Man as a Microcosm of the Macrocosm Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein   In the Renaissance, many writers like Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino saw man as just beginning to understand his capabilities. Human beings might be limitless, and if given enough encouragement and opportunity, capable of becoming like gods. Some of the works of earlier times that had made it into more common circulation were the Egyptian Hermetica, the writings of many Greek philosophers, and the Hebrew Kabbalah, that mystical body of information that offered a new understanding of the relationship of man to God and the universe. The Hermetica was attributed to the mythic Egyptian writer Hermes Trismegistus ("thrice-great Hermes"); it said man's purpose was to rise in understanding and consciousness through a series of lives and ultimately to become perfected. (Though the early Renaissance thought this book went all the way back to ancient Egypt, it was demonstrated that the book was probably written in the 2nd or 3rd century A.D., and though it remained an influence on a handful of later thinkers even down to the present time, it lost its popular circulation and the better part of its influence on the Renaissance itself.) The Greek philosophers, though never entirely lost to Western education, were seen in the Renaissance with renewed respect. For an overview see the Hellenic period. Another influence on some Renaissance thinkers was the Hebrew Kabbalah, a system of Jewish mysticism. The Tree of Life used by Kabbalists is an example of how Kabbalists viewed the descent of energy into the field of the material world to create physical form. Beginning with the limitless light of the sphere of Kether, energy of light flows down through the masculine influence of Chockma and the feminine influence of Binah (representing the ideas of God as Father and Mother). Beginning with Binah, energy would be influenced as it flowed downward by each of the seven planets as it made its way into physical form. From Binah, energy would flow to Chesed, the sphere of Jupiter; then to Geburah, sphere of Mars; then to Tiphareth, sphere of the sun; then to Netzach, sphere of Venus; then to Hod, sphere of Mercury; then to Yesod, sphere of the moon. Finally, after receiving the influence of each of the planets, energy would make its way into physical form in Malkuth, called also "Kingdom." The Kabbalistic Tree of Life (click on the picture to see an enlargement) Modern Einsteinian physics, which posits that matter and energy are equivalent, says much the same thing: we are all light, slowed down to be whatever we uniquely appear to be; but that appearance is illusory, since the atoms that make up our "physical" form are just energy—there's nothing physical about them! In a very simplistic way, the Tree of Life can be seen as one symbolic overlay on the physical body of the human being, making the human a "microcosm" of the "macrocosm" or in other words, the universe in miniature. Other ways in which the human as "microcosm" was pictured in the Renaissance was in the ways in which the Zodiac influenced parts of the physical body, as in the following piece of art. The Body with Zodiac Associations (click on the picture to see an enlargement) And yet another way of viewing this relationship of the human to the universe was Leonardo Da Vinci's famous "Squaring of the Circle." Squaring of the Circle (click on the picture to see an enlargement) The circle from ancient times was considered to be a representation of the perfection of the Divine Source or of God. And the circle does appear in nature. However, the square is not something that appears in nature; it is the creation of human minds and the work of human hands. And from the earliest times, there was a question of how to "square the circle," i.e., how to make the dichotomy of these two geometric figures merge. Leonardo, in his famous work, shows the two come together in the human being—yet another implication from the Renaissance that man has divinity. With regard to the improving of the human through his own efforts, I would like to direct your attention to Michael J. Gelb's book, How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci. This work offers practical exercises to becoming a genius. Of course, one thing the exercises do is help link up both brain hemispheres and get them both functioning at once. Most of us are quite left-brained because the function of the left brain is to read, write, do arithmetic, and talk. However, the right brain is imagistic, so in order to get it functioning, we have to stimulate it with images, either those we create or those we can view. Alberti's On Painting was an important work in the Renaissance, and even more so from our modern perspective, because it encouraged making painting (a right-brained activity) a part of the liberal arts education. Many modern researchers into brain function suggest that stimulation with images is making all of us in the West more "whole- brained" because of the stimulation we get from movies, television, and pictures on the Internet. Perhaps our media- oriented society is making us all better humans, like the ideal conceived of by Renaissance thinkers! Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily