selection paradigm could result in the involuntarily single-male outcome (here still on the human case):


1.  females are also involuntarily single, or at least voluntarily so.  This seems most likely, since the other outcome seems a stretch, extensive polygamy occurring.

2. some males are either dating multiple women or serial dating to a degree that throws off the equitable pairing conclusion.  Maybe this happens, but given that all this is a tangent to a tangent I should really let this drop at this point.  I'll move on to considering another related societal pattern.


incel caricatures: 

I won't spend too much time on this but it is interesting, how evolved these images and stereotypes become in online discussions.


the successful male is ridiculed more because self-identifying incels draw these images


What Does 'Chad' Mean? The Odd Way Incel Men On Reddit And 4Chan Use It To Describe Certain Guys

According to Incel Wiki, "A chad is someone who can elicit near universal positive female sexual attention at will. A chad tends to be between an '8' to a '10' on the decile scale, has an extremely high income and/or an extreme amount of social status. A sexually active chad has sex with a wide variety of women, and has exclusive access to Stacy...


The stereotype evolves, only partly as a joke, with the standard description for an "incel" tied to the typical understanding:



The people in these "incel" circles are portraying the "alphas" negatively on purpose, and also really do identify with the cartoon-like incel character, but the joking around shifts the intentions and forms.


image credit:  Incels Categorize Women by Personal Style and Attractiveness



The female parallel is interesting because again there is an intention to make fun of the most attractive females, but the less appealing, plainer "Becky" image is also portrayed as attractive (or probably more so than the "higher" feminine ideal, for seeming like a real person).  It's important context that the people identifying as incels aren't dating or sleeping with those plainer-image women either, which helps explain why they are also being derided.

What about actually unattractive women, the more direct female equivalent?  I'm just speculating, but it seems like women who are seen as below average in attractiveness are generally just disregarded.  But why?  It's a stretch to guess that over-exposure to physically attractive women as paradigms make them seem even less desirable, but I suppose there could be something to that.

But maybe it's not that.  Maybe for whatever other reasons these males never acquire the social skills necessary to date any female, regardless of how they match up.  Disregarding the women that they actually could date, but don't, could help externalize the problems as not based within their own shortcomings. 

It's important to consider why this paradigm is so heavily tipped towards males initiating any relationship development.  Per my understanding reality really is set up this way, with males initiating most related social contact and women playing the role of approving or rejecting advances.  Of course that's too broad a claim for me to develop or support, even though I experienced it over decades and many relationships.  Maybe what I experienced really included a more subtle first step, a signal to initiate the process first started by women, and I was dull enough to often miss that.  Flirting would relate to both genders, and who knows what I really went through when I was most involved in exploration in my 20s.

I'll mention a video link in which Jordan Peterson describes his take on how that works, how the selection process between males and females is structured (which is really worth watching, even if you completely reject all that content, and Jordan Peterson's ideas in general).   Another video addresses his take on why some men fail at dating.

Bear in mind that although he is a psychologist many of his ideas are controversial.  For sure he is describing some well established basics of how men and women interact in mate selection, and then adding some of his own interpretation about modern forms of patterns that are much more speculative.

In all that "incel culture" discussion it's easy to overlook that the female experience isn't really addressed, beyond blaming women for making partner choices in sweeping generalized forms.  I'm not headed anywhere with that direction, just pointing out the obvious.


childlessness by choice:  the obvious example for this pattern also relating to people seems to relate to Japanese society as a whole.  Rather than summarize that from personal knowledge I'll cite the first related article turned up by Google search:


Japan's Births Decline To Lowest Number On Record (NPR, December 2019)

The country's health ministry announced Tuesday that the number of babies born in 2019 fell by an estimated 5.9% this year, to 864,000. It's the first time since 1899, when the government began tracking the data, that the number has dipped below 900,000, according to The Asahi Shimbun....

What accounts for the steep drop in births? The health ministry points to the declining numbers of people of reproductive age, as the offspring of baby boomers get older.

That joins other factors — namely the immense burden shouldered by Japanese women to do housework and child care by themselves, and a culture that makes it difficult to both have a job outside the home and be a mother. Younger generations of Japanese women have increasingly opted to continue working, rather than get married, have children and give up their careers...

...Marriage rates in Japan have halved since the early 1970s, and birth rates have declined in tandem.


It's probably as well if I don't try to link this to broader patterns in other places, or back to the mice.  In both cases mice and people are intentionally not reproducing, and it's enough to note that this is an isolated case related to degree, but not in relation to it only happening there.  From the framing here it doesn't have anything to with stress response, directly, but instead relates to opposing demands. 

