The Once and Future Wallace,
by Charles H. Smith, Ph.D., Western Kentucky University
Welcome to the site that takes intellectual exploration in directions I believe the English evolutionist, naturalist, and social critic Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) might have endorsed had he been alive today. If this is your first visit here, I believe you will benefit from a quick look at the author's bio before moving on, as the reasons for the materials presented here will then be more evident. Otherwise, continue on below, or proceed directly to the
Most visitors to this site are probably familiar with my other online Wallace project, The Alfred Russel Wallace Page. This contains a good deal of material pertaining to the man--especially to his writings--and is offered as a point of departure for those doing research that concerns him. As such, it serves a bibliographic, archival, and history-oriented purpose, primarily, and accordingly I have resisted the temptation to drag too many personal views (beyond those pertaining to straight historical interpretation, that is) into the mix. Here, the approach will be different, featuring my own essays, ideas, and research--some of the last of which is decidedly of a "left field" nature--though never, I think, straying too far from the example of Mr. Wallace.
I first encountered the name Alfred Russel Wallace during a reading course on biogeography I took my senior undergraduate year in 1972. At that point he frankly made little impression on me, but later as I followed a biogeography track in graduate school I became more and more intrigued, both as to the range of his attention, and the quality of his thinking. I began collecting and actively seeking writings of his that effectively had been lost to time; to this date I have personally resurrected some five hundred or more of his publications in this manner, some of which have filled in important gaps in the chronology of his various attentions.
Meanwhile, I began to have certain doubts as to what past scholarship had concluded about the evolution of Wallace's cosmology. In particular, I believed (and still believe) that previous workers had significantly mis-interpreted the place of natural selection in his overall world view, which both prior to his discovery of the principle and after it looked largely to a "final causes"-based view of natural organization. My interpretation of Wallace's "law" of natural selection as a negative feedback process within the unrolling of evolution led to my Ph.D. dissertation in 1984, which I make generally available here (under "Biogeography" in the Writings Menu) for the first time. Shortly thereafter, I began thinking about how a final causes-based reality might actually function, and spent most of my time for several years looking into some related models. Over the past two years I have had a chance to revisit this work and to modestly confirm and extend it; the results may be found here under the "A Theory of Spatial Systems" section. Some of the empirical studies I describe there will, I promise you, give you a good deal to think about!
There will be some who read these words who think that they slyly conceal an impending slide into Darwin-bashing and/or, more uncomfortably yet, Creationism. This is not the case. I have a good deal of respect for Darwin's ideas, but thirty years of considering the matter have led me to believe that Wallace's framework is the superior starting point for looking at the bigger picture. You will also find no pleas for first causes-based understandings here, though I will admit up front that I am only slightly more upset by such stances than I am adamant defenses of what might be termed "ultraconservative materialism." The universe is what it is, not an agenda pursuant to convenience. Read, and think!