Extension vs. Intension

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Teaching / Thinking Tools /
1997 February

Extension vs. Intension
(and related, critical, epistemological liabilities)

“Ninety-nine”% of the things in our minds have no physical referent.

99% of reality is invisible.
R. Buckminster Fuller

One of the reasons why religion seems irrelevant today
is that many of us no longer have the sense
that we are surrounded by the unseen.

Karen Armstrong

Many of those things have no intensional (non-physical) referent either (other than that created by our “seeing” them).
It’s those things in our minds that have no physical referent but that do have non-pathological intensional referents:

Those are the things that should get 99% of our attention.

The words “intension” and “extension” have multiple appearances and explanations at pk’s domains. But they’re important enough to deserve their own file, especially now that I want to add a new illustration. (2000 08 03: These important concepts are now getting concentrated attention as part of the Allied Concepts aspect of my theory of complex information: “Macroinformation.”

“Extension” is easy. It refers to whatever extends, whatever is quantifiable in space as well as in time. (“Extensional” is the adjective.) Your body is an example.

“Intension” is hard. Note the spelling. It does not refer to will, volition, desire, plan … Do not confuse it with its homonym “intention.”
“Intension” is merely the antonym of “extension.” It refers to that class of existence which may be quantifiable in time but not in space. (“Intensional” is the adjective.) Your “self” is an example.
(You were conceived at such and such a time. You were born something like nine months later. When was your “self” born?)

Your body changes with each breath. One oxygen atom that was in you twenty years ago may be in you now, but it may also have been in me in the interim. [That same atom may also have once been in Julius Caesar: more than once.] How often has your self been reborn? Is your present self the same one you “had” at puberty?)
Different cultures have different handicaps with regard to confusions of logical type. In the “West” we’re practically crippled. I know of no one before Count Alfred Korzybski who wasn’t utterly confused on this particular issue. Prior to civilization, it didn’t matter much. Prior to industrialism, it mattered, was lethal, but not fatally for all. Now it’s a matter of extinction: not just for those species draining down the hole mankind has widened (we didn’t make it, but we have accelerated the downward flow), but for us as well.

We’re crippled in the West because of certain peculiarities of the dominant theology. Hindus, for example, believe that existence is a game that cannot be charted from within. The ground of being is playing hide and seek with itself. Shiva is Vishnu. Or rather, neither is either: both are IT playing roles in the game. Alan Watts has written beautifully on the subject. Check it out.
Information is apparent, not “real.” In contrast, the monotheism of Judaism and its sub-sets, Christianity and Islam, posits existence to have a beginning, middle, and end, an inside and an outside, a creator (an owner, law-giver, boss, king …) …: all with supposedly objective reality.

One can only see what one observes,
and one observes only things
which are already in the mind.

Alphonse Bertillon

(My story Judgment Day has that awesome event begin with a benign Jesus at the apex of a Mannerist triangle of existence: life at the broad bottom, saints and angels amid clouds, one tier up, and Jesus at the very tip of the top (devils lurking below the bottom). As Jesus hears our confessions, his brow darkens. He is replaced by a fearsome Jehovah. The devils erupt and everyone is tormented. (If I rewrote it, I’d have even the saints cast from the clouds.) In the hubbub, the Chief Tormentor forgets his mask and is revealed as a baboon. It’s Satan, having fooled us again.

(Christian theology posits the Devil as being able to fool any human. So why doesn’t Christian theology see that he could fool everyone, Pope, Virgin, and all? The “voice” of the true “God” comes in at the end and tells Satan to cool it. At the time of composition, I thought my story was Christian; now I see that it was incipiently Hindu: there is no “real” difference between Satan and God, between Pope and devil: there is no reality but masks. My discovery of science converted me from theology of any flavor.

(How hard should it be to guess why my fiction has been admired but not admitted to print except for my typewriter and this HTML? All my work is religious, but it’s also all critical(/satirical) of the prevailing Religions! Success seems reserved for those who notice one flaw (like Luther) but swallow the bulk of them.)

