Did the Maya make more than a metaphor out of the perception that man is the mirror of the macrocosm? [Are] human fate and the larger drama of the galaxy somehow linked?
Origins"Coupling mechanisms may be difficult to prove, but elucidation of subtle coupling mechanisms is what the new science of dynamics is designed to do." – Terence McKenna
Microcosm and macrocosm are two aspects of a theory developed by ancient Greek philosophers to describe human beings and their place in the universe. These early thinkers viewed the individual human being as a little world (mikros kosmos) whose composition and structure correspond to that of the universe, or great world (makros kosmos, or megas kosmos).
Kosmos at this time meant "order" in a general sense and implied a harmonious, and therefore beautiful, arrangement of parts in any organic system; hence it also referred to order in human societies, reflected in good government. Comparisons between society and the human being, as well as society and the universe, were varieties of microcosmic theory. These analogies enjoyed a long life, first in the Mediterranean region during antiquity and later throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.
Plato’s Demiurgos, for example, who brought order to original chaos, tried his best to eliminate disorder. He does very well beyond the Moon. Unfortunately for us, the Demiurgos does not have fine grained control of the forces of matter and nature. There is no power that can tame a certain ‘recalcitrance’ in matter. This is why the creatures living on the earth occasionally suffer the shocks of earthquakes, famine, great epidemics, and war. Humans, themselves, are definitely ‘sub-lunary’ creatures, and remain chaotic despite trying, at times, to imitate the great model of the Heavens above them, or the Divine Mind or Power which people believed to lie behind it. In the Philebus, Plato argued that human beings and the universe are both composed of an elemental body and a rational soul, and that just as the human body derives from the universe's body, the human soul must derive from the universe's soul. The universe is, therefore, not only an orderly system but an intelligent organism as well. Plato expounded this theme at greater length in the Timaeus, where he explained how the structure of the human being parallels that of the universe through certain correspondences in body and soul. Just as the body of the universe is spherical, and its soul is composed of orbits along which the planets wander, so too the soul of the human being is composed of orbits along which its emotions rove, and it inhabits the head, which is spherical. The rest of the human body exists merely to serve the head. [read more]
Although the ancient idea of the microcosm appealed to many Christian thinkers, their view of the macrocosm as an inanimate structure created by God ex nihilo at the beginning of time led to major alterations of the ancient theory. Most conspicuously, the world-soul was omitted or interpreted allegorically as a reference to God's providential care for the created world. Although Greek Christians, unlike the Latins, had direct access to the ancient sources, they were ambivalent about the pagan philosophical heritage. [read more]
Latin terminology generally assumed comparative forms—"lesser world" (minor mundus) and "greater world" (maior mundus) —although it also adopted the Greek loanwords microcosmus and macrocosmus (or more commonly megacosmus). Latin treatments of the microcosm were generally superficial until the twelfth century, but certain distinctive features did appear before then. Although Augustine of Hippo preferred the comparison of humanity to God, he developed a theory of the seven ages of man and the world, which was a projection of the seven days of creation and the seven stages of the human life cycle onto history. Pope Gregory the Great offered a concise and oft-repeated formula that combined the microcosm with the concept of the Chain of Being, whereby humanity was thought to contain all of creation because it shares simple existence with stones, life with plants, sensation with beasts, and reason with angels. [read more]
A remnant of this way of thinking lingers in the imagery of Shakespeare. King Lear experiences a mighty storm on a blasted heath that mirrors the chaos of his soul. In another play, Caesar ignores the dire omens that preceded his murder. When comets fly, or a bird falls from the sky, they are signs of a correspondence between the great and little worlds. We call this ‘magical thinking’ today, but that does not make it go away. Magical thinking still flourishes in the world, and nothing can stop a person from thinking magically. We used to look at the entrails of sheep to prognosticate the future. Now we try to 'read' the stock market, or estimate the invisible risks of investments. Modern societies build change into the order of things. There is no microcosm or macrocosm because we live in an undivided universe. There is no ‘above,’ no ‘below,’ but only universal forces working out the details of their manifestations in space and time. This may be correct from a scientific point of view, which Thomas Nagel calls “the view from nowhere.” However, the distinction may still have a use in helping us to explore the problems of ‘perspectival’ thinking, which is the view from somewhere.
Today, the distinction between the macrocosm and microcosm can highlight for us the gap that exists between the world at it is revealed to an individual’s immediate perceptual and cultural registry, and the greater world that always escapes it. How is this, and why is it important?