'Second Moment': Intelligent
Charles H. Smith, Ph.D., Western Kentucky University
*An essay refused for publication by one journal, largely because they felt it was not "sociological" enough in content. Much of the text of what follows has been incorporated into Chapter Five of my online monograph Alfred Russel Wallace: Evolution of an Evolutionist, but the current work is also useful to the extent that it serves as something of a summary of arguments made in the longer one.
When naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) returned to English soil in April 1862, he was a man poised for change. Apart from an eighteen month stint at home in 1852-1854 sandwiched between his expeditions to the Amazon and Southeast Asia, he had just spent almost the entire period of his physical prime engaged in natural history collecting. His efforts had returned him some spectacular successes. Not only had he managed to send home an extraordinary diversity and quantity of specimens, but there was the little matter of that celebrated communication to Darwin on natural selection, and all the commotion it had produced. Now, more than four years after he had composed his so-called 'Ternate' (though it was probably actually written on Gilolo) essay1 on natural selection and twenty-nine months after Darwin's publication of On the Origin of Species, he was home--healthy, content, and ready to capitalize on his good fortune.
This, at least, is the way the story has usually been told, and accepted. The reality, however, may have been slightly different. While it is true that Wallace was now something of a celebrity within the scientific community on the strength of his dozens of descriptive and theoretical writings, it may well be that deep inside he was a bit troubled. Over the past twenty-five years2 much has been made of the possibility that Wallace might have been a victim of intellectual theft at the hands of Darwin and his circle; the evidence is rather thin but not entirely dismissible, and the sensational implications of such an intrigue are of course irresistible to consider. The more important story in this connection, however, lies not in Darwin's possible deceit--in fact, whether any actually took place--but instead in a direction that has remained largely unexplored.
Because most analyses of Wallace's thought have been based on inadequately small surveys of his total published output, workers have found it difficult to understand how his ideas on seemingly disparate subjects fit together. The common appreciation of his world view has been, not surprisingly, that Wallace's model of natural selection was inconsistent--perhaps secondarily affected by his growing social consciousness and/or adoption of spiritualism--and that he was forced to undergo a 'change of mind' in the 1860s to patch up what he viewed as flaws in his positions. The Ternate essay 'On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type' has usually been represented as the logical culmination of his developing views on evolution--as his Darwin-like solution to the problem of the origin of species. This view has been re-inforced by Darwin's own words in describing the essay to his colleague Charles Lyell: 'I never saw a more striking coincidence; if Wallace had my MS sketch written out in 1842, he could not have made a better short abstract! Even his terms now stand as heads to my chapters.'3
These assessments may have been premature. There is in particular good reason to doubt that Wallace ever underwent the 'change of mind' usually credited to him.4 I have discussed in some detail elsewhere what I believe is a much better--i.e., simpler, and more factually consistent--interpretation of Wallace's intellectual evolution, one that argues that he never had any need for a 'change of mind.'5 This interpretation is rooted in Wallace's expressed understanding of the dynamics of belief, his early rejection of the notion of necessary utility prior to the time of the Ternate essay, and our current tendency to overemphasize the similarities between his and Darwin's work. Although a complete review of these matters is not possible here, we should take notice of them briefly before turning to the main subject at hand here: an examination of the events surrounding what I term Wallace's 'Second Moment.'
The 'No Change of Mind' Model
Wallace's exquisitely pragmatic views on belief are set out in crystal-clear terms in a letter he sent while still in the field in 1861 to his brother-in-law Thomas Sims:
These words--some of the most important Wallace ever set down on paper--succinctly state what I refer to as the 'no necessary merit to belief' argument. Wallace had apparently thought all this out at a very early age, especially in connection with: (1) his perception of the guiding value of acquiring varied forms of knowledge,7 and (2) his understanding of the relation of cause to just effect (later reinforced by his reading of Herbert Spencer's Social Statics in 1853). He would adapt this train of thought to the subjects of many of his later writings, including some we will specially notice in a moment.
One major implication of Wallace's way of thinking is that it strongly suggests that believing in things that are untrue, or even unreal, is nonadaptive. It remains an open question as to whether Wallace might have incorporated this understanding directly into his appreciation of biological adaptation when he became an evolutionist in 1844 or 1845 after reading Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Outwardly, such a connection would seem to make sense: if neutral or counterproductive beliefs could come into being yet later be superseded, why shouldn't biological structures emerge and be replaceable in like manner? Moreover, Wallace agreed with Chambers that the proximate causes of evolution could not be first causes; instead, the natural progression of replacements should emerge as a function of natural laws whose relentless operation shaped intelligible results.
