The Once and Future Wallace
by Michael A. Cremo
There are, I am convinced, some very good reasons why we should modify the assumptions about observable nature currently held by mainstream science. Many of these reasons can be found in a curious place--the work of one of the founders of the theory of evolution by natural selection.
In 1854, a young English naturalist named Alfred Russel Wallace journeyed to the East Indies to collect wildlife specimens. During his travels, he was intrigued by the patterns of variation among plants and animals throughout the region. In 1858, while laid up with a tropical disease, he took a couple of days to write a scientific paper explaining the origin of such variations. He then sent the paper to Charles Darwin for comments before publication. Darwin, back in England, had been working since 1844 on a book explaining the origin of species by evolution through natural selection. He was shocked to find that Wallace, a relatively unknown naturalist, was about to publish a paper outlining the whole idea. In the scientific world, priority is everything. The person who first publishes an idea or theory receives credit for it. Darwin, somewhat anxious about his priority, consulted some of his close scientific friends. On their advice, he proposed to Wallace that they co-author a paper on evolution. Wallace agreed, insuring his lasting fame, alongside Darwin, as one of the world's great scientists. Interestingly enough, Wallace, the cofounder with Darwin of the theory of evolution by natural selection, became involved in paranormal research.
Modern biology and anthropology texts often contain biographical sketches of Alfred Russel Wallace. But these idealized sketches routinely ignore Wallace's extensive research into the paranormal and his related conclusions, portraying him instead as a saint of materialism. This slanted hagiography is arguably related to the authors' cultural commitment to materialist, reductionist cosmologies.
The central feature of Wallace's paranormal research was his belief in spirits and a spirit world. On the basis of personal experiments and reliable reports from other scientists, Wallace concluded that the universe is populated with a hierarchy of spirit beings, some of whom are in contact with the human population on earth, usually through mediums. According to Wallace, the spirit beings lower in the hierarchy, acting through mediums, were responsible for a variety of paranormal phenomena, including clairvoyance, miraculous healings, communications from the dead, apparitions, materializations of physical objects, levitations, etc. More powerful spirit beings may have played a role in the process of evolution, guiding it in certain directions.
Spirits, the kind that can move matter, are the last thing today's evolutionists want to hear about. Such things threaten current evolutionary theory, which depends on philosophical naturalism--the idea that everything in nature happens according to known physical laws. Introduce nonmaterial entities and effects, and the theory of evolution loses its exclusivity as an explanation for the origin of species. Perhaps spirits were involved in the process. If so, one would have to consider "supernatural selection" in addition to natural selection.
In addition to believing in spirits, Wallace also believed that anatomically modern humans were of considerable antiquity. For example, he accepted the discoveries of J. D. Whitney, which, by modern geological reckoning, place humans in California up to 50 million years ago (Cremo and Thompson 1993, pp. 368-394, 439-458). Wallace noted that such evidence tended to be "attacked with all the weapons of doubt, accusation, and ridicule" (Wallace 1887, p. 667). Wallace suggested that "the proper way to treat evidence as to man's antiquity is to place it on record, and admit it provisionally wherever it would be held adequate in the case of other animals; not, as is too often now the case, to ignore it as unworthy of acceptance or subject its discoverers to indiscriminate accusations of being impostors or the victims of impostors" (Wallace 1887, p. 667).
Wallace encountered the same kind of opposition when he communicated to scientists the results of his spiritualistic research. On the basis of personal experiments and reliable reports from other scientists, Wallace concluded that the universe is populated with various kinds of spirit beings, some of who are in contact with the human population on earth, usually through mediums. According to Wallace, the minor spirit beings, acting through mediums, were responsible for a variety of paranormal phenomena, including clairvoyance, miraculous healings, communications from the dead, apparitions, materializations of physical objects, levitations, etc. More powerful spirit beings may have played a role in the process of evolution, guiding it in certain directions.
Describing the reactions of the public and his scientific colleagues, Wallace wrote in his autobiography: "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 the 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. And even when, one by one, the facts were forced upon me without possibility of escape from them, still, as Sir David Brewster declared after being at first astonished by the phenomena he saw with Mr. Home, 'spirit was the last thing I could give in to.' Every other possible solution was tried and rejected. . . . Many people think that when I and others publish accounts of such phenomena, we wish or require our readers to believe them on our testimony. But that is not the case. Neither I nor any other well-instructed spiritualist expects anything of the kind. We write not to convince, but to excite inquiry. We ask our readers not for belief, but for doubt of their own infallibility on this question; we ask for inquiry and patient experiment before hastily concluding that we are, all of us, mere dupes and idiots as regards a subject to which we have devoted our best mental faculties and powers of observation for many years" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 349-350).
Early Experiences with Mesmerism
Wallace first became interested in paranormal phenomena in 1843. Some English surgeons, including Dr. Elliotson, were then using mesmerism, an early form of hypnotism, to perform painless operations on patients. The reality of this anesthesia, although today accepted, was then a matter of extreme controversy. Wallace noted: "The greatest surgical and physiological authorities of the day declared that the patients were either impostors or persons naturally insensible to pain; the operating surgeons were accused of bribing their patients; and Dr. Elliotson was described as 'polluting the temple of science.' The Medical-Chirurgical Society opposed the reading of a paper describing an amputation during the magnetic trance, while Dr. Elliotson himself was ejected from his professorship at the University of London" (Wallace 1896, pp. ix-x).
At the time, Wallace was teaching school in one of the Midland counties of England. In 1844, Mr. Spencer Hall, a touring mesmerist, stopped there and gave a public demonstration. Wallace and some of his students, greatly interested, attended. Having heard from Hall that almost anyone could induce the mesmeric trance, Wallace later decided to make his own experiments. Using some of his students as subjects, he soon succeeded in mesmerizing them and produced a variety of phenomena. Some were within the range of modern medical applications of hypnotism, while some extended to the paranormal (Wallace 1896, p. x, pp. 126-128; 1905 v. 1, pp. 232-236).
One thing witnessed by Wallace was community of sensation. "The sympathy of sensation between my patient and myself was to me the most mysterious phenomenon I had ever witnessed," he later wrote. "I found that when I laid hold of his hand he felt, tasted, or smelt exactly the same as I did. . . . I formed a chain of several persons, at one end of which was the patient, at the other myself. And when, in perfect silence, I was pinched or pricked, he would immediately put his hand to the corresponding part of his own body, and complain of being pinched or pricked too. If I put a lump of sugar or salt in my mouth, he immediately went through the action of sucking, and soon showed by gestures and words of the most expressive nature what it was I was tasting" (Wallace 1896, pp. 127-128). During such experiments, Wallace took care to "guard against deception" (Wallace 1896, p. 126). From reports of the mesmeric experiments of other researchers, Wallace concluded that "the more remarkable phenomena, including clairvoyance both as to facts known and those unknown to the mesmeriser, have been established as absolute realities" (Wallace 1896, p. xi).
Despite the well-documented observations of numerous competent researchers, the scientific establishment remained hostile to mesmeric phenomena. Eventually, the production of insensibility, behavior modification, and mild delusions would be accepted under the name of hypnotism. But the more extraordinary mesmeric manifestations--such as clairvoyance and community of sensation--were never accepted. In any case, Wallace, found his own experiments of lasting value: "I thus learned my first great lesson in the inquiry into these obscure fields of knowledge, never to accept the disbelief of great men, or their accusations of imposture or of imbecility, as of any great weight when opposed to the repeated observation of facts by other men admittedly sane and honest" (Wallace 1896, p. x).
Travels in the Tropics
From 1848 to 1862, Wallace traveled widely in the tropics, collecting wildlife specimens and filling notebooks with biological observations. While on an expedition in the Amazon region of Brazil, he saw his brother Herbert mesmerize a young Indian man in a hut. At Herbert's command, the young man's arm became rigid. Herbert restored movement to the young man's arm and then asked him to remain lying down in the hut until the brothers returned from a collecting excursion. When two hours later they came back, they found the young man still lying down, as if paralyzed, unable to rise although he had attempted it (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 275-276).
