Sunday SciKu | Body Temperature

Photo by Denny Müller

Apparently, the average human body temperature has been decreasing since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when Carl Wunderlich’s records established 37 C (98.6 F) as the norm. In the U.S., it’s declined by 0.03 C per decade, and is now as low as 36.4 C (97.5 F).

The theory has been that increasing access to modern vaccines, antibiotics, and clean drinking water has decreased the body’s background inflammatory response—but it wasn’t proven. This study out of U.C.-Santa Barbara does that, using health data from a group of farmer-gatherers in the Bolivian Amazon, who have been undergoing rapid changes in their access to healthcare over the last two decades because of new social programs in Bolivia. The team found that, indeed, the average body temperature of the Tsimane began at 37.0 C and has decreased by a full degree after these government interventions.

This is all new to me, and made me think about how everything is economics. There’s an energy cost to maintaining a higher basal temperature, and being able to use that energy elsewhere is a bio-economic transaction. And where is that extra capital we’re given by modern medicine spent? Could this be why other studies show that general intelligence has been increasing over the last two centuries, as well? Or do we just store it for the future as fat, which is also increasing?

And then the fact that we’re becoming more cold-blooded as a consequence of that bio-economics reminded me of the studies suggesting that wealth decreases empathy—a psycho-economic transaction, where decreased vulnerability leads to a decrease in reciprocal altruistic reward. The famous study shows that more expensive cars are less likely to stop for pedestrians at a crosswalk.

So everything is economics, on every level, including the prosperous but cold math of the global economy expanding its reach into the Amazon. As always, it was fun trying to cram all of these thoughts into a tiny Sunday sciku.


we find it healthy to grow


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