Place: A Scientific View

August 29, 2012

Mary Baldwin University Associate Professor of Biology Lundy Pentz presents the first in a series of faculty essays about the Mary Baldwin 2012–13 theme, “Place.” The writings are intended to deepen understanding of the theme throughout the campus community and serve as a precursor for the spring semester’s call for students to produce their own essays or creative works (painting, musical composition, monologue, etc.) inspired by the theme. Each of the four contributing faculty members, whose work will be published on Mary Baldwin News in the coming months, represents each School of Excellence.

Lundy Pentz

The point in time and space where we are located is much more than a mere set of coordinates. As rational and feeling beings, our species has, for a very long time, had a sense of the importance, even numinousness, of places. We can even amuse ourselves by making up some evolutionary-behavioral stories about how our omnivorous ancestors were strongly selected for remembering where the best berries and the juiciest grubs could be found, and in what seasons. Personally, I have always derived a very deep sense of awe and mystery from significant places; perhaps this is a redeployment of an ancestral ability to recall what delicious bugs could be found under a particular log. We may never be able to determine exactly what the environment and its effect on the behavior of our remote ancestors was, but it is certainly true that, for example, those who study closely related species of nectar-eating bats have shown that the species which has the most specialized diet has significantly greater spatial memory ability (Henry and Stoner, 2012).

Read Pentz’s entire essay here.