When Wallace returned to England from Brazil, he did so alone, Herbert having died of a tropical disease. After a short time, Wallace set off on another expedition, this time to the East Indies. While in that region, Wallace learned of paranormal phenomena that went far beyond anything he had witnessed in his experiments with mesmerism. "During my eight years' travels in the East," he later recalled, "I heard occasionally, through the newspapers, of the strange doings of the spiritualists in America and England, some of which seemed to me too wild and outrageous to be anything but the ravings of madmen. Others, however, appeared to be so well authenticated that I could not at all understand them, but concluded, as most people do at first that such things must be either imposture or delusion" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 276).
Despite his feelings of disbelief, Wallace suspended judgement. His experience with mesmerism had taught him that "there were mysteries connected with the human mind which modern science ignored because it could not explain" (Wallace 1896, p. 131). So when Wallace came back to England in 1862, he determined to look carefully into spiritualism.
First Spiritualistic Experiences
Initially, Wallace contented himself with studying reports. But in the summer of 1865, he began to directly witness spiritualistic phenomena. His first experiences took place at the home of a friend, described by Wallace as "a sceptic, a man of science, and a lawyer" (Wallace 1896, p. 132). Wallace, along with his host and members of his host's family, sat around a large, round table, upon which they placed their hands. Wallace observed inexplicable movements of the table and heard equally inexplicable sounds of rapping (Wallace 1896, pp. 132-133).
On a friend's recommendation, Wallace then visited Mrs. Marshall, a medium who gave public demonstrations of phenomena stronger than those Wallace had yet seen. Wallace paid several visits to Mrs. Marshall in London, usually in the company of a skeptical friend with a scientific background. Among the numerous physical phenomena he witnessed were levitation of a small table one foot off the ground for a period of twenty seconds, strange movements of a guitar, inexplicable sliding movements of chairs across the floor, and levitation of a chair with a woman sitting upon it. Wallace noted: "There was no room for any possible trick or deception. In each case, before we began, we turned up the tables and chairs, and saw that there was no connection between them and the floor, and we placed them where we pleased before we sat down. Several of the phenomena occurred entirely under our own hands, and quite disconnected from the 'medium'" (Wallace 1896, p. 136). At Mrs. Marshall's, Wallace also saw writing mysteriously appear on pieces of paper placed under the table and heard the spelling out by raps of intelligible messages. These messages contained names and other facts of a personal nature, not likely to have been known by the medium (Wallace 1896, pp. 137-138). Wallace himself received a message that contained his dead brother's name, the place where he died in Brazil, and the name of the last person to see him alive (Wallace 1896, p. 137).
As a result of such experiences, Wallace eventually became a convinced spiritualist. Critics suggested that Wallace was predisposed to spiritualism because of religious leanings (Wallace 1896, p. vi). But Wallace, describing his view of life at the time he encountered spiritualism, wrote: "I ought to state that for twenty-five years I had been an utter sceptic as to the existence of any preter-human or super-human intelligences, and that I never for a moment contemplated the possibility that the marvels related by Spiritualists could be literally true. If I have now changed my opinion, it is simply by the force of evidence. It is from no dread of annihilation that I have gone into this subject; it is from no inordinate longing for eternal existence that I have come to believe in facts which render this highly probable, if they do not actually prove it" (Wallace 1896, p. 132).
"The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural"
In 1866, Wallace published in a periodical an extended explanation of spiritualism called "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural." The heart of the essay was a summary of scientifically documented evidence for psychical phenomena, such as spirit messages. Wallace later brought out the essay in booklet form, and sent it to many of his scientific friends and acquaintances.
Thomas Henry Huxley, who received a copy, replied: "I am neither shocked nor disposed to issue a Commission of Lunacy against you. It may all be true, for anything I know to the contrary, but really I cannot get up any interest in the subject. I never cared for gossip in my life, and disembodied gossip, such as these worthy ghosts supply their friends, is not more interesting to me than any other. As for investigating the matter--I have half a dozen investigations of infinitely greater interest to me--to which any spare time I may have will be devoted. I give it up for the same reason I abstain from chess--it's too amusing to be fair work and too hard work to be amusing" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 280).
Wallace did not object to Huxley spending his time on research of his own choice, but he did protest Huxley's denigration of his work. "The objection as to 'gossip' was quite irrelevant as regards a book which had not one line of 'gossip' in it, but was wholly devoted to a summary of the evidence for facts--physical and mental--of a most extraordinary character, given on the testimony of twenty-two well-known men, mathematicians, astronomers, chemists, physiologists, lawyers, clergymen, and authors, many of world-wide reputation" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 280). In his booklet, Wallace (1896, pp. 35-36) had listed them as: "Prof. A. De Morgan, mathematician and logician; Prof. Challis, astronomer; Prof. Wm. Gregory, M.D., chemist; Prof. Robert Hare, M.D., chemist; Prof. Herbert Mayo, M.D., F.R.S., physiologist; Mr. Rutter, chemist; Dr. Elliotson, physiologist; Dr. Haddock, physician; Dr. Gully, physician; Judge Edmonds, lawyer; Lord Lyndhurst, lawyer; Charles Bray, philosophical writer, Archbishop Whately, clergyman; Rev. W. Kerr, M.A., clergyman; Col. E. B. Wilbraham, military man; Sir Richard Burton, explorer, linguist, and author; Nassau E. Senior, political economist; W. M. Thackeray, author; T. A. Trollope, author; R. D. Owen, author and diplomatist; W. Howitt, author; S. C. Hall, author.
In another exchange with Huxley, Wallace pointed out that most people who daily depart this world are addicted to gossip. One should not therefore expect that their communications with earthbound friends should provide examples of the most polished discourse (Wallace 1874; in Smith 1991, pp. 90-91).
Dr. John D. Tyndall wrote to Wallace about his spiritualist publication: "I see the usual keen powers of your mind displayed in the treatment of this question. But mental power may show itself, whether its material be facts or fictions. It is not lack of logic that I see in your book, but a willingness that I deplore to accept data which are unworthy of your attention. This is frank--is it not? (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 281).
Another scientist who received Wallace's pamphlet "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural" was A. De Morgan, professor of mathematics at University College. Already a spiritualist, De Morgan wrote a letter to Wallace, warning him to expect difficulties in demonstrating spiritualistic effects to scientists. "There is much reason to think," wrote De Morgan "that the state of mind of the inquirer has something--be it internal or external--to do with the power of the phenomena to manifest themselves. . . . Now the man of science comes to the subject in utter incredulity of the phenomena, and a wish to justify it. I think it very possible that the phenomena may be withheld. In some cases this has happened, as I have heard from good sources" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 284).
Wallace nevertheless invited leading scientists and other learned persons to witness spiritualist phenomena, advising them that several sittings would be required. This seems reasonable, because most experimental work in science does require repeated trials. Dr. W. B. Carpenter and Dr. John Tyndall came for one sitting each, during which only very mild, unimpressive phenomena occurred. They refused Wallace's requests to attend more sittings (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 278-279). Most scientists refused to come at all. G. H. Lewes, for example, was "too much occupied and too incredulous to give any time to the inquiry" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 279).
Although Lewes refused Wallace's invitations to examine spiritualistic phenomena, he wrote to the Pall Mall Gazette (May 19, 1868) putting forth accusations against mediums and spiritualists. Amazingly, Lewes wrote that scientists were never allowed to investigate the phenomena. Wallace replied in a letter to the editor that this was not true. For example, Cromwell Varley, an electrical engineer, had been allowed to test the medium Daniel Dunglass Home, with results favorable to the authenticity of his paranormal phenomena. But the journal's editor refused to publish the letter (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 282).
Around this same time, Tyndall had called for a single test demonstration that would prove once and for all the reality or falsity of spiritualistic phenomena. Wallace replied in a letter to Tyndall that one test, even if successful, would not suffice to convince opponents. Wallace thought it better to amass reports of the numerous credible cases already on record. And to these he added, in his letter to Tyndall, one of his own experiences:
"The place was the drawing-room of a friend of mine, a brother of one of our best artists. The witnesses were his own and his brother's family, one or two of their friends, myself, and Mr. John Smith, banker, of Malton, Yorkshire, introduced by me. The medium was Miss Nichol. We sat round a pillar-table in the middle of the room, exactly under a glass chandelier. Miss Nichol sat opposite me, and my friend, Mr. Smith, sat next her. We all held our neighbour's hands, and Miss Nichol's hands were both held by Mr. Smith, a stranger to all but myself, and who had never met Miss N. before. When comfortably arranged in this manner the lights were put out, one of the party holding a box of matches ready to strike a light when asked.
