Organisms with nerves as centers made possible another novelty of evolution: social systems. Those organisms with protected, aggregated, and swollen spheres of nerves could begin uniting into larger units, which could move coherently. Flocks of birds, schools of fish, and migrating herds of wildebeest or caribou consist of a large number of nearly identical beings. They are dispersed systems. In a way, they are motile rocks. Within flocks and schools and herds, tubes of behaviors and signals stretch from each individual to a usually close range of neighbors, which stabilizes the whole. The organisms are to their wholes in these social examples as the cells within lichens or sponges are to the whole organism—smaller, centered systems arrayed in larger, dispersed systems.

from Metapatterns (1995)

Portrait of Tyler Volk

Tyler Volk

Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology

Tyler Volk is a professor in the departments of environmental studies and biology at New York University. His areas of interest include principles of form and function in systems (described as metapatterns), environmental challenges to global prosperity, CO2 and global change, biosphere theory and the role of life in earth dynamics.


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Gregory Stock


In this visionary book, Gregory Stock gives us a new way of understanding our world and our future. He develops the provocative thesis that human society has become an immense living being: a global superorganism in which we humans, knitted together by our modern technology and communication, are like the cells in an animal's body. Drawing on impressive research, Stock shows this newly formed superorganism to be more than metaphor: it is an actual living creature, which he has named Metaman, meaning beyond and transcending humans.