Joel Schwartz (1984) has examined Wallace's views on the evolution of man in an effort to distinguish them from Darwin's. Schwartz feels that Wallace came to decide man and nonhuman animals had evolved differently some time after the appearance of the latter's 1858 paper "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type," as that work makes no specific mention of man. But how much confidence can we have in this rather slender thread of negative evidence? Are there no more workable interpretations? Perhaps Wallace felt the model could be applied equally well to man, but didn't want to over-complicate his initial, and typically lucid, presentation of the idea. Or maybe he just didn't happen to use the example of man in the work--i.e., it was a chance omission (there were no mentions of plants in the paper either, after all) Or just maybe, as I shall argue, the main point of the Ternate essay, beyond its introduction of natural selection per se, was to lay the groundwork for the idea that man is, in fact, an exception.
For a long time most observers have assumed, based on an absence of obviously contrary evidence, that Wallace was little upset--either at the time or later--over the fact that his Ternate essay on natural selection was made public without his permission. Maybe so; but then again, perhaps the situation was just a bit more complicated than has been imagined: Wallace may not so much have regretted the behavior of the main characters involved (i.e., Darwin, Lyell, and Hooker) but instead an end result in which words were put into his mouth. Entertaining this possibility, one should consider the following remarks, part of a letter sent to Adolf Bernhard Meyer in 1869 (and later reprinted in S516 in 1895) when Meyer sought Wallace's permission to translate the paper into German: "As soon as my ague fit was over I sat down, wrote out the article, copied it, and sent it off by the next post to Mr. Darwin. It was printed without my knowledge, and of course without any correction of proofs. I should, of course, like this act to be stated." The situation was in fact so stated when Meyer published the German version of "On the Tendency...,"1 but this apparently was not enough to assuage Wallace's sense of historical responsibility. When the original paper was reprinted in the collection Natural Selection and Tropical Nature in 1891,2 Wallace added the note (the only one he did): "'And that of their offspring' should have been added. But it must be remembered that the writer had no opportunity of correcting the proofs of this paper." This note was itself reprinted in 1895 when Meyer sent a letter to the journal Nature to draw readers' attention to Wallace's early description of his creative experience.3
Twice was apparently not enough either. In "The Dawn of a Great Discovery" in 1903, he stated the situation as follows: "...in the next two succeeding evenings [I] wrote it out in full, and sent it by the next post to Mr. Darwin... I also asked him, if he thought well of it, to show it to Sir Charles Lyell, but I said nothing about its publication."4 Nor was three times. In Volume One of My Life, published two years later, he again brought up the subject: "The paper is reprinted in my Natural Selection and Tropical Nature, and in reading it now it must be remembered that it was but a hasty first sketch, that I had no opportunity of revising it before it was printed in the journal of the Linnean Society..."5
Considering the spectacular success of the paper, it is just a trifle odd that Wallace continued to draw attention to what might otherwise be considered in historical retrospect a minor matter--unless, of course, he felt that though he had not been done an outright injustice, he had at the least been forestalled in stating the full weight of his own opinions. Let us reflect on this notion for a moment, given its fundamental historical context and the personalities involved.
At the time Wallace sent the essay to Darwin, he was a moderately well known travelling naturalist of no great social position and very little reputation as a theoretician. Darwin and his immediate associates, by contrast, represented the establishment in all senses of the word. The Darwin-Lyell-Hooker appropriation of his paper, however one feels about it for other reasons, had the immediate effect of changing Wallace's status among the scientific elite: from that point on he would now be taken very seriously. The establishment would expect Wallace to show some gratefulness for his sudden empowerment, and he would have been viewed very poorly had he publicly objected to the way he had been treated. Nor should it be viewed as surprising that he never revealed any annoyance even in private communications made after the fact. Wallace must have realized, then and later, that his fame was such that even his private letters would eventually be made public and examined for clues on the matter. It would appear unseemly at best to deliberately complain about what was, on the balance, his extremely good fortune.
And clearly, it was good fortune, and he was generally happy over the situation. Certainly the following passage, taken from a letter written to his mother on 6 October 1858--shortly after he heard that his paper had been read to the Linnean Society--would seem to indicate this:
Besides, Darwin had in fact been consumed with thoughts on natural selection for over twenty years, and Wallace, a gentleman to a fault, would have resisted any temptation to challenge his priority in any bald fashion. And, had he done so, the worst thing of all might have happened: ground already gained in the selling of the idea to the scientific and lay communities might have been lost.
I think Wallace did the right--and for him, predictable--thing: instead of complaining, he waited for the right opportunity to really speak his mind. This would come in due course.
More important than Wallace's lack of reaction to his forestalling (more negative evidence) is the fact that the manuscript he sent to Darwin was not intended for publication, only for comment. We do not have the cover letter that went along with the draft to Darwin--it has been lost, along with the essay itself--but there are three good reasons for reasonably concluding that Wallace did not consider the work to be a completed document at the time he sent it. First, in Darwin's second letter to Lyell after receiving the manuscript he states that Wallace "says nothing about publishing" the essay.7 Second, to my knowledge Wallace himself never said anything later to the effect that it was intended for publication--and, of course, as just discussed, he actually states on at least one occasion (in S599) that it wasn't. He must have been in one sense or another testing the water; he was not in the habit (then or later) of soliciting opinions before attempting to publish, and it is altogether likely that he truly considered it a draft and had intentions of modifying it before relaying it on for publication. And even this presumes that he had any intention of publishing it in anything resembling that form right away to begin with: he had, we should remind ourselves, been sketching out the material for an entire book on evolution.
Importantly, it would especially make sense that he was not intending to publish the work were he still debating in his mind how to interpret humankind's higher faculties through this new model of his. The Ternate essay avoids any mention of man, remember. If I am correct, there was no particular reason on this occasion for him to single out man anyway. The paper was restricted to a consideration of the fundamentals of species/population divergence, and avoided any discussion of Wallace's views on evolution in general. Whether he intended to add remarks concerning man's possible exceptional evolutionary relationship to natural selection before finalizing the work in one form or another admittedly cannot be demonstrated to anyone's full satisfaction at present; that the work omitted any special reference to man, however, is irrelevant altogether to the conclusions others have drawn from this fact if Wallace had a different agenda in mind than has generally been assumed, but also never demonstrated.
* * *
Just about everyone agrees that Wallace most likely became a convert to the notion of biological evolution in 1844 or 1845 after reading Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.8 At that point, however, he had not yet begun to relate evolution to the immediate causal agencies we now associate with the workings of natural selection. His letters to Henry Walter Bates during that period9 and later comments on Vestiges10 show that Wallace was more critical of its author's (Robert Chambers) inability to set out a model of process integrating the facts available than he was that writer's rather philosophical/cosmological approach to the subject per se.11 Certainly, there were "facts" that could be interpreted as the products of evolution, and it was out of these that a dogma-free conceptualization of the underlying process had to be constructed. The investigations in natural history Wallace had conducted in his spare time while working as a surveyor and teacher in the early to mid-1840s led him to think that the facts of diversity might provide a firm base for such a model; as a result, he made constructing a connection between evolution and the distribution of organisms a conscious objective of his collecting expeditions to South America and the Malay Archipelago. It is reasonably certain that he actually did keep this matter at the front of his mind: he says so directly in print in "On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species":
These remarks are corroborated by the contents of letters he exchanged with his friend and confederate Bates.13
Wallace's preconceptions about natural process and organization at the time he left for South America had devolved in part from his reading of Vestiges, and in part from the general outlook he already had at that point in his life. He had apparently rejected most orthodox Christian interpretations of nature and society long before reading Vestiges, and his adoption of an evolutionary perspective was not an inconsistent next step.14
This does not necessarily mean, however, that Wallace had also rejected the idea that in one fashion or another some godly, or at least supraphysical, entity might represent the final cause of natural organization. This conclusion has also been drawn by Malinchak (1987); note in this connection the last sentence in the passage from the letter to his brother-in-law Thomas Sims letter presented in Chapter One. It is significant that Wallace later looked back at himself as being an agnostic--rather than an atheist--during this period.15 "God" was a concept that, in his own words, he "cared and thought nothing about."16 By 1871, of course, he undoubtedly accepted that behind all "universal forces and laws" there lay "the will or power" of a "Great Mind" or "Supreme Intelligence"17 It seemed, however, that the "law" of such a will or entity, probably being "connected with the absolute origin of life and organization," was likely "too deep for us to discover."18