We don’t live in the blueprints, we live in the house.


So what’s the problem, and how is it crucial? We tend to think that’s there’s “one” of things. Maybe there’s more than one, but only one counts. Jehovah isn’t the only god, but He is the God. Man isn’t the only species; but we are the only one that matters. There are thousands of college football teams, but “We’re Number One!” … Awareness of those tendencies is no longer rare: but how about this one? We are inclined to think that there is such a “thing” as reality, and moreover, that there’s only one of it! (The problem is with the “thing,” not the “reality”: and with the simplistic “oneness” of it.) We are inclined to disregard experience to the contrary. (Kurosawa’s immortal Roshomon takes the dilemma to a daring extreme, but any of us know that the argument you just had with your wife was two different arguments: the one you experienced and the one she experienced. Bring it before a jury, be as thorough as you care to be: but the jury will soon have its own reality (sub-dividable into six or twelve) of your argument. How can they be so wrong? It’s so clear: to you.)

(Even Sino-scholar Donald Ritchie thinks he can figure out for us which “one” version of the “truth” in Roshomon is the “real one.”)
But what’s the truth? The truth is unutterable. (The truth may also be multiple.) Occidentals tend to reject both those statements. We pay for it more than we can see.

Those of us with these habits also abnormally reify the intensional and confuse it with the extensional. Our primitive minds have difficulty with the stark abstraction of Judaism, so we have Jesus to give “body” to the spirit God. Our primitive minds have difficulty reifying what we can’t see, hear, and touch. So we imagine that all important “things” have “body” that we could see, hear, and touch in the right circumstances.

Can you see your self? Look in the mirror. That’s (a reflection of) your body. Maybe you’re smiling. That’s evidence of your self, but it’s evidence manifested in your flesh: lips, cheeks, what flesh is relaxed, what in tension, the amount of white showing in your eye.

Am I saying that your self is imaginary? Yes, to some extent. Am I saying that what’s imaginary isn’t “real”? Not at all. I’m saying that the intensional is a distinct class of reality. (Neither am I suggesting that all things in that class have equal status: the moon being green cheese is imaginary and doesn’t correspond to anything verifiable; your smiling self does correspond to something verifiable: just not measurable in space.)

(So which religion is “true”? See? You didn’t learn the above: you’re still looking for one.)

Elsewhere I’ve already illustrated that North America is extensional, Mexico, Canada, and US, intensional; that the church building is extensional; the “church” itself intensional; the Capital Building extensional, the government intensional … Christians and most other religious want God to be extensional; I am a religious who insists that god is intensional.

Think of this: God is real in exactly the same way the United States is real. That is, lots of people worship God: lots of people pay taxes as US citizens. Mars is real in exactly the same way the Cathay, Arcady, or Gaul are real. The latter have no citizens though they once had many. The former, if Mars still has any worshippers, do so in hiding or no longer outwardly use that name.

But God and gods are emotional subjects. Let me switch to one you can deal with more objectively. In biology, the phenotype is the individual organism; the genotype is the abstract group. Your blue eyes are in your head: extensional. Your family or tribe’s blue eyes are intensional: coded in your genes. Your genes are extensional; their code is intensional. Do you imagine that I’m saying that the code is imaginary? Actually, maybe it is. But do you imagine that I’m saying that blue eyes (as a trait) aren’t real? that they don’t “exist”?

I’m trying to broaden our acknowledgment of existence and, additionally, trying to get us to exercise care in distinguishing types. Deceits and deceptions got us here; now only honesty can save us. A difficult transformation. Scientists have made it. I’ve made it. Will enough of the rest of you joins us for us to have a future? I’m not optimistic, but my work is based on belief in the possibility.

