Intensive or Extensive? LO27179

From: Leo Minnigh (
Date: 08/28/01

Replying to LO27031 --

Dear LO'ers, dear Winfried,

Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

> I hope you had a nice holiday with a good balance for body and mind. When
> you are going to be back, I will be on holiday with my family and learn
> some lessons on creativity and learning from my children.

Yes, I had a fantastic holiday with a nice oscillating (dynamic) balance
between body and mind (that keeps me vivid :-). I hope that your holiday
was fine too and I am sure that your children have learned a lot from you
as well; despite the fact that on holidays the minds of children are not
very open for learning.

> Without answering your question and without refering to your examples I
> wish to clarify my understanding of intensive and extensive factors and
> why I refer to the former as quality/form and to the latter as
> quantity/content.
> I seldom refer to definitions, but here I will: A system can be described
> by many factors. These factors may be categorized in many ways. One
> possibility is by observing how the factors change when the spatial size
> of the system changes. Those factors which remain unchanged are called
> "intensive", those which scale with the size are called "extensive". This

You relate quality/form to intensive, and quantity/content to extensive
factors. It is not this relationship that surprises me, but your
relationships quality - form and quantity - content.
As you explained, extensive factors are scale dependent, whereas intensive
factors are not. So all sorts of measures that describe the form, like
centimetres, kilogrammes, quantities of molecules, etc. are scale
dependent, hence extensive. In my mind, all these things are quantities,
not qualities. The quality (taste) of half an ice cream is the same as the
whole one (You may test that with your children :-) However, these kids
are very disappointed that they received only half the quantity of that
tasty ice cream.

But am I repeating now an example of you ?? :

> A slightly different example: You hand out soup for lunch and you hear by
> your dear wife: "May I have another ladle full of this delicious soup?",
> but you think, after tying: "Ow, this soup is too hot!" The first question
> asks for more quantity, more volume, thus focuses on an extensive factor
> of the soup. Your sentence states too much of a quality of the soup, its
> temperature and thus focuses on an intensive factor of the soup. Back to
> the question of your wife for "delicious soup". Because already the first
> spoon was delicious, she asked for more, expecting that this more will not
> be less delicious. Thus more of the content, the soup, was asked for
> because of it's favouable form, that what makes it delicious. This example
> also shows how intimately form and content are connected.

But Winfried, is it realy the form which makes the soup delicious? I
doubt. The taste doesn't change with the size. Unless one is a modern junk
with the adagium: "Much is tasty" (no matter of what)

> Two remarks to end with:
> First, although I am very comfortable with identifying intensive factors
> with quality and extensive factors with quantity using above definition of
> scalability, this is not so easy for form and content. Those instances
> when we start to speak of form are already so complex, that the
> Gedankenexperiment (thought-experiment?) of scaling becomes very
> difficult. The more a form is unique (law of singularity of complexity)
> the more it is also shaped by the size of a specific content. This is as
> true for pieces of art as it is for the character of people. A small bush
> has another form as a centuries old oak tree.

I agree completely with you, the Gedankenexperiment on the possible
connections between form/content on the one hand and extensive/intensive
on the other is very complex. But this experiment intrigues my mind now
for years since At opened my eyes for it. Several times I thought I had
the picture clear, but than, after a dialogue on this list I start
doubting again.

Somewhat similar to your oak tree, I once wrote a story for my writing
group (small group, writing poems and short stories) with the following
'example'. This example relates to *character*, where all this dialogue
started with. It is about a clown in a circus. The circus as the festival
of forms, where the clown is the king of all. We see the outside of him,
the form: funny hat, red bulb nose, painted tear on his cheeck, colourful
wide pants, etc. But who is the guy behind this form, who seems to
manipulatethe strings of this marionette that makes the children laugh?
People say that it is a wise, sad and sentimental person. That is what I
call the character behand the mimicry of the clown, the content. My
thought experiments go not that far that I think of scaling the clown.

Since for me the thought experiment between form/content on one side and
extensive/intensive factors on the other is an ever returning brain
teaser, I ask also other list companions for imput. It is very important
for me in my search for a better understanding of myself, (learning)
organisations and the whole world around me.

Thank you Winfried, joining me in this puzzling experiment.

dr. Leo D. Minnigh
Library Technical University Delft
PO BOX 98, 2600 MG Delft, The Netherlands
Tel.: 31 15 2782226
        Let your thoughts meander towards a sea of ideas.


Leo Minnigh <>

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