In the world into which Wallace was born few people looked to their environment and history in "progressive development" terms. Nevertheless, it is well known that Wallace had become disenchanted with the rather static positions offered by both conventional theism and then-existing natural science well before 1858--certainly back to 1845, the time of his reading Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, and probably even as early as the late- or mid-1830s. His enthusiasm over Chambers's Vestiges foreshadowed many of his later writings, as that author had argued that progressive development was the underlying theme of existence. Several investigators1 have considered the origins of this enthusiasm, especially in its relation to Wallace's social views at that point. By the time he read the book, Wallace had long since adopted progressive ideas on societal evolution; as a disciple of the idealist reformer Robert Owen even as a teenager he believed that most of the wrongs of society could be eliminated through consciously (and, especially, conscientiously) applied programs of social reform. It was Chambers's view that evolution proceeded toward the development of "godly" beings, an idea that implicitly accepted the notion of progressive societal advance. His position on organic change, however, was primarily based on a Lyellian, uniformitarian, model of geological processes. Through this juxtaposition of approaches it was possible to imagine that generally acting physical laws inherently gave rise to progressive biological change--otherwise put, that the "general design" of nature depended on the operation of uniformitarian laws that sustained (and maybe even directed) what have more recently been termed "deviation-amplifying" processes.2
In Chambers's perspective, in fact, were most of the seeds of Wallace's future synthesis, and it is thus not surprising to discover that the younger man continued to defend Vestiges into his later years.3 If we believe his reference to the subject in 1855,4 Wallace quickly settled on a means of transforming Chambers's "progressive development" leanings into the set of ideas expressed ten years later in that paper. His initial focus became the investigation of divergence of species lines, probably because the causal sequences involved seemed relatively straightforward (at least, as end results). But this emphasis--on large scale, deterministic spatial/historical relations--turned out to be something of a mistake. In his effort to avoid a first causes-based viewpoint, Wallace would very nearly throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. It was one thing to recognize a historical sequence in terms of its resulting species population-level patterns, but quite another to demonstrate how such a dynamic operated at the level of the lives of individual organisms. Two quite distinct ways of approaching the matter were apparent to Wallace as of 1845.
The first was to imagine that evolution proceeded as a function of changes originating with the individuals themselves. Such was the approach taken by Lamarck, who had suggested that individual creatures might change over the span of their own lifetimes (in response to environmental pressures), and pass this change along to their progeny: this is the notion of the inheritance of acquired characters. This model had the virtue of logical simplicity; if the adaptational suite of each creature changed in such a fashion, then so too, of course, would the species population in sum. Unfortunately, there was not a shred of convincing evidence that nature operated in this fashion, either at the level of individuals, or as populations. Wallace was aware of Lamarck's theory, but apparently rejected it from the outset.5
Conversely, the regulation of change might be mediated at the population level itself, with the results being evident only secondarily in the characteristics of its component individuals. Some earlier workers--most notably, Buffon--had espoused this approach (in Buffon's case, the initiating force imagined was a general environmental one), but no one had been able to suggest anything resembling a mechanism. That is, no one outside of the realm of theism. Creationists argued that the Creator had specially provided all the earth's creatures with precisely what they needed to survive. This was, in its own way, a theory of evolution (at least, of initiation), and it had the advantage of linking the state of the adaptational suite of both individual creatures and entire populations to a direct, utilitarian function: simply, organisms were created to fill a pre-ordained environmental role. Nevertheless, Wallace rejected this notion outright, agreeing with Chambers that the natural progression had to be self-regulating to conserve an intelligible relation of cause to effect.
Given the guiding influence of Vestiges and the limitations of the choices available to him, Wallace opted for the secular version of the second of the two models. This immediately left him with the difficulty of conceiving of an action that worked primarily at the population level, yet left its imprints on the state of the individual organism at any given time. Eventually he would invoke the principle of natural selection to accomplish this; in that model, an environmental driving force selects those adaptational characteristics that ultimately serve a utilitarian function. But as just noted, in these early years Wallace was not impressed by the utility-based arguments offered up by either Creationists or Lamarckists. This raises an interesting question. Is there, in fact, evidence that at this point he had adopted--or was even entertaining--any arguments based on the assumption of the necessary utility of adaptational characteristics?
