Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ruminations of the temperature sort

Last night, while "shoveling" the slushy concoction from our driveway, I came to an unexpected realization: My cold weather tolerance has returned.

We've already had some bona fide cold weather this winter, with multiple sub 20 degree F days, and some nights in the single digits. And I really haven't felt terribly cold. This stands in contrast to much of the time spent here in Massachusetts, where I was always freezing. A breath of Canadian artic air would send me running for the long underwear.

And yet, I wasn't always like this. I grew up in Connecticut, which though not particularly cold is far from tropical. Then I went to college in Chicago- Ah, I remember the day, trudging to a morning class, where the air temp was -25 deg F (-50 with wind chill). Overall, I remember the cold as being present, but no big deal.

Then, I started grad school at Stanford. Palm trees! Orange and lemon trees! Chelsea Clinton! I wore shorts EVERY day that first winter. It was the El Nino year, and it rained every fricking day, but I still wore shorts. I distinctly remember the odd looks I received from those Palo Altans. They'd be wearing their hats and gloves, and I'd be traipsing across campus, bare legs and all.

But then a funny thing happened the next winter in California. I froze my ass off. I had to wear pants all winter, and even turned up the electric baseboard heat in my on-campus apartment. WHAT? Apparently, a year of living West Coasterly obliterated any and all cold tolerance I had built up. A reversal that took about 10 years to reverse.

Which brings me to what prompted me to even post this bit of boring biographical information: Is this a real phenomenon, and if so, what's the neurobiological basis for it? Do people in different geograpical locales actually perceive temperature differently? Is the difference peripheral (i.e. sensory neurons) or later in the processing? For example, what would you see if you compared the sensory neuron activity of lifelong resident of Alaska and Florida, recording their sensory neuron activity? And how does that change?...trp channels?? trp channels?? trp channels??...And is there a sex difference in this aspect (how many of us can recount the differences between our sense of temperature versus our partners?). And how does aging impact this?

The final question is:when will Spring arrive? Cause though I don't mind the cold so much, I'm already sick of the snow.