About The Name

The name

Speaking at the COP21 Summit in Glasgow in 2021 David Attenborough asked ” Is this how our story is due to end? A tale of the smartest species doomed by that all too human characteristic of failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short-term goals?”. He  said that we need to be motivated by hope not fear. He noted that the story is one of inequality as well as instability. The big picture and the detail, the importance of tackling inequality and injustice and the need for planned social change not chaos and violecne are at the heart of what Macroscopia does…and the name.

The ecologist Howard T Odum coined the term macroscope to refer to the analysis of ecological systems which needs to embrace the detail of the microscope about how individual organisms work, but moves the focus to the biosphere, as it might be seen through a telescope. Related to this is the idea that a (traditional) microscope or telescope observes through one arrangement of lenses. Modern ’scopes use multiple lenses or waves to observe from multiple perspectives. Odum sought to reduce the complexity of systems to manageable dimensions. He talked about analysing biological systems on all levels. In our analysis of social systems, we identify four levels:

  • The individual or internal level in which people’s personal sense of agency or their ability to reflect or be reflexive is central
  • The interpersonal level of how people interact with each other: the value of multiple perspectives but, also the challenges of understanding and reconciling them; how people influence each other; ways of and implications of ‘othering’ or identifying with other people; how peer support and pressure operate; how groups function.
  • The institutional level: both the internal operations of organisations but how they operate together or against each other in economic, social and political systems
  • The ideological level: how issues are framed

As Barry Commoner’s first law of ecology says ‘everything is connected to everything else’: the four levels connect to each other and, often apparently unrelated issues connect. Odum had a particular interest in self-organising systems as we do: alternatives to command and control systems, dominating and subordinated people, movements and systems.

Nearly a century before Odum, Lewis Carroll invented the idea of a megaloscope in his novel SYLVIE AND BRUNO CONCLUDED.

…an Elephant. You will observe——.” Here he beckoned to the Gardener to come up on the platform, and with his help began putting together what looked like an enormous dog-kennel, with short tubes projecting out of it on both sides.

“But we’ve seen Elephants before,” the Emperor grumbled.

“Yes, but not through a Megaloscope!” the Professor eagerly replied. “You know you can’t see a Flea, properly, without a magnifying-glass——what we call a Microscope. Well, just in the same way, you can’t see an Elephant, properly, without a minimifying-glass. There’s one in each of these little tubes. And this is a Megaloscope! The Gardener will now bring in the next Specimen. Please open both curtains, down at the end there, and make way for the Elephant!”

The illustrations in the book were done by Harry Furniss who was born in Wexford. He also illustrated for Charles Dickens and the Illustrated London News until he fell out with them over a cartoon which he sold to the Pears soap company.

Further Reading

Ambrose, T. (2021) ‘David Attenborough urges leaders at Cop26 to be ‘motivated by hope not fear’ ‘ Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/01/david-attenborough-urges-leaders-at-cop26-to-be-motivated-by-hope-not-fear

Brown M.T. and C.A.S. Hall (2004) ‘Through the MACROSCOPE: the legacy of H.T. Odum’ Ecological Modelling Volume 178, Issues 1–2, pages 1-294 (15 October 2004)

Carroll, Lewis (1893) Sylvie and Bruno Concluded London: MacMillan

Commoner, B. (1971/2020) The Closing Circle Dover

Odum, Howard T. (1971) Environment, Power, and Society Rutgers

Rosnay de, J. (2004) The Macroscope

Macroscope is the title of a science fiction novel by Piers Anthony published in 1969.