Dr. Gregory Stock, Director of the program on Medicine, Technology and Society at UCLA School of Medicine


Author bio: Gregory Stock has a Ph.D. in biophysics from John Hopkins University and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School. He has published research papers in the fields of developmental biology, limb regeneration, and laser light scattering, and has designed computer software for electronic banking networks. He has been visiting senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affaris at Princeton University and wrote The Book of Questions which was translated into 16 languages and sold nearly two million copies worldwide.


The breathlessly optimistic tone of the book fails to help us distinguish between the pure momentum of change and the essence of evolution. Does not Metaman give us the ability to share madness as well as progress on a grander scale?





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by Patric Hedlund

METAMAN: the Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism by Gregory Stock (Simon and Shuster, 1993) is a significant book well worth a second look.

It explores the collaborative nature of the human adventure, including our new ability to breach barriers of space and time to share the visions, thoughts and dynamic experiences of others--"instantaneously encoded in vibrant patterns of electricity, magnetism and light--transmitted to the other side of the world," or to the other side of a century.

Stock's core thesis is that Metaman confirms we are all connected through our technology "giving to and drawing from one another as we participate in a momentous step in the evolution of life."

But how, exactly, are we defining evolution? As metaman learns to "think" and its thoughts become increasingly complex, can such a superorganism also develop a consciousness of its own? What are its values? Will it have a spirit? And how do those qualities compare with those which have sustained and shaped human cultures for millenia?

The breathlessly optimistic tone of the book fails to help us distinguish between the pure momentum of change and the essence of evolution. Does not Metaman give us the ability to share madness as well as progress on a grander scale?.

Surely NATO's use of remote-controlled bombs to ravage Yugoslavia in order to halt the cruelty of Serb supremicists in Kosova illustrates a vivid juxtaposition of computerized corporate warfare versus face-to-face brutality.

Which is more humane: Metaman's strike from the skies like a force of nature to explode the head of a child, or a Serbian paramilitary extorting gold from fleeing Muslims while chopping off the arm of their two year old son with a knife?

Stock writes: "Knowing more, seeing more, having greater powers than any who have gone before, we--through Metaman--have in a sense become as gods. And yet we are 'gods' only in the limited terms of early humans, because Metaman's emergence is giving us an awareness of the true enormity and power of the universe."

There is still too little evidence that such awareness is sufficient to halt Metaman's use of its own power to damage critical life-sustaining systems on this small planet, or that imaginative nonviolent alternatives for handling human conflict have greater chance of being implemented by this global metaorganism. Indeed, it is the challenge of building an aircraft carrier to support squadrons of war planes on high seas whch Stock cites as an example of Metaman's superiority over Darwinian random evolution.

Civilization, Stock asserts, is not an intrusion into the natural realm, but a harmonious extension of it: "Ours is a world of progressive change and adaptation; human society has grown from and is an expression of, the natural world; all of humankind is joining together and can look toward a limitless future. This modern mythos offers us an expansive new vision of who we are, one that can encompass all humanity in a shared and inspiring future."

But which is actually more inspiring: corporate Metaman's drive for ceaseless expansion, or a future designed to sustain clean winds, fresh water, rich biodiverstiy and healthy children on a living planet,? Is it true that "buildings, vehicles and man made devices reveal the inherent beauty of life" as completely as a wildflower sprouting in a field? Is it true that Metaman need not grieve the loss of wild nature?

Human hubris is the most dangerous threat to the future of the human species, and the human spirit.

Ultimately, the uncritical tone of Stock's argument is the book's greatest weakness,, but the large patterns he draws are important, accurate and provocative. With 245 pages of text and a full hundred pages more of notes and glossary, this is a work well worth reading.

--ph 4/30/99