Meanwhile, there is good evidence that Wallace appears to have concluded early on that some kind of final cause, of natural origin, was controlling the way nature operated.8 Ostensibly, this subtly overrode the disorder inherent in the ordinary minutia of nature to provide evolutionary direction to it all. Beliefs and biologically adaptive structures alike emerged as simple by-products of the overall process: that is, they were in some sense 'correlated' with its unfolding.9 When Wallace went to the Amazon in 1848, it may have been with the intent of collecting facts that would lead to exposing the nature of this anticipated final cause. His main theoretical interest in investigating individual adaptations, if he had any at all,10 seemingly was to show that in many instances they were not adaptive: certainly, such findings would have supported his anti-first causes understanding that they had come into existence unpredetermined by a higher power. He came away from the Amazon feeling no differently, so continued with the same fundamental agenda upon changing his base of operations to the Far East. Many years later he would write 'My paper written at Sarawak rendered it certain in my mind that the change had taken place by natural succession and descent--one species becoming changed either slowly or rapidly into another. But the exact process of the change and the causes which led to it were absolutely unknown and appeared almost unconceivable.'11
Although the model introduced in the 1855 Sarawak paper 'On the Law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species' clearly shows that Wallace had figured out how to demonstrate that evolution in fact took place, it just as clearly indicates that he had not made even the slightest progress toward uncovering its final cause (not to mention its immediate causes) since taking up the matter ten years earlier. In the 1857 paper 'On the Natural History of the Aru Islands' he shows signs of continued interest in his 'geographical Bauplan' model in his criticisms of some of the geologist Charles Lyell's ideas: '. . . if this is the general law which has determined the distribution of the existing organic world, there must be no exceptions, no striking contradictions.'12 Around the same time, moreover, in the 1856 essay 'On the Habits of the Orang-utan of Borneo', he is still arguing in the plainest language that some adaptive structures have no utility: '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.'13
Finally, two years later, in early 1858, there arrived that fateful bout with malaria: Wallace's first 'Moment.' Wallace's revelation at this time was, most centrally, that if one tentatively accepted the notion that all biological structures did have utility (or at the least were somehow correlated with ones that did--not such a far leap from his previous position at that), a simple and general model of their manner of modification (i.e., natural selection) directly followed. This necessary shift in his assumptions must have given him pause for thought, but, after all, he really couldn't demonstrate, absolutely, that any particular adaptation wasn't utilitarian, any more than he could that it was. At the same time his now considerable field experience must still have had him believing that many strictly human qualities had no adaptive value that could be selected for. So in the essay he sent to Darwin there is no mention of any aspect of human evolution: what to make of all the dimensions of this problem he still didn't know, but they were probably linked to some final cause yet unidentified.
Although some may find this interpretation surprising, it is important to point out that the work is set up as a 'special case' kind of pleading. On the second page of the essay he writes:
I believe that Wallace's use of domestication in the discussion is already looking forward to future discussions in which he would argue that humankind is indeed a special case not covered by the specific model entertained. But as it turned out no one had any inkling of what he was up to in the larger sense anyway, and some of the finer points in his paper on natural selection were simply--and are still being--overlooked.
Considering the preceding reinterpretation, the Darwin-centered events of early summer 1858 could well have meant something quite different to Wallace than has previously been supposed. Specifically, he might have been little troubled with the way Darwin and his friends had dealt with the difficult issue of priority, but nevertheless have strongly regretted the fact that his own ideas on the subject--actually quite distinct from Darwin's--had now been seriously oversimplified and misrepresented.
If this was the case, it can be seen that, realistically speaking, Wallace's options as of his return to England in 1862 were rather limited. It was unfortunate enough that he disagreed with certain key elements of the Darwinian world view, but, having had no opportunity to set out the full weight of his own ideas, he found himself viewed as completely supporting it. That part of it dealing generally with the modification of species under the influence of natural selection, of course, he did support, but inasmuch as he still hadn't come up with an explanation for the evolutionary place of the higher human attributes it was pointless to debate the finer points. And besides, there were plenty of other reasons to resist an abrupt move to set the record straight. To begin with, he undoubtedly felt that, strictly as a matter of ethical behavior, he owed Darwin some rights to priority, given the latter's longer-term attention to the question. Second, contending the issue so soon after the emergence of the natural selection concept could actually have damaged its credibility, reducing the likelihood of its adoption by the yet undecided. Beyond this, he most likely would have been viewed as ungrateful or incompetent had he fashioned an immediate challenge to the very idea that had made him famous. In the end, Wallace reacted by doing exactly what he should have done under the circumstances: he said nothing, not even in private. It would not be possible to mount a challenge until, at the very least, he had resolved in his own mind remaining questions regarding the final cause of evolution, and what humankind's special relation to the domain of natural selection was.
Despite Wallace's silence on the premature reading of the Ternate essay, there is at least one concrete indication that he actually did continue to have mixed feelings over his upstaging. While he apparently refrained from any kind of overt criticism, on no fewer than five later occasions, beginning in 1869, Wallace drew special attention, in print, to the fact that the essay had never been intended for publication exactly as composed, and/or that he, Wallace, had not been contacted prior to its reading for permission to print it, nor even given the benefit of seeing proofs of it first.15 That Wallace continued to point this out in prominent places over a period of more than thirty-five years seems more than just a little strange. The paper, even as it stood, ranks among the most influential writings in the entire history of science, and it seems Wallace might have overlooked the matter--had he not felt the need to communicate something between the lines.
As one might expect, Wallace did not just idly sit by and wait for a second bolt of inspiration to strike--one that would give him the final piece of the puzzle, extricating him from his dilemma. The years 1862 through 1864 found him intensely preoccupied, sorting through his collections, attending meetings of professional societies, and turning out an array of systematics-focussed technical literature. Notably, it was not until late 1863 that he published any further writings on the theory of natural selection itself. This, too, is to say the least very strange: in all it was a full five and one-half years between his original composition of the Ternate essay and his next published interpretive words on the subject. Perhaps he was just deferring to Darwin's lead for the time being; on the other hand, it was not Wallace's usual habit to remain silent when he had something to say, and one must seriously consider the possibility that he was deliberately holding back for some fairly weighty reason.
