Alfred Russel Wallace on Spiritualism, Man,
(originally issued in pamphlet form in 1992; lightly revised in October 1999)
Only a few years after the publication
of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, Alfred Russel Wallace made
public his opinion that natural selection was not an all-sufficient
cause of the evolution of man--particularly, as regards the higher human
faculties (moral, artistic, and mathematical abilities, etc.). Most
workers have drawn the direct conclusion that Wallace "changed his mind"
about the theory he originally set out--perhaps because of an inability
to reconcile "the survival of the fittest" concept with his utopian
social views, or in conjunction with his adoption of spiritualist beliefs.
In the present work a different interpretation of the events is presented:
that Wallace's natural selection views derive from a cosmological position
utterly distinct from that underlying Darwinian principles, that Wallace
never believed natural selection could explain the presence of man's
higher faculties to begin with, and that he never had the change of
mind usually attributed to him. Wallace's approach to evolution was
shaped by his youthful rejection of the doctrine of first causes and
by a distrust of then-existing notions regarding continuity. His first
response was to adopt a unique brand of anti-first causes teleology,
but this position later matured into a body of ideas compatible with
materialist logic on his recognition of the principle of natural selection
and his adoption of spiritualism. Wallace is interpreted as having rejected
the argument of necessary utility of adaptation before 1858: at that
time he equated such acceptance with acceptance of first causes-based
doctrine. The 1858 Ternate essay not only signalled his recognition
of this mistake, but anticipated his later arguments that the adaptive
process was associated with a hierarchical domain of causality. Wallace
had been trying from the beginning to develop an evolutionary model
that described a continuity of causality extending beyond the immediate
domain within which natural selection is now usually credited as operating.
Wallace did not view his adoption of spiritualism as a retreat from
natural selection; rather, he considered spiritualism the best available
accounting of the overall direction of evolution at the moral/intellectual
level, and endorsed it accordingly. The arguments leading to these conclusions
are supported by excerpts from (and additional references to) his writings,
and by emphasizing the fact that Wallace himself wrote nothing providing
any real evidence for the "change of mind" theory.
The life and studies of the nineteenth and early twentieth century naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) have received considerable attention in recent years. The main influences on his life--especially his support of Owenite social ideals,1 interest in mesmerism and phrenology,2 travels in tropical lands,3 connections with Darwin and development of the concept of natural selection,4 and adoption of spiriitualism5--have been treated fairly thoroughly as a matter of historical record, and in their relation to the major sociological and scientific trends of the period. I believe, however, that Wallace is unlikely to be fully appreciated until he is perceived in other than historical-sociological terms. Otherwise put, the significant difficulty in coming to grips with Wallace's work is that his cosmology is both highly complex and irreducible to simple cause and effect associations with the major intellectual trends of his time. The debates of his period provided him with a stage for his weighed opinions, of course, but it is important to keep in mind that he was a highly inventive thinker who was not afraid to follow any path he felt was leading to the truth.
Three interrelated analyses comprise the present
study. In the first I argue that Wallace's eventual adoption of spiritualism
was assured many years before either his initial studies of the belief,
or earlier formulation of natural selection. The second discussion focuses
on the development of Wallace's evolutionary views, my conclusion being
that these were broadly enough constituted to accommodate both natural
selection and spiritualism without internal inconsistency. Lastly, the
idea that Wallace supposedly underwent a "change of mind" regarding
the applicability of natural selection to the evolution of man is refuted
by reference to earlier discussion, by showing how certain contentious
passages in his writings are more easily accounted for through the interpretation
of his work presented here, and by taking note of the significant fact
that Wallace himself never wrote anything referring to, or conceding,
such a change. The analysis remains close to Wallace's own writings;
not only is this not the place to attempt to treat fully of all period
connections, but frequent reference to what he actually wrote is still
necessary in view of the many dubious conclusions that have been reached
about his thought process.
The most relevant analyses of Wallace's belief in spiritualism, already referred to in note 5, are by R. Smith, Kottler, Schwartz, and Malinchak. Smith took an important step forward by recognizing the interdependent nature of Wallace's ideas: "...Whereas it has been customary to consider his thought as primarily biological and his digressions into phrenology, spiritualism, socialism, and ethnology as peripheral, these apparently diverse subjects were in reality aspects of a unified interpretation of the world in terms of humanitarian values."6 He decides that "A consideration of Wallace's philosophy of nature...leads to the conclusion that he saw and intended no discontinuity between general and human evolution and that it is a mistaken view to recognize such a discontinuity."7 Smith takes relatively little notice of Wallace's adoption of spiritualism in his analysis, preferring to attribute his rejection of the all-sufficiency of natural selection to the incompatibility of its logic with his utopian social views, especially to the degree the principle of utility could not be extended to account for the higher human faculties. Kottler, on the other hand, comes to the conclusion that "...spiritualism stimulated Wallace to reconsider the utility of various human features," and thus that it was the cause of his divergence of viewpoint from Darwin.8 Schwartz's paper is primarily concerned with showing how Wallace's views on man might have pushed Darwin into writing The Descent of Man, but he also gives attention to the spiritualism issue, deciding that Wallace's position on man must have begun to shift before he committed himself to spiritualism in 1865. He concludes that "Wallace's departure from the Darwinian point of view of the origin of man resulted from his inability to bridge his scientific and moral beliefs," and that "Wallace's belief in social equality and political reform conflicted with the ineluctable operations of natural law (including natural selection)."9 Malinchak, like Smith, examines the situation from a sociology of science perspective. Regarding the man/natural selection question, she states "It was only after Wallace engaged in his extensive studies in spiritualism and became convinced of the genuineness of spiritualistic phenomena that he began to inject quasi-religious notions of the guidance of higher intelligences in the development of the human mind into his scientific arguments."10 Malinchak nevertheless does not specifically refer Wallace's conversion to spiritualism to causes rooted in his natural selection views, apparently preferring to interpret it as a residual effect of some of his early experiences with the supernatural, and of period social and intellectual trends.
To summarize, the position now generally held is that Wallace was led to spiritualistic belief as a function of his inability to view human evolution in entirely materialistic terms--in particular, as a function of the limitations of natural selection. Thus, spiritualism supposedly provided Wallace with a previously missing religious element in his life--one which also explained (away) the intellectual and moral development of the human race.
It seems to me, however, that these conclusions represent a misreading of the available facts. Wallace had from the very beginning been pursuing a course of investigation that inherently (and, to a degree, unwittingly) denied priority to materialistic interpretations of nature, and only through natural selection and spiritualism was he able to forge a synthesis compatible with materialist logic. In short, I shall take the position that all events in Wallace's intellectual evolution after 1858 are entirely predictable given conclusions he had reached by that year.
As is now well known from both his own writings and secondary analysis,11 Wallace was personally introduced to occult phenomena when he attended a lecture/demonstration on mesmerism given by a Mr. Spencer Hall in 1844. Sometime earlier, Wallace had read George Combe and become interested in related phrenological subjects.12 At that early date, there were few believers in mesmerism. Indeed, the common opinion, even within the scientific and medical communities, was that it was a hoax. Wallace attended the lecture as a nonbeliever; shortly afterward, however, he found himself able to induce the same effects that he had witnessed on stage on subjects of his own choosing, and eventually became a skilled practitioner of the art.13 This had a profound effect on him, as he learned, to repeat his own words, "my first great lesson in the inquiry into those obscure fields of knowledge, never to accept the disbelief of great men, or their accusations of imposture or of imbecility, as of any weight when opposed to the repeated observation of facts by other men admittedly sane and honest."14
This "great lesson" had both its general and specific elements. In the more general sense, new discoveries--no matter how unusual--were deserving of detached and rational study, not ignorant, ill-informed disbelief. More specially, psychical phenomena were not to be branded unworthy of attention a priori.15 Wallace spent a considerable portion of the next two decades mulling over the validity of these ideas, especially in their relevance to the customs and beliefs of the many native peoples among whom he lived and worked. Their religions, superstitions, and cosmological traditions especially attracted his attention, and in later writings he made frequent use of his observations.16
Soon after his return to England in 1862 Wallace began to look into the by-then well-established, but still-growing, spiritualism movement.17 It was apparently two or more years before he started taking the subject seriously, but by 1866 he was a confirmed spiritualist, as is fully evident from his 'The scientific aspect of the supernatural,' most likely written in the spring or early summer of that year.18
The context of Wallace's conversion has remained obscure, possibly because many have assumed that his "investigation" of spiritualism in the 1860s consisted predominantly of his attending numerous seances. That he was a frequent attender is true enough; through this experience he gained a first-hand acquaintance with the range of supposed spiritualistic "contact phenomena" (e.g., spirit materializations, table-rappings, automatic slate-writing, etc.). But it is equally true that his investigation extended to more than just observation. Wallace invariably began any new investigative effort with an exhaustive literature review.19 In this instance he read everything he could "lay his hands on" as he undertook his intensive program of seance attendance.20
Through this literature review he would have learned not only of the records of purported contacts with spirit beings, but of the relevance of such phenomena to the philosophical, historical and moral teachings of the movement as well. Research on Wallace's association with spiritualism has sometimes emphasized the sensationalism attached to his seance experiences instead of what it was that attracted him to the belief to begin with. It is thus necessary first to emphasize that spiritualism per se is not a religion--at least not in the usual sense of that term.21 It can more accurately be viewed as a form of theosophy,22 depicting the natural world as extending to a level of psychic organization to which ordinary consciousness has but peripheral access. Significantly, the view expressed in spiritualist (and other theosophical) writings is that the chain of natural causality nonetheless extends continuously, and back and forth, between the psychic (i.e., aspatial) and physical (i.e., spatial) domains. The sensational manifestations of this continuity allegedly occurring during seances and analogous conditions are, it has usually been supposed, the only aspects of it whose causes might readily be distinguished from the ordinary "material" phenomena of nature.23 Wallace's (and many other investigators') interest in such contact phenomena was that there appeared to be no other avenue through which the subject could be explored objectively.24
Wallace's recognition of the principle of natural selection in 1858 had forced him into the unanticipated role of celebrity. There is nothing in the Ternate essay (or his subsequent recollections of its writing25), however, that indicates he foresaw the degree and immediacy of natural selection's impact on the intellectual community. The reason for this, I suggest, is that at that time he considered the concept only a partial solution to more general problems he had been working on for about fifteen years. The remainder of the solution--as a continuation, not reversal, of thought--occurred to him only as he became familiar with the writings of spiritualism. It was almost certainly the moral, historical and philosophical themes of the belief and their relation to the subject of natural causation that really attracted him to the movement. In these themes he recognized an informal characterization of natural processes which operated in a manner transcending, yet complementing, natural selection. These views were acceptable to Wallace because they were consistent with his rational approach to the assessment of evidence, his position on the meaning of continuity of cause and effect, and the generally "progressive" attitude he had maintained since adolescence.
Wallace distilled the teachings of spiritualism in a number of his later writings. Excerpts from several of these are presented now for the sake of illustration and reference:26
"...The universal teaching of modern spiritualism is that the world and the whole material universe exist for the purpose of developing spiritual beings--that death is simply a transition from material existence to the first grade of spirit-life--and that our happiness and the degree of our progress will be wholly dependent upon the use we have made of our faculties and opportunities here..."27The preceding selections feature the following essential ideas: (1) the human being's full span of individual existence extends on to a period following biological death; (2) the characteristics of conscious existence during this alleged period are primarily determined by the level of intellectual and moral development attained during one's biological life experience; (3) said intellectual and moral development is a function of the degree of willful rejection of materialistic, self-centered goals and the adoption of an explorative, non-pre-judging, and socially-conscious attitude; and (4) there is, overall, a continuity of just cause and effect in nature which cannot for long be circumvented, and which complements individual action, sooner or later, with no more nor less than a commensurate reaction. Theme four would have been the one that most impressed Wallace initially. We shall return to this subject in a moment.
The relevance of the four themes just noted to Wallace's conversion can be better appreciated after examining words he set out almost twenty years before being introduced to spiritualism (indeed, before the beginning of the "modern spiritualism movement" itself). In late 1843, while employed as a surveyor for his older brother William, Wallace composed a lecture entitled 'The advantages of varied knowledge.' Portions of the essay are reproduced and discussed in his autobiography My Life, published in two volumes in 1905. From this source the following significant passages may be noted:32
[on gaining "a general acquaintance with history, biography, art, and science":] "...There is an intrinsic value to ourselves in these varied branches of knowledge, so much indescribable pleasure in their possession, so much do they add to the enjoyment of every moment of our existence, that it is impossible to estimate their value, and we would hardly accept boundless wealth, at the cost, if it were possible, of their irrecoverable loss. And if it is thus we feel as to our general store of mental acquirements, still more do we appreciate the value of any particular branch of study we may ardently pursue... here we see the advantage possessed by him whose studies have been in various directions, and who at different times has had many different pursuits, for whatever may happen, he will always find something in his surroundings to interest and instruct him..."These passages reflect the views of a twenty year old man on the reasons for--and advantages of--pursuing an ongoing program of self-education and rational, moral and intellectual exploration. The messages in 'Advantages...' and the spiritualism-related excerpts presented earlier have much in common with respect to the way they portray the ideal "life strategy"; the only real difference, in fact, is spiritualism's specific referral to an afterlife ('Advantages...' only goes so far as to consider "whatever new state of being the future may have in store for us"). In both sets of writings, moreover, appear the essence of his belief in the connection between justice and natural causality, and it is this connection that represents the cornerstone of his entire life's work.
Wallace's scientific philosophy rests on two basic ideas regarding the relation of cause to effect. The first is that the occurrence of action--any action--unaccompanied by equal and commensurate reaction is unthinkable. The doctrine of first causes therefore seemed irrational to him: it accepted the notion of effect without relatable, comprehendable cause. It is not clear exactly when this element of Wallace's thinking first established itself, but his reading of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology about 1844 possibly represented the eventual deciding influence. Lyell's uniformitarian geological views provided Wallace with an understanding of cause-and-effect that appealed only to continuously-acting and, importantly, observable and verifyable, forces.
Fully as central to Wallace's cosmology as the "equal and commensurate reaction" concept, however, were the implications stemming from his idea that "just" effect emanated from cause. Supposing that only a limited range of "equal and commensurate" reactions could derive from any given cause at any given time, and accepting that the consequences of any given cause were more or less restricted to some predominantly closed and limited domain, it seemed reasonable to believe that such consequences would eventually feed back on the agent of causation. Wallace considered such feedback inevitable--and, as a truism, "just"--whether the reinforcement involved was of a positive nature or not.
This utterly uniformitarian position on the meaning of "just" reaction provided Wallace with a neutral starting point for his ideas on all subjects. Take, for example, his views on morality. Those who could not see or understand the negative implications of their own actions were merely amoral, and even the bad implications themselves had the positive effect of providing instruction for anyone receptive enough to benefit from such consideration. The relative morality of behaviors could thus be assessed, with adoption or rejection following as a function of considered appraisal. At the same time, however, Wallace would not accept that new and higher moral conceptions were constantly emanating from human beings de novo; this contradicted his ideas on continuity of cause and effect. Instead, such notions "come to us--we hardly know how or whence, and once they have got possession of us we can not reject or change them at will";34 i.e., they originate beyond the immediate domain of human consciousness, and are merely "applied" through human action.
In like fashion, biological adaptation was the "just" result of the interplay of ambient biological/environmental conditions. The weak or maladapted individual was less successful in passing on its traits; the broadly adapted population tended to persist at the expense of maladapted ones. These "just results," however, were no more than the logical implications of confining ecological realities. Biological evolution, on the other hand, occurred as: (1) selection forces acted on such pre-existing variation (i.e., the existing "biological domain") and (2) variation itself was introduced as a function of biological and extra-biological forces of whose causes and actions we were still largely ignorant.
Wallace's position on the role of "just reaction" in progressive evolution was strongly fortified when he read Herbert Spencer's Social Statics in 1853. Wallace immediately latched onto Spencer's "social justice" concept. Spencer argued that each individual should receive no more nor less--especially no more--than was his or her just due, a position Wallace would fully endorse to the end of his days. There is little difficulty understanding how this fit into the 'Advantages...' argument: social evolution had to be a progressive function of the most intelligently and morally conceived actions (i.e., causes).
Thus, as of 1853 (or even 1843) the only feature distinguishing Wallace's personal philosophy of life from that later endorsed by spiritualists was the latter's assignment of their rationale for moral behavior to a specific final cause--the "carrot" of continuing personal evolution in an assumed afterlife. We need address two questions in this connection. First, did Wallace in fact maintain fundamentally the same philosophical perspective between 1843 and the date of his adoption of spiritualism (about 1865)? Second, what was Wallace's position on final--as distinct from first--causes?
In view of Wallace's subsequent activities, it can hardly be doubted that over the next two decades he followed the advice offered in his 1843 essay to a tee. Certainly his experiments with mesmerism shortly thereafter attest to his inquisitiveness, as do his adoption of an evolutionary perspective about one year later35 and later explorations and natural history and ethnological investigations in the tropics. In the latter context his appreciations of tropical peoples are particularly refreshing: he avoided prejudgment, especially the trap of using the state of so-called "civilized Europe" as a basis for assessing degree of moral advance in other cultures.36
The sentiment that a many-directioned (and, when specifically referred to human beings, intelligently and morally-directed) experience is fundamentally valuable to the individual's welfare actually does consistently surface in Wallace's writings over the next twenty years, and in a great variety of contexts. Take, for example, the implied basis for his assessment of the relative level of civilization attained by various native peoples:
"The Dyaks are more lively, more talkative, and less diffident than the American [Indians], and therefore pleasanter companions. They have more amusements and are more social, while at the same time they have less variety of weapons, and are less skilful in their methods of obtaining game and fish. Both these circumstances will lead us to place them one degree higher in the scale of civilization... Dyak youths...have their social games, their trials of strength and skill... They possess...numerous puzzles and tricks with which they amuse themselves... These apparently trifling matters are yet of some importance, in arriving at a true estimation of their social state. They show that these people have passed beyond that first stage of savage life in which the struggle for existence absorbs their whole faculties, in which every thought and every idea is connected with war or hunting or the provision for their immediate necessities. It shows too an advanced capability of civilization, an aptitude to enjoy other than mere sensual pleasures, which, properly taken advantage of, may be of great use in an attempt to raise their social and mental condition."37Or the following, on the "robustness" of natural forms of selection:
"In the wild animal, on the contrary [i.e., as contrasted with domesticated forms], all its faculties and powers being brought into full action for the necessities of existence, any increase [of power or capacity in an organ or sense] becomes immediately available, is strengthened by exercise, and must even slightly modify the food, the habits, and the whole economy of the race. It creates as it were a new animal, one of superior powers, and which will necessarily increase in numbers and outlive those inferior to it... Domestic animals are abnormal, artificial; they are subject to varieties which never occur and never can occur in a state of nature: their very existence depends altogether on human care; so far are many of them removed from that just proportion of faculties, that true balance of organization, by means of which alone an animal left to its own resources can preserve and continue its race."38The general idea that many-directioned efforts are likely to yield the most productive long-term results is evident in the following selections as well:
"It is only at a later period that we observe the tree to be suffering, and in the parts most affected we discover the Scolyti to have been at work, and erroneously impute the mischief to them... It now becomes a question whether the supposed criminals are not really our benefactors,--teaching us, by their presence, that there is something wrong, before we could otherwise perceive it. We may then be induced to inquire into the state of the soil or of the atmosphere, and be led to examine what diseases or what enemies may be at work on the roots or on the foliage of our trees as the points most likely for decay and death to originate in."39Finally, there is the following, from a letter of March 15, 1861 to Wallace's brother-in-law, Thomas Sims:48
"...You intimate that the happiness to be enjoyed in a future state will depend upon, and be a reward for, our belief in certain doctrines which you believe to constitute the essence of true religion. You must think, therefore, that belief is voluntary and also that it is meritorious. But I think that a little consideration will show you that belief is quite independent of our will, and our common expressions show it. We say, 'I wish I could believe him innocent, but the evidence is too clear'; or, 'Whatever people may say, I can never believe he can do such a mean action.' Now, suppose in any similar case the evidence on both sides leads you to a certain belief or disbelief, and then a reward is offered you for changing your opinion. Can you really change your opinion and belief, for the hope of reward or the fear of punishment? Will you not say, 'As the matter stands I can't change my belief. You must give me proofs that I am wrong or show that the evidence I have heard is false, and then I may change my belief'? It may be that you do get more and do change your belief. But this change is not voluntary on your part. It depends upon the force of evidence upon your individual mind, and the evidence remaining the same and your mental faculties remaining unimpaired--you cannot believe otherwise any more than you can fly.The Sims letter is an important document. Not only does it show that as of 1861--three years after his formulation of natural selection--Wallace obviously was experiencing no pangs of guilt related to his rejection of religious views, but it also succinctly roots his reasons for such rejection in his convictions regarding the value of belief. Belief had no intrinsic merit; only a continuing unbiased examination of the facts pertaining to any given question resulted in values that were progress-serving.49 Superficial or prejudging evaluations generated actions likely to be inconsistent with the greater reality, and thus deserving of rejection by that reality. "Progress" thus occurred only as individual human beings combined a willingness to re-evaluate positions with a receptivity to constructive change. Considering the passage assigned to note 44, Wallace extended this understanding to account for the way society in general "progressed." His approach to classification (note 46), moreover, suggests he had concluded that success within the biological world was, in like fashion, a function of a well-rounded adaptation to multiple influences. In the biological context, of course, the analog to such "continual re-evaluation of position" was achieved rotely, forced by ambient environmental circumstances; nevertheless, those individual organisms (or populations) that were capable of responding productively to the widest range of constraints were the ones that generally prevailed in the struggle for existence.50 Thus, whether one was considering the evolution of organisms or social systems, it was possible to view progress as being facilitated by actions deriving from a wide-ranging experience (again, whether "experience" was acquired deliberately, through a coupling of conscious effort and receptivity, or probabilistically, in response to complex interactions of forces; e.g., at the population level).51
Wallace's youthful conclusions regarding the interrelationship of justice, merit and belief are critical to understanding the directions his thinking took in 1858 and afterward.52 He put the merit/belief argument itself to direct use on several later occasions;53 later, we shall look further into how his biological views developed in parallel fashion.
By 1862 and his return to England Wallace was a celebrity, and any insecurity he may have ever felt concerning the validity of his personal philosophy of life had long since left him. Consider, therefore, the kind of effect spiritualist philosophy most likely would have had on him at that point. First, it concerned an occult subject--one, moreover, whose phenomena some were trying to attribute to a mechanism with which he was personally familiar: mesmerism. All of these circumstances would have held interest for him. Not only could he personally contribute to the discussion as mesmerism pertained to it,54 but as a habitual champion of unappreciated causes, he would have enjoyed trying to right what he perceived to be naive criticisms of a poorly understood subject. Second, the moral teachings of spiritualism were directly relatable to phenomena that appeared to be, at least in some instances, verifiable, and were thus believable. Here, it seemed, was another aspect of the natural world inviting detached exploration by the intelligent skeptic, and Wallace was by nature both skeptical and insatiably curious. Third, the teachings themselves avoided dogma, instead encouraging the individual to respond as his or her personal assessment of the facts warranted. No unmeritorious belief here: this was not religion--at least not of any variety depending on the kind of inculcation and blind acceptance to which Wallace objected. The teachings were also perfectly in line with the ideas on continuity of causality Wallace had reasoned out and adopted some twenty or more years earlier. In short, he recognized in spiritualism elements of a truly "natural" philosophy: it gave a logical, testable accounting of how just cause and effect are related at the level of human consciousness, moral and intellectual behavior, and evolution. Spiritualism, moreover, supported his program of "balancing evidence" (as so succinctly described in the letter of March 15, 1861 to his brother-in-law); i.e., its proponents concurred with his earlier-stated notion that there was to be no fear of suffering "for the study of nature and the search for truth." His familiarization with spiritualism could only have fortified his already existing negative impression of conventional theism: the less one depended on opinions served up by unquestioning authority, the better.
On the basis of the connections set out above alone, it is not difficult to understand why Wallace adopted the belief. He recognized in the movement something quite distinct from rote acceptance of unverifiable doctrines (i.e., religion), investigated on this basis, and was convinced (rightly or wrongly) by what he found.
Whatever spiritualism may actually represent, Wallace's efforts to grapple with the vagaries of the subject seem scientific enough; that his interpretations of the phenomena (allegedly) involved were biased by anthropomorphism is clear, but the same thing is likely to be said in future years of our present manner of study of psychical subjects. In any case, analysis of Wallace's intellectual development before--or after--1858 should not rest on undefendable assumptions. It cannot be admitted as demonstrated that the teachings of spiritualism are fundamentally inconsistent with nature as the latter is more conventionally interpreted, and, more importantly, these teachings are, in point of fact, neither anti-evolutionary nor anti-"progressive." In my opinion, Wallace viewed them as relaying an evolutionary interpretation of reality, and as being, to a close approximation, compatible with the then-developing materialistic interpretations of biological evolution. Of course, if it is argued a priori that spiritualism and evolution represent mutually incompatible conceptual domains, one inexorably arrives at the facile conclusion that upon accepting spiritualistic beliefs Wallace must have had a change of mind regarding natural selection's relation to man's higher faculties. But the fundamental principles of Wallace's approach to the study of man/nature were set in his mind well before he finally stumbled onto natural selection, and given the fact that he repeatedly re-affirmed his belief in those principles in his writings over a span of seventy years--that is, over a period beginning well before 1858--it is extremely difficult to believe that either natural selection or spiritualism had any profound effect on re-directing them. His relation of the two ideas is the product of his personal evolution of thought, not its cause.
At this point it becomes
necessary to re-examine some of the other things that were on Wallace's
mind before 1858, and how these helped shape his formulation of natural
selection in that year.
Schwartz has analyzed Wallace's views on the evolution of man in an effort to distinguish them from Darwin's.55 Schwartz feels that Wallace came to decide man and nonhuman animals had evolved differently some time after the appearance of his 1858 paper 'On the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type,' as that work makes no specific mention of man. But how much weight can be put in this instance on such negative evidence? Perhaps Wallace felt the model could be applied equally well to man, but didn't want to unduly complicate his initial, and typically lucid, presentation of the idea. Or perhaps, as I shall argue, the main point of the Ternate essay, beyond its introduction of natural selection per se, was to lay the groundwork for the idea that man is, in fact, an exception. It should be kept in mind that Wallace had no opportunity to re-work his paper before it was presented to the Linnean Society and then published.56 It had been relayed to Darwin and Lyell for comment, not for publication in that form. As such behavior was not Wallace's usual policy before attempting to publish, it is altogether likely that he was contemplating adding material to it. And even this presumes that he was intending to try to publish it right away to begin with: he had, after all, been sketching out the material for a book on evolution.
Also note that there was no particular reason for him to single out man anyway. The paper was restricted to a consideration of speciation, and avoided any discussion of Wallace's views on evolution in general. Whether he intended to add remarks concerning man's possible exceptional evolutionary relationship to natural selection before publishing the work in one form or another is, at this time, conjectural only; that the work omitted any special reference to man, however, is irrelevant altogether to the conclusions that have been drawn from this fact if Wallace had a different agendum in mind than has generally been assumed.
Wallace probably became an evolutionist about 1845 after reading Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.57 At that point, however, he had not yet begun to relate evolution to the immediate causal agencies we now associate with the workings of natural selection. His letters to Henry Walter Bates during that period58 and later comments on Vestiges59 show that he was more critical of Chambers's60 inability to set out a model of process integrating the facts available than he was that writer's rather philosophical/cosmological approach to the subject per se.61 Certainly, there were "facts" that could be interpreted as the products of evolution, and it was out of these that a dogma-free conceptualization of the process had to be constructed. The investigations in natural history Wallace had conducted in his spare time while working as a surveyor and teacher in the early 1840s led him to conclude that the facts of diversity might provide a firm base for such a model; as a result, he made constructing a connection between evolution and the distribution of organisms a conscious objective of his collecting expeditions to South America and the Malay Archipelago. It is quite certain that he actually was giving all related variables a good deal of attention: he says so directly in print in 'On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species,'62 remarks that are corroborated by the contents of letters he exchanged with his friend Bates.63
Wallace's preconceptions about natural process and organization at the time he left for South America devolved in part from his reading of Vestiges, and in part from the general outlook he already had at that point in his life. He had apparently rejected most orthodox Christian interpretations of nature and society long before reading Vestiges, and his adoption of an evolutionary perspective was not an inconsistent next step.64 This does not mean, however, that Wallace had also rejected the notion that in one fashion or another "God" might represent the final cause of natural organization.65 It is significant that Wallace later looked back at himself as being an agnostic--rather than an atheist--during this period.66 "God" was a concept that, in his own words, he "cared and thought nothing about."67 As of 1870, of course, he undoubtedly accepted that behind all "universal forces and laws" there lay "the will or power" of a "Great Mind" or "Supreme Intelligence";68 it seemed, however, that the "law" of such a will or entity, probably being "connected with the absolute origin of life and organization," was likely "too deep for us to discover."69
Such "law" was not, it need be emphasized, to be interpreted as one operating through event-specific Godly intervention: "I reject the hypothesis of 'first causes' for any and every special effect in the universe, except in the...sense that the action of man or of any intelligent being is a first cause."70 Wallace would thus have nothing of a "supranatural" God that had created--and was personally supervising--an essentially unprogressing (or, for that matter, progressing) natural reality. Rather, the "Great Mind" represented, in some sense, a universal source of will as an expression of which the laws of the universe operated, in fully uniformitarian fashion, to evolve "special" (i.e., individual) effects.71
Again, within this framework, a final cause was in theory operating, but probably was too remote from human appreciation ever to be fully understood. Nonetheless, the "will" of the "Supreme Intelligence" was manifest as an ordered, changing existence encompassing all of reality (including itself), and operating according to describable laws of interaction (e.g., natural selection and gravitational attraction). These laws combined in such a fashion--quite possibly itself formally describable, and at the least recognizable--making ordered change the necessary consequence of their operation.
