By Dr. A.J. Drenth
Intuition is sometimes described as a “sixth sense.” Unlike logical or deductive methods, it is a means of knowing without being able to explain exactly how one arrived at that point of understanding. Hence, the “how” of intuition is in many ways concealed from the knower; it’s workings are largely unconscious. Consequently, in a way similar to sensations, there is a sense in which intuitions have the character of being “given” rather than consciously developed.
Within the Myers-Briggs taxonomy, Intuition takes on a more specific meaning. In addition to relying more heavily on non-conscious, non-rational ways of knowing, dominant Intuitives (INFJs/INTJs & ENFPs/ENTPs) differ from types with a dominant Judging function (i.e., IPs & EJs) in their preference for a more open and passive (i.e., Perceiving) mode of existence. Assuming they are not constrained by outside obligations, Intuitives are not inclined to readily impose rules or agendas on themselves. Their natural inclination is to start the day in a leisurely, open, and receptive manner (this is even true of IJs). They differ from IPs and EJs in this respect, who often start off with goals, intentions, or at least a sense that they “should” be doing something (i.e., engaging their rational Judging process).
According to both Jung and Myers-Briggs, there are two varieties of Intuition: Extraverted Intuition (Ne) and Introverted Intuition (Ni). Because they both include the general characteristics of Intuition described above, many people struggle to differentiate between the two.
To understand Jung’s distinctions between these two functions, it helps to have a background understanding of his view of Introversion and Extraversion. Jung saw Extraversion as expansive and broad. We often generalize Extraverts as having a relatively limited attention span, moving from here to there with little sustained focus on any one thing. Their interactions are often viewed as more superficial, opting for breadth rather than depth. In contrast, Jung viewed Introversion as more intensive and focused. Rather than expanding outward, the Introvert dives deeper.
In this light, Extraverted Intuition can be considered more expansive and less intensive than Introverted Intuition. Ne types (ENPs) generally display a greater breadth of hobbies and extraverted activities than Ni dominants. ENPs also tend to be more random and scattered in their ideation. Whereas INJs are known to reel off relatively cohesive and streamlined monologues, ENPs tend to bounce around from one subject to the next. While Ne generates myriad options and possibilities (what I have called “brainstorming aloud”), Ni is more convergent, often producing a single coherent answer or solution. Granted, part of this may be attributed to the fact that INJs’ extravert their Judging process (Fe or Te) as opposed to ENPs’ extraversion of Intuition. But the fact remains that, by nature of its introversion, Ni takes on a more focused and intensive quality than typically seen in Ne. The more divergent and expansive nature of Ne may partially explain why P-types have been characterized as avoiding “closure” (although I feel this is best applied to EP types, whose dominant function is a Perceiving function).
The openness and expansiveness of Extraverted Intuition can also be seen as fueling ENPs’ resistance to static conceptual frameworks. Assuming they are not being heavily influenced by their inferior function (Si), which pushes for a more static or traditional worldview, ENPs tend to prefer more fluid ways of processing and understanding things. ENP philosophers like Henri Bergson, Michael Foucault, and William James, for instance, felt that philosophies built on deductions and static concepts could never accurately capture the essential nature of reality. Unsurprisingly, they both emphasized percepts (Ne) as being more trustworthy and reliable than the concepts and elaborate frameworks promulgated by other philosophers.
INTJs and INFJs, by contrast, tend to be more comfortable with working with static concepts and conceptual frameworks. In doing so, INJs are not intentionally closing off their minds. Rather, as we’ve seen, Introverted Intuition, by its very nature, seems to be more convergent and dare I say, analytical, then Ne. One might even suggest, as Lenore Thomson has, that Ni has a stronger left-brained character than Ne does. Hence, INJs are generally more comfortable working with deduction, concepts, and static/”eternal” ideas. Both Plato and Jung are classic examples.
Because of their reluctance to endorse static concepts, ENTPs and ENFPs are often drawn to historical and contextual studies. Historical studies allow ENPs to explore ideas more broadly and fluidly. Rather than working with static concepts or focusing on linear causation, ENPs prefer to examine contextual factors and contingencies that influence the nature and trajectory of ideas. Many French philosophers of history, such as Michael Foucault, aptly embody this more open-ended, contextual approach to knowledge. This also explains why many ENPs are drawn to professions such as journalism, which allow them to explore ideas in a more fluid and contextual fashion.