"After a few minutes' conversation, during a period of silence, I heard the following sounds in rapid succession: a slight rustle, as of a lady's dress; a little tap, such as might be made by setting down a wineglass on the table; and a very slight jingling of the drops of the glass chandelier. An instant after Mr. Smith said, 'Miss Nichol is gone.' The match-holder struck a light, and on the table (which had no cloth) was Miss Nichol seated in her chair, her head just touching the chandelier. . . . Mr. Smith assured me that Miss Nichol simply glided out of his hands. No one else moved or quitted hold of their neighbour's hands. There was not more noise than I described, and no motion or even tremor of the table, although our hands were upon it. You know Miss N.'s size and probable weight, and can judge of the force and exertion required to lift her and her chair on to the exact centre of a large pillar-table, as well as the great surplus of force required to do it almost instantaneously and noiselessly, in the dark, and without pressure on the side of the table, which would have tilted it up. Will any of the known laws of nature account for this?" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 291-293).
If the facts were as Wallace reported them, it would seem that Miss Nichol herself could not have managed to place herself on the table. If all present at the table were holding hands and did not let go, it would seem that none of them could have lifted Miss Nichol in her chair. That leaves confederates as a possibility. But they should have been exposed by the struck match. Furthermore, it seems any attempt to lift Miss Nichol in complete darkness, either by persons at the table or confederates from outside the room, would have caused much more noise than reported by Wallace. One can only propose that Wallace himself gave a false report. This, however, seems unlikely.
Séances at Miss Douglas's
In 1869, Robert Chambers, author of Vestiges of Creation, introduced Wallace to Miss Douglas, a wealthy Scotch lady with an interest in spiritualism. Wallace attended many séances at Miss Douglas's London residence in South Audley Street. There he met many well connected spiritualists, including Darwin's relative Hensleigh Wedgwood. Among the most interesting séances were those with Mr. Haxby, a young postal employee described by Wallace as "a remarkable medium for materializations." Haxby would sit in a small room separated by curtains from a dimly lit drawing room on the first floor.
Wallace (1905 v. 2, pp. 328-329) gave this account of a typical séance with Haxby: "After a few minutes, from between the curtains would appear a tall and stately East Indian figure in white robes, a rich waistband, sandals, and large turban, snowy white and disposed with perfect elegance. Sometimes this figure would walk around the room outside the circle, would lift up a large and very heavy musical box, which he would wind up and then swing round his head with one hand. He would often come to each of us in succession, bow, and allow us to feel his hands and examine his robes. We asked him to stand against the door-post and marked his height, and on one occasion Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood brought with him a shoemaker's measuring-rule, and at our request, Abdullah, as he gave his name, took off a sandal, placed his foot on a chair, and allowed it to be accurately measured with the sliding-rule. After the séance Mr. Haxby removed his boot and had his foot measured by the same rule, when that of the figure was found to be full one inch and a quarter the longer, while in height it was about half a foot taller. A minute or two after Abdullah had retired into the small room, Haxby was found in a trance in his chair, while no trace of the white-robed stranger was to be seen. The door and window of the back room were securely fastened, and often secured with gummed paper, which was found intact."
The usual skeptical explanation for such manifestations is imposture by the medium or a confederate. In this case, the measurements taken rule out imposture by the medium. And the precautions taken to secure the entrances to the back room make the participation of a confederate somewhat doubtful. On the whole, circumstances point to the genuineness of the materialization.
On one occasion at Miss Douglas's, the famous Daniel Dunglass Home was the medium and Sir William Crookes, a distinguished physicist, was present. Crookes, later president of the Royal Society and recipient of the Nobel Prize for physics, was conducting his own research into spiritualistic phenomena. Wallace (1905 v. 2, p. 293) noted, however, that "his careful experiments, continued for several years, are to this day ignored or rejected by the bulk of scientific and public opinion as if they had never been made!"
At the séance attended by Wallace, Home was given an accordion. He held it with one hand, under the table around which he and the witnesses sat. Home's other hand remained on top of the table. On hearing the accordion play, Wallace went under the table to see what was happening: "The room was well lighted, and I distinctly saw Home's hand holding the instrument, which moved up and down and played a tune without any visible cause. On stating this, he said, 'Now I will take away my hand'--which he did; but the instrument went on playing, and I saw a detached hand holding it while Home's two hands were seen above the table by all present. This was one of the ordinary phenomena, and thousands of persons have witnessed it; and when we consider that Home's séances almost always took place in private homes at which he was a guest, and with people absolutely above suspicion of collusion with an impostor, and also either in the daytime or in a fully illuminated room, it will be admitted that no form of legerdemain will explain what occurred" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 286-287).
Darwin Agrees to Test a Medium
Another scientist who witnessed Home's mysterious accordion playing was Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. At the invitation of Crookes, Galton attended three séances with Home and another medium, Kate Fox. Afterwards, in a letter dated April 19, 1872, Galton wrote enthusiastically to Darwin: "What surprises me is the perfect openness of Miss F. and Home. They let you do whatever you like within certain limits, their limits not interfering with adequate investigation. I really believe the truth of what they allege, that people who come as men of science are usually so disagreeable, opinionated and obstructive and have so little patience, that the seance rarely succeeds with them. It is curious to observe the entire absence of excitement or tension about people at a seance. Familiarity has bred contempt of the strange things witnessed. . . Crookes, I am sure, so far as is just for me to give an opinion, is thoroughly scientific in his procedure. I am convinced that the affair is no matter of vulgar legerdemain and believe it is well worth going into, on the understanding that a first rate medium (and I hear there are only three such) puts himself at your disposal" (Pearson 1914). Darwin agreed to see Home, giving Galton a letter to send to him. But by that time Home had gone on to Russia and never returned to England (Beloff 1993, pp. 49-50). This is unfortunate. Who knows what would have happened if Darwin had actually met Home? Perhaps he would have joined Wallace in his spiritualism.
The Skeptical Sir David Brewster
Home's mediumship had long been a matter of controversy among English scientists. Home, born in Scotland, had gone to the United States as a child, returning to England in 1855. At that time, he lived in a London hotel owned by a Mr. Cox in Jermyn Street. In his autobiography, Wallace gives attention to Sir David Brewster's experiences with Home. Brewster, a noted physicist, attended a séance with Home at Cox's Hotel and another at Ealing, determined to expose any trickery. After a newspaper gave an account of what happened, Brewster wrote to the editor giving his own testimony: "It is quite true that I saw at Cox's Hotel, in company with Lord Brougham and at Ealing, in company with Mrs. Trollope, several mechanical effects which I was unable to explain. But although I could not account for all these effects, I never thought of ascribing them to spirits stalking beneath the drapery of the table; and I saw enough to satisfy myself that they could all be produced by human hands and feet, and to prove to others that some of them, at least, had such an origin" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 287).
Here Brewster appears to be saying that the things he observed were produced by trickery. But a Mr. Coleman, who spoke with Brewster shortly after the séance, wrote a letter to the paper giving the following account of their conversation (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 288).
"Do you, Sir David, think these things were produced by trick?"
Brewster replied with a letter of his own. Although he maintained his skeptical attitude, he did give some intriguing descriptions of what happened at Cox's Hotel: "When all our hands were upon the table noises were heard--rappings in abundance; and, finally, when we rose up, the table actually rose, as appeared to me, from the ground. This result I do not pretend to explain. . . . A small hand-bell to be rung by the spirits, was placed on the ground near my feet. I placed my feet round it in the form of an angle, to catch any intrusive apparatus. The bell did not ring; but when taken across to a place near Mr. Home's feet, it speedily came across, and placed its handle in my hand" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 288-289).
In his autobiography, Wallace noted that Brewster had written a letter to some of his family members shortly after the séance at Cox's Hotel. In this letter, Brewster expressed himself somewhat differently than he did in his highly skeptical newspaper letters, written half a year later. After explaining how he and Lord Brougham came to Mr. Cox's hotel to see Home, Brewster went on to say: "We four sat down at a moderately sized table, the structure of which we were invited to examine. In a short time the table shuddered, and a tremulous motion ran up all our arms; at our bidding these motions ceased and returned. The most unaccountable rappings were produced in various parts of the table, and the table actually rose from the ground when no hand was upon it. A larger table was produced, and exhibited similar movements. . . . A small hand-bell was then laid down with its mouth on the carpet, and after lying for some time it actually rang when nothing could have touched it. The bell was then placed on the other side, still upon the carpet, and it came over to me and placed itself in my hand. It did the same to Lord Brougham. These were the principal experiments; we could give no explanation of them, and could not conjecture how they could be produced by any kind of mechanism. Hands are sometimes seen and felt, the hand often grasps another, and melts away as it were under the grasp" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 289-290).
