Intuitives are curious souls. Exhibiting higher levels of Big Five openness, they explore and appreciate a breadth of values, ideas, aesthetics, and lifestyles. Connoisseurs of culture and its nascent ideas, many are animated by a cosmopolitan spirit.
Part of intuitive culture involves “being in the know” about things— both culturally and intellectually. This includes understanding history, current events, arts and culture, and the like. Many intuitives see liberal arts education, be it formal or informal, as essential to a healthy and vibrant democracy.
Intuitives also tend to hold science and scientific expertise in high regard. Their openness to ideas, as well as their concern for abstract or unseen truths, readily lends itself to an appreciation of the scientific enterprise and its discoveries. Moreover, peer pressure from other intuitives can play a role, with skeptics of modern science being perceived as misguided, even potentially threatening to the safety and progress of society.
Strangely, despite their scientific affinities, intuitives are not immune from mystical, magical, and unusual sorts of ideation. We know that Myers-Briggs intuition (N) maps onto Big Five openness, and openness has been shown to relate to schizotypy, whose symptoms range from states of dissociative imagination (e.g., daydreaming) to severe forms psychosis, such as schizophrenia. One aspect of schizotypy involves unusual thoughts and perceptions, which can include hallucinations or magical / superstitious thinking.
So how do we make sense of this ostensible discrepancy between intuitives’ respect for science, on the one hand, and their proclivity for magical or unusual thinking, on the other? To shed light on this quandary, let’s start with an examination of intuition.
The Nature of Intuition
Jung defined intuition as the function that “mediates perceptions in an unconscious way… and has the character of being given.” Rather than utilizing active deliberation, as commonly seen in thinking (T) types, Jung envisioned intuition as working passively and largely subconsciously. And because the origins of intuitions are obscured from consciousness, when they finally emerge, they often catch us by surprise.
Jung also saw intuitives as having a closer relationship to the subconscious and thus readier access to intuitive knowledge than other types. Indeed, for N dominant types (i.e., INTJ, INFJ, ENTP, ENFP) in particular, intuitions may seem less surprising or magical due to their frequency and familiarity. Some intuitives report feeling like they inhabit a perpetual dream state—hovering between the conscious and unconscious realms—and thus experience only a tenuous connection to physical reality.
To sensing (S) types, intuitive knowing is apt to seem more magical, perhaps even miraculous, in its workings. How, after all, does something (an intuition) emerge out of nothing? Some may even interpret their intuitions as divine revelations, that is, as insights from a source outside themselves.
We should also underscore the sense of conviction which may attend intuitive knowing, which often leaves the recipient with little doubt of its veracity. The truth of an intuition is thus experienced as certain and self-evident. Over the course of history, an untold number of spiritual, technological and scientific insights have been delivered at the hands of intuition.
In this light, it’s easier to see why intuitives might be construed as engaging in magical or unusual thinking, as intuition itself is an unusual, or to put it more positively— extraordinary—way of knowing things. There’s a sense in which the subconscious, in manufacturing solutions to otherwise intractable problems, might seem to have God-like capacities.
Intuitives may therefore be unsure of where to draw the line between “reality” as described by science and that disclosed through their own intuition, especially if the two are in conflict. As we will discuss next, intuitive types may differ in the extent to which they allow these two realities to inform their understanding of things.
Differing Perspectives among Intuitive Types
It’s not unreasonable to suspect that key differences among intuitive types might lie along thinking (T) – feeling (F) lines. This seemed to be David Keirsey’s belief. In his book, Please Understand Me II, Keirsey describes NT types as Rationals and NFs as Idealists. Although those who history has dubbed “rationalist philosophers” (which to Keirsey’s credit, were most certainly NT types, e.g., Spinoza, Descartes) relied more on intuitive and deductive methods than empirical scientists, the connection between the NT personality types and science remains fairly robust.
In my experience, NTs, on the whole, do appear less disposed to magical thinking than their NF counterparts. It’s hard to say, however, to what extent this is a learned versus natural propensity. For instance, NTs who fancy themselves intellectuals quickly learn that science is treated more favorably by intellectuals than magical or mystical thinking, which is commonly disparaged as “pseudoscience.” Hence, even N dominants (INTJ and ENTP types) may subject their intuitions to heavy doses of auxiliary thinking (T) to ensure they pass muster among modern intellectuals.
NF types may also exhibit scientific interest, although somewhat less commonly than NTs. Of the four NF types, the ENFP seems most disposed to magical thinking. I’ve known a number of ENFPs, for instance, who claim to see auras and feel they have some form of psychic or extrasensory perception. Although INFJs also lead with intuition (for ENFJs and INFPs, intuition is auxiliary), they tend to be more left-brained and analytical than ENFPs, as well as less likely to interpret their intuition as supernatural or paranormal in its workings. Just to be clear, I’m not intending to cast judgment on ENFPs, but am simply relaying my observations. Moreover, although ENFPs seem more disposed to magical or unusual sorts of ideation than other types, this is by no means true across the board. Many ENFPs see themselves as creative and spiritual, but without any sort of paranormal abilities.
There’s also been some interesting research done on Big Five openness with respect to this topic. A recent study looked at the relationship between openness and schizotypy. The researchers found that a subset of openness traits—openness to ideas, values and actions—were negatively correlated with schizotypy and unusual perceptions. However, the other three aspects of Big Five openness—openness to aesthetics, feelings, and especially fantasy—were shown to be associated with unusual perceptions. One can see how these findings might also be interpreted along T-F lines.
Intuitives may also differ in their strength of N according to whether one or both of their parents are intuitives. Those with two N parents (especially N dominants) may inherit more pronounced N capacities compared to those with S parents. Moreover, those with N parents, along with high openness to fantasy, may be particularly prone to magical thinking or unusual thought patterns. Chances are they will also be highly creative. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the Picassos of the world as not having unusual modes of thought. In other words, unusual ideation need not be viewed negatively, as it often comes with significant creative and spiritual upsides.
Cultures always have their norms, including shared beliefs about how the universe operates. Although modern societies have become increasingly pluralistic in their beliefs, science and its sister field—technology—continue to play a central role in shaping our collective understanding.
Even if religion is now playing a smaller role in the public forum of ideas, humanity’s craving for meaning has not diminished. For some intuitives, certain types of magical or mystical belief preserves the sense of mystery that is lost when viewing life mechanistically. Moreover, some intuitives may have such unusual or magical experiences that believing elsewise would blatantly contradict their subjective experience of reality. Individuals with more “normal” or conventional intuitions may lean further toward science, or may hover somewhere between the notions that “everything can be explained scientifically” and “life is spiritual, ergo anything is possible.”
Consciousness itself has a sort of spiritual or magical quality. Even atheists like Sam Harris have mused that it “almost seems like a miracle.” The difficulty of explaining the unique qualitative features of consciousness has been famously described by philosopher David Chalmers as “the hard problem of consciousness.” Add to this the uncanny and powerful capacities of the subconscious, and intuitives find themselves in a rather strange predicament. They can choose to deny that there’s anything special about consciousness, as many scientists are wont to do. Alternatively, those with a religious bent may prefer to see consciousness as unique and essentially distinct (e.g., souls) from other aspects of the physical universe. Still others may wish to remain open and withhold judgment on the issue, at least until further information—be it scientific or experiential—convinces them otherwise.
If you’re an intuitive (N) perceiving (P) type and would like to better understand your personality, life purpose, career path and more, we encourage you to explore our online course, Finding Your Path as an INFP, INTP, ENFP or ENTP.
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Marcia R. says
Female INTJ (5w4) here. The older I get the stranger it is to be an Ni dominant. When I was young, I may have thought everybody thought that way. Now when I see my Ni working I am amazed. I am very scientifically oriented (BS chemistry) but I am deeply spiritual. Oh I’ve known all along there was a seeming disconnect between science and religion. Back in the 70s, the gulf between the two seemed huge. But I knew that somehow the two were connected or even the same if we looked at it properly and had the right tools. I was in P-Chem class studying atoms. The professor explained that an atom has a mass (weight) and also a wavelength (like light). Something about that was very important. Then it dawned on me (in Ni style) that this was the connection between solid matter and light energy. I was exuberant *LOL*
I’ve always been spiritual (not religious). With the unconscious being very close to conscious for me, I found it easy and self-evident that there was a God. I meditate often and learn extraordinary things. It’s great being an intuitive.
A.J. Drenth says
Hi Marcia, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with science and spirituality as an INTJ.
I’m an ENFP. Whenever I come across these articles, there always seems to be an implicit bias favoring the scientific over the spiritual, and I believe that this is because we have not yet evolved on the level of consciousness as a species. Although not completely on point with your article, I’d like to address this because I feel that it is important.
First let me try to give my insight as to why one is favored over the other. We live in a world that favors tangible, real world results – it’s not surprising that S types focusing on the practical make up 75% of the population. NT types, although more abstract in their thinking, are devoted to the sciences, generally speaking. Science shows real world results – it is by its nature connected to our physical reality. Observable changes in our reality occur thanks to science, and for this reason, it is essential to our advancement. The intuitive scientific insight might seem to come out of nowhere, but in application, there are very tangible, obvious benefits to humanity, which also may explain why NT types feel societal pressure to ensure their insights pass muster so they don’t stray too far from the real world.
On the other hand, NF types dwell more in the realm of spirituality – the ultimate abstraction for the the modern human. This, however, does not make it any less valuable or important than science. It deals with the health of humanity as a whole – it is our moral compass. I believe that our lack of emphasis and appreciation for the spiritual is precisely what has lead the world to the complete disaster that it is today. We continually fail to see a) the importance of tapping into our spiritual side and b) how following that intuitive knowing buried deep within is not magical at all, but a very vital part of being human, the part that unites all of human experience. NF types are here to give that guidance.
Perhaps part of why spirituality is so undervalued is because there is no place for ego in spiritual endeavors, and it won’t often make a case for itself. The NF’s role oftentimes when it comes to this is to point humanity towards to the deeper truths relevant for all of us, but because people are too wrapped up in the here and now, and their immediate senses, especially in the United States where looking within is not prioritized in the slightest, they are quick to dismiss it as irrelevant.
Science relies upon what is observable objectively speaking. Objective meaning that people have come to a consensus of their observation of a particular phenomenon. This points to a vital reality about the mechanics of how people think- they have little value for their own experience as they have a need to rely on confirmation from others to check themselves. The quickest way to undermine any argument is to call into question its objectivity.
Spirituality at its core relies on a person’s subjective experience. Because it is impossible for others to weigh in on the credibility of that experience, it is automatically undervalued. However, many times what once seemed objective turned out to be false, and what seemed subjective, turns out to be grounded in truth.
If we take a look at all of the subjective spiritual experiences as they have been described by individuals across cultures and across time, we actually come to a kind of objectivity. There seems to be a theme or pattern inherent to all of these experiences. Most people won’t take the time to explore the inner part of their world – their own intuition and compass. The NF types, whose intuition may appear magical to those on the outside, are simply more prone to exploring these subjective, experiential phenomena than the rest of the population. We have them to thank for exploring the depths of the human psyche and our souls, and perhaps its time for humanity to recognize the importance of these endeavors.
INFJ here. Milica, I agree wholeheartedly with your intelligent, insightful reply.
Evelyn Baker says
Hi, ENFP here. I have always been attracted to both science and spirituality equally. Science reveals the unknown, the mysterious. Its answers are often elegant and beautiful. They fill me with wonder. Through quantum physics the two are coming together. Different in names only.
INTP, but I agree with Milica, and I think that the sacred and spiritual fabric of the universe has been obfuscated and undermined in the mad rush of industrialization over the past few centuries.
Science and technology have done some amazing things, for sure, but they have also wrought almost unimaginable destruction, pain and suffering across the world (e.g. coltan mining in the Congo). Science as an institution is also rife with racism, corruption, sexism, censorship issues, and intellectual stagnation. I think that some skepticism of science is healthy at this point in time, given these problems.
I am thinking a new scientific revolution and renaissance is around the corner… many interesting things about our world have been discovered over the years by holistic scientists and engineers with a little more of a connection to the spiritual side of life. Will more people pay attention to their discoveries or will they continue to dismiss them as they have for decades?
“as long as we have lips and voices
which are to kiss and sing with
who cares if some one-eyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure Spring with?” e.e. cummings