Definition (short)

The term metapatterns was coined and first used by Gregory Bateson (1979). A metapattern is a patterns of patterns or a ubiquitous, transcontextual pattern. "Metapattern" also is related to Bateson notion of "the pattern which connects." Metapatterns as patterns that connect are more than mere repetitious patterns of some sort. Rather they become "functional" or "meaningful" connections. As functional and meaningful metapatterns, Tyler Volk (1995) explored a number of examples within the contexts of biology, mind, culture, and technology.


Gregory Bateson described metapatterns in the following excerpt:

My central thesis can now be approached in words: The pattern which connects is a metapattern. It is a pattern of patterns. It is that metapattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is a patterns which connect. (Bateson, 1979, p. 10)

Bateson preceded this description with a delineation of three "orders" of these patterns as functional or descriptive connections:

  1. First-order connections = descriptive patterns within an individual organism or object.
  2. Second-order connections = descriptive patterns between different organisms or object, such as between "crabs" and "lobsters" or humans and "horses."
  3. Third-order connections = descriptive patterns between descriptive patterns, such as between the connecting patterns of "crabs and lobsters" and the connecting patterns of "humans and horses." (Bateson, 1979, p. 10)

Tyler Volk (1995) identified 11 fundamental metapatterns in his book, Metapatterns: Across Space, Time, and Mind. He "defines" metapatterns in the same way as Bateson (with whom he studied in 1977), but with the following elaborations:

To me, a metapattern is a pattern so wide-flung that it appears throughout the spectrum of reality: in clouds, rivers, and planets; in cells, organisms, and ecosystems; in art, architecture, and politics…. I use the word metapattern in the Batesonian spirit — as a pattern of patterns — and seek examples at the very broadest scale. Alas, my definition, too, is round-about. I define metapatterns by saying where they are found and how I use them. But what are they? And are they out there (patterns sensed) or in here (patterns imagined)? (Volk, 1995, pp. viii-ix)

Volk's eleven metapatterns are:

  • Spheres
  • Tubes
  • Sheets
  • Borders (and Pores)
  • Binaries (and more complex)
  • Centers
  • Layers (including Hierarchies, Holarchies, Holons, and Clonons)
  • Calendars
  • Arrows
  • Breaks
  • Cycles

Some other possible metapatterns suggested by Bloom (see "Metapatterns Overview" on Metapatterns: The Pattern Underground) include:

  • Flexibility — Rigidity
  • Gradients
  • Webs (and Networks)
  • Clusters
  • Emergence
  • Triggers


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  • Jeffrey W. Bloom (2010/9/26).
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