I suggest that Wallace's intellectual evolution between 1845 and 1870 consisted largely of a shift in opinion as to how these fundamental laws of nature were integrated as a function of final causation. Whereas in the late 1840s and most of the 1850s he believed biological/social evolution might be explained on the basis of laws of interaction directly analogous to--and working alongside of--those governing the physical world (note the first italicized passage in the 'Advantages...' selections presented earlier), he would eventually decide: (1) that (at least) three, rather than two, general domains of interaction pursuant to such laws existed, and (2) that the interaction among these domains defined a nested hierarchy of causal organization.72 Otherwise put, while at first Wallace felt that biological and social evolution were forced by physical (i.e., geological/geographical) relationships analogous to, but of greater complexity than, say, gravitational attraction, later he would conclude that a "push-pull" kind of mutual causality prevailed.73 Within the confines of three dimensional space, pre-biological forces laid the foundation for conditions that could support biological organization; the latter, in turn, eventually co-evolved to a point permitting the increasing involvement of a domain of psychic organization.74 The growth of the psychic domain within human consciousness coincided with (and depended on) our increasing transcendance of the "everyone for himself" sentiments rooted in the survival instinct necessary to biological success. Such transcendance represented an accelerating "pull" effect within the operation of the hierarchy, because consciously-willed acts by human beings increasingly enhanced the chain of causation enacted by rotely-operating physical and biological laws alone.
Before we look into the development of these ideas in more detail, it will be helpful to take special notice of a feature of Wallace's views on evolutionary causation that makes them fully distinct from Darwin's. Darwinian natural selection defines a process: one in which the selection of characters apropos to environmental circumstances supports eventual divergences in species lines. The influence of prior causes, both internal and external (loosely, genetic and environmental) to the actors involved is acknowledged, and left open for consideration, identification, and clarification.75 The Darwinian approach is to accept historical continuity of form as direct evidence of continuity of process; thus, both natural selection specifically and evolution in general are considered demonstrated if speciation can be synonymized with spatial-temporal chronology of adaptive change.76 In short, the focus is on the process of divergence: "process yields structure yields process..."; i.e., what is now often referred to as "tree-thinking."77 In contrast, at no time during his life did Wallace recognize a necessary connection between process and particular structure. Wallace considered natural selection a law of natural interaction rather than a process. There is no generalizable "process" of adaptation implicit in Wallace's realization of natural selection, only the result of being adapted.78 For many years Wallace used the term "accumulate" to describe how he felt favorable variations were added to a population as a function of entirely idiosyncratic associations between individual and environment.79 Characters were selected, for whatever reasons, and this fact he termed "natural selection."80 "Evolution," on the other hand, he regarded as a process fueled by the simultaneous operation of all such laws of interaction, any of which might be secondarily influencing natural selection (or each other) over long periods of time in any number of ways. Thus, each such law could be observed to produce certain classes of immediate effects, but no one actor on the evolutionary stage could be considered "caused" in its entirety by any of these laws individually.81
Of course, Wallace
found it easier in practice to defend the fundamental proposition that
biological evolution occurred at all by yielding to the Darwinian notion
that evolution was largely a matter of character divergence. This was
not a difficult concession, as he could identify many adaptive features
that could be related, in a relatively immediate sense, to particular
classes of natural selection-mediated causation. Mimetic resemblance,
for example, "accumulated" as the enhanced survival potential accruing
from looking like something--anything--else that was inedible or dangerous.
In analogous fashion, gravity yielded "accumulations" of particles under
a variety of domain-limited physical conditions: to produce, for example,
talus slopes, moraines, fluvial deposits, etc.
In early 1856 Wallace composed the essay 'On the habits of the orang-utan of Borneo,' within which the following commentary appeared:
"Naturalists are too apt to imagine, when they cannot discover, a use for everything in nature: they are not even content to let "beauty" be a sufficient use, but hunt after some purpose to which even that can be applied by the animal itself, as if one of the noblest and most refining parts of man's nature, the love of beauty for its own sake, would not be perceptible also in the works of a Supreme Creator. The separate species of which the organic world consists being parts of a whole, we must suppose some dependence of each upon all; some general design which has determined the details, quite independently of individual necessities. We look upon the anomalies, the eccentricities, the exaggerated or diminished development of certain parts, as indications of a general system of nature, by a careful study of which we may learn much that is at present hidden from us..."82Expressed in these words are thoughts that would be fully mature in Wallace's mind only by the mid-1860s. The first, and more straightforward, is the concept that there exists a "general design which has determined the details, quite independently of individual necessities." In this statement is reflected, simultaneously, (1) Wallace's rejection of the idea that first causes exist "for any and every special effect in the universe," and (2) his acceptance that there yet existed a confining "general design." At that point, however, he undoubtedly believed that the "general design" could be understood to directly explain specifics of diversification and adaptation (i.e., in a manner similar to the way Newtonian physics modelled individual gravitational relationships in the heavens).
Also contained in the passages above is the germ of the idea that man's love of beauty should itself be perceptible as a work of the Supreme Creator. The "Supreme Creator" is here viewed as being both: (1) further removed from the efficient cause of each modification than was assumed by Creationists; and (2) more encompassing in its operation than were it merely acting to meet the immediate material needs and/or conscious desires of each individual organism (i.e., both the material structure of lower organisms and the conscious/emotional faculties of higher ones fell within its influence, whether such influence could be perceived as operating or not).83 As early as 1856, therefore, Wallace was arguing that the "general design" of nature called for a model of its productions recognizing not merely the place of material things within it, but: (1) man's emotional and intellectual response to material things, and (2) the possibility of higher causes altogether. And, although he was ready to accept that we might be ignorant of the greater forces that were at work, he was not willing to grant that such forces were necessarily unsystematic in their enaction (e.g., were the product of unpredictable Godly "first causes").
It is well known that Wallace's disenchantment with the simple model of causality offered by both conventional theism and then-existing natural science was considerable well before 1858--certainly back to 1845, and probably even into the late or mid-1830s. His excitement over Vestiges foreshadowed many remarks he would later make, as Chambers had argued that "progressive development" was the underlying theme of existence. McKinney, Brooks, Browne, Malinchak, and Turner84 have explained how this would have appealed to Wallace's social views at that point. At the time he read the book, Wallace had long since adopted progressive ideas regarding societal evolution; he was a disciple of the idealist reformer Robert Owen even as a teenager, believing that most of the wrongs of society could be eliminated through consciously (and, especially, conscientiously) applied programs of social reform. It was Chambers's position that evolution proceeded toward the development of "godly" beings, an idea that inherently accepted the notion of societal advance. His position on organic change, however, was primarily based on a Lyellian, uniformitarian, approach to geology. Through this approach it was possible to imagine that generally acting physical laws implicitly gave rise to progressive biological change--otherwise put, that the general design of nature depended on the operation of uniformitarian laws that supported what have been more recently called "deviation-amplifying" processes.85
In Chambers's position, in fact, were most of the seeds of Wallace's later synthesis.86 If we believe his later reference to the subject in 'On the law...,'87 Wallace quickly settled on a means of transforming these "progressive development" leanings into the set of ideas expressed ten years later in that paper. His focus became the description of divergence in species lines. But this emphasis--on large scale spatial/historical relations--turned out to be something of a mistake. In his effort to avoid a first causes-based viewpoint, Wallace almost threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Creationists argued that the Creator had specially provided all the earth's creatures with just what they needed to survive. Wallace rejected this notion outright, agreeing with Chambers that the natural progression had to be self-regulating to conserve an intelligible relation of cause to effect.
In fact, despite words he later wrote that might be interpreted as indicating the contrary,88 it is quite clear that prior to 1858 Wallace even rejected the argument that there was necessary functional utility to adaptation. He did not yet see that the assumption of utility would be necessary to establish a generalization regarding the immediate causes of biological change; i.e., to explain how population change (though not necessarily the long term "accumulations" of change) was self-regulating. In 1856, he incorporated the following comments into the already-cited 'On the habits of the orang-utan of Borneo':
"...Do you mean to assert, then, some of my readers will indignantly ask, that this animal, or any animal, is provided with organs which are of no use to it? Yes, we reply, we do mean to assert that many animals are provided with organs and appendages which serve no material or physical purpose. The extraordinary excrescences of many insects, the fantastic and many-coloured plumes which adorn certain birds, the excessively developed horns in some of the antelopes, the colours and infinitely modified forms of many flower-petals, are all cases for an explanation of which we must look to some general principle far more recondite than a simple relation to the necessities of the individual. We conceive it to be a most erroneous, a most contracted view of the organic world, to believe that every part of an animal or of a plant exists solely for some material and physical use to the individual--to believe that all the beauty, all the infinite combinations and changes of form and structure should have the sole purpose and end of enabling each animal to support its existence--to believe, in fact, that we know the one sole end and purpose of every modification that exists in organic change, and to refuse to recognize the possibility of there being any other. Naturalists are too apt to imagine, when they cannot discover, a use for everything in nature... ...we believe that the constant practice of imputing, right or wrong, some use to the individual, of every part of its structure, and even of inculcating the doctrine that every modification exists solely for some such use, is an error fatal to our complete appreciation of all the variety, the beauty, and the harmony of the organic world..."89Vague strains of this kind of thinking can also be found in other writings Wallace produced before 1858.90 This leaning cannot be passed off as a simple a priori bias, however, as Wallace's preconceptions were being fortified by a modestly convincing process of reasoning by exclusion. To begin with (and given Wallace's rejection of Lamarckian thinking), no compelling non-Creationist arguments existed which provided any good reasons for thinking that every adaptation had to be useful. Importantly, moreover, the "every species has come into existence coincident in time and space with a pre-existing closely allied species" model expressed in 'On the law...' had ramifications that seemed incompatible with a point of view embracing necessary adaptive utility. In 'On the law...' Wallace notes that most authorities agree that most rudimentary organs "have no special function in the animal economy,"91 and that such organs seem entirely inexplicable in the absence of forces yielding slow, gradational changes in organisms (forces so pervasive, one supposes, as to override the non-function of those structures having no immediate utility). In 'On the natural history of the Aru Islands' he rejects the idea that immediate conditions of climate regulate the distribution of existing species, as "we should not see countries the most opposite in character with similar productions, while others almost exactly alike as respects climate and general aspect, yet differ totally in their forms of organic life."92 The same conclusion is implicit in his comparisons of insect size and color in the temperate versus tropical regions in 'Observations on the zoology of Borneo';93 i.e., local physical conditions apparently sponsored the same manner of adaptation in physically separated, unrelated forms.94 This fact seemed to suggest that adaptation per se was a result, rather than the cause, of the "progressive development" of organisms (i.e., some more general set of influences must determine how new characters combined to effect "progress").
