Thought Experiment #231

The other night at dinner, my stomach was reaching full capacity and I reached the point where I was just picking at my food. I was using chopsticks and tried to pick up a single piece of rice from my plate. Naturally, this got me thinking: “If I were only allowed to use chopsticks and could only eat one piece of rice at a time, would I be able to survive?”

You might be surprised by the answer.

Assume that you’ve got to sleep for 6 hours per day, which gives you 18 hours to eat. It took me 58 seconds to eat 5 grains of rice with chopsticks, so let’s call it 1 minute = 5 grains of rice. At one grain of rice per 12 seconds or 5 per minute, that means you can chow down 5*60minutes*16hours = 4800 grains of rice per day.

So, does 4800 grains of rice pack enough calories to keep you alive?

According to this calorie calculator, I need 2604 calories per day to just sit there for 18 hours and sleep the rest. However, this calculation is partly based on my weight, and I’m assuming it goes down as you lose weight. In fact, in order to survive humans need a minimum of about 1500 calories per day.

The way it works is that if you eat less than the calories you burn, your body uses its fat stores. After these are depleted, it breaks down your internal organs until eventually you suffer organ failure/ cardiac arrest. Lovely thought, no?


One cup of cooked white rice has 184 calories . One cup also has 7200 grains of rice. That means that one grain of rice has 184/7200 = .025556 calories per grain of rice. Eating 4800 of them would give you just 123 calories, far short of the 1500 you need to survive.

“Well,” you say, “as you eat more grains of rice with chopsticks, you’ll get quicker at it.”

Let’s say you’re the world’s most amazing chopstick user, and you can eat a single grain of rice every second. For 18 hours per day. Every day.

That would give you a remarkable 1476 calories per day… but alas not quite the 1500 you would need to survive.

So, what have we learned today? Even with the most finely-honed of skills, without properly using the right tools you’ll slowly wither away.

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