We steal and degrade a continent, a world. Then we say we represent law and order. Does that behavior having a past ensure it a future? Open your eyes. Open your mind.

There: mind! Your brain is extensional; your mind is utterly intensional.

The drunk’s pink elephants leave no usable fertilizer.

Something I scribbled elsewhere this morning:
Species are sets of new regulations, but only for that species. Each genus encodes sets of new regulations: for those species in that genus. Physics is sets of new regulations for that universe. What regulations are cosmic we can’t know until we have commerce with other universes. Imagining that our physics is the physics is like assuming that life originated on Earth.
Which came first: the chicken or the egg?
The egg, of course. The question was insoluble only so long as we lacked the concept of “mutation.”

Which comes first: extension or intension?
Ah, now we’re into theology, cosmology, etiology … Answers that claim to be final are fraudulent. But we’re the kind of species that likes to answer anyway. I’m that kind of phenotype. (“Kind” of “phenotype”: there’s an oxymoron!) But: I keep doing my homework. I may do it late, I may do it slowly, but I do it. And seriously. Responsibly.
The code has to precede the example.
The physical universe could not have come into existence without the code preceding it. The intensional universe has no expression without the material instances. Time may have come first. (That’s wrong: time didn’t come; time was, is, and will be.) god may have come sometime after, possibly soon after. (Possibly simultaneously?) But what god wants isyou!


I just interjected some points I’d left out. How jumbled I’ve made it I can’t know till more time passes. Second drafts may say more than firsts but seldom read as well. Give me time for a third.

Given time I’ll blend in analogies such as extensional as hardware and intensional as software. Humans have aspects of both: wetware.

I’ve heard a series of churchmen distinguish the church from the church building just as they distinguish God as a “spirit,” denying the God is a person. I followed the distinction, differing in that I’ve come to put huge sets of other “things” into the “spirit” class, calling it intensional, and generally avoiding the word spirit as too misleading, too tied up with superstition. A series of examples just came into my head and I scribble them prior to finding time to blend them above.

You pass your old dentist’s office. The dentist retired, eloped, absconded, died … That office is now Off-Track Betting. So, they changed the rug, put up a couple of posters. But you still see the dentist’s office: till gradually it fades: and it’s Off-Track Betting. The fade will not occur at the same rate in any two individuals. I still call the neighboring trailers in my park by the names of their 1989 owners, though the titles may have changed hands several times over the decade. The trailer itself is extensional: ownership is wholly intensional, wholly abstract. It’s our (abstract) application of “ownership” to extensional objects that confuses us. We think the church is the church.

The dictator lives in the palace. After the coup the usurper lives in the same palace. The communists’ buildings are Tsarist. “Democracies” have militaries that are utterly feudal in structure: in epistemology, etc. Maybe the usurper changes the rugs, puts up a few posters … And the “spirit” has clearly changed: to an insider. How clear is the change to an outsider?

You’re baptized, then confirmed into a Church that represents God. Then one day you learn about Galileo: or Luther: or Abelard, Scotus, Francis, Illich … The building is the “same” (so long as you don’t notice the flow of time, the entropy, the oxidation … or the new wing: whether there’s a thousand and fifty termites in it instead of a thousand and thirty …). But can the “church” be the same?

My fellows look at the DC Mall, the Capital, or “the Presidency” and see something grand, inspiring, awesome; I look and see something shabby, shameful, degraded … In both cases what we’re seeing is in our head. It’s macroinformation! As Bateson observed, whether you salute the flag or burn it, it’s still a symbol more than a “thing.”

No two sentiences live in quite the same macroinformation. I call the neighboring trailers by the names of their owners of a decade ago. My dear Catherine calls them by the names of the owners of two and three decades ago: when she can remember any names at all.

If I play you a recording of Billie Holiday or of Miles Davis, there’s no way in hell we can be hearing the same “thing.”