It is thus very unlikely that before 1858 Wallace was basing any of his thoughts on the supposition of necessary character utility. He may well have believed (and probably did), as McKinney95 observes, that adaptations "occurred" while species evolved, but this association was merely correlative; i.e., derivative. As early as 1853, Wallace implied that it was futile to pursue the "red herring" of adaptation-based causality any further: "...In all works on Natural History, we constantly find details of the marvelous adaptation of animals to their food, their habits, and the localities in which they are found. But naturalists are now beginning to look beyond this, and to see that there must be some other principle regulating the infinitely varied forms of animal life..."96
Wallace's belief that the "necessary utility" argument was an explanatory red herring must have been reinforced by his experiences with the native peoples he encountered over the course of his travels. It should be kept in mind that Wallace had been considering man's place in evolution right from the beginning of his attention to the subject.97 Although many of the activities of people in primitive societies bespoke adaptation forced by local peculiarities of environment, there were yet as many that seemed unrelated. There appeared to be little connection between morality and survival, for example, and even less between the latter and mathematical, artistic or musical abilities. He could only conclude that however evolution operated, it appeared to enlist adaptations/abilities that were in some combinations directly functional and in others not so, at least with respect to survival per se. This is the reason for Wallace's great interest in the orangutan: he viewed it as an important bridge between animals and human beings in this respect. Judging from his comments in 'On the habits of the orang-utan...,' his study of this animal only served to confirm his then-existing thoughts regarding non-utility.
The "principle" to which Wallace alludes in the last passage quoted undoubtedly extended beyond the concepts set out in 'On the law...' He realized that the "law" expressed in that paper was incapable of doing more than stating the essential results of species divergence in time and space. Here, only, was a description of continuity of effects.98 His problem narrowed to identifying a kind of "self-regulation" that caused such a continuity of effects.
In attempting to substantiate the view expressed in Vestiges that evolution consisted of a "progressive" succession of animal forms, Wallace needed to come up with three kinds of proof. First, he had to prove that evolution in fact took place. Nontrivial as this problem was, it was the easiest one to deal with--assuming, of course, that it was true. Second, he had to provide a model of how it took place; that is, he had to demonstrate those conditions immediate to the life and activities of living things that led to irreversible forms of change in them. Third, and most difficult, he had to identify not only these immediate causes, but the way his assumed final cause operated on them to produce "progress." He very quickly saw how to approach the first problem--through careful study of the spatial-temporal links between the present distribution of organisms and their fossil record. This thinking is summarized in the 'On the law...' essay.
He had made no progress whatsoever on the second problem as of 1855, however. Arguably, in fact, he had regressed. The reason for this is probably that he thought a solution would be implicit in the solution to the third problem; i.e., he was approaching the problem from the "top-down." Once he had examined enough "facts" and had confirmed the spatial-temporal relations of geography and geology suggesting that evolution really took place, he set his sights on solving the final cause issue, in so doing avoiding for the moment the matter of immediate causation at the biological level (whose individual components, he believed at that time, were "unconceivable"99).
In sum, Wallace's pre-1858 efforts indicate that he had adopted a rather unconventional form of teleology. Following Chambers, Wallace had allowed the concept of progress to permeate his thinking, probably to the extent that he believed such progress represented movement toward a system-level goal: the development of higher, "godly," beings. Whereas the goal-centered Lamarckian model had dwelled on the immediate causes and specific effects of organic change, however, Wallace's tacitly denied a causal role to adaptation. Instead, the confining/promoting influences imagined were ostensibly of grander scale, overriding individual effects through continuity of influence, just as Newtonian forces had supported the original consolidation of the solar system.100 In short, he thought the direction of the continuing "accumulation" of characters was being influenced by very general--and prior--properties of environmental organization.
I suggest on this basis that Wallace's pre-1858 activities indicate his search for a geographical Bauplan. Perhaps as a function of his youthful involvements with trigonometry, mechanics, and geodesy,101 he anticipated that the details of animal distribution would reveal to him, in their organized relations, those ever-present, unformly-acting laws that conspired to guide evolution, much as the interrelations of the heavenly bodies had revealed the nature of gravity.
Wallace's commitment to a search for a geographical kind of Bauplan--rather than a physiological/morphological one--is not puzzling. To begin with, all of his pre-1845 nature-oriented activities had had a distinctly geographical side: plant and insect collecting, surveying, land use study and evaluation, and informal study of the economics of agriculture. About the same time, moreover, he read--and was very favorably impressed with--several works containing strongly geographical themes.102 Further, he lacked the formal training (and interest) in physiology and morphology that would have been necessary to support a laboratory investigation of adaptive trends--which, in any case, did not seem the right direction for exploration, giving into, as it appeared, adaptationist lines of reasoning. Finally, and very significantly, a geographical framework was less remote from an understanding of how societal change took place. As mentioned earlier, Wallace was much taken with Herbert Spencer's Social Statics--especially with that writer's views on how social problems were created by injustices stemming from the then-existing conditions of land ownership.103 Over the period 1853-1858, geographical determinism--as related to the explanation of both biological and social evolution--was a subject at the very front of his mind.104
During this period Wallace obviously regarded species diversification as the distinguishing feature of biological advance. Adaptation was a derivative, or even incidental, process. Nonetheless, he realized that character states could be used to distinguish between varieties, and that an understanding of the manner of emergence of varieties was crucial to an appreciation of the process of speciation. Thus it would be necessary, in one fashion or another, to relate his law of geographical/geological influence to the adaptive characteristics of individual organisms.
But as the years passed, Wallace could not recognize any way in which the greater conditions of environment imposed an influence of the kind he was anticipating. Again, important characteristics of animals--their size and color, for example105--seemed more relatable to immediate causal agencies. There was, further, the persisting problem of how to fit social evolution into the picture. Man passed on innovations--in the form of mathematics, art, music, moral teachings, etc.--and did so regardless of whether there seemed to be any apparent survival value involved. How could organic evolution proceed in a fashion responding to environmental constraints and opportunities, yet produce adaptive structures whose persistence was not necessarily a direct and exclusive function of those constraints and opportunities?106
The natural selection concept reinforced his belief that this question could be answered within the general framework of final causes he had set out for himself. Admitting character variation, natural selection could be viewed as operating to yield whatever new adaptations that could come about and differentially persist. This was a model through which one could understand the process of diversification, as long as one accepted that selection itself (in contradistinction with the "accumulation" of character states) was the generalizable law, the necessary result of interaction between life and its environment. As has been pointed out by Browne,107 Wallace envisioned a selection process operating at the group level, and producing new populations characterized by distinct adaptive suites. Browne notes that Wallace was thinking in terms of statistical generalizations; this appears to be consistent with the rules for systematic revision (multiple character trait-based analysis, etc.) he was applying at the time.108 If single characters were untrustworthy distinguishers of species from one another taxonomically, neither were they likely to mirror the only relevant population-dividing forces. Suites of peculiarities defined species.109
Significantly, it was still possible to admit that certain individual characteristics might have no adaptive value--as long as their presence was correlated, for reasons yet unknown, with ones that did. This suited Wallace perfectly: he could now explain how new forms came into existence, but could still avoid the assumption that structural continuities over time necessarily implied single causal continuities.110 At the same time, of course, natural selection shed no light on the prior problem of why some characters maintained themselves indefinitely despite their apparent non-utilitarian nature, and an unceasing, biological utility-refining selection pressure.
It appears to me that Wallace never thought that all levels of adaptive function could be attributed to the action of natural selection. Those that could were to be contextualized in simple survival terms as responses to the immediate (causal) constraints of environment--but the utility function of the rest had to be referred to associations with causes not yet understood. This conclusion, not natural selection itself, was the real breakthrough in Wallace's thinking. It allowed him a position consistent with his continuing aversion to "first causes" thinking, but conducive to explaining one-to-one associations between environment and biological structure.