There can be no doubt that Wallace would later become a very strong proponent of the "necessary utility" hypothesis; among other implications, this is the source of the "hyperselectionist" criticism often raised against him by detractors.6 Wallace himself freely acknowledged his position. In My Life, for example, he commented that "The principle of 'utility,' which is one of [natural selection's] chief foundation stones, I have always advocated unreservedly...."7 But he does not specifically say (either here or in any other writing, so far as I am aware) what his exact thoughts on the subject of utility were before the principle of natural selection occurred to him. This critical issue has apparently never been looked into in just these terms. Writers such as Beddall, Brooks, Kottler, and McKinney8 have put considerable effort into examining Wallace's views on populations and divergence; the general consensus is that Wallace looked upon the process of selection in terms of the replacement of varieties by one another, whereas Darwin envisioned competition as taking place primarily at the level of individuals. While I fully agree with their conclusions in this regard, I believe it is ultimately more enlightening to probe Wallace's position on utility, since it is this matter that more directly ties historical record to process in a way that he would have been able to appreciate as a practicing field biologist.
Much has been made of the many years it took for Wallace to arrive at the notion of natural selection, but it may not actually be so difficult to understand why this delay took place. The most fundamental problem was not so much that he was having trouble identifying a specific mechanism of change, but instead that prior to 1858 he had sidetracked himself by flatly rejecting the "necessary functional utility to adaptation" argument. Directly to the point, in these early years he had been unable even to conceive of the notion that there could be a mechanism of evolutionary change that affected all populations in the same fashion, yet produced the result of individually and uniquely adapted organisms. The importance of this point cannot be overstated: he was at first unable to appreciate that an assumption of utility would be necessary to establish a generalization regarding the immediate causes of biological change; i.e., to explain how population change (though not necessarily the long term "accumulations" of change) was "self-regulating."
To substantiate the view expressed in Vestiges that evolution consisted of a "progressive" succession of animal forms, Wallace needed to come up with three kinds of proof. First, he had to prove that evolution in fact took place. Nontrivial as this problem was, it was the easiest one to deal with--assuming, of course, that it was true. Second, he had to provide a model of how it took place in proximate terms; that is, he had to demonstrate those conditions immediate to the station and activities of living things that led to irreversible forms of change in their populations. Third, and most difficult, he had to identify not only these immediate causes, but the way his assumed final cause operated on them to produce change that was "progress." Again, he very quickly saw how to approach the first problem--through careful study of the spatial-temporal links between the present distribution of organisms and their fossil record. This model is admirably summarized in the "On the Law..." essay.9
Before 1858, however, he had made no progress whatsoever on the second problem; indeed, given his peculiar point of view, he was probably not even giving much thought to it. Ostensibly, he thought an answer--of whatever kind--would be implicit in the solution to the third problem; i.e., he was approaching the matter from the "top-down." Once he had examined enough "facts" and had confirmed the spatial-temporal relations of geography and geology suggesting that evolution really took place, he set his sights on solving the final cause issue, in so doing avoiding for the moment the matter of immediate causation at the biological level--whose individual components, he believed at that time, were "unconceivable." At least this was the remembrance recorded many years later in My Life: "My paper written at Sarawak [i.e., "On the Law..."] rendered it certain in my mind that the change had taken place by natural succession and descent--one species becoming changed either slowly or rapidly into another. But the exact process of the change and the causes which led to it were absolutely unknown and appeared almost unconceivable."10
In a perceptive study Scott Kleiner offers related remarks that should be noted here:
Kleiner's essay pertains mostly to the various logics employed in problem solving and discovery, and he makes an important point in this section of his work bearing on Wallace in particular, but he pursues it no further. Although evolutionary replacement may well have been on Wallace's mind, there is nothing to suggest that he had connected the mechanics of replacement to adaptive structures per se; to the contrary, in fact, it appears that for the moment Wallace's labors had locked him into a mode of thought in which utility was entirely a side-issue. The first good indication that he was not swayed by the logic of necessary utility appears in his 1853 book A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, in which he implies that it is futile to pursue the "red herring" of adaptation-based causality any further:
Wallace goes on:
This is a very suggestive discussion. It can only be interpreted as disapproving of the notion of there being one-to-one cause and effect between particular adaptations and particular evolutionary lineages and, secondarily, between particular environmental influences and particular adaptations. He was thus avoiding any understanding that would force him into accepting predestination--a reasonable precaution actually, were it not for the problem that it also prevented him from recognizing how reality might be self-organizing in a manner superseding simple causal sequences.
Note that the "principle" to which Wallace alludes in the passage reproduced above was most probably envisioned as extending beyond the concepts set out in "On the Law..." Surely, he realized even then that the "law" later expressed in that paper was incapable of doing more than stating the essential results of the species divergence process in time and space. Here, only, was a description of continuity of effects. This distinction was recognized even in Wallace's own time: Consider the following comments from a period review of On the Origin of Species by William Hopkins:
Browne (1983)15 discusses this matter in some detail in the context of Wallace's developing thoughts on the relationship between species and varieties. She emphasizes how Wallace's uniformitarian approach took the geologist Charles Lyell by surprise (wedding as it did transmutationist ideas to gradual environmental changes), and how Wallace had engaged himself in a study of species and varieties which would so interest Darwin. But she doesn't recognize how much these studies were working at cross-purposes to one another; again, it is one matter to demonstrate the fact of evolution, and quite another to explain how it produces the details of adaptation that contribute to its own unfolding. Note Wallace's statement to this effect in My Life:
My interpretation of Wallace's basic strategy during this period is thus that he was making an effort to identify a kind of global regulation that engendered such continuities of effects: those evident both in the emergence of species from varieties, and as species lines whose trace through time could be viewed in the fossil record. The several facets of this effort are best viewed in discussion appearing in one of his least-noticed writings from this period.
It had always been one of Wallace's priorities in travelling to the Malay Archipelago to conduct field studies of the orangutan. In 1855, while collecting in Sarawak, he got his chance.17 During this period he sent in several reports that commented on the systematics and behavior of the species. One of these was the early 1856 essay "On the Habits of the Orang-Utan of Borneo," which includes the following interesting remarks:
Expressed in these words are thoughts that would be fully mature in Wallace's mind only by the mid-1860s. The first and more straightforward concept, that there exists a "general design which has determined the details, quite independently of individual necessities," reflects, simultaneously, (1) Wallace's rejection of the idea that first causes exist "for any and every special effect in the universe," and (2) his acceptance that there yet existed a confining "general design." At that point, however, he seemingly anticipated that the "general design" could be understood to account for all specifics of diversification and adaptation in a manner similar to the way Newtonian physics accounted for all individual gravitational relationships in the heavens; i.e., by specifying antecedent relationships, but not specific outcomes. Wallace might have been adverse to first causes, but he had no such qualms over accepting the possibility, or likelihood, of final causes.
Also contained in the passage presented above is the germ of the idea that man's love of beauty should itself be perceptible as a work of the "Supreme Creator." The "Supreme Creator" is thereby viewed as being both: (1) further removed from the proximate cause of each modification than was assumed by Creationists; and (2) more encompassing in its operation than were it merely subservient to the immediate material needs and/or conscious desires of each individual organism--i.e., both the material structure of lower organisms and the conscious/emotional faculties of higher ones fell within its influence, whether such influence could be perceived as operating or not. Wallace may merely be trying to dramatize a point here in his deliberate reference to a "Supreme Creator," but the implication, allegorical or not, is that there are causes further removed from the immediate results of nature than those that can be expressed in proximate terms alone.
At least as early as 1856, therefore, Wallace was arguing that the "general design" of observable nature called for a model of its productions recognizing not merely the place of material things within it, but: (1) man's emotional and intellectual response to material things, and (2) the possibility of higher causes altogether. And, although he was ready to accept that we might be ignorant of the greater forces that were at work, he was not willing to grant that such forces were necessarily unsystematic in their enaction (in particular, as the product of unpredictable Godly "first causes").
By now, Wallace was so sure that the necessary utility argument was an explanatory dead-end that he incorporated the following comments into the essay:
In these words we witness in a rather direct fashion Wallace's desire to convey the notion that adaptations are neither necessarily of use to organisms, nor present for reasons of fulfilling some prior purpose. This comes at a point only two years before he authored the Ternate essay.
Wallace counts the existence of rudimentary (vestigial) organs as a point in favor of the "nonuse" argument. In a note at this point in the commentary he refers approvingly to "the talented author of the Plurality of Worlds" (William Whewell), quoting the following passage from that work:
This was not, moreover, the only time Wallace invoked this kind of support for his ideas prior to 1858. A year earlier in "On the Law..." he remarked: "Another important series of facts, quite in accordance with, and even necessary deductions from, the law now developed, are those of rudimentary organs. That these really do exist, and in most cases have no special function in the animal oeconomy, is admitted by the first authorities in comparative anatomy."21 The notion that the authorities agreed that most rudimentary organs "have no special function in the animal economy" played into Wallace's argument quite easily: such organs seemed entirely inexplicable in the absence of forces yielding slow, gradational changes in organisms (forces so pervasive, one supposes, as to override the significance--whatever that might be--of those structures having no immediate utility).
