THE MACROSCOPE

Joël de Rosnay

Microscope, telescope: these words evoke the great scientific penetrations of the infinitely small and the infinitely great. The microscope has permitted a dizzying plunge into the depths of living matter; it has made possible the discovery of the cell, microbes, and viruses; it has advanced the progress of biology and medicine. The telescope has opened the mind to the immensity of the cosmos; it has traced the path of the planets and the stars and has prepared men for the conquest of space. Today we are confronted with another infinite: the infinitely complex. We are confounded by the number and variety of elements, of relationships, of interactions and combinations on which the functions of large systems depend. We are only the cells, or the cogs; we are put off by the interdependence and the dynamism of the systems, which transform them at the very moment we study them. We must be able to understand them better in order to guide them better. And this time we have no instrument to use. We have only our brain–our intelligence and our reason–to attack the immense complexity of life and society. True, the computer is an indispensable instrument, yet it is only a catalyst, nothing more than a much-needed tool. We need, then, a new instrument. The microscope and the telescope have been valuable in gathering the scientific knowledge of the universe. Now a new tool is needed by all those who would try to understand and direct effectively their action in this world, whether they are responsible for major decisions in politics, in science, and in industry or are ordinary people as we are.

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