The relationship that apparently helped Wallace sort all this out was that existing between man and domesticated animals. Consider the following passages from pages 59-61 of 'On the tendency...':
"The essential difference in the condition of wild and domestic animals is this,--that among the former, their well-being and very existence depend upon the full exercise and healthy condition of all their senses and physical powers, whereas, among the latter, these are only partially exercised, and in some cases absolutely unused... ...Half of [the domestic animal's] senses and faculties are quite useless; and the other half are but occasionally called into feeble exercise, while even its muscular system is only irregularly called into action. Now when a variety of such an animal occurs, having increased power or capacity in any organ or sense, such increase is totally useless, is never called into action, and may even exist without the animal ever becoming aware of it... ...in the domesticated animal all variations have an equal chance of continuance; and those which would decidedly render a wild animal unable to compete with its fellows and continue its existence are no disadvantage whatever in a state of domesticity... ...We see, then, that no inferences as to varieties in a state of nature can be deduced from the observation of those occurring among domestic animals. The two are so much opposed to each other in every circumstance of their existence, that what applies to the one is almost sure not to apply to the other..." [my italics]Wallace's arguments here seem to be directed toward exposing an exception to the rule. The point of interest, however, is that it is not altogether clear which discussion he is posing as the exception, and which the rule. Earlier in the same work, on page 54, he straightforwardly states:
"...it is the object of the present paper to show that [the] assumption ["that varieties occuring in a state of nature are in all respects analogous to or even identical with those of domestic animals"] is altogether false, that there is a general principle which will cause many varieties to survive the parent species, and to give rise to successive variations departing further and further from the original type, and which also produces, in domesticated animals, the tendency of varieties to return to the parent form."Later in the same essay he notes that his theory explains "the remarkable persistence of unimportant parts such as colour, texture of plumage and hair, form of horns or crests, through a series of species differing considerably in more essential characters."111 His ideas have progressed--ever so subtly--from the non-utilitarian position expressed in the orangutan essay to one in which he views characters varying in being "the more or the less" "essential" (the characters he lists are, of course, among the easiest to modify through selective breeding practices).
The passages I have italicized in the selections above are of especial interest. From the last it is apparent that, in contrast with Darwin, Wallace did not view domestication as a process paralleling natural selection--rather, it was its antithesis.112 Why? Because no biological "self-regulation" was operating in the case of artificial selection. The latter produced changes "without the animal ever becoming aware of it" or leaving it at any "competitive disadvantage." These concepts were the key: traits that could be passed on, for no apparent reason of utility (that is, with respect to "natural" environment), yet produce no "disadvantage." By inference, biological utility was a valid concept only to the extent that it supported characters whose regulation (or further development) in a population might well be guaranteed only through the intervention of additional, but not yet known, causal agencies.113 This flexibility of interpretation was necessary, because it would be very difficult in any given instance to prove that an immediate "one cause-one effect" determinism actually existed.114
These connections explain Wallace's continuing interest in the study of character utility and why, as he grew older, he was able to maintain his strong defense of natural selection while developing an increasingly teleological cosmological position. As of 1858 he could not guage to what extent the immediate physical/biological environment determined utility function (and, in fact, in later years he abandoned some of his earlier arguments regarding particular "non-necessary" physical traits, as Kottler115 and others have pointed out).
I suggest, therefore, that the purpose of 'On the tendency...' has never been entirely recognized. It was not intended in the main as the revelation of a "new theory of evolution" (i.e., natural selection), but as an interim statement clearing the ground for an interpretation of evolutionary change that was not bound a priori by the assumption that all adaptive characters are directly related to the program of the immediate environment. Natural selection thus in effect became the "rule" that distinguished between those characteristics that were so related, and those for which additional explanation was necessary. That Wallace sent the manuscript to Darwin was predictable: how to treat the domestication process had been one of the main subjects of their earlier exchanges of letters. One surmises that he felt Darwin would be interested in both parts of his argument. As mentioned earlier, however, Darwin recognized no logical difference between "artificial" and "natural" selection processes. To be sure, the immediately operating influences in each instance were quite different; the common thread for him, however, was that both kinds of selection produced the result of changes in biological form. Wallace, by contrast, still holding the view that changes in form were no more than correlative to process, was coming at the matter from a totally different starting point.
In 1870 Wallace wrote:
"I have also endeavoured to show, how the same power which has modified animals has acted on man; and have, I believe, proved that, as soon as the human intellect became developed above a certain low stage, man's body would cease to be materially affected by natural selection, because the development of his mental faculties would render important modifications of its form and structure unnecessary. It will, therefore, probably excite some surprise among my readers, to find that I do not consider that all nature can be explained on the principles of which I am so ardent an advocate; and that I am now myself going to state objections, and to place limits, to the power of "natural selection." I believe, however, that there are such limits; and that just as surely as we can trace the action of natural laws in the development of organic forms, and can clearly conceive that fuller knowledge would enable us to follow step by step the whole process of that development, so surely can we trace the action of some unknown higher law, beyond and independent of all those laws of which we have any knowledge."116In the same essay he adds:
"The inference I would draw from this class of phenomena is, that a superior intelligence has guided the development of man in a definite direction, and for a special purpose, just as man guides the development of many animal and vegetable forms. The laws [note plural "laws"!] of evolution alone would, perhaps, never have produced a grain so well adapted to man's use as wheat and maize; such traits as the seedless banana and bread-fruit; or such animals as the Guernsey milch cow, or the London dray-horse. Yet these so closely resemble the unaided productions of nature, that we may well imagine a being who had mustered the laws of development of organic forms through past ages, refusing to believe that any new power had been concerned in the production, and scornfully rejecting the theory (as my theory will be rejected by many who agree with me on other points), that in these few cases a controlling intelligence had directed the action of the laws of variation, multiplication, and survival, for his own purposes. We know, however, that this has been done; and we must therefore admit the possibility that, if we are not the highest intelligences in the universe, some higher intelligence may have directed the process by which the human race was developed, by means of more subtle agencies than we are acquainted with. At the same time I must confess, that this theory has the disadvantage of requiring the intervention of some distinct individual intelligence, to aid in the production of what we can hardly avoid considering as the ultimate aim and outcome of all organized existence--intellectual, ever-advancing, spiritual man. It therefore implies, that the great laws which govern the material universe were insufficient for his production, unless [my italics] we consider (as we may fairly do) that the controlling action of such higher intelligences is a necessary part of those laws, just as the action of all surrounding organisms is one of the agencies in organic development."117I see no reason why Wallace might not just as easily have written the preceding words in 1864--or even 1858--as 1870: he merely would have felt a good deal less confident in doing so before he had collected evidence supporting the notion that, in parallel with domesticated animals, man was evolving without "ever becoming aware of it." The essential element of Wallace's cosmology with respect to man--that forces extending beyond his immediate awareness of their operation and impact were influencing his overall development--remained intact between at least as early as 1856 (the year of the orangutan essay) and his 1870 publication of Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection. It must have been in good part for this reason that Wallace wanted to hear what Darwin and Lyell had to say about his theory before he attempted to publish in 1858: he believed it identified no more than the critical efficient cause of the process named in the paper's title. It did not yet explain, however, why some characters, once in existence, could be maintained despite their apparent inutility. Would others (especially Lyell, who Wallace must have known was not an evolutionist) object to this weakness?
Ironically, Wallace was probably afraid that his new theory would be criticized on the grounds that it attempted to explain "too much"; i.e., the dynamics of emergence of all purely biological structures.118 But the pendulum swung the other way, and with the premature reading of the paper and Darwin's publication of On the Origin of Species the next year, Wallace's initial worry became academic. With no proof of more remote causes at hand, it would have been futile to press the issue at that point, and Wallace turned his attention to defending ground already gained. He accelerated his study of the connections between biological change and (1) adaptation119 and (2) geological/geographical distribution;120 clearly, it was crucial to the more immediate cause to develop a better appreciation of these two critical relationships, and in turn to get others thinking about related subjects and contributing. Just as clearly, no attempts could be made to raise specific objections to Darwin's more open-ended position on evolutionary causality until he had taken the time to consider in detail the limits of the explanatory domain of natural selection.
It is surely for this
reason that Wallace had almost nothing to say about the evolution of
man between 1858 and 1864: he had little to add to what he had already
said in 1856 regarding the relationship of continuity to utility, and
there was no point in speculating further until a solution to the hierarchical
causality issue presented itself.
When Wallace returned to England in 1862, he was a man in an awkward position. Despite the fact that in the four preceding years he had written virtually nothing regarding Darwinian concepts,121 on the basis of the Ternate essay he was considered a "Darwin supporter." This was true enough; what was not appreciated, however, was that the emergence of natural selection as a viable concept merely meant that he now had to concentrate on figuring out how, specifically, human beings were evolving "without ever becoming aware of it."
Initially encouraged by the success of the (Darwinian) materialist formulation of natural selection, Wallace turned to the work of another famous materialist, Herbert Spencer, for inspiration. In 1862 he read Spencer's First Principles and, around the same time, apparently re-read Social Statics.122 In My Life, Wallace writes:
"Soon after my return home, in 1862 or 1863, Bates and I, having both read First Principles and been immensely impressed by it, went together to call on Herbert Spencer... Our thoughts were full of the great unsolved problem of the origin of life--a problem which Darwin's Origin of Species left in as much obscurity as ever--and we looked to Spencer as the one man living who could give us some clue to it. His wonderful exposition of the fundamental laws and conditions, actions and interactions of the material universe seemed to penetrate so deeply into [the] nature of things...that we both hoped he could throw some light on that great problem of problems..."123In a January 2, 1864, letter to Darwin, Wallace says of Spencer: "He appears to me as far ahead of John Stuart Mill as J. S. M. is of the rest of the world, and, I may add, as Darwin is of Agassiz. The range of his knowledge is no less than its acuracy... in his forthcoming volume on Biology he is I understand going to show that there is something else besides Natural Selection at work in nature. So you must look out for a 'foeman worthy of your steel'!"124 In this letter Wallace also suggests that Darwin read Social Statics. Spencer's influence on Wallace's thinking was undoubtedly strong during this period: the combined arguments of Social Statics and First Principles probably convinced him once and for all that evolution occurred as the result of "persistently directed force." Spiritualism would provide support for the conclusion that such force was a manifestation of a universal will.125
Wallace's "experiment" in materialist (Wallace usually employed the word "individualist" rather than "materialist") thinking culminated in two important position papers he presented at scientific meetings in early 1864. These were 'The origin of human races...,' read to the Anthropological Society of London on March 1, 1864, and 'On the phenomena...,' presented sixteen days later to the Linnean Society of London.126 The first paper represented the first time Wallace combined his historical 'On the law...' model with his ecological 'On the tendency...' arguments to treat man's evolution;127 the second, the first time he applied these in combination to a discussion of animal evolution. Wallace was uncharacteristically proud of both works, and intent on making sure Spencer knew of them: he sent him a reprint copy of 'The origin of human races...,' probably as soon as one was available,128 and specially composed an article-length abstract of 'On the phenomena...' for the journal Reader,129 with which Spencer was connected in an advisory capacity.
