Alfred Russel Wallace, Mars, Extra-Terrestrials and the Nature of the Universe

Noeud de réseau: 
Me., Oct. 9, 2013, 3:30pm - , 5:00pm

Alfred Russel Wallace, Mars, Extra-Terrestrials and the Nature of the Universe
Edmonton, University of Alberta, Oct. 9, 2013

The Alberta node is pleased to support this event as part of "More than Natural Selection: A Lecture Series on Alfred Russel Wallace" University of Alberta, October 2013


Although he is usually now remembered as a natural historian and co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace had a lifelong and deep interest in astronomy and wrote at length on it in the last decade of his life.  Wallace’s vision of astronomy and the possibility of life beyond the Earth drew on a range of his interests, not just natural history or biology, and he joined numerous other writers and commentators around 1900 in debating the existence of extra-terrestrial life, most notably in two books, Man’s Place in the Universe...(1903) and Is Mars Habitable?...(1907). In this talk, I will seek to link Wallace’s positions in the disputes that swirled around the existence of extra-terrestrials to his drive to fashion what he viewed as a consistent `philosophy of life’ that both rejected the rise of scientific naturalism and dismissed the materialism of much of Victorian culture.    


Speaker: Robert Smith is a Professor of History in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta. He has written extensively on the history of astronomy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including on the introduction of evolutionary ideas into astronomy, most recently in “`The Great Plan of the Visible Universe’: William Huggins, Scientific Naturalism and the Nature of the Nebulae,” in The Age of Scientific Naturalism¸edited by Bernard Lightman and Michael Reidy (forthcoming).    

Lecture series descriptionAlfred Russel Wallace was a great natural historian and a leading figure in the debates that swirled around the questions of evolution and the origins of humans in the nineteenth century. He and Charles Darwin are often paired as co-discoverers of evolution by natural selection. But Wallace’s interests were very wide ranging. One hundred years after his death, we will remember in this lecture series Wallace the natural historian and evolutionist, but we will also explore lesser known aspects of Wallace’s life, including Wallace’s involvement with spiritualism, his political sympathies, and even Wallace the protagonist in controversies around the existence of extra-terrestrial life.   These multiple idiosyncrasies are usually described as paradoxical departures from, even diminishments of, Wallace’s scientific competence.  We find in them a different sort of paradox.  They simultaneously attest to Wallace’s profound intellectual originality and independence while also being inextricable from the culturally and historically specific milieu of Victorian science.   Each of the talks in the series will explore a different aspect of this paradox and the interesting problems it poses for the study of science.


For information on other events in this series, see here: