General Semantics Advanced Thinking
A System-Discipline Concerned with the Sanity of the Race & the Individual
On Intensionality and Extensionality

by Milton Dawes

When we give higher priority – or more value, greater significance, more importance, etc. – to our words, names, names, titles definitions, ideas, memories, imaginings, theories, opinions, oughts, shoulds, expectations, and so on;When we give higher values, etc., to what we believe, ‘think’, ‘feel’ understand, know;

When we give more significance to what we see and hear as news, and so on, than to what we are presently seeing, hearing, touching, pointing to, etc.;

When we behave in these ways, we are behaving “intensionally” (intentionally spelled with an ‘s’). We are behaving intensionally when we say what someone or something “is” rather than how s-he or it behaves and relates to others and other things. And when we treat an individual, as if s-he was identical with the class or category we assigned them (black, white, homosexual, democrat, liberal, drunk, etc). We are behaving intensionally when we leap before we look.

We are behaving “extensionally“, when we give more value, to what we can point to, show, touch, and so on. We are behaving extensionally, when we are aware that words are not the processes they represent; that things do not always behave according to the way we defined them; that a map is not the territory it is a map of. We are behaving extensionally when we are aware that we have not, and cannot include everything when we talk, think’, plan, listen, understand, look, listen , etc. . We are behaving extensionally when we are aware that what is going on, is more than what we can sense, say, understand and know. We are behaving extensionally, when we look before we leap. We cannot help believing, having memories, and opinions, formulating theories, making plans, etc., so it’s important to keep in ‘mind’, that it’s the assigning of higher priority, significance, importance, etc., as mentioned above, that constitutes significant differences between intensional and extensional behaviors, and not the behaviors themselves.

Developing an extensional orientation involves being conscious that we abstract – being conscious that in our evaluations and interactions, we select, and we leave out. So we look and listen, with awareness that what we see, or hear, is not all that we could see or hear. We can practice recognizing that our descriptions of someone or something, are not the same as the assumptions we make about them. We can become more extensional by developing an awareness of the ways we use words like no body, everybody, never, only, always, because, why, right, wrong, success, failure, etc. And when we say such things as The important thing is, the fact of the matter is, the truth of the matter is, what is at issue here, all the time, every time, I’m quite sure that, that’s all there is to this, that’s the end of the matter, it can’t be done, it won’t work, it’s quite safe, I know what you are thinking’, I know how you feel’, I know what you mean, and so on.

When we make plans, and expect things to go our way, remembering that the world and others do not exist to follow our plans or meet our expectations helps us to become more extensionally oriented. You might find that in a world of uncertainties; in a world where we don’t know all about anyone or anything; in a world of differences, changes, and where no two things are identical ( the same in all respects); behaving extensionally provides us with more increments of information with which to make our plans and decisions. Behaving more extensionally could increase our chances of success in achieving our goals.

Here are some examples of intensional behaviors – assuming that the principals were unaware of their abstractings – unaware that they had left out such important factors as “development, process, time, etc”.

  • This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” Western Union internal memo, 1876. 
  • “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s. 
  • “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a “C,” the idea must be feasible.” A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp. 
  • “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927. 
  • “I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.” Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind.” 
  • “A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make.” Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies. 
  • “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962. 
  • “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895. 
  • “If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this.” Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M “Post-It” Notepads. 
  • “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No’. So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.'” Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer. 
  • “Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.” 1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work. 
  • “You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can’t be done. It’s just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training.” Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the “unsolvable” problem by inventing Nautilus. 
  • “Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859. 
  • “I think there’s a world market for about five computers.” Thomas J Watson, Chairman of the Board, IBM. 
  • “The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.” Admiral William Leahy, US Atomic Bomb Project. 
  • “This fellow Charles Lindbergh will never make it. He’s doomed.” Harry Guggenheim, millionaire aviation enthusiast. 
  • “Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929. 
  • “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre. 
  • “Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances.” Dr. Lee De Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube and father of television. 
  • “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

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