As far as I can tell, one of the chief characteristics of human beings is our propensity for dissatisfaction. Even when our cup runneth over with comforts and indulgences, it’s rarely long before we’re looking for greener pastures. Indeed, one might argue that this chronic discontent is what fuels our creativity and drives our evolutionary success.
While all of us are infected with the dissatisfaction bug, the ways in which we understand and address it will vary by personality type. Extraverted Sensing types (ESPs), for instance, will often attempt to assuage their discontent by way of material and experiential novelty. The anticipation and experience of sensory novelty arouses their interest, helping them feel more alive and engaged with life.
Intuitive (N) personality types take a different approach. They see sensory novelty as an unreliable means of addressing their discontent. We see this attitude embodied, for example, in Biblical admonitions to resist worldly pleasures and “temptations of the flesh.” Critical of what they see as materialism and consumerism in mainstream culture, Intuitives frequently conclude that the masses are, to put it gently, misguided in their approach to life. Many will thus adopt countercultural or minimalist lifestyles seen as reflecting their core values (i.e., elevating N over S). They seek pleasure and novelty in the form of ideas, insights, and the imagination. These otherworldly treasures have been summarily described in terms of “the True, the Good, and the Beautiful” (V. Cousin, 1853), reflecting the aims of science, religion, and art respectively. To this, we will add “magical” ideation / practice (e.g., Tarot, meaningful coincidences, Karma, various healing / transformational methods), which also draws heavily on the mind and imagination, but with an eye toward altering or enhancing our perception of meaning, possibility, and reality.
If we take a closer look at N types, we find that some are more focused on science or philosophy, others on religion or transformation, and still others on matters of taste and aesthetics. We also see divergences among S types, with SJs seeking contentment through dutifulness, consistency, and unwavering commitment to their beliefs and principles. Importantly, these differences in focus and interest aren’t random, but are fairly predictable along typological lines. Understanding these connections can provide valuable insights into the types as well our own personal psychology.
The “Big Four”: Science, Religion, Magic & Art
In thinking about this topic, I first wanted to understand the conceptual relationships between what we might call the “Big Four”—science, religion, magic and art. I’d previously seen these four practices organized into quadrants (e.g., Ramsey Dukes’ “SSOTBME”), but this didn’t fully square with my understanding of them. So I began by asking myself how these practices might tie into the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Here’s what I came up with:
Because science and religion take rather different routes to discerning truth, they’re often viewed as opposites. But since I was concerned with their respective aims more than their methodology, I saw them as rather similar in their concern for truth. Unlike science, religion also emphasizes the Good—things like morality and spiritual transformation. Certain strands of philosophy and psychology strike me as similar to religion in splitting time between the True and the Good. I also associated magical practices with the Good insofar as they have the potential to improve or enhance our life experience. Finally, as you may have guessed, I concluded that art was primarily concerned with the Beautiful.
In light of the above, we learn that the “Big Four” are well conceived in terms of the following continuum:
Personality Type & the Big Four
While certainly not always the case, interests and personality type tend to cluster together. With regard to our above analysis, we might expect different personality types to take serious interest in science (especially the “hard” / physical sciences) vis-à-vis the arts.
In reflecting on my theoretical work on values, interests, and personality, I quickly saw how the Big Four might relate to personality type. Namely, the scientific end of the spectrum can be linked with Thinking (T) and Judging (J), while the artistic pole maps onto Feeling (F) and Perceiving (P). We can also associate science with the left hemisphere of the brain, while magic and art are characteristically more right-brained. In straddling the True and the Good, religion draws on both brain hemispheres, which may explain its historical appeal to all personality types:
That said, we know that every personality type has an unconscious side that opposes and balances its conscious characteristics. We also know that it’s not unusual to develop interests associated with our type’s inferior function. So even though type theory predicts (and empirical research substantiates) that INTJs are drawn to science, for instance, a subset of INTJs will nevertheless opt to become artists. One explanation for this is INTJ artists are unwittingly compelled to explore and tap into their less conscious Fi and Se functions.
The allure of our less conscious functions makes it impossible to predict, with absolute certainty, the interests of a given individual. The best we can do is look at general trends which suggest that interests tend to reflect a type’s dominant (and often auxiliary) function.
It’s also not unusual to cycle between different interests and modes of thinking, even within the course of a single day. After spending some time engrossed in analytical thinking, for example, the psyche may prompt us to do something totally different, such as to paint, socialize, or exercise.
Only rarely, however, do we divide our time and mental functioning evenly. Unless our personality is unusually balanced or well-developed, our most robust and reliable cognitive tool—the dominant function—will typically consume the lion’s share. Our path to redemption must therefore pass through the dominant function, but in time should expand to include a wider array of functions and ways of being in the world.
To learn more about the 16 types—their personality, functions, interests, values, and more—be sure to explore our books: