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I've done some sleuthing on some online dictionaries to make sense of these words, but I can't see the difference.

Take Dictionary.com, for example:

MACROCOSM:

Definitions:

  1. The entire world; the universe.; the great world or universe; the universe considered as a whole (opposed to microcosm).

(Expanded version: the whole of a complex structure, especially the world or the universe, contrasted with a small or representative part of it. Contrasted with microcosm.)

  1. the total or entire complex structure of something; A system reflecting on a large scale one of its component systems or parts.

  2. a representation of a smaller unit or entity by a larger one, presumably of a similar structure. (Unfortunately I wasn't able to find any sample sentences for this definition of macrocosm)

MICROCOSM:

  1. a little world; a world in miniature (opposed to macrocosm)

(expanded version: A small, representative system having analogies to a larger system in constitution, configuration, or development)

  1. anything that is regarded as a world in miniature.

  2. human beings, humanity, society, or the like, viewed as an epitome or miniature of the world or universe.

(Unfortunately I wasn't able to find any example sentences for this definition of microcosm)

Examples:

MACROCOSM:

1)In other words, the macrocosm of the cosmos is reflected in the microcosm of individual experience

  1. The physics that works for falling bodies and pirouetting ice skaters down here in the microcosm of the Earth makes galaxies up there in the macrocosm of the universe.

  2. the macrocosm of war.

  3. You can see its effects in the macrocosm of HIV infections.

  4. But the flower choker holds a unique place in the macrocosm of the early aughts revival

  5. In other words, the macrocosm of the cosmos is reflected in the microcosm of individual experience

MICROCOSM:

  1. We regarded the struggle in prison as a microcosm of the struggle as a whole.

  2. Farmville, the town that Dorothy left behind in the 1940s, had become in the 1950s a microcosm of America's struggle over integration in its public school

  3. "He sees the auto industry as a microcosm of the U.S. itself" (William J. Hampton).

  4. Little Tokyo is a microcosm of Japan.

  5. The dynamic acts as a microcosm for Edinburgh's own theological development

  6. The audience was selected to create a microcosm of American society.

In each of these examples, "macrocosm" and "microcosm" seem to convey the sense of "a place, locality, situation, or event that encapsulates certain qualities/features of the person/thing it represents"

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  • Examples: a drop of water, viewed under a microscope, could be a microcosm, and the Atlantic Ocean could be a macrocosm. May 29, 2022 at 7:06
  • 1
    You don't say whether you are aware that macro- means big and micro- means small. May 29, 2022 at 7:43

2 Answers 2

1

It seems to me from your examples that microcosm is a representation of a set of systems through a ratio smaller than 1:1 – this representation scales the reality down to a conceptually or physically smaller 'size'.

A macrocosm refers to not a representation, but instead the actual internal systems of the subject of the sentence itself.

In short, microcosm expresses a metaphor or simile between a smaller system and a larger one, and macrocosm is used to highlight the real and complex internal structures of an expansive whole.

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It is generally the case that when in a discussion one has recourse to a term such as "microcosm" or "macrocosm" this is done subject to an explicit or implicit definition of the particular "cosmsos" or "world" that thoses words represent in the discussion. One cannot be presupposed without the other being implied according to the interaction that is discussed in the first. In order to use thses terms there must be a possible comparison of the particular interaction as it applies to both, or a comparison of the effects of this interaction in both worlds. In some cases, the interaction is simply determined (first example below), in others it is unbelievably complex and require much discussion (second example), as in the domain of sociology, for instance.

To take a subject with which I am familiar only to a very small extent but still sufficiently for drawing an example from it, let's see how this concept might apply in physics. The laws of mechanics are valid in the domain of atomic and sub-atomic particles and the microcosm relative to this domain is space in which only small particles are to be found (electrons, protons, atoms, for instance); the expanse of space itself is immaterial: it can be as small as that occupied by a speck of dust, and smaller, or as vast as that in the cathode ray tubes in ancient TV sets, and much bigger; what matters is that only small particles of the type mentioned are in it. As we know that the laws of mechanics are also valid in the world of objects such as artillery shells, rockets, airplanes, asteroïd and all that is substantial enough to be seen with the naked eye, this world where we consider only phenomenally huge objects in comparison is implicitly the macrocosm. It is known also that the so called relativistic corrections are necessary for the laws of mechanics to remain valid when the velocities of the bodies are very great (a few thousand kilometres per second), and that mostly only particles can be accelerated to reach those. It becomes thus possible by using this doublet to come up with a convenient generalisation and say that the applications of relativistic mechanics in the macrocosm becomes a quasi-irrelevant problem. ("Quasi-irrelevant" is used rather than "irrelevant" because things are different in the domain of astronomical bodies; thus this macrocosm is not perfect, it is rather the world of objects on a "human scale".)

Here is another example that is much more abstract.

(ref.) Pythagoras asserted that Man was a microcosm, which means a compendium of the Universe; not because, like other animals, even the least, he is constituted of the Four Elements, but because he contains all the powers of the Kosmos.

In this second example, the reader is to infer that the macrocosm is the material world, all of space as far as we can conceive it as a whole, and the matter in evolution that is contained in it. This example shows again a more or less implicit definition of the two terms, microcosm and macrocosm, relative to one another and relative to the context in which they are made to represent a characterizing pair of analogous entities, one "large scale", the other "small scale".

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