The Cosmos: Macro versus Micro

The Cosmos: Macro versus Micro

☼ The images on the left are night views of brightly lit metropolitan cities taken from the International Space Station. On the right, are fluorescent images of neurons. Like a neuron, the city seems to have a cell body, branching dendrites and a main axon like highway extending out.

☼ The ancient Greeks of the Neo-Platonic school of philosophy saw  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). In their philosophy, Man is in the middle.

☼ Did you know that the word cosmos (Greek, κόσμος) means “order” and is the conceptual opposite of “chaos”? In Mandarin Chinese, cosmos and universe are both translated as 宇宙 yǔzhòu, which means “space-time”.

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.”

-William Blake



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185 Responses to The Cosmos: Macro versus Micro

  1. Patterns everywhere, repeating at every level of perspective.  Fractalism.

  2. Rajini Rao says:

    Yes, I ♡ fractals!

  3. Thomas Jones says:

    There was an article making the rounds last month about the structure of the galactic superclusters – the overall structure of the visible universe – bearing a striking resemblance to neural networks.

  4. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks, Ali Adelstein !

    Thomas Jones , ASCB ran a contest called Cellular or Celestial some time back. Some of them were really hard to tell apart. Here’s one pair I posted:

  5. Rajini Rao says:

    Carlos Viñas , a beautiful quote! One of many reasons we love Carl.

  6. Ron Hunt says:

    I really miss Carl Sagan! 

  7. The photos and text make this one a wonderful analogy Rajini Rao 

  8. Anne Beuttenmüller Check this post out. Do these images remind you of anything? #ingress   #portals  

  9. Rajini Rao says:

    As usual, the images captured my attention first Cheryl Ann MacDonald  and then I looked for some text to go with it 🙂

  10. Ok, that looks really cool!

  11. For your title, did you read my post about the proposed Swiss banknotes? Otherwise, jinx!

  12. Rajini Rao says:

    Víktor Bautista i Roca , really? Let me look for it!

  13. That’s a beautiful comparison.

  14. As above, so below. The macro and the micro reflect one another. Beautiful post as always, Rajini Rao!

  15. Rajini Rao says:

    Chadwick Jones , someone has to explain the connection to quantum entanglement since I’m not a physicist!

    Of course, use abundant artistic license to compare cities to neurons 🙂

  16. Caleb Allen says:

    This reminds me of “e^(i * pi) = -1”. Things that seemingly have nothing to do with each other really are much more closely related that we think.

  17. Now I wish I was working with neurons !!! 

    Awesome comparison, thank you 🙂

  18. Arizona Bob says:

    I cannot breakdown the quantum entanglement part, but your post does provide an exceptional comparison between neural and utility networks. So then my question(s) are, which concept has more influence in the design of each (or both)…scalable fractal concepts? or six degrees of separation? Or are the networks merely ‘appendages’?

  19. Rajini Rao says:

    Aha, Arizona Bob , the answer to your question may be found in Chad Haney ‘s recollection of how slime mold maps out a route towards a chemoattractant, in his link above: “they placed the mold in a laboratory culture that also contained a scale model of the region around Tokyo, with food sources representing population centers. The slime mold’s tendrils, they found, produced interconnections strikingly similar to the layout of the Tokyo railway system”.

    Which reminds me of the story that William Carter and Gnotic Pasta both posted on simple chemical reactions driving seemingly complex behavior:

  20. Rajini Rao says:

    Chadwick Jones , that was an interesting read, thanks! This is cool, but also ripe fodder for Deepak Chopra’s new age consciousness 😉

  21. Rajini Rao says:

    Chadwick Jones , my friend Feisal Kamil loves this site:
    It’s a random word generator that is hilarious. Sooner or later, quantum does come up 😀

  22. Love the picture.  Interesting comparison.  I remember seeing a short presentation a few years ago on how patterns in living and non-living things repeat from the sub-atomic scale up to the universal scale.  It’s an intriguing, thought-provoking idea.

  23. when i was doing rotations in grad school, i worked with a transgenic c. elegans strain much like this one:

    it had GFP expressed in all 302 of it’s neurons. it was amazing watching them move around, it was like you could see an entire galaxy inside it’s rostral and caudal nerve centers

  24. Rajini Rao says:

    Fantastic image, todd pressler ! C. elegans is a terrific model for following neural development. Do you mean that they moved around in time lapse captures of development? 

  25. Rajini Rao says:

    Mark Bruce  Someone on G+ was generating connectivity networks for G+. Do you remember who? Max Huijgen posted his connections, I think. It had hubs and connections…

  26. Rajini Rao not exactly. I was trying to do whole cell recordings from their neurons at the time. I was imaging them in a dish, and watching them wiggle around. Each nerve cluster is like a little galaxy.

  27. Rajini Rao says:

    We work with primary astrocytes- as their name suggests, they look like stars spread out in culture. 

  28. ‘He reached a middle height, and at the stars,

    Which are the brain of heaven, he looked, and sank.

    Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,

    The army of unalterable law.’

    –from Lucifer in Starlight by George Meredith (1828-1909).

  29. Chad Haney says:

    Rajini Rao one of the animation guys here is working on a video that goes from macro to sub-micro. It starts out with a neural network, zooms into one neuron, shows the propagation of an action potential, ending with a calcium channel opening and closing. When it’s done I’ll find out if I can post it.

  30. Max Huijgen says:

    Rajini Rao To answer your question: I used images generated by NOD3x to represent my social graph.

  31. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks, Max Huijgen , that’s the one I was thinking about.

  32. Robert Moser says:

    Given a long enough time, hydrogen starts to wonder what it came from, and where it is going.

  33. Thomas Kang says:

    I love these images. It reminds me of this one from the NYT many years back between the neurons of a mouse’s brain and simulated images of the universe:

  34. Rajini Rao says:

    Thomas Kang , thanks for the link. Stunning comparison of celestial versus cellular.

  35. This is a great example, nice find. You can see the same fractal effect in maps of the universe also or as the alchemists would say, as above so below 🙂

  36. eddie martin says:

    You are here wow is it really you?

  37. Rajini Rao says:

    David Washington , I was curious as to the origin of the phrase “as above so below”. The origins of this date back to a mythical person Hermes Trismegistus, as explained in this interesting blog post:

  38. Eric Hopper says:

    I think we will find that all systems of any complexity that are not human made have this pattern embedded in them. I’ve been of the firm opinion for a long time that this pattern is universal, and we can learn some profound things about large systems in general by studying it.

  39. Rajini Rao says:

    Eric Hopper , there are similarities in the branching of trees and blood veins..likely due to simple mathematical formulae that govern branching. Some of the patterns are based in the golden ratio for example. 

  40. Robert Moser says:

    ^ Whenever I’m in discussion with someone about whether human beings are even capable of understanding the universe, I mention fractal effects like these are what gives me the greatest hope that we are.  We may have evolved at the bottom of a gravity well in a narrow temperature range around an average star, but the patterns we see have recognizable echoes in every direction of scale.  An intelligence refined to function at our scale should thus be capable of interpreting others.

  41. Rajini Rao says:

    That’s a heartwarming thought, Robert Moser .

  42. Rajini Rao This is a very interesting topic actually, trying to unpack the Emerald Tablet for example, on this page you will see a translation of it by Issac Newton of all people: 

    To me it shows that the mind is the first tool of science and we sometimes mistake symbolic language for ignorance. 

  43. Eric Hopper says:

    Rajini Rao – nod I think there is another principle at work as well. In graphs of large natural systems nodes with a lot of connections tend to attract more connections. And this leads to graphs having power-law characteristics and being scale-free.

    In trees this happens sort of in reverse since branches (considered as nodes) grow from existing nodes. When a tree splits, you can consider one of the ‘branches’ to actually be a continuation of the trunk.

    Which, of course, could be considered simple math. But I suspect that within the math there are profound insights waiting to be discovered related to understanding the interactions involved and developing useful holistic interpretations of the activity of the system.

  44. Interesting comparisons Rajini Rao 

  45. Omar Saleem says:

    Now if only the highways had myelin sheath…there would be no rush hour traffic. 

    Nature can be constant through so many variables. Beautiful.

  46. Great post, love the Blake quote. A Romantic with a bit of a scientist in him?

  47. Rajini Rao says:

    David Crowley , exactly! Don’t you love The Tiger ?

  48. Rajini Rao says:

    Omar Saleem , haha, myelin sheaths for highways! Think how fast we could the vertebrate neuron 🙂

  49. Thanks for the link Rajini Rao. Not sure if I’ve read the full text, more likely the portion you cited. 

  50. Rajini Rao says:

    David Crowley , the link was to Blake’s famous Tiger poem, unrelated to the quote I used in the post, but an example of his “metaphysical” interests.

  51. Kai Jamrat says:


  52. Chad Haney says:

    Kai Jamrat I only know a few Thai words and none of the alphabet. It’s better if you post in English.

  53. Bobby Ryan says:

    You just blew my mind Rajini Rao ! Bravo! Encore!

