The Madness of Rice

I was out speaking about the SAFE Network at The Cryptograph Meetup at Strathclyde Uni in Glasgow tonight, which was followed by the obligatory trip to the pub where we all know the real conversation always takes place. It’s very much a crypto-focused group and always enjoyable to be surrounded with others who want to talk about crytocurrency and decentralisation (as opposed to a more permissioned/corporate/consultancy blockchain focus, for example). Partly because it reminds me of the good old days – but also because, I don’t think I’ve ever been to one of those meetups over the past five years that had people who focused on those sorts of issues that hasn’t left me with some food for thought.

And tonight was no exception. In fact, it quite literally has left me with some food…for thought. Albeit totally unrelated to crypto…

Somehow I missed this piece of internet folklore when it originally started doing the rounds over the past. But in summary, there is an experiment that people have been carrying out where you take two identical jars of newly cooked rice. You label one something along the lines of ‘Thank You Rice’ and the other ‘Stupid Rice’. And now you keep them in their jars, apart from each other and you, er, speak to them every day (at least once a day) for a period of twenty days. To one you give encouragement and generally positive vibes. To the other, you hurl dog’s abuse and generally unleash the worst verbal assault you can imagine. Each day. (I’ll let you guess which one’s which….)

Now if, you’re like me, your initial thought is probably – this sounds utterly crazy. But the outcome is supposedly even weirder. After 20 days, the Thank You Rice should remain fresh and fine. As for the Stupid Rice? It should be overrun by fungus.

So on the train back from Glasgow, I made the decision. Every rational part of my being is saying that this can’t possibly work – that there must either be some clear scientific reason for the consistency of test results (which have apparently been replicated hundreds of times around the globe) or perhaps it’s just attributed to a normal random distribution of results where those whose results are in line with the predicted outcome are incentivised by the internet to share their amazing results, whilst those for whom the experiment is a let-down are motivated to shut up and keep it quiet (perhaps wishing to avoid being seen as stupid for doing it in the first place).

But then I came to a far more important realisation. Which was: I’d already started to search the internet for evidence that could disprove it (or, as an outside chance,  prove it with a supporting explanation). Yet surely the answer was right there? Instead of going for a quick fix, why not just carry out the experiment itself? Why do we always tend to rely on the shortcut of simply searching for evidence produced by others and trusting those results?

Sure, part of the reason is because instinct says this can’t have any truth to it. And yet, by writing it publicly on my blog and committing to set loose the full extremes of the dictionary at both samples (by happy coincidence I was making rice this evening to accompany a spectacularly spicy lentil and sweet potato curry that I’d made), there’s no way of hiding from the fact that I’m doing it. And just as importantly, if it all turns out to be utter nonsense, then this post will serve as a reminder and a lesson to me. Not sure precisely what of, mind you, but I’ll figure that out over time when it becomes clear…

I’ll check back in around the New Year and let you know how it went.

Now, must dash. I’m off to slag off some rice…