The example offered by vestigial organs (for example, the remnant leg-like spurs found in some species of snakes) may have been more important in Wallace's thinking than has usually been credited. At that time he mistakenly believed that vestigial structures were actually incipient creations rather than the remnant structures we now know them to be. Thus, Wallace would have viewed them as adaptations that were just coming into being, and of course since it was agreed that they had no function at that point, this would represent the best kind of evidence of a process that was secondarily producing outcomes that were not necessarily utilitarian.
Wallace's eventual position on rudimentary organs seems to have later paralleled and/or influenced his thoughts on some other subjects. A particularly obvious example is the way he would come to regard man's entire biological, self-centered existence as "rudimentary" with respect to his future more enlightened state, as discussed in Part II of "A Defence of Modern Spiritualism" in 1874:
Thanks largely to Darwin, by this time the true nature of rudimentary structures was known, but before 1858 there is no indication that Wallace was not applying the earlier understanding both to his appreciation of certain biological structures, and to human characteristics as well. Certainly, it would have been easy for him to view many of the higher human qualities as incipient phenomena: that is, as adaptive mechanisms that continued to emerge before there was any practical use for them. Indeed, in a psychological sense an ability might even today be treated as either or both incipient or vestigial, depending on how one examines the question: Is it always clear whether particular human mental abilities are "leftover" remnants from evolutionary predecessors, or represent processes that in one sense or another are forward-looking? On this basis it seems quite reasonable that Wallace put considerable effort into warning anthropologists to approach their subject with an open mind, especially as regards not assuming that all the beliefs of primitive peoples derive from uninformed ignorance. This is also a good part of the basis for his wanting people to take the subject of spiritualism seriously: mediums, assuming their basic honesty, might be the instruments of processes that were incipient, not the remnants of ignorant beliefs. This is also how Wallace dealt with the subject of witchcraft, as is shown in the following passage, from an 1872 review of a Robert Dale Owen work:
* * *
By the mid and late 1850s Wallace's years of collecting and observation were starting to pay off, as he had begun to recognize several instructive trends in the organism-environment interrelationship. For example, there was the way he looked at elements of the condition of certain island populations (both animal and human). His appraisal of the forces at work on the island of Aru is described by Brooks (1984) in a passage making use of parts of one of Wallace's in-the-field "Species Notebooks," composed in 1857:
And, in fact, in "On the Natural History of the Aru Islands" (S38) he rejects the idea that immediate conditions of climate regulate the distribution of existing species: "We can hardly help concluding, therefore, that some other law has regulated the distribution of existing species than the physical conditions of the countries in which they are found, or we should not see countries the most opposite in character with similar productions, while others almost exactly alike as respects climate and general aspect, yet differ totally in their forms of organic life."25 He concludes, predictably, "It is evident that, for the complete elucidation of the present state of the fauna of each island and each country, we require a knowledge of its geological history, its elevations and subsidences, and all the changes it has undergone since it last rose above the ocean."26
Since Wallace was increasingly coming to regard the larger scale forces--geological change as opposed to climate--as having the greater significance in disturbing and shaping populations and faunas in the long term sense, it is not surprising that he also continued to demote the significance of individual adaptations in the process to incidental relationships. This shows up most clearly in his comparisons of insect size and color between temperate and tropical regions, for example in the 1856 essay "Observations on the Zoology of Borneo":
Less than two years later, in the last letter written (and then published) before his recognition of the natural selection concept, he reiterates:
Obviously his conclusions on this matter had not been significantly changed by the intervening advent of natural selection, as is apparent from the 1861 publication "Notes on the Ornithology of Timor":
Thus, local physical conditions apparently could conspire to produce the same degree of adaptation in physically separated, unrelated forms. His feelings on analogous matters are reflected in his other works from this general period as well: for example, in his discussion of what constitute useful characters for classification in "Attempts at a Natural Arrangement of Birds" (1856):
Similarly, there is the "differs in degree versus differs in nature" argument in "Note on the Theory of Permanent Varieties" (1858):
The notion that local environment had a role in shaping adaptational peculiarities, but not necessarily evolutionary trends, remained with Wallace long after the advent of natural selection, in fact. The influence of this line of thinking is most evident in his continuing allowance that certain peculiarities of adaptation were most likely relatable to direct and local--but subtle--environmental dictates. This position is best summed up in the first half of his 1876 Presidential Address to the Biological Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in the section entitled "On Some Relations of Living Things to Their Environment."32 Nevertheless, when he subsequently saw how Fritz Müller's discoveries regarding mimicry33 explained many of these or analogous phenomena he practically gave up on this form of environmental determinism altogether.
All of which leads us back to the earlier-posed interpretation that before 1858 Wallace perceived adaptation per se--and adaptations--as representing a result, rather than a cause, of the "progressive development" of organisms. Some more general set of influences had to be responsible for determining how new characters combined to effect "progress."
It is my general surmise that before 1858 Wallace was not putting any of his money on the supposition of necessary character utility. He may well have believed (and probably did), as McKinney observed in 1972,34 that adaptations "occurred" while species evolved, but that this association was merely correlative; i.e., derivative.
* * *
Wallace's belief that the "necessary utility" argument was an explanatory red herring must have been reinforced by his experiences with the native peoples he encountered over the course of his travels. In this connection it must be kept in mind, as McKinney and others35 have amply demonstrated, that Wallace had been considering man's place in evolution right from the beginning of his attention to the subject. Although many of the activities of people in primitive societies bespoke adaptation forced by local peculiarities of environment, there were yet as many that seemed unrelated. There appeared to be little connection between morality and survival, for example, and even less between the latter and mathematical, artistic or musical abilities. He could only conclude that however evolution operated, it appeared to enlist adaptations/abilities that were in some combinations directly functional and in others not so, at least with respect to fundamental survival. This ostensibly is one of the main reasons for Wallace's great interest in the orangutan: he viewed it as an important bridge between animals and human beings in this respect. Judging from the comments in his "On the Habits of the Orang-Utan..." noted earlier, his study of this animal only served to confirm his then-existing thoughts as to the derivative nature of utility.
Beyond the physical, biological, and human/social arguments in favor of the "general design" hypothesis, there was also at least one transcendental argument that Wallace was fond of bringing up. This was the matter of the place and meaning of beauty in nature.
Wallace seemed to take considerable delight in his discussions on the subject of beauty in nature. He brought up the matter rather frequently; one related discussion from his "On the Habits of the Orang-Utan" was reproduced earlier in this chapter, but some further examples follow:
Wallace's treatments of the place in nature of beauty are inspired and deserve more attention than they have hitherto received. In one sense, his approach to the subject is exactly akin to his understanding of the role of other characters: that is, that beauty in nature has no pre-ordained functionality (i.e., that it is not there as a first cause for the entertainment of the human race) and is instead merely adaptive. But it would appear that both early in his life and later on he assigned some transcendental qualities to this "merely adaptive" role. This is apparent in the selection produced above in which he quotes--by all appearances approvingly--from Whewell, the anonymous author of The Plurality of Worlds. Whewell almost seems to be endorsing a Creationist vision, but actually it is one in which, as he says, "beauty and regularity are universal features of the work of Creation in all its parts, great and small." There is thus the kernel of a position that something more general than simple first causes is to be considered involved. Wallace even at this point approved of this notion; consider that the Whewell quotation is footnoted to the following passage in "On the Habits of the Orang-Utan...":
Again, this is indicative of Wallace's belief at that point that adaptations might have been largely functional, but not to the point of having been created expressly for their purpose. Some may have been more functional than others to the extent that evolution would retain them in the long run, but in either case their existence could still be considered "law-based." Necessary utility, however, was still out of the picture, because the only kind of "creation" that Wallace could imagine at that point that produced such an outcome invoked pre-ordained results.
Beyond this, however, there is that element of transcendentalism in Wallace's vision, and it is one which actually changes little between this time and Wallace's later writings, including those sampled from above. Central to this is the notion that in the natural scheme of things adaptive functions include a "love of beauty for its own sake" that is adaptive in its own right. Wallace's position on this is evident in the "Creation by Law" excerpt given above, in which Wallace states that the natural laws of "adjustment" are such as to provide the "greatest possible amount of variety and beauty and enjoyment." This idea is also expressed in the following excerpts from his late work (1910), The World of Life:
It is apparent that by this late date (1910) Wallace's views on evolution had become explicitly teleological; but it is rarely appreciated the extent to which his ideas prior to his formulation of natural selection directly lend themselves to this eventual orientation. Nothing demonstrates this better than his thoughts on the subject of beauty, and especially in the context of the perception of color.