Such "law" was not, it need be emphasized, to be interpreted as one operating through event-specific Godly interventions: "I reject the hypothesis of 'first causes' for any and every special effect in the universe, except in the...sense that the action of man or of any intelligent being is a first cause."19 Wallace would thus have nothing of a theistic God that had created--and was personally supervising--an essentially unprogressing (or, for that matter, progressing) natural reality. Rather, the "Great Mind" represented, in some sense, a universal source of will as an expression of which the laws of the universe operated, in fully uniformitarian fashion, to evolve "special" (i.e., individual) effects: "...only in reference to the origin of universal forces and laws have I spoken of the will or power of 'one Supreme Intelligence'."20
Again, within this framework, a final cause was in theory thought to be operating, but probably was too remote from human appreciation ever to be fully understood. Nevertheless, the "will" of the "Supreme Intelligence" was manifest as an ordered, changing existence encompassing all of reality (including itself, whatever it might be), and operating according to describable laws of interaction (e.g., natural selection and gravitational attraction). These laws combined in such a fashion--quite possibly itself formally describable, and at the least recognizable--making ordered change the necessary consequence of their operation. Kleiner (1981 & 1985) has noted the resemblance of Wallace's early "universal laws" approach to biogeography to the studies of Newton on gravitation.21
I will suggest that Wallace's intellectual evolution between 1845 and 1870 consisted largely of a shift in opinion as to how these fundamental laws of nature were integrated as a function of final causation. Whereas in the late 1840s and most of the 1850s he believed biological/social evolution might be explained on the basis of laws of interaction directly analogous to--and working alongside of--those governing the physical world (note the first italicized passage in the "Advantages" selections presented in Chapter One), he would eventually decide: (1) that (at least) three, rather than two, general domains of interaction pursuant to such laws existed, and (2) that the interaction among these domains defined a nested hierarchy of causal organization.22 Otherwise put, while at first Wallace felt that biological and social evolution were forced by physical (i.e., geophysical/geographical) relationships analogous to, but of greater complexity than, say, gravitational attraction, later he would conclude that a kind of mutual causality prevailed.
More specifically, what we would now term a "push-pull" kind of causality was implied (Magoroh Maruyama employed this term to describe a coupling of positive and negative feedback relations that yielded irreversible forms of change in an important 1963 systems theory paper23)--though Wallace himself, of course, was not specifically engaged in any attempt to develop an abstract form of systems theory utilizing such thinking. In his mature thoughts on the subject, pre-biological forces had laid the foundation for conditions that could support biological organization; the latter, in turn, eventually co-evolved to a point permitting the increasing involvement of a domain of psychic organization. The growth of the psychic domain within human consciousness coincided with (and depended on) our increasing transcendance of the "everyone for himself" sentiments rooted in the survival instinct necessary to biological success. Such transcendance represented an accelerating "pull" effect within the operation of the hierarchy, because consciously-willed acts by human beings increasingly enhanced the chain of causation enacted by rotely-operating physical and biological laws alone.
Before we look into the way Wallace developed the concepts presaging such ideas, it will be helpful to take note of a special feature of Wallace's views on evolutionary causation that I feel makes them fully distinct from Darwin's (and one to which I will return in the final chapter here). Darwinian natural selection defines a process: one in which the selection of characters apropos to environmental circumstances supports eventual divergences in species lines. The influence of prior causes, both internal and external (loosely, genetic and environmental) to the actors involved is acknowledged, and left open for consideration, identification, and clarification. The Darwinian approach is to accept historical continuity of organismal form as signifying continuity of process; thus, both natural selection specifically and evolution in general are considered demonstrated if speciation, including its biogeographical ramifications, can be synonymized with spatial-temporal chronologies of adaptive change.