Wallace noted some discrepancies between this letter and Sir David's later accounts: "He told the public that he had satisfied himself that all could have been done by human hands and feet; whereas in his earlier private letter he terms them unaccountable, and says that he could not conjecture how they were done. Neither did he tell his public of the tremulous motion up his arms, while he denied that the bell rang at all, though he had before said that it actually rang, where nothing could have touched it" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 290). Wallace stated that "a similar tendency has prevailed in all the scientific opponents of spiritualism" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 290).
St. George Mivart and the Miracles at Lourdes
A scientist with a more favorable attitude to spiritualistic phenomena was St. George Mivart. Having become acquainted with spiritualism through talks with Wallace and by reading his booklet edition of "The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural," Mivart decided to conduct his own investigations. In the winter of 1870, Mivart was in Naples, Italy, where Mrs. Guppy, a medium known to Wallace, resided with her husband. Wallace provided Mivart with a letter of introduction. Mivart attended three séances with Mrs. Guppy. During one séance, he received correct answers to questions he asked mentally. This greatly surprised him. At another séance, which took place in a darkened room, flowers mysteriously appeared. Mivart explained in a letter to Wallace that "the door was locked, the room searched, and all requisite precautions taken. I was not surprised, because of all I had heard from you and others; but the phenomenon was to me convincing. One such fact is as good as a hundred" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 300-301). In his letter, Mivart listed some conclusions. Among them: "I. I have encountered a power capable of removing sensible objects in a way altogether new to me. II. I have encountered an intelligence other than that of the visible assistants. III. In my séances this intelligence has shown itself capable of reading my thought" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 301).
A few years later, Mivart visited Lourdes, a pilgrimage place in France where miraculous cures occurred, supposedly by the intervention of the Virgin Mary. During his stay at Lourdes, Mivart conducted a study of the cures. Wallace received from Mivart a long letter, dated April 5, 1874, about his findings. Mivart gave several case histories, gathered from French physicians, including Dr. Dozens (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 302-304). Here follow two of them.
Blaisette Soupevue, a woman of fifty, had a severe eye infection lasting several years and affecting her sight. Her eyelids were turned out, lashless, and covered with fleshy growths. Doctors Dozens and Vergez pronounced the case incurable. After bathing her eyes with water from Lourdes, the woman completely recovered her sight, the growths disappeared, and her eyelashes began to grow again.
Justin Bontisharts had a child ten years old, with arms and legs much atrophied because of rickets. The child, who had never been able to walk, was near death. Dr. Dozens, who had treated the case, was present when the mother placed the child in the water at Lourdes. The child remained motionless, so much so that many bystanders thought it dead. Two days after returning home, however, the child, much to the surprise of the parents, began walking normally and continued to do so.
For more documentation of miraculous cures at Lourdes, Wallace recommended to his readers two books by Henri Lasserre, Notre Dame de Lourdes and Les Episodes Miraculeux de Lourdes. "The most remarkable feature of these cures," wrote Wallace (1905 v. 2, p. 306), "is their rapidity, often amounting to instantaneousness, which broadly marks them off from all ordinary remedial agencies."
Wallace then described some cases. "One of the most prominent of these, related by M. Lasserre, is that of Frangois Macary, a carpenter of Lavaur. He had varicose veins for thirty years; they were thick as one's finger, with enormous nodosities and frequent bleedings, producing numerous ulcers, so that it had been for many years impossible for him to walk or stand. Three physicians had declared him to be absolutely incurable. At sixty years of age he heard of the cures at Lourdes, and determined to try the waters. A bottle was sent him. Compresses with this were applied in the evening to his two legs. He slept well all night, and early next morning was quite well; his legs were smooth, and there was hardly a trace of the swollen veins, nodosities, and ulcers. The three doctors who had attended him certify to these facts" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 306).
Most interesting is Wallace's explanation of the cures. The cures, according to Wallace, were not caused by the water itself but by a "a real spiritual agency," believed by those cured to be the Virgin Mary (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 308). The cures were, however, rare, and it was impossible to predict who would experience a cure. Wallace noted that cures were not limited to patients who were especially religious or otherwise deserving. In this respect, Wallace considered the patients to be similar to spiritualistic mediums, who were not usually paragons of virtue. Because certain patients, like mediums, were somehow sensitive, they were, regardless of other considerations, selected by spiritual entities as the conduits for psychical effects.
In many cases, cured individuals were "induced to try the Lourdes water often by a very unusual combination of circumstances" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 308). To explain this Wallace suggested the following sequence of events in typical cures: (1) spiritual intelligences select particular individuals for their sensitivity to psychic intervention and possession of a normally incurable condition susceptible to paranormal healing; (2) spiritual intelligences begin the cures, unknown to the patients; (3) desiring ultimately to heighten the spiritual awareness of the patients and others, the spiritual intelligences, at critical moments in the cures, implant in the minds of the patients the idea of using Lourdes water or going to Lourdes; (4) the patients act on these implanted suggestions, experience tangible cures, and attribute them to miraculous intervention by the Virgin Mary (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 308-309). According to this scheme, the spiritual intelligences would in these cases act in conformity with the religious and cultural conditioning of the patients. This is an important idea, to which we shall return in coming chapters.
Against Hume on Miracles
The cures at Lourdes, imbued with Catholic tradition, are usually called miracles, a word with religious connotations. The paranormal phenomena witnessed by Wallace at séances, although devoid of conventional religious overtones, are just as miraculous, in the sense of violating natural law, as understood by orthodox materialistic science. These phenomena might be called secular miracles. Reports of miracles, secular and religious, attained wide circulation, even in educated circles in Europe. Those who wished to dismiss such reports, which undermined the foundations of a strictly materialistic science, often did so in the name of David Hume, who a century earlier had argued in his book An Inquiry Into Human Understanding against the acceptance of miracles.
Hume appealed to uniform human experience in his refutation of miracles. For example, Hume observed "it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or any country." Wallace noted two flaws in this argument. First, the appeal to uniform human experience, granting the truly uniform nature of the experience, insures that no really new fact could ever be established. Second, Wallace questioned the veracity of Hume's version of uniform human experience. "Reputed miracles abound in all periods of history," wrote Wallace (1896, p. 8). And they continued up to the present, thus nullifying Hume's assumption.
Wallace (1896, p. 8) gave levitation of the human body as an instance of a miraculous event for which there is abundant human testimony: "A few well-known examples are those of St. Francis d'Assisi who was often seen by many persons to rise in the air, and the fact is testified by his secretary, who could only reach his feet. St. Theresa, a nun in a convent in Spain, was often raised into the air in the sight of all the sisterhood. Lord Orrery and Mr. Valentine Greatrak both informed Dr. Henry More and Mr. Glanvil that at Lord Conway's house at Ragley, in Ireland, a gentleman's butler, in their presence and in broad daylight, rose into the air and floated about the room above their heads. This is related by Glanvil in his Sadducismus Triumphatus. . . . So we all know that at least fifty persons of high character may be found in London who will testify that they have seen the same thing happen to Mr. Home."
Wallace then pointed out a contradiction in the pages of Hume's own discussion of miracles. Hume had written that for testimony in favor of a miracle to be accepted, it should have the following characteristics. The testimony must be given by multiple observers. The observers should have reputations for honesty. They should be in social positions that entailed some definite material risk in the event their testimony were to be found false. As for the events themselves, they should be public, and they should take place in a civilized part of the world. Hume maintained that such satisfactory testimony was "not to be found, in all history" (Hume, cited in Wallace 1896, p. 8).
But Wallace noted that Hume then gave an account of some miraculous occurrences that fulfilled his own strict criteria. Hume told of the many extraordinary cures that took place in Paris at the tomb of the Abbé Paris, a saintly member of the Jansenists, a persecuted Catholic sect. Hume said of these events, which took place not long before he wrote his book: "The curing of the sick, giving hearing to the deaf, and sight to the blind, were everywhere talked of as the usual effects of that holy sepulchre. But what is more extraordinary, many of the miracles were immediately proved upon the spot, before judges of unquestioned integrity, attested by witnesses of credit and distinction, in a learned age, and on the most eminent theatre that is now in the world." Not only that, said Hume. The Jesuits, who thoroughly opposed the Jansenists, and desired to expose the miracles as hoaxes, were unable to do so, despite their access to the full power of church and state. Given this set of circumstances, it seems Hume should have accepted the miracle. Instead, he wrote: "Where shall we find such a number of circumstances agreeing to the corroboration of one fact? And what have we to oppose to such a cloud of witnesses, but the absolute impossibility, or miraculous nature of the events which they relate? And this, surely, in the eyes of all reasonable people, will alone be regarded as a sufficient refutation" (Wallace 1896, p. 9). Wallace faulted Hume for this blatantly self-contradictory conclusion.
Wallace then cited a particularly striking case, drawn from a book on the Parisian cures by Carrè de Montgeron, and summarized in English by William Howitt in The History of the Supernatural: "Mademoiselle Coirin was afflicted, amongst other ailments, with a cancer in the left breast, for twelve years. The breast was destroyed by it and came away in a mass; the effluvia from the cancer was horrible, and the whole blood of the system was pronounced infected by it. Every physician pronounced the case utterly incurable, yet, by a visit to the tomb, she was perfectly cured; and, what was more astonishing, the breast and nipple were wholly restored, with the skin pure and fresh, and free from any trace of scar. This case was known to the highest people in the realm. When the miracle was denied, Mademoiselle Coirin went to Paris, was examined by the royal physician, and made a formal deposition of her cure before a public notary. . . . M. Gaulard, physician to the king, deposed officially, that, 'to restore a nipple actually destroyed, and separated from the breast, was an actual creation, because a nipple is not merely a continuity of the vessels of the breast, but a particular body, which is of distinct and peculiar organisation'" (Wallace 1896, pp. 11-12).
E. B. Tylor, one of the founders of anthropology, also offered philosophical objections to spiritualistic phenomena. Tylor called the primitive belief in a spirit world "animism." Modern spiritualism would thus represent a remnant of primitive animistic thought in civilized Europeans. Wallace countered that modern spiritualists arrived at their conclusions by careful and repeated observation. "The question is a question of facts," he wrote (Wallace 1896, p. 28). And to Wallace the facts suggested that modern spiritualism and primitive belief shared "at least a substratum of reality" and that "the uniformity of belief is due in great part to the uniformity of underlying facts" (Smith 1991, p. 83).
While Wallace was defending spiritualism in print, he was also gathering more experimental evidence. In 1874, he attended a series of séances with the medium Kate Cook. The sittings took place in the London apartment of Signor Randi, a painter. The medium sat in a chair, behind a curtain hung across a corner of a large reception room. Miss Cook always wore a black dress, earrings, and tightly laced boots. A few minutes after she sat behind the curtain, a female figure, wearing white robes, would sometimes come out and stand near the curtain.
Wallace (1905 v. 2, pp. 327-328) offered this description of what happened: "One after another she would beckon us to come up. We then talked together, the form in whispers; I could look closely into her face, examine the features and hair, touch her hands, and might even touch and examine her ears closely, which were not bored for earrings. The figure had bare feet, was somewhat taller than Miss Cook, and, though there was a general resemblance, was quite distinct in features, figure, and hair. After half an hour or more this figure would retire, close the curtains, and sometimes within a few seconds would say, 'Come and look.' We then opened the curtains, turned up the lamp, and Miss Cook was found in a trance, in the chair, her black dress, laced-boots, etc., in the most perfect order as when she arrived, while the full-grown white-robed figure had totally disappeared."
Wallace had a similar experience with the medium Eglington. The séance took place at a private house, in the presence of about eighteen spiritualists and people inquisitive about spiritualism. The medium was to sit behind a curtain hung across one corner of a room. The space behind the curtain was small, just large enough for the chair on which the medium was to sit. Wallace noted, "I and others examined this corner and found the walls solid and the carpet nailed down" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 329). In other words, there was no concealed opening through which a confederate could enter. After Eglington arrived and sat behind the curtain, a robed male figure appeared and walked around the room, in dim light, allowing all of the witnesses to touch his robes and examine his hands and feet. Could the figure have been Eglington in disguise?
Wallace (1905 v. 2, p. 329) gave this description of what happened immediately after the sitting: "Several of the medium's friends begged him to allow himself to be searched so that the result might be published. After some difficulty he was persuaded, and four persons were appointed to make the examination. Immediately two of these led him into a bedroom, while I and a friend who had come with me closely examined the chair, floor, and walls, and were able to declare that nothing so large as a glove had been left. We then joined the other two in the bedroom, and as Eglington took off his clothes each article was passed through our hands, down to underclothing and socks, so that we could positively declare that not a single article besides his own clothes were found upon him. The result was published in the Spiritualist newspaper [and] certified by the names of all present."
It is true that on some occasions mediums were exposed in cheating. This should not be surprising, for even in orthodox science there is no shortage of cheating. One notable hoax was Piltdown man, which fooled the scientific world for forty years. And today the manipulation and manufacture of test results in science laboratories is fairly common. So whether we are talking about paranormal science or normal science, we cannot exclude the possibility of cheating and hoaxing. The only thing we can do is examine particular cases and make reasonable judgements about the likelihood of imposture. In the case of Wallace's experience with Eglington, a great deal of care was taken to insure against trickery. In light of this, the apparent materialization of a humanlike figure by Eglington deserves a certain degree of credibility.
The most extraordinary phenomenon witnessed by Wallace was produced by a truly remarkable medium, Mr. Monk. A nonconformist clergyman, Monk had gained a considerable reputation for his séances. In order to study him more closely and systematically, some well known spiritualists, including Hensleigh Wedgwood and Stainton Moses, rented some rooms for Monk in the Bloomsbury district of London. Wedgwood and Moses invited Wallace to come and see what Monk could do.
Wallace (1905 v. 2, p. 330) later gave this account of what happened: "It was a bright summer afternoon, and everything happened in the full light of day. After a little conversation, Monk, who was dressed in the usual clerical black, appeared to go into a trance; then stood up a few feet in front of us, and after a little while pointed to his side, saying, 'Look.' We saw there a faint white patch on his coat on the left side. This grew brighter, then seemed to flicker, and extend both upwards and downwards, till very gradually it formed a cloudy pillar extending from his shoulder to his feet and close to his body. Then he shifted himself a little sideways, the cloudy figure standing still, but appearing joined to him by a cloudy band at the height at which it had first begun to form. Then, after a few minutes more, Monk again said 'Look,' and passed his hand through the connecting band, severing it. He and the figure then moved away from each other till they were about five or six feet apart. The figure had now assumed the appearance of a thickly draped female form, with arms and hands just visible. Monk looked towards it and again said to us 'Look,' and then clapped his hands. On which the figure put out her hands, clapped them as he had done, and we all distinctly heard her clap following his, but fainter. The figure then moved slowly back to him, grew fainter and shorter, and was apparently absorbed into his body as it had grown out of it."
Broad daylight rules out clever puppetry. That Monk was standing only a few feet from Wallace, in the middle of an ordinary room, rules out the production of the form by stage apparatus. Wedgwood told Wallace that on other occasions a tall, robed, male figure appeared alongside Monk. This figure would remain for up to half an hour, and allowed himself to be touched by Wedgwood and his colleagues, who carefully examined his body and clothes. Furthermore, the figure could exert force on material objects. Once the figure went so far as to lift a chair upon which one of the investigators was seated (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 331).
Exchanges with Romanes
In 1880, Nature published a letter from an anonymous scientist expressing an interest in carrying out experiments to verify paranormal phenomena. Wallace deduced that the scientist was George J. Romanes. He wrote to him, pointing out that several scientists had already performed such experiments but had met with "only abuse and ridicule" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 310). On February 17, 1880, Romanes replied that he was aware of such scientific prejudice, but he was hopeful that further proofs would have the desired effect. He suggested that Wallace did not realize the extent to which his own work had created within the scientific community a climate favorable to the eventual acceptance of spiritualistic phenomena (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 311). When Romanes repeated his desire to carry out some experiments, Wallace gave him some practical advice.