  54. Bobby Ryan says:

    Its funny how your reality changes every time you experience something new.

  55. Thomas Kang says:

    Or perhaps the Higgs-Boston?

  56. Rajini Rao says:

    As long as it’s not Higg’s Bosom. This is a family channel.

  57. Thomas Kang says:

    Every time this turns up in my notifications, I keep thinking that the image on the left looks like Shiva’s headpiece.

  58. Awesome. thought-provoking post.  Rajini Rao    

    “Thought-recalling” is probably a better word here, as I had very similar thoughts a few years ago, flying over the Bay area at night… 

    Actually… truth be told, looking  at it from closer quarters than a satellite, the thought of “parasitic organism” popped to my mind…  oops 😐

    “Fluorescent neurons” makes me feel much better.  Thanks 🙂

  59. Rajini Rao says:

    Thomas Kang , pyramidal neurons do look like a coronet when lit up with multiple fluorescent tags! What an interesting comparison, as is John Christopher ‘s comparison with a parasite spawning over the earth’s bosom – now look what you made me say, Thomas Kang 😉

  60. rob M. says:

    so: Patterns via KOYAANISQATSI (a Hopi Indian word and title for this visually stunning, philosophical film that has NO actors/NO plot/NO text).. just music + cinematography. i think u will all find this film to be in synergy / context with the things many of us have commented or evoked re: Rajini’s original post: /Koyaanisqatsi__Life_out_of_Balance_Full_Length/ this film is among the best films ever made, faaaaarrrrr ahead-of-it’s-time in 1982.

    Nearly every cinematographer & every visual film or program has been influenced by it; btw, PHILIP GLASS did the soundtrack:

    NOTE: uTube has it but the only full versions play at the wrong speed (the film is approx. 1 hr, 25 min.) –>

    BLAKE would have loved it

  61. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for the link, rob M. . Checking it out…

  62. rob M. says:

    there are many links to clips of Koyaanisqatsi on uTube, however, most are short bits or fast-tweaked-speed which ruins it. Luckily, i did not find any malware on that “” site…tho i’d say their other films//videos do look a bit corny 0_o

  63. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for that clarification of the site 🙂

  64. Ole Olson says:

    Instead of man being in the “middle”, there is an unsupported hypothesis in Cosmology called The Bootstrap Hypothesis that basically states that the macrocosm and microcosm actually connect, forming a “loop”. In essence, we are living inside a microscopic universe inside ourselves right now. Wild.

  65. This is actually pretty fascinating and thought provoking. Cool.


  67. irpan van says:

    wow amazing this picture 🙂

  68. Daryl H says:

    Very interesting!

  69. rob M. says:

    isn’t the Bootstrap model similar /same as the paradigm put-forward by Physicist Dr. Fritjof Capra in his brilliant work, The TAO of Physics ?  Was far ahead of most writers in the realm of GROKKING the pattern-ing he found in sub-atomic-structures to life’s ecology [macro & human scale] showing physics as just part of the larger meta-pattern of the interactive-ecosystem of the universe.

  70. Gaythia Weis says:


    The structure and function of complex networks​review.pdf · PDF file

    The structure and function of complex networks M. E. J. Newman Department of Physics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, U.S.A. and Santa Fe Ins

  71. Ole Olson says:

    I’m not sure rob M.. I don’t recall reading that in my studies, although admittedly I bailed on astrophysics at a pretty early stage and turned to archaeology

  72. Hi Rajini….

    Gud morning

  73. Rajini Rao You are correct in pointing this out.

    The same principle can be applied to events, as well.

    Nothing ever happens at only one level.

  74. T.W. Leonard says:

    Yeah yeah and I guess next you’re going to tell me the earth is round.

  75. Angry Badger says:

    Am I the only one who finds it just a little creepy?

  76. Tim Leonard  Not so loud, Timothy.

    Non-believers in the flat earth theory are sentenced to be set afloat and allowed to drop over the edge.

  77. rob M. says:

    Ole Olson yeah in fact, i steered even farther away from hard sciences, tho i ended up in CG career for 3d modeling/rendering. I try to keep up w/ all the arts/sciences, and yet it’s amazing as well as info overload now that so many websites of top labs & R&D tend to post fascinating things so often.  ((i still recall CERN’s announcement, last year, of ‘breaking the light-speed-barrier’ that, although a bust, was just an example of the way we can all keep up versus the old days of having perhaps 1 or 2 magazine sub’s to keep us going;-) )).

  78. T.W. Leonard says:

    R. Harlan Smith And fall into the unknown? Nooooo….

  79. stephane seedeeal That’s four non-sensical posts.

