Toward a science of metapatterns: Building upon Bateson's foundation

Tyler Volk, Jeffrey W. Bloom, John Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose - Gregory Bateson defined a metapattern as a "pattern of patterns." But, what did he mean by metapattern (which he used only once)? Can there be a meta-science, in which metapatterns are its objects or principles? The authors explore these issues. Design/methodology/approach - The authors review examples of Bateson's "great pattern" of "combination," which the authors call the binary. Bateson showed that binary is the minimal solution to the problem of gaining new characteristics by combining parts into a larger whole. Thus, binary is clearly a metapattern, a discipline-transcending structural and functional principle. The authors select parts of Bateson's writings to highlight his search for other great patterns, some of which correspond with those developed by T. Volk. Findings - The authors suggest that the basis for a science of metapatterns is the following: functional patterns that confer advantages on the systems that possess those patterns can converge, in a meta-realm that includes all of what Bateson termed stochastic sequences, namely, in biological, cultural, and cognitive realms. The convergences are common solutions to the same functional problems that span a wide variety of systems. Other general principles in the organization of systems, such as borders, arrows, cycles, centers, and networks, constitute members of a system of metapatterns, the objects in a Batesonian metascience. The authors show that the metapatterns have implications for research in the humanities and social sciences, as well as for dynamic learning along the lines of Bateson's broadly-extended concept of epistemology. Originality/value - As nearly universal functional patterns, metapatterns could serve to create a scale-bridging form of descriptive scholarship and thus contribute to the quest for a unified body of knowledge, which E.O. Wilson termed Consilience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1070-1080
Number of pages11
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - 2007


  • Cybernetics
  • Sciences
  • Systems theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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