That Wallace was in fact still engaged in working out further pieces of his evolutionary synthesis is suggested by a remembrance included in his autobiography My Life in 1905:
But Spencer in effect threw up his hands, proving little help in their quest. Nevertheless, this reminiscence does hint that Wallace was still uncertain about the completeness of the theory of evolution by natural selection as people were starting to adopt it. For the time being he stood fast, however, applying himself to the fact-by-fact study of his collections, and the drawing of inferences therefrom. He may even have deliberately--but tentatively--allowed himself to become more absorbed in Spencerian materialism in an effort to solve the greater problem he was wrestling with. Years later, in 1896, he recalled: 'As a boy I was a disciple and ardent admirer of Robert Owen; and though in middle life, while chiefly engaged in scientific work, I was influenced by the individualistic teaching of Herbert Spencer, I have now returned to my first love, and am a firm advocate of the co-operative commonwealth as giving the best promise of human happiness . . .'17
This 'individualistic' approach returned Wallace satisfying results in the immediate term, leading to some highly successful papers in mid-1863 that emphasized description and inductive inference over theoretical speculation.18 In late 1863 he even seized an opportunity to out-reason a theistic critic of natural selection, the Reverend Samuel Haughton, who had tried to ridicule Darwin's explanation of the evolution of bee cells. Wallace stepped in with his first post-1858 natural selection-related analysis to silence Haughton.19
The real test of the 'individualistic' method, however--at least for Wallace--would lie in its potential to generate satisfying theoretical models. In early 1864, Wallace tested these waters by offering up what would become two of his most famous studies, 'The Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced from the Theory of "Natural Selection"', and 'On the Phenomena of Variation and Geographical Distribution as Illustrated by the Papilionidae of the Malayan Region.'20 The second work, presented at the 17 March 1864 meeting of the Linnean Society, outlined Wallace's theory of protective coloration and polymorphism, especially as these characterized the operation of natural selection on the Papilionidae, a family of butterflies. It was largely a matter of straight, though brilliantly reasoned, science, and delighted many, including Darwin. The first work, presented only sixteen days earlier before the Anthropological Society of London, was of a considerably more speculative nature. Though argued on the basis of the theory of natural selection, it dealt with a question (the single or multiple origin of human races) only weakly illuminated by existing evidence. In this essay, later printed in the Anthropological Review, Wallace offers several wordings that some sources21 have interpreted as possibly indicating a departure from natural selection and other materialistic forms of explanation; among other things, there is the mention on page clxviii of how 'in two distinct ways has man escaped the influence of those laws which have produced unceasing change in the animal world', and on pages clxix-clxx how 'mankind will have at length discovered that it was only required of them to develope the capacities of their higher nature, in order to convert this earth, which had so long been the theatre of their unbridled passions, and the scene of unimaginable misery, into as bright a paradise as ever haunted the dreams of seer or poet.'
While it is true that this is the first time after 1858 that Wallace suggests in print that there may be laws that specifically supersede the operation of natural selection, he does not go so far as to speculate what they might be. Even this degree of departure from strict Darwinism must have surprised some at the time, but in truth his words probably reflected no more nor less than what he had already believed for six--or perhaps even a good deal more--years.
During the mid-1860s period a new influence began to flavor Wallace's writings. In 'Words of Personal Evidence', appended to the monographic essay 'The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural' when the latter was included in the collection On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism in 1875, Wallace notes:
Just when it was that Wallace started to investigate spiritualism after his return home has been discussed for many years, but actually not very carefully investigated.23 In a few of his own writings24 he refers vaguely (and/or perhaps inaccurately) to a pre-1865 time, and it is only through the abovementioned 'Words of Personal Evidence' that we are able to determine that his first seance sitting took place on 22 July 1865. Another useful source in this regard is a section of an interview printed in The Bookman in 1898:
These words suggest that though Wallace began attending seances in mid-1865, he may have withheld final judgment for up to three years before finally endorsing spiritualism without reservation. This chronology is appealing, because it leads directly to the time of his first public statements deviating from Darwin's views on human evolution: these took place, as we shall see, in late 1868 and early 1869.
In any case it can be safely concluded that by the time of his writing 'The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural', published in eight consecutive parts beginning in August 1866,26 Wallace had chosen his path--if perhaps only to the extent that he had concluded the subject was one which was deserving of full-scale attention by himself and others. But these facts are not enough to establish either when he started studying the subject in general (likely, through serious engagement of the immense literature of spiritualism), or how early on it may have been that he decided to wholeheartedly investigate and/or adopt the belief. I have been able to line up some additional facts in this regard, however, and these serve to provide an adequate chronology of the main relationships involved.
Malinchak suggested in 198727 that after 1862 Wallace's investigation of spiritualism may have begun only once he had finished inventorying and analyzing his immense personal collections of birds and insects. There seems to be some support for this surmise, based on the number of systematic revisions he published during the period 1862 through 1866: between May 1862 and December 1864 he produced thirteen works of systematic revision, but in 1865 only three, and in 1866, one.28 Yet he was not so busy during this period that he was unable to give attention to other kinds of subjects--between May 1862 and December 1864 he published at least thirteen additional writings, in 1865 four, and in 1866 six. It is more worthy of note that over the twelve month period July 1865 to June 1866 only one of Wallace's publications was of any real length (and this, a systematics study published in October 1865, might have been written some number of months earlier). Further, in a letter to Darwin dated 2 October 1865 he writes: '...I am ashamed of my laziness. I have done nothing lately but write a paper on Pigeons for the Ibis...'29 In sum, we see that during this period he really did significantly curtail his writing activities. Was this largely--or only--because he was engaged in various 'spiritualism investigation' efforts? Given the quote from 'Notes of Personal Evidence' produced earlier (and the additional sources noted above), the answer is almost certainly yes.
An additional piece of evidence in this regard comes from a rather obscure source. In The Spiritual News issue of 1 December 1870 there appeared a short note quoting Benjamin Coleman, a leading spiritualist, to the effect that 'it was just five years ago' that he had initiated the lecture series the note dealt with, and that at 'the very first meeting held in that room in connection with Spiritualism, Mr. Wallace was present as a strong disbeliever.'30 And, in fact, The Spiritual Magazine issue of December 1865 does report that the first lecture of the series occurred on 6 November 1865, supporting the inference that, previous investigatory activities notwithstanding, Wallace appears to have still been uncommitted as of late 1865.31
Further perspective is gleaned from evidence which also bears directly on the important question 'Just how seriously was Wallace taking his investigation of spiritualism circa 1865-1866?' After Wallace's return to England in 1862 he nearly immediately became involved in the activities of at least seven different professional societies: the Zoological Society of London, the Royal Geographical Society, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the Anthropological Society of London, the Entomological Society of London, the Linnean Society of London, and the Ethnological Society of London. 'Becoming involved' especially meant attending their regular meetings as possible. I have investigated his pattern of attendance at their meetings as indicated by session records later published, which in most instances only indicate names of officers present and those who contributed papers or discussion, and found that he was present and active at four meetings in 1862, at seven meetings in 1863, and at sixteen meetings in 1864. He attended some six meetings in the first months of 1865, but none during the last six months of 1865, and none during the first five months of 1866. His attendance rates then pick up again to what they had been before. Further, it turns out that Wallace both attended and presented papers at the first six annual late summer meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science following his return to England in 1862--with the exception of the one held in 1865. In sum, there is a period of about a year in 1865-1866 during which he almost completely abandoned this aspect of his professional career. The correlation in time between this abandonment and his spiritualism investigations can hardly be coincidental, even if he still might actually have attended a few meetings during this time without saying anything.
This pattern is in itself interesting, but we still lack an important fact. Although Wallace's systematics-related writings did tail off markedly in 1865 and 1866, over the ensuing four years he embarked upon another 'binge' of systematics work that produced ten more publications consuming some 275 pages in print. Clearly, the 1865-1866 period of low production came about for some reason beyond his having been left with nothing to do in this sphere. It seems apparent that he chose a specific time--early mid-1865--to commence his 'investigation.' Something must have come up.
On the Progress of Civilization
In September of 1864 Wallace presented a paper entitled 'On the Progress of Civilization in Northern Celebes' at the annual British Association for the Advancement of Science meetings.32 The essay features a description of what Wallace terms 'true savage life', and how he felt this had been modified--positively--by the introduction of coffee plantation culture by the Dutch. Eventually he leads his discussion to the point of suggesting that initial dealings with completely uncivilized peoples might benefit from an attitude of mild despotism, arguing that:
In this work Wallace clearly is speculating between the lines on the kinds of forces that might be employed to raise people's consciousness levels; that is, to promote the development of 'informed belief.' This theme is continued a few months later in his next significant writing, 'Public Responsibility and the Ballot', an impressive letter to the Editor of Reader34 responding to some comments made by John Stuart Mill in an earlier number of that review. From this we have the following representative excerpts:
The single most important line reproduced above is the one I have italicized. In direct extension of his earlier-stated 'no merit to uninformed belief' logic, Wallace is beginning to look more closely into what it will actually take to 'raise the average intelligence or morality' of people. He probably was still cogitating on the matter when he attended the next meeting of the Anthropological Society of London roughly ten days later, on 16 May 1865. There he heard a paper entitled 'On the Efforts of Missionaries Among Savages' delivered by the Rev. J. W. Colenso, Bishop of Natal.35 He offered some brief remarks on the paper at the meeting, but within days was inspired to compose an essay entitled 'How to Civilize Savages' that appeared in the 17 June 1865 issue of Reader.36 Again, excerpts from this work follow:
Wallace evidently now has reached the point of wondering what it will take--what kinds of 'model institutions'--to prepare forms of instruction serving what might be termed 'believable example'; i.e., that will provide a foundation for informed belief. Clearly, inculcation was not enough; further, and building from the thoughts presented in the 'Public Responsibility and the Ballot' letter earlier, neither were the opinions of the masses, which could not be depended upon to 'increase the average intelligence or morality of the country.' It was just at this point--probably sometime in June 1865, give or take a few weeks--that Wallace may have had a second revelation regarding the way evolution worked.
Though natural selection was able to efficiently accumulate biological variations through its trial and error enactment process, beyond a certain point this process was not further refinable: that is, it was incapable of reacting constructively to the opportunities for 'progress' afforded by the more subtle elements of the natural/social order. Human beings, possessing the qualities of higher intelligence and moral compass, could bring these to bear in an effort to identify these 'more subtle elements'--which latter indeed turned out to be, in good part, those qualities themselves. As part of his debt to Spencer's teachings, Wallace had held for many years that people should not--and did not--receive from their labors any more or any less than was implicit in their actions. While ignorant beliefs often resulted in actions that were counterproductive, one could apply oneself (in a near Spinozian manner) to a program of self-instruction that at the very least could broaden one's mind and lead to fewer inappropriate actions. Thus, 'intelligent conviction', as he termed it in the Sims letter cited earlier, could be progress-serving. The problem was to find some body of teachings that at one time promoted intelligent examination of the facts and a sense that one's current actions determined, or at least strongly affected, the quality of later experiences (thus providing incentive for commitment). Spiritualism, which claimed that there was a natural afterlife in which the implications of one's biological life experience were simply further lived out, fit this bill perfectly. This was not religious inculcation of the type Wallace objected to; instead its supporters encouraged the interested to investigate and draw their own conclusions. Wallace's own investigation of spiritualism--involving both digesting its literature and examining its manifestations at seances--would lead him to believe that spiritualism was genuine in the sense it portrayed itself as being, and he eventually became a convert on this basis.
By mid-1865 Wallace must have run into enough references to spiritualism and its teachings to cause him to wonder whether it might all be true. Its supporters invited the curious to have a look and decide for themselves--this seemed a reasonable enough proposition, so he began to do so. The events that followed suggest that he proceeded conservatively, in two steps. He would first digest available writings on the subject,38 while simultaneously initiating a program of 'field study' of the only apparent physical evidence bearing on it: that associated with seances. Once he had convinced himself both of the consistency of the philosophical arguments and the investigatory potential of the physical evidence he would publicly recommend to colleagues that spiritualism be taken seriously and subjected to formal study. Further, and beyond this, he would actually wholeheartedly adopt the belief and promote it fully only once he had experienced physical phenomena that were fully under his control; i.e., that could be controlled and tested to such a degree as to preclude any possibility of fraud.
For several months in mid-1865 Wallace pursued the first of these agenda. Although his early seance experiences were relatively inauspicious, the many writings he encountered must have fortified his feeling that he was on the right track. Further, there were lessons to be learned from an article by Francis Galton that was published in two parts during the summer of 1865. This article, 'Hereditary, Character and Talent',39 argued, with evidence to back it up, that talent, like any physical character, was hereditary. Galton would go on to suggest that society should be encouraging the talented to intermarry and produce more children, thereby elevating humanity through a form of conscious decision-making working alongside natural selection. For Wallace, however, this seemed to be quite opposite to the actual mechanism of natural selection, which tended to effect change not through the elevation of the superior, but through the elimination of the unfit. His solution (as only worked out in full many years later when he adopted socialism40), by contrast, invoked a program of improvement through a particular application of the dynamics of 'intelligent conviction': ameliorating social ills so that individuals, especially women, could base their decisions on a mate rationally: on the latter's merits, instead of a priori economic dictates. The inferior in mind and body would thus be differentially eliminated for their relatively fewer opportunities to produce children. Wallace would spend the rest of his life opposing Galton's point of view and what it led to: eugenics.41
By late 1865, if we believe the evidence provided by Benjamin Coleman noted earlier, Wallace was not yet a full believer. An important connection with that 6 November 1865 'soirée' is worth noting at this point: he was probably there for a specific reason. The fact that Wallace attended the meeting at all is consistent with the idea he was exploring the conceptual potential of the belief at that time, as the featured speaker on the occasion was Emma Hardinge, an American whose reputation was as one of the most outstanding lecturers on subjects of a spiritual nature. Her talk for that night, parts of which were later published in The Spiritual Magazine,42 consisted as usual of extemporaneous responses to questions raised on the spot by audience members. Portions of a few of her remarkable comments that night follow:
For Wallace, who had been seeking a view of nature more flexible in its interpretation of human-originated phenomena and experience, these words must have come as a great revelation. Indeed, such explanations must have suggested to him that here was a solution to the dilemma he had been struggling with since 1858. Although his seance attendances apparently still were not yet producing the kinds of definitive evidence that fully convinced him of their validity, sometime over the next few months he began to compose a monograph-length essay he entitled 'The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural.' This was ready for publication by mid-summer, and was released in installments shortly thereafter in the obscure secularist periodical The English Leader.47
The organization and orientation of this work are most revealing. Conscious that he has not yet obtained satisfactorily definitive physical evidence, Wallace concentrates on literature review and producing a philosophical argument for investigating the phenomena. He begins by noting that our senses are limited, and that it is only through the accumulation of knowledge that we have elevated our understanding of physical processes above assumptions of the miraculous. He then argues that the so-called miracles of the past and present most likely represent non-miraculous aspects of natural process that we simply do not yet understand. Next he moves on to a consideration of cryptic forces in nature, and then to some of the recorded evidence of various spiritualistic phenomena. Finally, he treats the theory and moral teachings of spiritualism, drawing very heavily from the writings of Emma Hardinge to complete his review.48
Entirely missing from the treatment are descriptions of any of his own investigations of the phenomena--which, of course, had so far only proved mildly corroborative. Nevertheless, he had done a passably good job of reducing a large and esoteric literature to a readable defense of its legitimacy for study. It must have been apparent to him, however, that it was going to be difficult to sell his argument through an article that had come out in eight parts in a serial few probably had even heard of. The solution, it seemed, was to print a pamphlet version containing the whole essay. Exactly when this was done is not known, but likely it was readied a few to several weeks after the last installment of the essay appeared in The English Leader issue of 29 September 1866. The story of Wallace's largely unsuccessful attempts to interest his friends and colleagues in the message of his little monograph is fully revealed in his autobiography.49
Just as 'The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural' was appearing in print, Wallace gave a short speech to the Anthropological Section at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meetings. Delivered on 23 August 1866, it contained the following pregnant words of advice:
Surely Wallace had his spiritualism studies in mind when he delivered these remarks.
Wallace may actually have soon had regrets at bringing out the pamphlet version of 'The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural' just when he did. The latest date it could have been printed was early November 1866: a cover letter dated 22 November 1866 that accompanied a copy of the work to Thomas Huxley exists.51 Just at this time, and apparently after a search of some months, Wallace finally discovered a friend of the family who demonstrated impressive mediumistic abilities. Wallace's sister Fanny found that a woman who was lodging with her, a Miss Nichol (later Mrs. Guppy), was capable of producing some dramatic manifestations, and now Wallace performed a series of tests--in his own quarters--that convinced him once and for all that the physical phenomena of spiritualism were real.52
Wallace continued attending seances through 1867, both with Miss Nichol and the professional medium Mrs. Marshall. Meanwhile, a new flurry of activity was evident in his scientific studies. Over a period beginning in the autumn of 1866 and continuing on until the beginning of 1868 he resumed his contributions to scientific meetings, increased his correspondence (especially with Darwin, over sexual selection and other subjects), and again worked on lengthy systematic reviews. Most of this work constituted inappropriate venues for his new synthesis, however, and it was not until October of 1867 that he was able to devote some attention to the subject. At this time he published an essay review of the Duke of Argyll's anti-natural selection work The Reign of Law.53
In this remarkable essay Wallace manages to draw together a whole range of arguments against the Creationist 'continual interference' model of organic diversity while: (1) restating and updating his 'geographical Bauplan' evolutionary model from the 1840s (2) opening the path leading to the final causes-based evolutionary cosmology of later works such as Man's Place in Nature and The World of Life, and (3) obliquely bringing explanations of the workings of mind and spirit into the picture. Typical of his analysis is the following:
Wallace is not attempting to argue here that humankind is in any sense 'above' natural law, but neither does he claim that we yet know what 'above' may mean in this context. These words--written, ostensibly, after he already had accepted all-out spiritualism--are looking towards a kind of design operationalized not by an anthropomorphic God, but instead through a final causes-based Bauplan.
By late 1867, aided by his recent marriage, Wallace had finally begun to prepare the journal of his Malay travels for publication. This effort would monopolize his attention for just about the whole of 1868, but by the end of that year the lengthy manuscript of The Malay Archipelago was finally to the printers and he was again free to pursue a full range of intellectual pursuits. Shortly before the work was finished, he attended the annual meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and heard a paper entitled 'On the Difficulties of Darwinism' delivered by the Rev. F. O. Morris. When it was done, he offered some comments, apparently including the following remark, which fully previewed future events: 'With regard to the moral bearing of the question as to whether the moral and intellectual faculties could be developed by natural selection, that was a subject on which Mr. Darwin had not given an opinion. He (Mr. Wallace) did not believe that Mr. Darwin's theory would entirely explain those mental phenomena.'55 Obviously, Wallace was now ready to go public with a break from Darwin's views on the origin of human characters. The immediate problem became a context within which he could express such thoughts.
Spreading the Message
He did not have to wait long for such to materialize. A paper entitled 'On the Failure of "Natural Selection" in the Case of Man', published anonymously in Fraser's Magazine in September 1868,56 provided the opportunity. The author turned out to be William R. Greg, a writer on social issues who would become a key figure in the eugenics movement. In his paper Greg argues that in our society protection of the weak--the poor and the inferior in mind or body--has caused natural selection to become an ineffective agent for improvement. Greg uses Wallace's own reasoning as presented in his 1864 paper to the Anthropological Society as the basis for his argument, pointing to Wallace's insistence that in humans selection had become re-focussed at the level of the mind.
Reaction to the paper was considerable, with some early voices of approval, but then increasing criticism. An anonymous analysis in The Spectator appeared a few weeks later in which the writer opined that Greg's argument was flawed, because:
Neither this position nor Greg's original one impressed Wallace very much, but somehow he managed to hold back comment for the time being. In January 1869, however, a new evaluation of Greg's reasoning was printed anonymously in the Quarterly Journal of Science.58 This writer concludes that Greg and others had missed the point: that selection was still going on, but that its nature was changing as humankind evolved:
This analysis did impress Wallace, and for reasons that by now should be evident. In a letter to Darwin dated 20 January 1869 he writes: 'Have you seen in the last number of the Quarterly Journal of Science the excellent remarks on Fraser's article on Natural Selection failing as to Man? In one page it gets to the heart of the question, and I have written to the Editor to ask who the author is.'60 A few lines later he adds: 'Perhaps you have heard that I have undertaken to write an article for the Quarterly (!) on the same subject [i.e., Lyell's Principles of Geology], to make up for that on 'Modern Geology' last year not mentioning Sir C. Lyell.'61
The 'Quarterly' article62 Wallace alludes to is of course the one in which Wallace definitively expresses the revelation he had in mid-1865, as eventually confirmed in his mind by late 1866. The 'higher attributes' of human beings actually did have evolutionary utility: they supported the contacts with (or lessons from) the 'Spirit World' that would help to move us in the direction of greater social responsibility, and away from self-centered actions. This was beyond the realm of biological natural selection directly to effect, but nevertheless part of the overall evolutionary program for humankind as it advanced from a savage to a civilized state.
Although many observers today may be tempted to dismiss such views as naive or unjustified, this is not a reason to ignore Wallace's train of thought in reaching such conclusions--especially before coming to a workable appreciation of the history of the events involved. The notion that more remote causes may stand behind the details of evolutionary process, moreover, remains an active subject of philosophical discussion among biologists and cosmologists. Both the gaia hypothesis and the anthropic principle descend from this line of thought, and no single person in history is more responsible for setting the intellectual stage for the combination of these ideas than Wallace.63
By 1869, it appears, Wallace's future path was set. That he still believed in the notion that natural selection was self-operating, yet set within a larger framework, is apparent from the following passage, taken from the Lyell review:
Here Wallace is still looking at natural selection as "the secondary result of the powers of nature;" i.e., as a principle or law subservient to more profound forces--a general view of natural organization, I submit, he held as early as the mid-1840s. Eventually, once it was demonstrated to him that migration to a socialistic state was feasible, he would additionally accept that society-directed element into his overall evolutionary model. Perhaps his most succinct statement of his total vision came in the final paragraph of his 1892 essay, 'Human Progress: Past and Future':
In short, so long as we kept in mind that it was through the application of 'intelligent conviction' that weaknesses could be eliminated, we and our derivative social systems could continue to productively evolve.
Regardless of whether Wallace was actually right or wrong in such thinking, the basic model of Wallace's intellectual evolution presented here should satisfactorily account for the directions of all of his primary ideas and actions both before and after the year 1865. Most centrally, his was not a 'change of mind' in 1869 regarding the limitations of Darwinian natural selection; instead, it merely represented his first opportunity to set things right regarding what he had always sensed to be its main weakness: an inability to account for supra-biological adaptive processes.
1. 'On the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type', Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society: Zoology (20 August 1858), 3, Nr. 9, 53-62. In 1972 H. L. McKinney produced a reasonably convincing argument that Wallace actually composed the work while on the island of Gilolo, also known as Halmahera. See Wallace and Natural Selection, New Haven & London, 1972.
2. See in particular A. C. Brackman, A Delicate Arrangement; The Strange Case of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, New York, 1980; J. L. Brooks, Just Before the Origin: Alfred Russel Wallace's Theory of Evolution, New York, 1984.
4. The largely ignored fact that Wallace himself once stated directly, in print, that he had undergone no such change of mind should be noted at the outset. See the Preface to the first edition of his Miracles and Modern Spiritualism, rev. ed., London, 1901, vi-vii.
5. See C. H. Smith, Alfred Russel Wallace; An Anthology of His Shorter Writings, Oxford, U. K., 1991; idem, Alfred Russel Wallace on Spiritualism, Man, and Evolution: An Analytical Essay, Torrington, CT, 1992; idem, 'Alfred Russel Wallace on evolution: A change of mind?', http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/essays/WALLTALK.htm; idem, 'Introduction' to Alfred Russel Wallace: Writings on Evolution, 1843-1912 (ed. C. H. Smith), 3 vols., Bristol, U. K., 2004, i, xiii-xxv; idem, Alfred Russel Wallace: Evolution of an Evolutionist, http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/chsarwp.htm; idem, 'Alfred Russel Wallace on man: A famous "change of mind"--Or not?', History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences (in press). In addition see two recent works by Martin Fichman, who has also adopted this basic understanding: 'Science in theistic contexts: A case study of Alfred Russel Wallace on human evolution', Osiris (July 2001), 16, 2nd s., 227-50; idem, An Elusive Victorian: The Evolution of Alfred Russel Wallace, Chicago & London, 2003.
8. Wallace alludes to the existence of such forces in his 1853 book A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, 2nd edn, London, 1889, 58-9; also in his papers 'On the habits of the orang-utan of Borneo', Annals and Magazine of Natural History (1856), 18, 26-32; and 'On the natural history of the Aru Islands', Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Supplement to Vol. 20 (1857), 473-85.
9. H. L. McKinney has observed that Wallace seemingly felt that adaptations 'occurred' while species evolved, but that this association was merely correlative; that is, derivative or incidental. A. R. Wallace, A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro (ed. H. L. McKinney), New York, 1972, xii.
10. S. Kleiner, 'Problem solving and discovery in the growth of Darwin's theories of evolution', Synthese (1981), 47, 119-62, on p. 148, in speaking of Wallace's general lack of attention to the matter of the place of adaptation at the time opined that he was 'hardly concerned with [this problem]' and 'may have found it expedient to ignore the problem in favor of other more tractable problems'.
15. A. B. Meyer (ed.), Charles Darwin und Alfred Russel Wallace. Ihre Ersten Publicationen über die 'Entstehung der Arten' nebst einer Skizze Ihres Lebens und einem Verzeichniss Ihrer Schriften, Erlangen, 1870; A. R. Wallace, Natural Selection and Tropical Nature; Essays on Descriptive and Theoretical Biology, London, 1891, 27; idem, 'How was Wallace led to the discovery of natural selection?', Nature (1895), 52, 415; idem, 'The dawn of a great discovery', Black and White (17 January 1903), 25, 78-9, on p. 78; idem, op. cit. (7), I, 363. Wallace does not go to the length of complaining outright about the situation in any of these, yet neither does it seem he is merely remarking on the situation for posterity (five times?) as one reviewer of this manuscript suggested.
18. Especially, 'On the physical geography of the Malay Archipelago', Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (1863), 33, 217-34; 'On some anomalies in zoological and botanical geography', Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal (7 January 1864), 19, 1-15; 'On the varieties of man in the Malay Archipelago', Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London (1865), 3, n.s., 196-215.
20. A. R. Wallace, 'The origin of human races and the antiquity of man deduced from the theory of "natural selection"', Journal of the Anthropological Society of London (1864), 2, clviii-clxx; idem, 'On the phenomena of variation and geographical distribution as illustrated by the Papilionidae of the Malayan Region', Transactions of the Linnean Society of London (1865), 25, Part I, 1-71.
