Indigenous Physiology: Metabolism, Cold Tolerance, and the Possibility of Human Hibernation
This chapter returns to the opening scene of the introduction. While measuring the metabolism of Indigenous men of the central desert in 1931, Cedric Stanton Hicks observed their ability to sleep naked in below-freezing conditions. He wondered if he was witnessing a form of temporary hibernation—called “torpor”—never before observed in humans. After the war the US government funded more research on the desert sleepers. A few years ago, I was contacted by someone who claimed to have discovered the secret of human torpor. He was concerned about the ethics of Hicks's research and the potential for harm toward Indigenous people once his discovery was publicly known. This chapter tells the story of these strange entanglements among Aboriginal biological differences, twentieth-century physiology, US defense objectives, a remorseful bioprospector, and a physiological superpower that could lead to new cancer treatments, enable space travel, and extend human life.