* * *
In sum, Wallace's pre-1858 efforts indicate that he had adopted a rather unconventional form of teleology. Following Owen and Chambers, Wallace had allowed the concept of "progress" to permeate his thinking, probably to the extent that he believed such progress represented movement toward a system-level goal: the development of higher, "godly," beings. Whereas the goal-centered Lamarckian model had dwelled on the immediate causes and specific effects of organic change, however, Wallace's tacitly denied a causal role to adaptation. Instead, he imagined the confining/promoting influences to be of grander scale, overriding individual effects through continuity of influence, just as Newtonian forces had supported the original consolidation of the solar system. In short, he thought the direction of the continuing individual "accumulations" of characters was being influenced by very general--and prior--properties of environmental organization.
It is important to understand that neither natural selection nor his adoption of spiritualism would have any profound effect on re-orienting this basic cosmology, and Wallace in fact integrated these very concepts into several of his later writings. A particularly fine example is afforded by the following passage from the anonymously-penned book review "Darwinism and Design" (1874):
The last several sentences of this passage reveal a teleology of final causes imbued with the notion that progress is self-serving, and law-based. There is actually very little difference in this message from those conveyed either earlier or later in his career--for example, in the passages from "On the Orang..." (1856) or "The Reign of Law" (1867) presented earlier, or in the books Darwinism (1889) or The World of Life (1910) he would write later on.
One way of looking at Wallace's pre-1858 activities is to suggest that he was searching for what might be termed a "geographical Bauplan." Perhaps as a function of his youthful involvements with trigonometry, mechanics, and geodesy (as described in My Life43) he anticipated that the details of animal distribution would reveal to him, in their organized relations, those ever-present, uniformly-acting laws that conspired to guide evolution, much as the interrelations of the heavenly bodies had revealed the nature of gravity to Isaac Newton.
Wallace's commitment to a search for a geography-based Bauplan--as opposed to a physiological/ morphological one--should not be puzzling. As I suggested in several places in my 1991 anthology,44 in retrospect Wallace emerges more as a geographer than he does anything else; surely his interest in biological distribution patterns, travel, island life, glaciology, climatology, land reform, and social problems, among other things--not to mention his distaste for the study of anatomy and his lack of interest in experimentation--all speak strongly of the more global perspective normally associated with the geographer. And, in fact, all of his pre-1845 nature-related activities had had a distinctly geographical side: plant and insect collecting, surveying, land use evaluation, and informal study of the economics of agriculture. About the same time, moreover, he read--and was very favorably impressed with--several works containing strongly geographical themes; primary among these were Charles Darwin's Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited during the Voyage of H. M. S. Beagle, Alexander von Humboldt's Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent, Baron Justus von Liebig's Chemistry in its Application to Agriculture and Physiology,45 Sir Humphrey Davy's Elements of Agricultural Chemistry,46 Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, and William Swainson's A Treatise on the Geography and Classification of Animals.
What Wallace's personal preferences might have been here are largely beside the point anyway: he lacked the resources to support the necessary formal training in physiology and morphology he would have needed to pursue laboratory-based investigations of particular adaptive trends. But surely this fact could not have been very troubling to him--it didn't seem the right direction for exploration, giving into, as it appeared, the creationist/adaptationist line of reasoning that primacy of attention should be given to the study of individual characters and traits.
Finally, and very significantly, a geographical framework was less remote from an understanding of how human societal change took place. As mentioned earlier, Wallace was much taken with Herbert Spencer's Social Statics--especially with that writer's views on how social problems were created by injustices stemming from the then-existing conditions of land ownership.47 Wallace was so taken that he even tried to interest his friends in starting up a discussion group concerning the work. As he later admitted,48 Social Statics was one the main inspirations for his work for land nationalization.
