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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Letter to Isaac Bickerstaffe re: Spirals
(S695: 1912)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A private letter to Bickerstaffe reprinted by permission in the latter's article "Some Principles of Growth and Beauty" on page 946 of the 11 May 1912 number of The Field. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S695.htm

    I was very much interested in your work on "Spirals" in Nature, as it is one of the finest illustrations of that extreme "diversity" in every part of the material universe from suns and planets to every detail of our earth's surface, and every detail of structure in plants and animals, culminating in an equal diversity in the mental character, as well as the physical structure of man. This final result, as I have suggested in my latest book, The World of Life, is the whole purpose of the material universe, inasmuch as it leads to the development of an infinite diversity of ever-living and progressing spiritual beings. This diversity has been brought about through what we term the "laws of nature"--really the "forces" of nature--acting on matter, which itself seems to be an aggregation of more refined forces, acting and reacting for the most part in what appear to be fixed and determinate ways. We are now learning that these forces themselves are never identical, and never act in an identical manner. The atoms, once thought to be absolutely identical, absolutely incompressible, &c., are now perceived to be each a vast complex of forces, probably no two identical. So, the chemical atoms, long thought to be fixed, of definite atomic weights, and combining in definite proportions, are now found to be in all probability diverse, and their atomic weights not commensurable with each other.

    This atomic and sub-atomic diversity is, I believe, the cause, or rather the basic condition of the exquisite forms in Nature, never producing straight lines but an endless variety of curves, and spirals. Absolute uniformity of atoms and of forces would probably have led to the production of straight lines, true circles, or other closed curves. Inequality starts curves, and when growth is diverted from the direct path it almost necessarily leads to the production of that most beautiful of curves--the spiral.--Yours truly, Alfred R. Wallace.

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