I remember reading sometime somewhere this story:

On an island lived two communities of rats. One created art and the other only worked. The rats which only worked were better at resource acquisition and had better survival rates, in the end, as competition increased, all rats stopped creating art.

This is all I can recall. It may be a story, or some thought experiment, there could be rats or mice. And I surely remember them being on an island.

It is highly possible it is something famous and I cannot find the right words to look for it. I tried searching on google and I even prompted ChatGPT but I couldn't find where it was first mentioned. Please help me identify the story.


1 Answer 1


Scott Alexander's 2014 essay Meditations On Moloch includes, among other thought experiments, competing communities of rats on an island:

4​. The Malthusian trap, at least at its extremely pure theoretical limits. Suppose you are one of the first rats introduced onto a pristine island. It is full of yummy plants and you live an idyllic life lounging about, eating, and composing great works of art (you’re one of those rats from The Rats of NIMH).

You live a long life, mate, and have a dozen children. All of them have a dozen children, and so on. In a couple generations, the island has ten thousand rats and has reached its carrying capacity. Now there’s not enough food and space to go around, and a certain percent of each new generation dies in order to keep the population steady at ten thousand.

A certain sect of rats abandons art in order to devote more of their time to scrounging for survival. Each generation, a bit less of this sect dies than members of the mainstream, until after a while, no rat composes any art at all, and any sect of rats who try to bring it back will go extinct within a few generations.


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