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Naturally occurring information systems provide a number of useful metaphors for distributed problem solving. An introduction to some aspects of these metaphors is given which simultaneously serves as a guest editorial for a special issue devoted to the topic. The ubiquity of a distributed mode of computation in information processing in natural phenomena in general and in human societies in particular is observed and related to the evolutionary and complexity-reducing advantages of this mode. The forms of communication media available to coordinate the problem solving activities of the individual processors are examined. Some general remarks are made on how problem solving is distributed and coordinated in some human organizations, and the potential usefulness of the " society of specialists" notion in explicating cognitive activity is pointed out. Along the way, the contents of the papers in the special issue are considered in relation to various points raised in the discussion.