Wallace paid Romanes a visit in London. Romanes told Wallace how he had become interested in spiritualism (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 314-315). A relative of his--a sister or cousin--happened to be a medium. At séances with her, Romanes witnessed the communication of messages by rapping not produced by any of those present. At times, the messages contained answers to the mental questions of Romanes. Romanes was impressed, and in 1876 he had written some letters to Darwin, giving a positive account of his experiences. Wallace was later shown these letters by a friend (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 315).
A year or two after his visit to Romanes, Wallace (1905 v. 2, p. 330) was surprised to read in a London newspaper some remarks by Romanes very unfavorable to thought reading. Wallace did not, however, reply. But in 1890, Wallace and Romanes became involved in a controversy about evolution. In his criticism of Wallace's book Darwinism, published in the journal Nineteenth Century (May 1890, p. 831), Romanes said that in the last chapter "we encounter the Wallace of spiritualism and astrology . . . the Wallace of incapacity and absurdity" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 317).
Wallace replied privately in a letter dated July 18, 1890: "As to your appeal to popular scientific prejudice by referring to my belief in spiritualism and astrology (which latter I have never professed my belief in), I have something to say. In the year 1876 you wrote two letters to Darwin, detailing your experiences of spiritual phenomena. You told him that you had had mental questions answered with no paid medium present. You told him you had had a message from Mr. J. Bellew. . . . And you declared your belief that some non-human intelligence was then communicating with you. You also described many physical phenomena occurring in your own house with the medium Williams. You saw 'hands,' apparently human, yet not those of any one present. You saw hand-bells, etc., carried about; you saw a human head and face above the table, with mobile features and eyes. Williams was held all the time, and your brother walked round the table to prove that there was no wire or other machinery (in your own room!), yet a bell, placed on a piano some distance away, was taken up by a luminous hand and rung and carried about the room! Can you have forgotten all this? In your second letter to Darwin you expressed your conviction of the truth of these facts, and of the existence of spiritual intelligences, of mind without brain. You said these phenomena had altered your whole conceptions. Formerly you had thought there were two mental natures in Crookes and Wallace--one sane, the other lunatic! Now (you said) you belonged in the same class as they did" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 317-318). Wallace therefore thought it unfair that Romanes should have written as he did in the Nineteenth Century article.
In subsequent letters to Wallace, Romanes replied that his letters to Darwin were private and contained only a provisional acceptance of the phenomena he witnessed. Romanes claimed he later suspected that the medium Williams was cheating. To test this, he placed him inside a metal cage, and in this circumstance none of the usual phenomena occurred. Romanes thereupon withdrew the opinions expressed in his letters to Darwin (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 319, 321).
Wallace answered that the experiment with the cage did not discredit the experiences Romanes reported in his letters (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 320-321). Wallace would accept that they were fraudulent only if Romanes could explain how they were produced, under the circumstances he described. After all, the phenomena took place in Romanes's own house, with the medium held all the time, and with Romanes's brother walking around the room to make sure no wires or other tricks were being employed. Romanes admitted the events were inexplicable (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 322).
Wallace also pointed out that some mediums had passed the cage test: "Mr. Adshead, a gentleman of Belper, had a wire cage made, and Miss Wood sat in it in his own house, many times, and under these conditions many forms of men, women, and children, appeared in the room. A similar cage was afterwards used by the Newcastle Spiritual Evidence Society, for a year or more, and Miss Wood sat in it weekly. It was screwed up from the outside, yet all the usual phenomena of materialization occurred just the same as when no cage was used" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 322-323).
Romanes was not the only scientist to denigrate Wallace's research in spiritualism. One evening, while having tea after a lecture at the Royal Institution, Wallace found himself standing behind Dr. Ansted, who was conversing with a friend. The topic of spiritualism came up, and Dr. Ansted, unaware that Wallace was standing nearby, said, "What a strange thing it is such men as Crookes and Wallace should believe in it!" Ansted's friend laughed and said, "Oh, they are mad on that one subject" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 314). The spreading of such talk is one way by which a scientific orthodoxy can maintain itself--members are subtly reminded that certain kinds of research can be damaging to one's professional reputation.
Spiritualistic Encounters in America
During the years 1886 and 1887, Wallace traveled in the United States on a scientific lecture tour. In the course of his visit, he also met many American spiritualists, such as Professor William James of Harvard, and attended several séances.
One series of séances took place at the Boston home of Mrs. Ross, a medium famous for materializations (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 338-339). To make a space for the medium, a curtain was placed across the corner of a front downstairs room. The sides of this corner were an outside wall of the house and an inside wall, on the other side of which was a back room. The inside wall was occupied by a cupboard filled with china. Wallace carefully inspected the walls and floor, from within the front room, the back room, and the basement. He determined that there were no openings through which anyone could enter, other than a sliding door to the back room. This door was sealed with sticking plaster, and the witnesses secretly marked the plaster with pencil, so that if the plaster were moved they would be able to tell. The ten witnesses, including Wallace, sat in dim light in a circle in front of the curtain. The light was sufficient for Wallace to see the hands of his watch and to see the forms of everyone in the room. Under these circumstances, three figures emerged from behind the curtain--a female figure in White, Mrs. Ross dressed in black, and a male figure. When these retired, three female figures, of different heights and dressed in white, came out. These were followed by a single male figure. One of the gentleman witnesses identified him as his son. Later, a figure dressed as an American Indian came out from behind the curtain. He danced, spoke, and shook hands with some of those present, including Wallace. Finally, a female figure holding a baby appeared in front of the curtain. Wallace, on being invited by her, came up and touched the baby, and found it to be real. "Directly after the séance was over," wrote Wallace, "the gas was lighted, and I again examined the bare walls of the cabinet, the curtains, and the door, all being just as before, and affording no room or place for disposing of the baby alone, far less of the other figures" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 339).
At another séance with Mrs. Ross, attended by William James, Wallace again saw eight or nine figures come out from behind the curtain. One of these was the departed niece of one of the witnesses, Mr. Brackett. Wallace noted that "Mr. Brackett has often seen her develop gradually from a cloudy mass, and almost instantly vanish away" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 339).
Wallace himself saw figures known to him. "One was a beautifully draped female figure, who took my hand, looked at me smilingly, and on my appearing doubtful, said in a whisper that she had often met me at Miss Kate Cook's séances in London. She then let me feel her ears, as I had done before to prove she was not the medium. I then saw that she closely resembled the figure with whom I had often talked and joked at Signor Randi's, a fact known to no one in America. The other figure was an old gentleman with white hair and beard, and in evening-dress. He took my hand, bowed, and looked pleased, as one meeting an old friend. . . . at length I recognized the likeness to a photograph I had of my cousin Algernon Wilson, whom I had not seen since we were children, but had long corresponded with him, as he was an enthusiastic entomologist, living in Adelaide, where he had died not long before. . . . These two recognitions were to me very striking, because they were both so private and personal to myself, and could not possibly have been known to the medium or even to any of my friends present" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 339-340).
A few months after these events, a group of twelve men came to one of Mrs. Ross's séances with the intention of exposing the materialized spirit forms as imposters (Wallace 1905, v. 2, p. 340). When they executed their plan, the twelve men found themselves unable to detain a single suspect (two men, one woman, two boys, and a little girl) or take a single piece of their paraphernalia. The men declared to a newspaper that the alleged imposters had entered the space behind the curtain through a sliding portion of the baseboard. Upon learning of this, some friends of Mrs. Ross brought her landlord and a carpenter to the scene, where they conducted a thorough inspection. The carpenter testified that there was no opening in the baseboard, and that none had been made and covered up. Wallace sent to the Banner of Light a letter stating these facts. He argued that "the utter failure of twelve men, who went for the express purpose of detecting and identifying confederates, utterly failing to do so or to secure any tangible evidence of their existence, is really a very strong proof that there were no confederates to detect" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 340-341). This is not to deny that there were cases in which mediums were exposed and confederates seized. But this particular case does not seem to fall in that category.