    Do you have something to say about the parallels Rajini is drawing with these patterns?

  80. Thomas Kang says:

    Gaythia Weis I don’t think I’ll be reading that book anytime soon, but the explanation on the page and the table of contents are impressive.

    When I mention the hat of a deity and you extrapolate that to a parasite on the bosom of the Earth, don’t blame me. As you know, it’s always Feisal’s fault. 

  81. Kawthar A says:

    That’s a great read as always Rajini, thanks, i will be back again to this post when I’m full awake 🙂

  82. davod imdad says:

    Every  being  is Created by   ALLAH swt , The One Designer and Planner  so there is Discipline  and Balance  in  All The Heavens .                                                         and we are all related  ,   humans  and  non  ( some how)                                     If there were many  gods  , there would  be   chaos  all the times .

  83. Gaythia Weis says:

    Bruno Gonçalves posts on the topology of complex networks here on Google +.   In addition to the M. E. J. Newman links I give in my comment above, another I know of is:

  84. True love that statement…davod imdad

  85. Henk Poley says:

    Geoffrey West must have something interesting to say about all this. He studied cities and living networks for a bit.

  86. Dawood Nadir says:

    Hello friends how you doing all

  87. I was thinking about it today… strange… to create an app for facebook where people can see a micro and macro cosm pic and then they have to guess which is which… strange.. but thank you anyway 🙂

  88. sagar pathak says:

    very nice…………………wow

  89. appala naidu says:

    Rajjankumar Gupta fine

  90. So Amazon just 2 look at

  91. Dawood Nadir says:

    Im fine to how abo you all

  92. Rahim Ahmed says:

    i don’t understand what is this?

    hope u explain me…

  93. Mary T says:

    Beautiful post, love the photos and the poem, Rajini Rao ~

  94. Rahim Ahmed says:

    i can’t belief this

    i never seen this

  95. Wow its beyond this world

  96. Very interesting information. thanks for the post.

    I am learning, and the word “intelligence” is overlapping the word “chance” as i ponder about this.

  97. I am pretty sure If someone could write an algorithm to plot the comments on a Rajini Rao post with thickness or size of dot proportional to relevance and direction of plot driven by angle of irrelevance that it would also look like the network images in the original post

  98. DaFreak says:

    Here is a somewhat relevant artsy video;

    Oh my god it’s an infinite rainbow universe!? What does it mean? :p

  99. Wonderful post, Rajini Rao. Correspondences and interrelationships abound. 

  100. Robert Lach says:

    Wonderful post Rajini Rao 🙂

    I remmember myself and my first enlightenment experience, when in the early 80-ties I have seen the image of neuron, thanks to NMR tomograph (magneting resonance). Gee ! the image of a part of human neurons looked vely similarly to the regular tree in the real (not – a micro-cosmos). So the impression was, that we live in the cosmos, but that the cosmos is also at the same time within US.

    Your post reminded me this experience, and I am really thankful for this 🙂

  101. It’s like comic dance. Just beyond our faintest imagination

  102. Rajini Rao says:

    Delighted that you enjoyed it, Robert Lach . Neurons do look like trees with their arboreal branches of dendrites 🙂

  103. Robert Lach says:

    Rajini Rao Thank you for this explanation., Rajini. It is really fascinating, to see the images, while we zoom up inside of us, say several million of times. From purely photogrammetric point ov view, this would be also very interesting to me, to comment these images. First image, taken from the hight of…kilometers/miles, above the Earth surface, second image… with ZOOM factor of …? DO you know what magnification factor this image has ?

    It is a geat pleasure to discover these things,,,this gives me lot of joy…:-)

  104. Neo-Platonic = Neuro Pattern !

  105. Very nice post … 🙂

    As usual … ;-D

    Thanks Rajini Rao !!

    Take care and have fun … 🙂

  106. Rajini Rao says:

    Magnus Fahlén  Thank you, Viking 🙂

  107. Awesome as usual Rajini Rao 

    This makes the internet worth paying for 🙂

  108. Excellent Rajini Rao  I study Neoplatonism for years and I am happy that it is still a live school of thought

  109. ASWESOME. Patterns everywhere. See one of my old ones in my travels down to S. India near Rameswaram and Ram Sethu

  110. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for the link, Joachim Stroh . I’m looking forward to reading more about it.

  111. janine lever says:

    hi, this is my first comment, your page is fascinating. I have been channelling universal energies all my life and i know that we are everything that is in the what we know as external world. love and peace janine e lever

  112. quantum hugs from deep cosmos

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