Anthro "On the Law Which Has Regulated Essay

Excerpt from Essay :


"On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species" is a paper written in 1855 by the pioneering evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace. The article outlines a theory of evolution that predates Darwin's Origin of Species. In fact, Wallace's paper predated a letter that he wrote to Charles Darwin and which was a source of inspiration for the latter's work. Wallace wrote "On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species" in Sarawak, Borneo, but inside the article mentions the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin developed his theories. Islands may evolve peculiar variations of species due to their geographic isolation from continental masses. Wallace was well travelled and mentions a number of different geographic zones that are relevant to his research on biological evolution including zones in the Americas, Europe, and also Asia.

"On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species" discusses the interaction between geography and animals, between animals of different species, and between animals of the same species. The author points out that species traits and species survival are largely dependent on geographic conditions. "The present geographical distribution of life upon the earth must be the result of all the previous changes, both of the surface of the earth itself and of its inhabitants," (p. 2). It is therefore impossible to view biology as being completely distinct from geography. As geographical elements ranging from climate to sea water levels change, so too do the physical characteristics of species. The species interacts with geography. Geography can lead to the development of new species, or to the extinction of some species. Wallace's law can also explain biological phenomenon such as rudimentary appendages that are no longer used by the animal.

Moreover, the interaction between species has a strong impact on species development and evolution. "Every species has come into existence coincident both in time and space with a pre-existing closely allied species," (p. 14). Differences in physical characteristics between similar creatures on different continents can attest to the accuracy of Wallace's hypotheses. Wallace's statement, "Every species has come into existence coincident both in time and space with a pre-existing closely allied species," was thereafter known as the Sarawak Law in honor of Wallace's research in Borneo (p. 14). The Sarawak Law is supplemented also by Wallace's subsequent observations of nearly abrupt differences in species distributions in Asia, causing the author to hypothesize the existence of peculiar, distinct geographic zones. Wallace also points out that geography impacts species distribution across the planet. "Large groups, such as classes and orders, are generally spread over the whole earth, while smaller ones, such as families and genera, are frequently confined to one portion, often to a very limited district," (p. 3). In one small area, great variations within one species can be observed. Wallace also offers a critique of his colleague Forbes' theory of polarity.

Wallace speculates there are "antetypes" of species, which can provide coding for the evolution of new species even after one species in the same lineage is extinct. In fact, Wallace developed the analogy of species evolution using a tree motif. Like a human genealogical tree, the evolutionary biology tree shows how a central trunk can yield numerous branches. Some branches can die off or cease to grow, but others can grow from the same trunk. The trunk is a metaphor for the antetype of species. Thus, "the analogy of a branching tree" is "the best mode of representing the natural arrangement of species and their successive creation," (Wallace, p. 1855, p. 9). Wallace's work underwrote the future of evolutionary biology.

Part Two

H.G. Wells' novel The Island of Dr. Moreau is, like Shelley's Frankenstein, a warning against human interference in nature and meddling with biological evolution. The novel describes the discovery of the titular island, where gruesome experiments fuse animals and human beings into grotesque new forms. Dr. Moreau's motivations for vivisecting and fusing different species are unclear even when he articulates them; but given his treatment of his league of Beast Men, could be to create a class of slave species with malleable characteristics like those of the Leopard Man. The Island of Dr. Moreau touches on many relevant themes including medical ethics as well as philosophical questions like what it means to be human.

The story of Dr. Moreau and the island is told by the protagonist, Edward Prendick. Prendick was shipwrecked near the island and is rescued by a man who works for Dr. Moreau, a man named Montgomery. When Prendick finds out that Dr. Moreau is running experiments on the island, he is surprised and a little disturbed because he has heard of the doctor's controversial work in vivisection. Montgomery, who hides his emotions with alcohol, vigorously defends the work of the man he obviously perceives as a genius. Almost immediately, Prendick discovers that Moreau has continued his vivisection experiments on the deserted island even though he was shunned from the scientific community back home.

The first half of the novel details Prendick's initial shock at arriving on the island, and builds suspense about what Dr. Moreau is actually doing. In Chapter 8, Prendick describes the screaming puma, a sound that has a tremendous impact on his attitude toward the island. "The emotional appeal of those yells grew upon me steadily, grew at last to such an exquisite expression of suffering that I could stand it in that confined room no longer," (Chapter 8, Section 25). At this point, Prendick knows something sinister is going on with Moreau's experiments. Prendick soon starts to fear for his own life, as Moreau clearly has sociopathic tendencies and will stop at nothing to carry out his experiments fusing animals and human beings. He even considers drowning himself, as suicide seems a more attractive option than meeting a fate like that suffered by the puma he heard.

Gradually, Prendick ascertains the nature of Moreau's vivisection experiments. The doctor is fusing human beings with animals and turning them into morbid hybrid creatures. Prendick now understands why he was so appalled when encountering the strange animals on the island; they were unnatural creatures -- creatures that would not have evolved organically. The creatures evoke a deep response from Prendick, who cannot quite articulate why the creatures revolt him; only that they are "repugnant." In Chapter 9, Prendick states, "I perceived clearly for the first time what it was that had offended me, what had given me the two inconsistent and conflicting impressions of utter strangeness and yet of the strangest familiarity. The three creatures engaged in this mysterious rite were human in shape, and yet human beings with the strangest air about them of some familiar animal," (Paragraph 10). Thus, Prendick perceives the fine line between what it means to be human and what it means to be an animal. Wells explores the theme of human beings playing "God," by manipulating nature in a way that goes against natural biological evolution. Prendick is also offended by the fact that Moreau is causing the animals pain -- a key difference between him and the sadistic Moreau.

Wells' novel raises many poignant questions: what is the difference between a human being an animal and why is that difference important? If a human is fused with an animal, then which elements will predominate in that being's persona and behavior? What animalistic characteristics can be "bred" out of animals, and how can animals make the leap to becoming human? Why is it immoral to harm an animal? In Chapter 14, Dr. Moreau explains his experiments to a suspicious and frightened Prendick. Moreau claims that his decision to fuse animals with humans rather than with other animals was "by chance" (Chapter 14). Then, Prendick finds out that Moreau has some ideas of what defines humanity vs. animals. One of…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Wallace, Alfred Russel. "On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species" Retrieved online:

Wells, H.G. The Island of Dr. Moreau. 1986.

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