The US president is supposed to have a red button in his office that he can press if he doesn’t like the political weather, thereby launching nuclear weapons targeted across the world. Those weapons will do extensional damage, rearranging Pleroma: and also harming Creatura. The fear, quite real, is that if he doesn’t, some “enemy” may do the same first: or already has done just such a thing two seconds ago. All that is beyond my power to control or even influence.

I wish that I, that every member of Sentiens, had a little button that I could press and destroy some entity intensionally: dissolve the government, turn things back to nature. My domains are loaded with personal justifications for such an act. Here I’ll emphasize one that concerns my son, thus far reported only one place. Brian was teaching at his alma mater, Haverford College. A student of his wanted to practice her journalism with a story on Philadelphia street people. She asked Brian if he’d advise her. He agreed: from his own private time and her own private time. The student was over eighteen: legally “of age.” Her parents found out she intended actually to visit Philadelphia, alone, at night. The stink they put up reached the Haverford president’s office. He threatened Brian and the student with every totalitarian device he could think of. Brian would be fired. The president masked his threats with a cloth of righteousness. His rhetoric suggested that he the president was the martyr, the revolutionary, under the circumstances. Now, if the president was arrested and lost his presidency for interfering with the private affairs of the pair (in their publicly conscientious roles), I’d have sympathy for both sides. As it was, I would have liked to have pressed my little red button and disestablished Haverford as an institution of learning, under the laws or Pennsylvania and the United States. The campus would have remained. The man who had been president was have remained: disempowered.

How would kleptocratic institutions behave if they knew that any citizen could pull the intensional rug from beneath them? They’d see their doom. And rightly so. Free institutions should depend on 100% support, 100% of the time.

We should learn to distinguish between predation and intensional conflict. Politics are intensional: their conflicts should need no extensional results. It’s laws, names, and titles that we are in conflict about; nothing physical. One can gather leaves or berries without killing the source. But not if we eat the root. So: poor potato. We eat; the potato loses. But there are lots of potatoes: normally. How many biospheres are there? If we really liked Russian meat, or German meat, or Japanese meat, maybe the recent wars would have had some justification. But how much meat could we gotten out of Dresden? Out of Hiroshima? Fresh? Preserved? Delivered to our door? It’s no accident the “waste” is a preferred jargon for killing. It’s bad enough to spill half the champagne: or pour in onto sweaty heads under the TV lights.

I’m not suggesting that man could become sane; I plead for us to be less insane: or — prefering Korzybsy’s term — unsane.


Yesterday brought an email from someone brought to pk domains by an interest in Korzybski and also in distinguishing between extension and intension. Richard writes:One feels less alone after reading you.


Notes

Decades Ago:
The directions said to bear right at the library. We drove and drove without seeing a library. “Oh, I should have said the Simpson place.” Who the hell are the Simpsons? We’ve never been in this part of the state before. “Oh, I should have said bear right at the airfield.”

It was just a country road, forking at a field. At night, in a blizzard. We latter came to learn that the last house on the right before the fork had been owned by the Simpsons. Last Simpson died forty years before. Thirty years ago, the structure had been used as a library: no traces of such a use remaining. Ah, but it had been only fifteen years earlier that a Piper Cub had made an emergency landing in the field! How come we didn’t recognize any of these several landmarks?

When I moved to Maine I quickly learned that places, lakes, roads … had at least three names: the name on the map, the name on the Chamber of Commerce brochure, and what the people actually called it. If it was the state who put the sign up, the name matched the map. If it was a developer, the name matched the brochure. Ask the farmer … and its was any of a new set of names. Oh, and of course the lakes, no matter the size, were ponds.

You can’t put your toe into the same river twice. You can’t put your mind into the same meaning twice. It all flows.

Mannerist Universe:
I recently added more on this utterly intensional structure in my piece of Chabrol’s Le Boucher. [link to come once I remount it from the censorship]

Thinking Tools

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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1 Response to Extension vs. Intension

  1. Midsummer says:

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