The Outer Limits of Human Survival

Question: How long can we survive without food and water?

Laurence Gonzales: When you’re in a true survival situation, the survival schools will teach you that you can go three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food.  That’s kind of a rule of thumb.  And they’ll also teach you that basically, you’re training to survive for 72 hours.  They should be able to get to you and rescue you within that time.  The fact of the matter is most people who are going to die out there die within the first 24 to 48 hours.  This is an interesting phenomenon because, again, a lot of them have what they need to survive, and yet they don’t.  So there is definitely a phenomenon of giving up.  There are people who simply give up.  And it’s surprisingly easy to die out that if you give up.  So it’s very important to recognize what the outer limits are, but it’s also important to recognize that even though they say you can go without water for three days, there are cases where people have gone for nine days.  Anything’s possible.

Question: In all your research, which survival story stands out as the most unlikely or unusual?

Laurence Gonzales: There’d been a number of survival stories that have really surprised me because of how bizarre they were or unusual they were, or unlikely that the person was to survive.  One in particular involved a lady named, Debbie Kiley, who was on a ship that sank in a hurricane.  And she and a group amounting to five people were thrown into a small boat together on the ocean.  They had no water, they had no supplies at all, and they drifted for several days this way.  And it was very interesting because of how the people broke down into the various characters. 

Debbie Kiley was very determined, very organized, she was pretty wobbly at first, but she pulled herself together and with one other member of the crew was able to form a pact that they were going to stay together, help each other, watch each other when they slept and not drink sea water.  One member of the group was badly injured and was destined to die anyway. 

The two other members of the group, the Captain and the First mate, both were very wobbly from the start.  They really had no resolve and they began drinking sea water.  And after a time, first one of them said I’m going to the 7-11 to get some cigarettes, and he got over the side of the boat and swam away and was eaten by sharks.  And then the other one said, I’m going for a swim or something like that and he went over the side and was eaten by sharks.  And they could hear these people being eaten by sharks during this whole episode. 

So it kind of showed how really some people are destined not to make it from the very beginning.  One of the people who died, when the boat was sinking was screaming, “We’re all going to die!  We’re all going to die!”  And I always say that if that had been in a movie, that would have told you which character was going to die in the end. 

The rule of thumb is that humans can survive three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food, but there are always extraordinary cases—some have gone up to nine days without water.

The path to less stress? Strategic pessimism.

The key to happiness is being less optimistic and accepting a certain amount of unhappiness.

Videos
  • The centuries old philosophy of Stoicism may hold the key to a kind of happiness that is more grounded in reality.
  • The two main ideas of stoic happiness are that problems are caused by your reactions to events not the events themselves, and the only things you can control are your thoughts and your actions.
  • Choosing strategic pessimism over optimism and positive thinking is one way to avoid "unnecessary disturbance and anxiety."
Keep reading

You can now drag and drop whole countries to compare their size

TheTrueSize.com offers hours of fun while you stretch and shrink countries and states all over the globe.

Strange Maps
  • Our world maps lie to us: North America and Europe aren't really that big and Africa really is much bigger.
  • It's all the fault of Mercator: even if the man himself wasn't necessarily Eurocentric, his projection is.
  • This interactive map tool reveals countries' true sizes without having to resort to the Peters projection.
Keep reading

Master digital creation with this low-cost, high-value Adobe CC training bundle

Getting started with easy-to-follow instructions and coursework is essential, and that is exactly what you'll find in The Ultimate Adobe CC Training Bundle.

Gear
  • The Ultimate Adobe CC Training Bundle includes courses in using Adobe's most popular apps.
  • Students learn basic to advanced features in Photoshop, Premiere, Illustrator and four other Adobe CC programs.
  • The $1,800 training package is now only $39.
Keep reading