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Alfred Russel Wallace: Evolution of an Evolutionist.

Chapter Seven. Epilogue: Where Do We Go From Here?

    It had originally been my intent to create a final, epilogue, chapter here which would explore some suggestions for applying Wallace's world view to current-day subjects in biogeography, evolutionary studies, and systems theory. Specifically, I wanted to show how Wallace's embrace of final causes reasoning could serve scientific research, and not merely represent, as is commonly supposed, history--or even a descent into pseudo-scientific or scientistic reasoning. I have changed my mind on attempting this here, however, for the following reason.

    Simply, I now feel the subject is too big to treat in a single, even large, chapter. In today's world, the inertia of the simple cause and effect model underpinning classical Empiricism is so great that just about no one is willing to stop and even consider the possibility that other models might provide fruitful insights. The pervasiveness of the problem is such that even most of the relatively few who are pursuing competing agendas seem unable to rise above operationally employing the very methodology they are decrying. An example close to Wallace studies is worth considering, very briefly.

    It is common knowledge that Wallace belonged to that fairly sizable group of people who believe there exists, parallel to the physical world, an aphysical world populated by spirits, or consciousnesses (or whatever) that are just as much a functioning part of reality as we as biological systems are. While the average materialist scientist these days finds this belief mildly amusing at best, there is little he can do about it one way or another, as people are willing to believe what they are willing to believe. The only problem here is that although many of the believers in this instance are uneducated, ignorant, or simply intellectually challenged, some of them--Wallace himself, for example--have not been. In Wallace's case, he believed he recognized in spiritualism elements of a larger process, evolution; specifically, he appears to have seen things about the way natural selection didn't work that could be understood on the assumption of supra-physical forces. As I have explained in earlier chapters it is my opinion that Wallace was well aware even in 1858 that natural selection lacked certain kinds of explanatory potential, and was already on the lookout for more inclusive explanations.

    Now, to make an important point... Although inspired by leaders such as Wallace, the rank and file followers of such beliefs seem to think that they are going to demonstrate the existence of such posed forms of organization by borrowing methodologies and theories that have evolved to deal with a fundamentally different phenomenon, physical existence. Not surprisingly, this whole effort has been a nearly complete failure--whether involving seances and such in the old days, or the technologically sophisticated "ghost-sensing" equipment and similar devices of the present. Whenever any kind of result has been obtained, doubters point, for good reason, to any number of "more rational" explanations that can be appealed to via Ockham's razor. And beyond this, when the latter kinds of explanations are lacking, the immediate conclusion is that someone is either lying or trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

    Now I believe at this point, as stated above, that Wallace was aware of certain weaknesses in the theory of natural selection as he originally posed it, and it was these weaknesses--weaknesses detracting from the overall internal consistency of a more general theory of evolution--that eventually cued him into entertaining the notion that something was going on which could not be explained strictly through material, spatially-extended reality. He did not divine, however, that study of the phenomena produced at seances would prove fruitless in trying to demonstrate the existence of an aspatial, supraphysical, world, and though he sought out related kinds of evidence and eventually came to believe on the basis of them, he could not make others do so. And so the matter still stands, and likely will continue to stand, until a fresh perspective is found.

    I personally do not think that the cause is necessarily hopeless, or in any case lacking in importance (as T. H. Huxley once famously implied). And I am not the only one around advocating such "outside the box" thinking. In his most recent book, Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin's Theory, published in 2003, Michael A. Cremo makes a similar plea on page 128 of Chapter Five, "Beyond Stones and Bones: Alfred R. Wallace and the Spirit World":

    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. [my italics]

     I have been mulling over related thoughts for more than twenty years now, having actually worked out elements of a model such as Cremo alludes to in his last sentence above back in the 80s. It cannot be explained in just one chapter. It might be, however, through an entire, separate, website service, and it is now my plan to get together a set of materials bearing on this model and create one. I have been working on this now for several months, and hope to have something to show for my efforts by the fall of 2006.

     The new service will be called "The Once and Future Wallace, OR, Evolutionary Theorizing in the Manner of Alfred Russel Wallace," and will consist almost entirely of my own writings (some old, but mostly new). It will contain four bodies of writings, related to: (1) my revisionist interpretation of Wallace's intellectual evolution (2) biogeography from the perspective of "final causes" thinking (3) miscellaneous social issues suggested by "final causes" thinking, and (4) an empirically defended new theory of the basis of extended space: a first go at a general model of complex systems. All of these will concern serious subjects, but hopefully will be delivered in a style that is not so dry and technical as to alienate nonspecialist readers.

     In the meantime, and as a bridge to this new "interpretive" site, I suggest the reader consider not only the overall "no change of mind" model of Wallace's intellectual evolution developed in this online monograph, but the points made in the following published works:

--Michael Cremo: Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin's Theory (especially Chapter 5). 2003. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Publishing Inc. 554 pp.

--Charles H. Smith: "Wallace's unfinished business." November 2004. Complexity 10(2): 25-32.

--Charles H. Smith: "Alfred Russel Wallace on Man: A famous 'change of mind'--or not?" 2004. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 26(2): 257-270.

--Charles H. Smith: "Alfred Russel Wallace, past and future." September 2005. Journal of Biogeography 32(9): 1509-1515.

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