Wallace was well aware of Darwin's emphasis on the process of divergence; i.e., "process yields structure yields process...": "tree-thinking."24 He discusses Darwin's position on continuity and the origin of man's higher faculties, for example, in his 1889 book Darwinism:
Actually, at no time during his life did Wallace recognize a necessary connection between process and particular structure. Wallace considered natural selection a "law" of natural interaction rather than a process. There is no generalizable "process" of adaptation implicit in Wallace's realization of natural selection, only the result of being adapted. The difference in the two men's positions is reflected in a letter Wallace sent to Darwin on 2 July 1866.26 In this communication Wallace complained that Darwin had been using the term "natural selection" to mean two things: "survival of the fittest," and the changes produced through survival of the fittest. Wallace himself associated natural selection with only the first of these two meanings, as comes through in the following discussion, drawn from 1880's "The Origin of Species and Genera":
Wallace's view that natural selection was not synonymous with evolution in general is evidenced in his writings in other ways. One clue is offered by the way Wallace used the term "accumulate" for many years to describe how he felt favorable variations were added to a population as a function of entirely idiosyncratic associations between individual and environment.28 "Accumulation" implies haphazard addition--allowably, however, under the influence of ordered forces, as when the planets came into being as the result of a process of "particle accumulation" pursuant to the operation of the law of gravity.29
It is my assessment that Wallace never abandoned the idea that adaptation and organic change were but correlatively associated. Characters were selected, for whatever reasons, and this fact he termed "natural selection." This was why, I infer, he kept referring to natural selection as a "law." Certainly he treated it in "law" terms: note his attempt at "demonstration" of natural selection in Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection in 1870, in which he ties "proved facts" to their "necessary consequences," which he then describes as "afterwards taken as proved facts."30
"Evolution," by contrast, is regarded by Wallace as a more general process fueled by the simultaneous operation of all such laws of interaction, any of which might be secondarily influencing natural selection (or each other) over long periods of time in any number of ways. Thus, each such law could be observed to produce certain classes of immediate effects, but no one actor on the evolutionary stage could be considered "caused" in its entirety by any of these laws individually. Moreover, Wallace was not above assigning phenomena to the program of evolution whose causes were either unknown or poorly known, as long as there were facts available to prove their existence and an appropriate chain of logic could be constructed to indicate their relevance. The two best examples of this were his treatments of the origin of variations, and spiritualism. In the first instance, he (and other Darwinians) argued that it was not necessary to the natural selection model to know the ultimate origin of variations to understand how the fact of variation contributed to understanding its basic operation. In the case of spiritualism, spiritualistic "manifestations" were considered a proof of the existence of a level of super-physical organization, and here too Wallace had an argument for how it fit into the overall program.
Wallace describes evolution thusly in a late essay entitled--"Evolution":
Later I will explore the notion that Wallace's portrayal of natural selection indicates he viewed it, effectively, as the key operator in a negative feedback loop--one in which the ecological disequilibrium created by the confrontation between a nearly unlimited organic growth potential and the limited space and resources to receive it is resolved by removal of the less fit. The notion of "removal of the less fit" is thereby set in nearly equation-like form. Again, I do not mean to suggest that Wallace was actually posing the existence of feedback loops and the like; nevertheless, the way he set up the actors on his conceptual stage looks forward to such a script, and it is a script that bears careful reading for reasons extending beyond historical analysis alone.32
So, nothing could be more different than the roles Wallace and Darwin cast for their respective versions of natural selection, and it was inevitable that they would come to disagree on various implications of their models. Darwin was taking, as one would expect from his geology background, the more historical/process-oriented track, viewing evolution in terms of origination phenomena and, ultimately, adaptive characters. Wallace, biogeographer that he was, had implicitly created for himself a framework within which eco-biogeographic evolution was the prior consideration, its proof manifest in biological change. While such change was, he felt, demonstrable, he was inherently suspicious of our ability to isolate all the positive feedback processes that forced continuing counter-reactions. Especially, he was unwilling to ignore the possibility that they themselves changed with respect to one another over time--in such a manner as to have a powerful cumulative effect on structural change.
Although some readers may view such efforts to extend current systems concepts to the thinking of a past time irritating, the objective here is not to argue that, for example, Wallace was the first cybernetist (as has actually been done by Bateson33). Instead, it is to act as an aid to understanding his unique point of view, and ultimately to showing a way to return the Wallace program to relevance within the current world of scientific research. This latter subject is treated in the last chapter here.
