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Keywords:

  • Alfred Russel Wallace;
  • natural selection;
  • cybernetics;
  • negative feedback;
  • positive feedback;
  • evolution;
  • biogeography;
  • ecological modelling;
  • history of biology

Abstract

After a century in the shadows, Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) has recently become the subject of increasing attention. It is suggested here, expanding on observations made by anthropologist Gregory Bateson some years ago, that Wallace's cybernetics-like view of the operation of natural selection—as a governor-like principle tending to keep species unvarying—can be expanded to a more complete evolutionary understanding by exploring in modern context Wallace's idea that “more recondite forces” are driving the process. Specifically, when the environment is regarded as a final cause (but not a deterministic force), individual adaptations may be viewed as entropy-relaying structures (acting in response to, and as a part of, larger scale biogeochemical agenda), whereas negentropy is accumulated by nonrandomly directed organism- and population-level forms of ecological engagement. Thus, range change in particular is viewed as a process that is both driven and nonrandom, and ultimately connected to the derivation of more and more organized individual, population, and community structures. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Complexity 10:25–32, 2004