In Washington, D.C., Wallace, accompanied by a college professor, an army general, and a government official, all spiritualists, attended séances with the medium P. L. O. A. Keeler (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 341-345). Across one corner of the room a black curtain was stretched on a cord, five feet off the floor. In the space behind the curtain was a table, upon which rested a tambourine and a bell. Before the séance, Wallace carefully checked the walls and floor, satisfying himself that there were no hidden entrances. He also checked the curtain, noticing it was one solid piece of cloth, with no openings. Everyone there had the chance to make similar investigations. Keeler and two guests from the audience sat in three chairs in front of the curtain. A lower curtain was then raised in front of them, up to the level of their chests. Keeler's hands were placed on those of the guest sitting next to him. Wallace (1905 v. 2, p. 343) observed: "The tambourine was rattled and played on, then a hand appeared above the curtain, and a stick was given to it which it seized. Then the tambourine was lifted high on this stick and whirled round with great rapidity, the bell being rung at the same time. All the time the medium sat quiet and impassive, and the person next him certified to his two hands being on his or hers." A pencil and notepad were then passed to the hand above the curtain. Behind the curtain, messages were written, and these were thrown over the curtain. The messages were signed with names known to certain witnesses, who found the content of the messages intelligible. Wallace himself received a message in an extraordinary way. Instead of passing the notepad over the curtain to the hand, he held it himself near the curtain. Wallace then saw a hand with a pencil come through the solid curtain and write a message to him on the pad.
On another occasion, Wallace observed a similar occurrence: "A stick was pushed out through the curtain. Two watches were handed to me through the curtain, and were claimed by the two persons who sat by the medium. The small tambourine, about ten inches in diameter, was pushed through the curtain and fell on the floor. These objects came through different parts of the curtain, but left no holes as could be seen at the time, and was proved by a close examination afterwards. More marvellous still (if that be possible), a waistcoat was handed to me over the curtain, which proved to be the medium's, though his coat was left on and his hands had been held by his companions all the time; also about a score of people were looking on all the time in a well-lighted room. These things seem impossible, but they are, nevertheless, facts" (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 344-345).
In San Francisco, Wallace, along with his brother John, who lived in California, and Mr. Owen, editor of the Golden Gate, attended some slate writing sessions with the medium Fred Evans (Wallace 1905, v. 2, pp. 346-349). A physician, a friend of Mr. Owen, also was present. Four folding slates were cleaned with a damp sponge and then handed to the four guests for inspection. The slates were closed and placed on the table. The guests then placed their hands on the slates. When a signal was given, they opened the slates and found writing on all of them. The messages were from departed relatives of Wallace and departed spiritualists. The usual skeptical explanation is that the slates were somehow switched. But Wallace's description of the procedure appears to rule that out, as the witnesses had their own hands on the slates at critical times.
Another set of slates was set on the table. The medium marked one of these slates with a pencil. When opened, this slate was covered with writing in five colors. Wallace observed that the letters were clearly superimposed over the pencil marks. This appears to rule out any clever chemical means of producing the letters.
Wallace's brother had brought a new folding slate of his own. This was placed nearby on the floor for a few minutes. Wallace kept the slate in sight the entire time. When the slate was opened, a message was found written upon both sides of it. That it was a new slate, not belonging to the medium, is significant.
Wallace then asked the medium if the writing could be produced on pieces of paper placed between slates. Evans told Wallace to take six pieces of paper from a notepad and place them between a pair of slates. Wallace did so. After a few minutes, the slates were opened. Wallace found portraits of five departed spiritualists and a long dead sister of his drawn in crayon on the six pieces of paper, which had rested one on top of the other between the slates. They had been placed there by Wallace himself, ruling out substitution by the medium. Given the unexpected request by Wallace, the circumstances under which the pieces of paper were placed between the slates, it is hard to see how the medium could have carried out any deception.
Wallace (1905 v. 2, pp. 348-349) noted: "The whole of the seven slates and six papers were produced so rapidly that the séance occupied less than an hour, and with such simple and complete openness, under the eyes of four observers, as to constitute absolutely test conditions. . . . A statement to this effect was published, with an account of the séance, signed by all present."
Wallace's Theory of Spiritualism: Analysis and Critique
Summarizing the conclusions he drew from his spiritual researches, Wallace (1892, p. 648) stated: "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."
Such conclusions were drawn solely from facts that had been carefully and repeatedly observed in nature, and they were thus entirely scientific, said Wallace (Wallace 1885a, p. 809). The observable facts did not, however, warrant extending spiritualist conclusions beyond certain limits. The verifiable facts of spiritualism were, according to Wallace, related to humans and the spirit beings nearest to earthly human existence. He therefore warned: "Speculations on the nature or origin of mind in general as well as those on the ultimate states to which human minds may attain in the infinite future, I look upon as altogether beyond the range of our faculties, and to be, therefore, utterly untrustworthy and profitless" (Wallace 1885b; in Smith 1991, p. 101). Wallace was generally content with the limited conclusions that could be drawn from the observable middle ground of human experience. He himself did, however, sometimes venture into the realm of "untrustworthy" speculation about origins and ultimate states.
Wallace found spiritualism to be a good scientific hypothesis, for it allowed him to intelligibly organize and explain many categories of evidence. For example, spiritualism allowed him to accommodate in one explanatory system the spiritlike daimon that advised Socrates, the Greek oracles, the miracles of the Old and New Testaments, the miracles of saints such as St. Bernard, St. Francis, and St. Theresa; the phenomena of witchcraft; modern Catholic miracles such as Marian apparitions; psychic powers reported in primitive peoples, and the efficacy of prayer, as well as the phenomena of modern spiritualism (Wallace 1874; in Smith 1991, pp. 87-89). All of these could be attributed to spirits acting through especially sensitive humans to produce unusual physical and mental effects.
If spirits were nonmaterial or made of "the most diffused and subtle forms of matter," (Wallace 1896, p. 44) how could they act on, or even produce, substantial material objects? Wallace observed that "all the most powerful and universal forces of nature are now referred to minute vibrations of an almost infinitely attenuated form of matter; and that, by the grandest generalisations of modern science, the most varied natural phenomena have been traced back to these recondite forces" (Wallace 1896, p. 44). Regarding the "almost infinitely attenuated form of matter," Wallace was referring to a space-filling ether. In his system, the spirit beings would act on the ether, and this subtle action would amplify through the forces of nature into action on the level of observable matter.
Wallace (1896, pp. 47-48) further proposed: "Beings of an ethereal order, if such exist, would probably possess some sense or senses . . . .giving them increased insight into the constitution of the universe, and proportionately increased intelligence to guide and direct for special ends those new modes of ethereal motion with which they would in that case be able to deal. Their every faculty might be proportionate to the modes of action of the ether. They might have a power of motion as rapid as that of light or the electric current. They might have a power of vision as acute as that of our most powerful telescopes and microscopes. They might have a sense somewhat analogous to the powers of the last triumph of science, the spectroscope, and by it be enabled to perceive instantaneously, the intimate constitution of matter under every form, whether in organised beings or in stars and nebulae. Such existences, possessed of such, to us, inconceivable powers, would not be supernatural, except in a very limited and incorrect sense of the term . . . all would still be natural."
The space-filling ether of nineteenth century physics is no longer with us. But there are modern scientific concepts that would allow Wallace's basic system to operate. According to deterministic chaos theorists, immeasurably small random perturbances of matter can rapidly propagate into large-scale effects that are not easily predictable. Scientists sometimes give the example of a Caribbean butterfly that by its wings sets off motions of air molecules. These movements might eventually amplify to steer a hurricane from open sea into the American coast. If the butterfly had flapped its wings slightly differently, the hurricane might not have hit land. According to this idea, Wallace's spirit beings might make infinitesimal adjustments on the subatomic level that would quickly propagate into observable spiritualist effects. One might also propose that they are somehow capable of manipulating the curvature of Einstein's space-time continuum. They could thus produce gravitational effects, for gravity is said to be the result of curvature in the continuum. Or one might propose that the spirit beings induce slight changes in the quantum mechanical vacuum, which in some ways resembles an ether. Of course, this approach is limiting, and rather than straining to find ways to explain spiritualist phenomena in conformity with currently accepted physical laws, it may make more sense to come up with a new theoretical system that more naturally incorporates both the normal and paranormal phenomena. Reintroducing a variety of the ether concept might be one way to do it. One could define the ether as a subtle interface between consciousness and matter.
In terms of modern discussion of the mind/body question, Wallace would be a dualist. He accepted the existence of a conscious self distinct from the physical body. Wallace noted that the bodies of organisms, from primitive to advanced, were built up from molecules, arranged in ever increasing complexity. More, however, was needed to explain consciousness. "If a material element, or a combination of a thousand material elements in a molecule, are all alike unconscious, it is impossible for us to believe, that the mere addition of one, two, or a thousand other material elements to form a more complex molecule, could in any way produce a self-conscious existence. The things are radically distinct. . . . There is no escape from this dilemma,--either all matter is conscious, or consciousness is something distinct from matter, and in the latter case, its presence in material forms is a proof of the existence of conscious beings, outside of, and independent of, what we term matter" (Wallace 1870; in Smith 1991, p. 290).