In his own time, of course, Wallace found it easier in practice to defend the fundamental proposition that biological evolution occurred at all by yielding to the Darwinian notion that evolution was little more than the observed record of populations-mediated character divergence. This was not a difficult concession, actually, as he felt he could identify many adaptive features that could be related, in a relatively immediate sense, to particular classes of natural selection-mediated causation. Mimetic resemblance, for example, "accumulated" as the enhanced survival potential accruing from looking like something--anything--else that was inedible or dangerous. The same logic applies to his studies on protective coloration of other types.
In the next chapter we will enter more fully into a discussion of the various elements of Wallace's thought that ultimately gave shape to a formal model of character accumulation. If "accumulation" was the ultimate outcome, character selection itself was achieved on the basis of what might be termed "the whatever principle,"34 that is, through "whatever" changes that could effect a re-establishment of equilibrium (if temporarily) between the life-form dynamic and environment. We now proceed to a discussion of his progress in that direction, which, like his eventual involvement with spiritualism, was strongly influenced by the implications of his ideas on belief.
Notes, Chapter Two
1. In Adolf Bernhard Meyer, Charles Darwin und Alfred Russel Wallace. Ihre Ersten Publicationen über die "Entstehung der Arten" nebst einer Skizze Ihres Lebens und einem Verzeichniss Ihrer Schriften (Erlangen, 1870).
2. S725, p. 27.
4. S599, p. 78.
5. S729 i, p. 363.
6. Marchant (1916; 1975 reprint ed.), pp. 57-58, on p. 57. A letter sent to his longtime friend George Silk shortly thereafter is even more gleeful in tone: see S729 i, p. 366.
12. S20, p. 185.
14. See further discussions in S729 i, pp. 226-228; R. Smith (1972); Browne (1983), pp. 165-168; Malinchak (1987); Raby (2001); Shermer (2002); and Fichman (2003).
15. S729 i, p. 228.
16. ibid. i, p. 228.
17. S716, 2nd ed., p. 372.
18. S716, 1st ed., p. 360.
19. S716, 2nd ed., p. 372A.
20. ibid., p. 372.
21. In speaking of Wallace's pre-natural selection criticisms of Lyell on biogeographical matters, Kleiner (1985), pp. 378-379, writes: "Wallace's argument is similar in form to that offered by Newton for the identity of terrestrial and celestial gravitation. Newton's argument is that the transition in thought from celestial bodies moving just above mountain tops to terrestrial objects resting thereupon is not marked by any distinct characteristic of the bodies or the forces to which they are subject...Wallace's argument...excludes qualitatively distinct causes for effects that are only quantitatively distinct, i.e., effects which are of the same kind but differ only in order or in magnitude."
25. S724, 1st ed., p. 463.
27. S322, pp. 95-96.
28. See, for example, S83, on pp. 304 & 308; S89, on p. 110; S93, on p. clxiv; S146, on p. 384; S175, on p. 50; and S322, on p. 103. Also, several instances in S311, S389, S394, and S468. It is important to note that Wallace clearly distinguishes between the way variations are "accumulated," and how they come into being to begin with: note the following passage from p. 308 of S83, published in 1863: "There certainly never was a more unwarrantable assertion made, than that Darwin assigned "natural advantage in the struggle for existence" as "the cause of variation." Darwin over and over again declares that the cause of variation is unknown (Origin of Species, pp. 8, 38), though the fact is certain and undeniable. Natural selection, acting through advantage in the struggle for existence, accumulates favourable variations, but in no sense causes them. This is the very foundation of Mr. Darwin's theory..."
29. Kleiner (1981) & (1985). Interestingly, Wallace was a follower of the planetesimals theory of origin of the planets as well, in which pieces of debris were thought to have "accumulated" into planetary structures.
31. S589, pp. 3-5 of the text as reprinted in The Progress of the Century (1901).
33. Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of the Mind. In this work Bateson alludes to Wallace's analogical use of the governor on a steam engine to the operation of natural selection as a reason for viewing his ideas in terms of cybernetics.
34. On p. 307 of Wallace's first post-Ternate paper application of natural selection principles, S83, he writes: "...[Mr. Darwin's] argument is mainly grounded on the fact that variations occur in every direction... they do vary continuously in many directions; and thus there is always material for natural selection to act upon in some direction that may be advantageous." This kind of discussion was usually mounted by Darwin and Wallace to argue against detractors' criticism that perhaps characters varied only in single directions, but its implications may be used here to focus on the manner and practical results of selection as well.