21. For example, M. Malinchak, Spiritualism and the Philosophy of Alfred Russel Wallace, Ph.D. Dissertation, Drew University, Madison, NJ, 1987; M. J. Kottler, 'Alfred Russel Wallace, the origin of man, and spiritualism', Isis (1974), 65, 144-92; S. Koch-Weser, 'Alfred Russel Wallace on man', Synthesis (Harvard University) (1977), 3, Nr. 4, 5-32; J. S. Schwartz, 'Darwin, Wallace, and the Descent of Man', Journal of the History of Biology (1984), 17, 271-89; F. M. Turner, Between Science and Religion; The Reaction to Scientific Naturalism in Late Victorian England, New Haven & London, 1974, Chapter 4.
23. For some previous treatments see: Kottler, op. cit. (21); Schwartz, op. cit. (21); Malinchak, op. cit. (21); J. Oppenheim, The Other World; Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914, Cambridge, MA, 1985, 312-9.
24. See, for example, A. R. Wallace, 'Dr. A. R. Wallace's testimony to materialisations', Light (London) (22 November 1913), 33, 557; W. B. Northrop, 'Alfred Russel Wallace', The Outlook (22 November 1913), 105, 618-22, on p. 621; H. Begbie, 'Master workers. XVII. Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace', The Pall Mall Magazine (September 1904), 34, 73-9, on p. 77; Wallace, op. cit. (7), ii, 276.
26. A. R. Wallace, 'The scientific aspect of the supernatural', The English Leader (11 August 1866 through 29 September 1866), 2, 59-60, 75-6, 91-3, 107-8, 123-5, 139-140, 156-7, 171-3. As alluded to shortly, Wallace spent a good deal of effort in trying to interest friends and colleagues in the subject matter of this work.
33. A. R. Wallace, 'On the progress of civilization in Northern Celebes', Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London (1866), 4, n.s., 61-70, on p. 67. Wallace read the paper to the Society at their meeting of 24 January 1865.
41. Wallace spent much of the late 1860s and 1870s trying to convince his contemporaries that spiritualism provided a direct path forward toward the goal of improving the levels of intelligent conviction in the population, with minimal success. His increasing interest in social and economic matters as he aged likely developed as he came to accept that societal inequities were a prior issue: i.e., that a social system he sometimes described as being 'rotten at the core' could not be expected to lead to the luxury of clear, unbiassed reasoning as to one's means of self-improvement.
42. 'Miss Emma Hardinge', The Spiritual Magazine (1865), 6, 529-43. Hardinge's remarks were shortly thereafter compiled and published by F. Farrah in the Spring of 1866 as the now extremely rare 122 page monograph Extemporaneous Addresses.
47. Wallace, op. cit. (26). Wallace apparently had completed the work by July of 1866, as a note on page 9 of The English Leader issue of 21 July 1866 confirms that they had received his manuscript and were ready to give it 'immediate attention'; i.e., prepare it for print. It is probably no coincidence in this respect that the last lecture in Emma Hardinge's tour was given on 24 June 1866 (per mention in the National Reformer issue of 1 July 1866): just in time for Wallace to hear before putting the finishing touches on his manuscript.
48. Quotations from Hardinge in fact make up over three full pages of the pamphlet version of the work (The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural: Indicating the Desirableness of an Experimental Enquiry by Men of Science Into the Alleged Powers of Clairvoyants and Mediums, London, 1866), extending over large sections of pages 50 through 54. Hardinge (1823-1899) was well known within the spiritualist communities on both sides of the Atlantic at that point. Wallace would have had easy access to her prior writings, which included transcriptions of lectures she had delivered in earlier years. An annotated copy of her pamphlet On Ancient Magic and Modern Spiritualism, published in 1865, is still to be found among the uncatalogued materials from his personal library held by the Special Collections unit at the Library of the University of Edinburgh. In The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural his quotations from Hardinge are taken from her essay 'Hades,' included in her Six Lectures on Theology and Nature, published in Chicago in 1860.
51. Marchant, op. cit. (6), 418. The pamphlet was likely printed after the work's initial serialized run was completed. Not only does this seem likely a priori, but the pamphlet version, despite being produced from the same typesetting of the text, includes a couple of notes and edits and an Introduction not present in the original serialization.
52. See 'Notes of Personal Evidence', and Kottler, op. cit. (21). Two of the most remarkable seances Wallace held with Miss Nichol, on 14 December 1866 and 15 May 1867, were reported in The Spiritualist Magazine issues of 1 February 1867 and 1 June 1867, respectively.
53. A. R. Wallace, 'Creation by law', Quarterly Journal of Science (1867), 4, 471-88. This was only the second book review Wallace had published; a few months earlier he had prepared one for the same journal on Quatrefages de Bréau's book Les Polynésiens et Leurs Migrations.
55. A. R. Wallace, discussion of 'On the difficulties of Darwinism' by Rev. F. O. Morris (a paper read in Norwich at the late August 1868 meeting of Section D, Biology, of the British Association for the Advancement of Science), The Athenæum (19 September 1868), Nr. 2134, 373-4, on p. 373.
56. W. R. Greg (anon. in source), Sept. 1868. 'On the failure of natural selection in the case of man', Fraser's Magazine (September 1868), 78, 353-62. See discussion by R. J. Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior, Chicago & London, 1987, 172-6.
Copyright 2004 by Charles H. Smith. All rights reserved.