Wallace favored the latter course, but his system has certain puzzling features. Although a dualist, he does not appear to accept the existence of individual conscious entities before their earthly embodiment. According to Wallace, there is an original spiritual mind from which matter is generated. Individual spiritual minds, associated with spiritual bodies (souls), are only developed from and in material bodies, as they come into existence (Wallace 1885b; in Smith 1991, p. 100). After death, the individual minds, as above stated, go to "the first grade of spirit life," where they experience progress or the lack of it based on their earthly habits. But if individual spirit souls can exist after earthly embodiment, why not before? And why is there any need at all for earthly embodiment, which is not an altogether pleasant experience? Why not skip that and go directly to the highest grade of spiritual life?
A system in which there is preexistence of spirit beings offers a solution. According to Wallace, spirit has free will, and as a result suffers or enjoys the consequences of its actions after death. So if we allow that souls exist before their material embodiment, and also possess free will, we could explain the embodiment of some of these souls by misuse of the same free will. Only those souls who misused their free will would suffer embodiment, which does seem to have some unpleasant features, such as inevitable disease and death.
Here is another problem with Wallace's system. In his works, Wallace details reports of varied spiritualistic phenomena, such as levitation, apparitions, and clairvoyance, from his own time and throughout history. But he ignores reports of transmigration of souls, which occur widely in almost all times and places. The reports of transmigration are just as credible as any other category of evidence he considers. The existence of this phenomenon requires, however, certain modifications in Wallace's system. At death, souls would pass not necessarily into the first phase of spiritual existence but perhaps into new material bodies. According to religious systems that incorporate transmigration, such as the Vedic system, some souls, because of their strong attachment to their last embodiment, do not attain new material bodies, but remain for some time as ghosts. This actually fits in quite well with the observations of Wallace and other spiritualists, who found that the spirits they contacted often desired to communicate with living friends and relatives.
Wallace's Spiritualism and Evolution
How did Wallace incorporate his spiritualist ideas into his theory of evolution by natural selection? Specifically, how did his spiritualist ideas relate to his theory of human origins? First of all, Wallace believed that evolution was in some sense directed. Although the origin of species was in general governed by natural selection, natural selection was, in his opinion, not sufficient to account for the exact variety of species we encounter today. Some forces, the nature of which were not clearly understood, and which perhaps never could be understood, shaped the path that evolution by natural selection followed.
Stephen J. Gould, an influential modern evolutionary theorist, has proposed that if we "ran the tape" of evolution again we would not get the same result. For example, we might not get human beings. Indeed, we might "run the tape" a thousand different times and get a thousand different sets of species. In other words, there is a certain contingency rather than inevitability to the evolutionary process. There are so many variables that one cannot predict in advance the path evolution will follow. If there are so many paths, each of which is dependent on millions of accidental occurrences, great and small, then this leaves open the possibility for an original Mind to manipulate the process to get a specific result.
Given a certain initial condition and a desired end result, the Mind-directed pathway, mediated by natural selection, might contain a lot of strange features one would not expect from a Creator, but it would nevertheless be guided and intentional. For example, the panda has a thumblike appendage that it uses to grasp bamboo shoots, its favorite food. Gould points out that the so-called thumb is not a real digit but an outgrowth from the panda's wrist. God would never have created the panda's "thumb," says Gould. Only natural selection could account for such a weird, quirky adaptation. But God and natural selection were, for Wallace, not mutually exclusive. The original Mind could have guided the path of natural selection in a certain direction to get human beings as an end result. And one of the byproducts may have been the panda, with its strange thumb.
Let us consider in more detail the source of guidance in Wallace's system of guided evolution. Anticipating Einstein, Wallace considered matter to be a transformation of force, or energy (Wallace 1870, in Smith 1991, p. 290). Force existed in two varieties: "The first consists of the primary forces of nature, such as gravitation, cohesion, repulsion, heat, electricity, etc.; the second is our own will force" (Wallace 1870, in Smith 1991, p. 290). The ancient question of free will remains an unresolved problem for most philosophers and scientists right up to the present. Foregoing a review of the entire debate, I shall here simply reproduce the main features of Wallace's argument.
Wallace observed that many persons suggest free will is "but the result of molecular changes in the brain" (Wallace 1870, in Smith 1991, p. 291). But he countered that no one has ever proved that all force exhibited in a body can be attributed to known primary forces of nature. Accepting the existence of free will as an observed feature of human consciousness, he proposed that its exercise must involve the exertion of a force capable of setting into motion the other natural forces exhibited in organisms. In this sense, the action of natural forces in an organism could be ultimately traced to the action of will force. This led Wallace to conclude: "If, therefore, we have traced one force, however minute, to an origin in our own WILL, while we have no knowledge of any other primary cause of force, it does not seem an improbable conclusion that all force may be will-force; and thus, that the whole universe, is not merely dependent on, but actually is, the WILL of higher intelligences or of one Supreme Intelligence" (Wallace 1870; in Smith 1991, p. 291). In other words, all matter and force in the universe are transformations of the will of a Supreme Intelligence, or intelligences.
The will of higher intelligences, according to Wallace, guided the process of evolution by natural selection. Wallace stated: "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 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 mastered the laws of development of organic forms through past ages, refusing to believe that any new power had been concerned in their 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 intelligence 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 (Wallace 1870, pp. 359-360; in Smith 1991, p. 289).
Wallace believed that certain physiological features of humans could not be explained by natural selection and survival of the fittest alone. He noted that the brains of primitive peoples were as large and developed as the brains of civilized peoples. It appeared, therefore, that the primitive people had brains with capacities far in excess of those demanded by their daily lives. Wallace said "natural selection could only have endowed the savage with a brain a little superior to that of an ape" (Wallace 1869; in Smith 1991, p. 32). Concerning the human hand, Wallace said the savage "has no need for so fine an instrument, and can no more fully utilise it than he could use without instruction a complete set of joiner's tools" (Wallace 1869; in Smith 1991, p. 32). Wallace made similar arguments about the human capacity for speech. He took all of this as evidence that some intelligence had "guided the action" of the laws of evolutionary development "in definite directions and for special ends" (Wallace 1869; in Smith 1991, p. 33).
Wallace, as we have seen, believed the human race was of considerable antiquity. And interestingly enough, he thought that the current level of European civilization might not have been humankind's highest moment. "And," he added, "if we are thus led to believe that our present knowledge of nature is somewhat less complete than we have been accustomed to consider it, this is only what we might expect; for however great may have been the intellectual triumphs of the nineteenth century, we can hardly think so highly of its achievements as to imagine that, in somewhat less than twenty years, we have passed from complete ignorance to almost perfect knowledge on two such vast and complex subjects as the origin of species and the antiquity of man" (Wallace 1876; in Smith 1991, pp. 43-44). Although we must now talk of 150 years instead of twenty, what Wallace said towards the end of the nineteenth century remains true at the beginning of the twenty-first.
Mr. Cremo refers to the following works in this chapter (in addition to those items by Wallace found in Smith 1991):
--Beloff, John, 1993. Parapsychology: A Concise History. New York: St. Martin's Press.
--Cremo, Michael A., and Richard L. Thompson, 1993. Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race. San Diego: Bhaktivedanta Institute.
--Pearson, Karl, 1914. The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
--Smith, Charles H., ed., 1991. Alfred Russel Wallace: An Anthology of His Shorter Writings. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
--Wallace, Alfred Russel, 1887. The Antiquity of Man in North America. Nineteenth Century 22: 667-679.
--Wallace, Alfred Russel, 1892. Spiritualism. In Chambers's Encyclopædia (London & Edinburgh: William & Robert Chambers, Ltd.), Vol. 9: 645-649.
--Wallace, Alfred Russel, 1896. Miracles and Modern Spiritualism. Revised [Third] Edition. London: George Redway.
--Wallace, Alfred Russel, 1905. My Life; A Record of Events and Opinions. London: Chapman & Hall, Ltd.
Copyright 2006 by Charles H. Smith. All