This is really more interesting related to Calhoun's predictions for societal changes during this century than for being a clear tie-in with his experimental results.  He anticipated this, a leveling off of population increase, just not necessarily in this form.  It definitely could be unrelated and coincidental that outcomes from separate causal patterns matched up.


the "beautiful ones" mice case:


Relating to some mice dropping out of playing normal roles in society, or failing to be conditioned to observe those, it would be natural to link this to Millennial generation culture, wouldn't it?  It seems as well to leave the cultural stereotypes out and just cover some clearly noted and documented trends, from a Pew Research Center summary:



The financial well-being of Millennials is complicated. The individual earnings for young workers have remained mostly flat over the past 50 years. But this belies a notably large gap in earnings between Millennials who have a college education and those who don’t. 

...On the whole, Millennials are starting families later than their counterparts in prior generations. Just under half (46%) of Millennials ages 25 to 37 are married, a steep drop from the 83% of Silents who were married in 1968. The share of 25- to 37-year-olds who were married steadily dropped for each succeeding generation, from 67% of early Boomers to 57% of Gen Xers...

In 2016, 48% of Millennial women (ages 20 to 35 at the time) were moms. When Generation X women were the same age in 2000, 57% were already mothers, similar to the share of Boomer women (58%) in 1984.




Of course that mentioned the trend of Millennial generation members to not develop independent living arrangements as often or as quickly as in past generations, tied to higher housing costs and higher student loan debt burdens.

Obviously I'm not implying that Millennial generation members are more likely to drop out social role attributes.  Due to a mix of complex factors it is more difficult for those at the lower end of the economic earnings spectrum to take up those life choices or conditions as quickly, or for as many to.  

Again it's not directly related to any of these specific changes, but Calhoun expected changes to broad social patterns, which he related to population growth, to be initiated in the mid 1980s (in 1970) and then become more completely transitioned by 2040.  It's interesting keeping that time-frame expectation in mind while considering these types of actually-experienced changes.  

Calhoun was a bit idealistic, thinking that people could shed the light of day on underlying social change factors and make conscious choices to affect both individual experience and societal level transitions by the mid 1980s.  50 years later it's still not clear if vaguely related patterns are playing out, or what is causing the changes we definitely do see happening.


Back to the mice


A picture emerges here of these mice predicting some trends we see now.  That's either because that model accurately predicted societal changes 50 years ago, or it's because I've just cherry-picked modern culture themes that at least superficially link to those in the study.  It's more the latter, for sure, but all of these themes are interesting to consider on their own, and also as potentially connected patterns.

Society isn't fragmenting and breaking down though.  Or is it?  To the extent that it may be crowding and mate selection issues don't seem to be at the center of the problems.

Other forms of societal pressures may match some of these patterns, as economic issues result in unusual levels of personal stress.  Atypical levels of social contact alone seem unlikely to cause the same types of behavioral patterns seen in the mice.  

It's essentially a separate issue but atypical levels of social contact may be exactly what a lot of people are experiencing right now, not in the form of who they are confronted with face to face, or walk by, but in relation to social media exposure.  We all "touch on" the lives of hundreds of others on a daily basis by scanning social media posts in discussions (or thousands, really, if you keep reading the comment sections).  It's possible to compare yourself and your potential dating or long term partners to unrealistic beauty or achievement standards through that exposure.  That must cause stress, for some.

I can't really link the current political divide in the US to these themes, but that's definitely stressful, especially right now.  It's as if those mice had somehow divided into two opposing groups that then somehow stayed in constant contact with each other.  

That would be what the crowded group setting mice would have experienced; a non-stop competitive struggle for social position.  It's not clear how female mice experienced that, since my impression was that they weren't actually physically fighting.  But they were also not interacting in any normal way with a male partner (assuming that mice do that, which I'm not clear on).  That could have related to their tendency to move away from the duties of taking care of their offspring, and then later dropping that out.

Even if both the causes and effects don't match up, between mice being crowded and modern social factors, we might be seeing parallels related to people experiencing long term stress responses now.  All of this was interesting for me to consider, even if it never does clearly link in terms of mapping the themes together.


References:


Population Density and Social Pathology, John Calhoun, Scientific American, 1962

Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of a Mouse Population, John Calhoun, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, January 1973

John B. Calhoun Film 7.1 [edited], (NIMH, 1970-1972) (there are other Youtube summaries but this is original interview content with John Calhoun)

Escaping the Laboratory: The Rodent Experiments of John B. Calhoun & Their Cultural Influence, Edmund Ramsden & Jon Adams, The Journal of Social History, January 2008 (first published)

How 1960s Mouse Utopias Led to Grim Predictions for Future of Humanity, Marissa Fessenden, Smithstonian Magazine (online reference), February 2015