AskDefine | Define macrocosm

Dictionary Definition

macrocosm n : everything that exists anywhere; "they study the evolution of the universe"; "the biggest tree in existence" [syn: universe, existence, creation, world, cosmos]

User Contributed Dictionary



Medieval Latin macrocosmus, formed from Ancient Greek μάκρος (macros) "great, long" + κόσμος (cosmos) "universe, order".


Extensive Definition

Macrocosm and microcosm is an ancient Greek schema of seeing the same patterns reproduced in all levels of the cosmos, from the largest scale (macrocosm or universe-level) all the way down to the smallest scale (microcosm or sub-sub-atomic or even metaphysical-level).


It may have begun with Democritus in the 5th century BCE or with Pythagoras and is a philosophical conception that runs through Socrates, and Plato all the way to the Renaissance. With Pythagoras, the discovery of the golden ratio and its philosophical conception called the Golden mean, the Greeks observed the golden ratio in many parts of the ordered universe both large and small. Philosophically, the Greeks were concerned with a rational explanation of everything and saw the repetition of the golden mean throughout the world and all levels of reality as a step towards this unifying theory. In short, it is the recognition that the same traits appear in entities of many different sizes, from one man to the entire human population.
Macrocosm/microcosm is a Greek compound of μακρο- "Macro-" and μικρο- "Micro-", which are Greek respectively for "large" and "small", and the word κόσμος kósmos which means "order" as well as "world" or "ordered world".
The English physician and alchemist Robert Fludd (1574-1637) expicitly based his work Utriusque Cosmi Historia (The history of the two worlds) upon the macro/micro correspondence; as did Sir Thomas Browne in his binary Discourses of 1658: Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial depicts the small, temporal world of man, whilst The Garden of Cyrus represents the macrocosm, in which the ubiquitous and eternal quincunx pattern is discerned in art, nature and the Cosmos.
The great enigma of alchemy is the mystery between the macrocosm and microcosm. Equally an unsolved enigma of English literature is the relationship between Browne's diptych Discourses: the microcosm world of Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial and the macrocosm world of The Garden of Cyrus. Today, the concept of microcosm has been taken over by sociology to mean a small group of individuals whose behavior is typical of a larger social body encompassing it. A microcosm can be seen as a special kind of epitome. Conversely, a macrocosm is a social body made of smaller compounds.


  1. Republic, Plato, trans. By B. Jowett M.A., Vintage Books, NY. § 435, pg 151


  • Theories of Macrocosms and Microcosms in the History of Philosophy, G. P. Conger, NY, 1922, which includes a survey of critical discussions up to 1922.

External links

macrocosm in German: Mikrokosmos
macrocosm in Albanian: Mikrokozmosi
macrocosm in Finnish: Mikrokosmos ja makrokosmos
macrocosm in Swedish: Mikrokosmos

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Copernican universe, Einsteinian universe, Newtonian universe, Ptolemaic universe, all, all being, all creation, allness, cosmos, created nature, created universe, creation, everything that is, expanding universe, macrocosmos, megacosm, metagalaxy, nature, omneity, plenum, pulsating universe, sidereal universe, steady-state universe, sum of things, system, totality, totality of being, universe, whole wide world, wide world, world, world without end
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