Over the 1853 to 1858 period, then, geographical determinism--as related to the explanation of both biological and social evolution--was a subject at the very front of his mind. Brooks49 has commented on related matters; again, Wallace's own ideas at the time are perhaps best relayed through his discussion of Lyell's explanation of the nature of island faunas in "On the Natural History of the Aru Islands,"50 and two years earlier in "On the Law..."51
It would appear that during this entire period Wallace regarded species diversification per se as the distinguishing feature of biological advance. Adaptation was a derivative, or even incidental, process: a logical necessity, to be sure, to the extent that an organism wholly unadapted to its surroundings was a contradiction in terms, but not the cause of change.52 Yet it appeared that character states could be used to distinguish between varieties, and in turn that an understanding of the manner of emergence of varieties was crucial to an appreciation of the process of speciation. Thus it would be necessary, in one fashion or another, to relate his "law" of geographical/geological influence to the adaptive characteristics of individual organisms.
But as the years passed, Wallace could not recognize any way in which the greater conditions of environment imposed an influence of the kind he was anticipating. Moreover, important characteristics of individual species of animals really did seem more relatable to immediate causal agencies. There was, further, the persisting problem of how to fit social evolution into the picture. Man passed on innovations--in the form of mathematics, art, music, moral teachings, etc.--and did so regardless of whether there seemed to be any survival value involved. How could organic evolution proceed in a fashion responding to environmental constraints and opportunities, yet produce adaptive structures whose persistence was not necessarily a direct and exclusive function of those constraints and opportunities?
In My Life53 Wallace retrospectively discusses his approach to this question in terms of what was, for him, its most significant immediate component: how divergence into "well-defined and constant species" takes place. Research by other investigators54 has emphasized this aspect of his studies, and in those terms, but I am not convinced that this was the only thing Wallace had on his mind at that point. I should next like to continue on in a more general direction, emphasizing the role that the discovery of the natural selection concept was to play in influencing his overall cosmology.
Notes, Chapter Three
4. In "On the Law..." Wallace wrote "It is about ten years since the idea of such a law suggested itself to the writer of this paper, and he has since taken every opportunity of testing it by all the newly ascertained facts with which he has become acquainted, or has been able to observe himself" (S20, p. 185).
7. S729 ii, p. 22.
10. S729 i, p. 360.
12. S714 (1972 ed., McKinney, ed.), p. xii.
13. ibid., p. 58-59.
16. S729 i, p. 355.
17. See The Malay Archipelago (S715) for the best overall description of his efforts in that direction.
18. S26, pp. 30-31.
19. ibid., pp. 30-31.
20. It is interesting to note that as late as 1905 Wallace was still speaking approvingly of The Plurality of Worlds: see My Life (S729 ii, p. 288) and Man's Place in the Universe (S728, 6th ed., London, 1905), on pp. 8, 14-15.
21. S20, p. 195.
22. S243, p. 803.
24. Brooks (1984), pp. 171-172. See the Brooks study for a good deal more on Wallace's evolving thoughts on human and animal populations and their response to environmental constraints and opportunities.
25. S38, p. 481.
26. ibid., p. 483.
27. S25, p. 5114-5115.
28. S44, pp. 6122, 6124.
29. S64, pp. 150, 151.
30. S28, pp. 196-197.
31. S39, pp. 5887-5888.
32. See S719, Essay VII, "By-paths in the Domain of Biology," on pp. 254-279.
34. S714 (1972 ed., McKinney, ed.), p. xii. McKinney's full comment regarding this excerpt is: "No doubt he thought that adaptations had occurred while species evolved." What exactly McKinney means by this statement is by no means clear. I believe a literal interpretation of his words to be the best one; i.e., that Wallace felt adaptations merely "had occurred" as a peripheral byproduct of evolution only. Note also Kleiner's remark (1981, p. 147) that "Wallace does not attempt to explain survival and extinction by the rate of accumulation of adaptive variations in changing circumstances."
36. S26, pp. 30-31.
37. S140, p. 473.
38. S139, p. 88.
39. S424, pp. 290-291. Additional Wallace treatments of the subject of beauty may be found in S140, pp. 471 & 480-482; S213; S272 (Essay V of Tropical Nature and Other Essays), pp. 159-160; S432, p. 340; S470, p. 73; S547; S732, pp. 308-324.
40. S26, p. 30.
41. The World of Life (S732), pp. 311-312.
42. S242, p. 536. The bibliography in Marchant (1916; 1975 reprint ed.) claims this anonymously published work as being by Wallace, and although I am aware of no further evidence substantiating this, both the style and the content of the writing would strongly support this surmise.
43. S729 i, pp. 106-110, 131-133, 187-192.
45. Mentioned in S380, p. 15.
47. S729 ii, p. 235.
48. S450, p. 15.
50. S38, pp. 480-481.
53. S729 i, pp. 360-363.