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metaorganismMetaorganismus (ger.)

  • 1) A metaphysical body imagined to exist parallel to the physical body of a living thing.

    We are sometimes asked to believe that this body of ours—with its digetsive system, &c., and all its traces of physical evolution—is interpenetrated with a “meta-organism”of identical shape and structure, and capable sometimes of detaching itself from the solid flesh and producing measurable effects on the material world.

    Myers, F.W.H. (1866). Phantasms of the Living, vol. 2: 278-9.


    Es kann nach meiner Ansicht keine Metaphysik, wohl aber – sit venia verbo – einen Meta-Organismus geben, das heisst, eine uns unbekannte Organisation ist immerhin denkbar und möglich.

    Hellenbach, L. (1878). Der Individualisms im Lichte der Biologie und Philosophie der Gegenwart: 197.

  • 2) An entity, esp. a social group, formed by the aggregation of a number of individual organisms. (OED 2011)

    A herd of sheep or oxen or a pack of wolves is now described as a meta-zoon or meta-organism with reactions similar to the individual organism known since Virchow to be an aggregation of simpler organisms of a proto-zoic character, called cells. […] The discontinuous series of our private experiences is shot through and through with and strung up on a structure of intersubjective communication signals keeping the meta-organism of a herd or pack in formation. While the lower meta-organisms such as bee-, ant-, and termite-states or bird-swarms are held in line by inherited behavior-patterns known as instincts, the cohesion of the more adaptable primate herds is achieved by means of more flexible behavior-patterns acquired in the course of one generation through the contact with the preceding one which we call education and, looking at it from the other side, learning.

    Eisler, R. (1949). The empiric basis of moral obligation. Ethics 59, 77-94: 89; 90.


    The bee colony is composed of individual organisms and therefore the structure as a whole cannot be an organism itself in spite of its overwhelming analogies. In order to acknowledge this fundamental difference, Wheeler (1928) used the term “superorganism,” a definition that should describe the strong analogies of a colony to an individual organism. The definition gained wide publicity in the field of socio-biology, although in analogy to the step from protozoon to metazoan (also population to metapopulation), the term metaorganism might have been more appropriate.

    Moritz, R.F.A. & Southwick, E.E. (1992). Bees as Superorganisms: 3-4.