Wallace was not entirely happy with the individualism-influenced arguments presented in 'The origin of human races...,' however (see later discussion). Still, by 1865 he was certainly convinced that natural selection was, at least within the general limits he had always conceived for it, an absolutely valid concept. Just as certainly, he believed that natural selection could do no more than provide a general label for the proximate causes of organic diversification. Wallace was apparently still trying to work out a hierarchical causal model accounting for the evolutionary function of ostensibly survival-unrelated characters when he began to digest the spiritualism literature sometime between 1862 and 1865.
From his many later writings on the subject (including those sampled earlier), it can be seen that he soon came to the conclusion that the spirit realm described by spiritualist prophets such as Stainton Moses constituted a natural domain within which the function of organic evolution was continued--in the same way the latter continued, was intimately linked with, and depended on, the impetus of continuing forms of inorganic evolution. The critical connection for Wallace would have been his recognition that, given the supposed nature of the spirit realm, the higher faculties of man did in fact have utility. But this was not a function contributing only to biological survival, and thus devolving from causes dictated by conditions of the immediate physical environment. Rather, the refinement of the higher faculties made possible a continuing elevation of function after the biological death of the individual within a purely psychic (or "will-expressed") domain of organization. Higher spiritual development meant a greater capacity for identifying (and setting into action) new causal forces contributing to the overall evolutionary progression (much as biological evolution had modified the evolution of physical systems such as the atmosphere).
Wallace apparently felt that the formal languages of thought--logic and mathematics, for example--did no more than to serve belief. Both logic and mathematics could be called upon to help identify and characterize any evidence adjudged, of course, but ultimately a belief consistent with the reality of the senses--including others' beliefs--was the final object of learning, not a detached logical shorthand. Wallace's style of thinking is therefore perhaps more relatable to pragmatism than it is to naturalism. Will existed prior to force, which itself was prior to matter (and thus "nature"). Causal continuity was best addressed in terms of will, not matter; thus, coincidence of structure and function should not be held to offer proof that the former "caused" the latter.130 The brain, for example, was not to be construed as the "cause" of conscious awareness; rather, it was a structure that had evolved pursuant to consciousness.131
Wallace's approach to spiritualism itself seems little different from that he applied to the consideration of any other subject he took up.132 His attraction to automatic slate-writing, apparitions, and so forth almost assuredly had nothing to do with a "religious conversion" occasioned by "disappointment" over natural selection. Rather, he considered spiritualism what might be termed "evolutionary psychology"--a "new branch of anthropology."133 In sum, Wallace "believed" in the tenets of spiritualism for exactly the same reason he "believed" in natural selection (or, for that matter, any other concept he had come to accept as being valid within certain limits)--they were substantiated by "facts":
"...I have reached my present standpoint by a long series of experiences under such varied and peculiar conditions as to render unbelief impossible. As Dr. W. B. Carpenter well remarked many years ago, people can only believe new and extraordinary facts if there is a place for them in their existing "fabric of thought." The majority of people to-day have been brought up in the belief that miracles, ghosts, and the whole series of strange phenomena here described cannot exist; that they are contrary to the laws of nature; that they are superstitions of a bygone age; and that therefore they are necessarily either impostures or delusions. There is no place in the fabric of their thought into which such facts can be fitted. When I first began this inquiry it was the same with myself. The facts did not fit into my then existing fabric of thought. All my preconceptions, all my knowledge, all my belief in the supremacy of science and of natural law were against the possibility of such phenomena..."134Though it is apparent that Wallace came to believe that creative diversification was in the broadest sense purposeful (i.e., was part of a universal process evolving enlightened spirituality), there is nothing to suggest that he thought the alleged "spirit realm" itself was constituted in a fashion necessitating fundamentally exceptional treatment in a conceptual/analytical sense:
"...Now, modern Spiritualism rests solely on the observation and comparison of acts in a domain of nature which has been hitherto little explored, and it is a contradiction in terms to say that such an investigation is opposed to science. Equally absurd is the allegation that some of the phenomena of Spiritualism "contradict the laws of nature," since there is no law of nature yet known to us but may be apparently contravened by the action of more recondite laws or forces. Spiritualists observe facts and record experiments, and then construct hypotheses which will best explain and co-ordinate the facts, and in so doing they are pursuing a truly scientific course."135Within this cosmology, natural science as we usually conceive it was effectively restricted to the study of special origins; that is, to those classes of causes that could be attached to specific immediate results, whether these led to permanent structural divergences or reversible ecological relationships.136 When one began to look beyond the fact of change (and toward the overall context of its "accumulations"), however, Wallace preferred to view the forms of interaction (notably, gravity, natural selection, and spiritualization) propelling the whole process as operating in conjunction with one another. Wallace would probably have agreed that gravity could not explain why dogs have eyes and choose to walk uphill some of the time for the same general reasons that natural selection could not provide a reason for the creation of a great symphony or the acts of a martyr. At the same time, he believed there was nothing in his approach that either contradicted or discouraged working within a conventional materialistic framework (which, in its own fashion, filled in the pieces one at a time by concentrating on the elucidation of increasingly subtle efficient causes).
There seems little reason to complain that Wallace's natural science studies (e.g., in biogeography, glaciology, and the individual applications of natural selection) "suffered" after 1865 from any apparent spiritualism-related concepts. Nor should they have. When Wallace felt that the subject of interest could be analyzed adequately on the basis of efficient causes (i.e., the framework of interaction within which its origin was implicit), there was no need to bring questions regarding indeterminate functions into the discussion. For man, cosmological subjects (i.e., "beginnings" and "ends," in both a spatial and temporal sense), and all social issues, however, the extenuating circumstances of the "more recondite forces" operating became directly relevant. Mankind, for example, was increasingly to become the architect of its own further evolutionary diversification (i.e., as a spiritual being):
"...we Spiritualists must feel ourselves bound to work strenuously for such improved social conditions as may render it possible for all to live a full and happy life, for all to develop and utilise the various faculties they possess, and thus be prepared to enter at once on the progressive higher life of the spirit-world. We know that a life of continuous and grinding bodily labour, in order to obtain a bare existence; a life almost necessarily devoid of beauty, of refinement, of communion with Nature; a life without adequate relaxation, and with no opportunity for the higher culture; a life full of temptation and with no cheering hope of a happy and peaceful old age, is as bad for the welfare of the soul as it is for that of the body..."137Wallace viewed social cooperation as the road to the development of higher awareness in the individual. Society was thus pictured as an evolving collective will that was slowly but surely transcending the constraints imposed by environment and restrictive historical customs. In the early stages of this process scattered civilizations had arisen, their eventual declines being more attributable to a lack of collective social wisdom in not recognizing the need for establishing non-materialistic goals than to any blatant physical, moral, or intellectual inferiorities on the part of their citizens individually.138 Wallace reasoned that evolution of the "collective will" would accelerate only once the physical necessities of life had been made equally available to all, allowing people the leisure time to pursue more varied and consciousness-expanding interests. Not surprisingly, therefore, most of his social criticism was aimed at what he felt were the institutions standing in the way of "equality of opportunity" for the general populace.139
Wallace despised the
many crude attempts to apply Darwinism to social analysis by analogy;
in his view, an over-emphasis on individualistic forms of competition
within society led, among other things, to wars, a discriminatory distribution
of wealth, and addiction to a consumptive materialism that was both
individually and collectively counter-evolutionary.140 While
spiritualist philosophy helped him recognize a transitory function in
existing imperfections (these forced a process of moral advance through
"character-building": mankind's own route of changing without being
"aware of it"), human progress in general was measured through their
absolute rate of elimination (at least, to the extent that society came
to recognize they should be eliminated!). Such progress could
not be contextualized within simplistic material "one cause-one effect"
frameworks: the more "human" the problem, the more its just solution
lay in terms of evolutionarily-consistent goals, as opposed to reactions
arising from the consumptive inertia of tradition or habit.141
The preceding discussion shows how a different reading of what Wallace wrote up through 1858 leads us to anticipate certain continuities in his positions after 1858. Ample references are given to show that after that date his position on most subjects did, in fact, remain consistent with his earlier stated opinions. (To trace this out in any further detail, though fully possible, would require much more space than can be allowed at present.) Significantly, it can hardly be viewed as inconsistent with his earlier-stated views--indeed, the earliest-stated ones of which we have a record--that he became a spiritualist. The entire progression of his views on the special problem of biological evolution, moreover, can be attributed to his changing position on the concept of biological utility.
These connections, I submit, provide a more than adequate prior argument as to why Wallace's views on natural selection should not have reversed at any time after 1858. It has long been maintained that they did, however, and we must now therefore briefly notice three related subjects: (1) whether Wallace himself later admitted to a "change of mind"; (2) whether, in fact, Wallace ever actually stated a position that demanded such a change later; and (3) whether certain things he did write that have been pointed to as signifying a change might be more reasonably explained in other ways.
The first subject can be disposed of rather quickly. As far as I am aware (and I have now read nearly everything Wallace wrote for publication), Wallace never specifically admitted to a "change of mind" in print--for example, to the effect that "Before 1865 and my introduction to spiritualism, I believed natural selection accounted for the development of all human attributes." Neither, so far as I am aware, has anyone ever claimed he did write anything to this effect.
The second subject is a rather more difficult one to approach. As explained earlier, Wallace's lack of specific mention of man in 'On the tendency...' is at the least just as easy to contextualize as the initiation of a "special case" argument as it is evidence he considered man's situation as being the same as that of animals. Additional considerations, moreover, appear to make the first interpretation the more probably correct one.
Schwartz,142 Kottler,143 and others have stated as if it were unequivocal fact that before 1864 Wallace felt natural selection accounted for man's evolution in the same fashion it did other living things. The detailed researches of Beddall, McKinney, Brooks, and others referred to earlier (notes 1-4) have sustained this belief with their establishment that at the time of his recognition of the principle Wallace was giving as much consideration to the problem of human development as he was animal origins. But again, this simple fact of correlation does not substantiate the conclusion that he believed the two problems could be disposed of through a model of proximate causes alone. As shown earlier there is reason to think he did not so believe. Further reason exists as well.
Browne has written: "At the head of his 1858 paper on organic change he stated that wild varieties had a 'tendency to depart indefinitely from the original type' and proceeded to set out his reasons for believing this to be the case. The theory of evolution and the concept of Malthusian selection of varieties were introduced as explanations--as the efficient cause--of this biological tendency."144 But in truth, the situation was just the opposite--at least with respect to evolution "as the efficient cause." Wallace in reality thought he had identified an "efficient cause" of evolution, was describing how this operated, and how it accounted for certain characteristics of adaptation and change in organisms. Nowhere in the essay does he in any way infer that this "biological tendency" is synonymous with evolution. In fact, no mention whatsoever is made of the 1855 paper 'On the law...' or its undeniably evolutionary orientation. Considering the fact that a number of the studies he published between 1855 and 1858145 dwell heavily on points made in that work, this is to say the least rather peculiar--that is, if the one is to be viewed as a conceptual extension of the thinking set out in the other. Moreover, and just as strangely, no reference is made in 'On the tendency...' to any of these other studies either. And, though we know that Wallace did have man's evolutionary development very much on his mind just prior to writing 'On the tendency...,' neither is there any reference, in one fashion or another, to the evolution of man in the paper. One should conclude from these facts that at the time of writing 'On the tendency...' Wallace strongly distinguished between his newly discovered principle and evolution per se. This impression is further strengthened by the fact that he certainly had connected man to the arguments of 'On the law...,' as is plainly evident from commentary presented in 'On the habits of the orang-utan...,' his letters to Bates,146 and his 'Species notebook.'147 Nor should one ignore the otherwise puzzling fact that all of his evolution-oriented writings between early 1858 and late 1863, including one long paper on man,148 reflect extensions of the line of thought present in 'On the law...' rather than that evident in 'On the tendency...'. In short, the obvious sometimes goes unappreciated: the species divergence discussion in 'On the tendency...' was never intended for application to man--that is, to the extent of explaining his uniquely human "higher nature."
On reading On the Origin of Species while still in the East, and after further communications with Darwin, Wallace certainly must have surmised that Darwin intended natural selection to account equally for the development of man's higher faculties and the development of his purely biological structure. With this application of the theory he surely disagreed, but until he had clarified his own thoughts on the matter it would be pointless to object. On this view, it is therefore hardly surprising that Wallace published not a single word between 1858 and 1864 that connected the Darwinian model of natural selection to man,149 much less anything suggesting that he felt natural selection accounted for the evolution of man's higher faculties.150
In the absence of any direct positive evidence, we are reduced to examining some Wallace writings that might secondarily be interpreted as supporting the "change of mind" hypothesis. A thorough review of this subject is not possible here, but two especially well-known passages, at least, should be looked at briefly.
Kottler has stated that "Wallace wrote to Darwin in 1869 that his new view was solely the result of his new belief in spiritualism."151 The source of this impression is a letter from Wallace to Darwin dated April 18, 1869.152 In this letter Wallace says:
"I can quite comprehend your feelings with regard to my "unscientific" opinions as to Man, because a few years back I should myself have looked at them as equally wild and uncalled for... My opinions on the subject have been modified solely by the consideration of a series of remarkable phenomena, physical and mental, which I have now had every opportunity of fully testing, and which demonstrate the existence of forces and influences not yet recognised by science."Here, I submit, Wallace says no more than what he says: that the now "fully tested" phenomena have led him to a theory which "a few years back" he would have considered "wild and uncalled for" (i.e., in the absence of relatable evidence). In presenting this as evidence of a change of mind, Kottler has assumed that prior to 1864 Wallace believed that natural selection could be applied to man's evolution in exactly the same fashion it could to other living things. There is no reason to doubt that Wallace's opinions were, as he put it, "modified" (rather than "reversed") from an earlier position, but the nature of that earlier position must be established, not assumed as a function of a correlation in time.153
The main evidence that has been used to support the "change of mind" hypothesis, however, consists of certain passages in 'The origin of human races...' and the particular additions and changes in wording that were made for the 1870 version of that paper entitled 'The development of human races under the law of natural selection.'154 When Wallace included the 1864 paper in his Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, he made many revisions. Most were relatively minor and are easily accounted for; some, however, are suggestive of a change in position. In the Preface to Contributions... he states: "I had intended to have considerably extended this essay, but on attempting it I found that I should probably weaken the effect without adding much to the argument. I have therefore preferred to leave it as it was first written, with the exception of a few ill-considered passages which never fully expressed my meaning."155 Note Wallace's deliberate use of the word "extended"--not "reversed" or "changed"--and the fact that he is apparently more worried about "weakening" the effect than "not adding" to it. The inference is that he considered the existing argument sound, and was reluctant to do anything that would draw attention away from it. He finally decided to end the book with the entirely new essay 'The limits of natural selection...'. Why, if his opinion had "changed": (1) would he have decided to leave the essay more or less as it was; or (2) chosen to include it in Contributions... at all? Obviously, Wallace himself did not feel his position had changed.
There is also the matter here of what his "meaning" was, and which passages were "ill-conceived." In 1864 the individualist thinking of Spencer was consuming his attention;156 on this basis he appears to have extended Darwinian natural selection as far as he felt he could to account for the manner of human evolution. But this discussion pointedly avoided any explanation of the reasons behind the emergence of intellect or moral behavior. That their presence influenced man in ways that would be subjected to the workings of natural selection he did not doubt (nor did he in 1870157). Again, Wallace had for many years recognized that man exhibited many "above nature" qualities; 'The origin of human races...' was his attempt to describe how these qualities, once in existence, could be expected to aid or retard natural selection. The manner of their own origin and the connection of this to evolution in general, however, he still had no handle on and deliberately avoided.158
In the 1864 essay on man, Wallace writes "But while these [physical] changes had been going on, his mental development had correspondingly advanced, and had now reached that condition in which it began powerfully to influence his whole existence, and would, therefore, become subject to the irresistible action of 'natural selection.'"159 In the 1870 version this passage was changed to "But while...mental development had, from some unknown cause, greatly advanced, and had now... 'natural selection.'"160 The subtle but important substitution for "correspondingly" indicates that Wallace had settled on a model for the origin of man's higher faculities. The emergence of intellect and morality-based decision-making signalled the beginning of humankind's participation in the causal domain of a higher level of existence. This emergence was implicit in the evolutionary scheme, much as life had been when physical conditions had reached a satisfactory degree of complexity and stability. The immediate impact of intellect was to produce certain kinds of "above nature" behavior, but eventually most such behaviors generated kinds of negative feedback that would ultimately cause society to reject them (failure of that entire society being the consequence if it did not). Materialism was one such behavior. Though counterproductive as an all-consuming individual or societal goal, it had the vital effect of producing a gradual societal increase of knowledge, and through the latter a greater understanding of others leading to an elevation of tolerance and the moral sense.161 Eventually, man's moral capacity would "catch up" with his intellectual excesses, at which point natural selection could again act in a fully positive fashion (rejecting, for example, those self-serving, "others-neglecting" materialistic tendencies that remained).162
When Wallace used the
wording "modification" of position rather than "change" of position
in his April 18, 1869 letter to Darwin, therefore, he was stating the
situation as a matter of record. He had been unable to associate the
meaning of the origin of man's intellectual and moral capacities with
a general evolutionary model since he had taken up the question in the
1840s; the concepts stated in 1855's 'On the law...,' 1858's 'On the
tendency...,' and 1864's 'The origin of human races...' show that his
formulation of natural selection had not solved--or even addressed--this
problem. The 1864 version of the essay on man was "ill-conceived" to
the extent that it still did not address the problem of hierarchical
causation; i.e., like 'On the law...,' it dwelled on results
whose efficient causes could be directly inferred, but whose final causes
could not. Thus, Wallace's "modification of position": to one in which
both final and efficient causes for man's higher faculties were specified.163
Analysis of Wallace's work has been seriously hindered by a general unwillingness to view it on its own terms. Has it ever been demonstrated, for example, that spiritualism (or, more realistically, some other understanding invoking a general form of psychic causality) is incompatible with a conventionally materialistic understanding of evolution? Is Wallaceian natural selection really as naive and undevelopable as writers such as Gould164 would have us believe, or has its updating in more modern terms merely been delayed by a chronic reluctance of evolutionary biologists to think in other than "process yields structure yields process" terms?165 In short, are Wallace's ideas really a threat to Darwinian materialism, or might they be after all, as he claimed in his book Darwinism, its logical conclusion?
That many of Wallace's ideas were presented inchoate, with too much emphasis on argument and too little on formal proofs, and at times anthropomorphically, is not disputed here. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the cosmology he worked out is fundamentally unsound--logically, or descriptively.
1. J.R. Durant, 'Scientific
naturalism and social reform in the thought of Alfred Russel Wallace,'
Brit. J. Hist. Sci. (1979) 12, pp. 31-58; R. Smith, 'Alfred Russel
Wallace: philosophy of nature and man,' Brit. J. Hist. Sci. (1972)
6, pp. 178-99; F.M. Turner, Between Science and Religion: The Reaction
to Scientific Naturalism in Late Victorian Britain (New Haven &
London, 1974); M. Malinchak, 'Spiritualism and the philosophy of Alfred
Russel Wallace,' Ph.D. thesis (Drew University, 1987).
Copyright 1992, 1999 by Charles H. Smith. All rights reserved.