N is for iNtuitive

Knowledge surrounded by personifications of science and religion. Tiffany and Co.

Origin: 
1400-50
late Middle English  < Late Latin intuitiōn-  (stem of intuitiō ) contemplation,
equivalent to Latin intuit( us ), past participle of intuērī  to gaze at, contemplate +
-iōn (via Dictionary.com)

In psychology, intuition is “the ability to acquire knowledge without inference and with the use of reason.” Intuition, the opposite of “sensing” in MBTI terms, focuses on possibilities and alternatives over what is obvious and present — the abstract over the concrete — and the whole over the parts, or the parts as they relate to the whole. Jung considered intuition to be an irrational function, as it looks beyond what is evident to what could be, based on previous experience and abstract understanding. Intuitives see the facts as a starting point, not an ending.

In INFPs and INTPs, intuition is an extroverted function, meaning that this type takes in external stimuli and filters them through a psychological sieve composed of memories and generalizations. We all do this to some extent — if we’ve been burned by a stove in the past, we know not to put our bare hands on a red eye now — but it’s particularly pronounced in extroverted intuitives, who filter everything they come across through this sieve of belief and meaning. And things like “belief” and “meaning” are highly valuable to introverts (like me), who gain energy by turning inward and examining and reaffirming their beliefs as they move along in the world.

Loki and the Rhinemaidens. Arthur Rackham

People with extroverted intuition are “adept at seeing the big picture of any given situation [and] sensing patterns” that are not readily visible. We enjoy word games, problem solving, analogies — anything that utilizes patterns and theories. I personally enjoy languages — how they are constructed as well as how they convey meaning.

I also love literature and writing for much the same reason — sentences, paragraphs and stories are systems in which all of the little pieces (from word choice to motifs) compose a greater whole. Intuition is critical to writing. Not only is coming up with living characters, situations, settings and dialogue a completely abstract activity, but the very act of working with words is an exercise in abstract thinking. Words are symbols — they’re useless and flat without meaning (ideas, emotions and mental images) breathed into them. We give them meaning, but that meaning is not concretely related to the words themselves at all. In any kind of writing, we are taking something — an idea, an emotion, an experience — and using what we know about these abstractions and our audience (a friend, a stranger, a group) to craft and transmit meaning. This is true for all types of writing — marketing, blogging, technical writing, creative writing. It’s all based on the writer’s understanding of what words mean, how readers feel about certain words and which words are most meaningful in a given context. Which is to say that if I weren’t intuitive, I’m not sure I could be a writer.

I’m interested in reading people, too — I’m in the habit of noticing the little things people around me say and do, collecting these observations and then putting the pieces together to understand the themes that operate under the surface. And I have a passion for mythology and fairy tales — cultural systems. I love the stories themselves, but I also love how each story reveals something about its culture and how the various myths create a total image of a culture. Most of all, I enjoy putting the pieces together, finding new meanings in them and rediscovering the whole through them.

This doesn’t mean that intuitives are always mystically accurate. Many intuitive people hold biases and incompletely formed preconceptions that lead to incorrect assumptions about others and the way of the world. This is why, for intuitives, it’s important to regularly audit their perceptions, test them for truth rather than rest in the comfort of the familiar belief, in order to prevent their judgments from being clouded and leading them astray — making their lives and that of others more difficult.

My own intuition has often been wrong, and I constantly work to adjust my understanding of the world to push toward the truth, whatever that may be. And truth (distinct from both fact and honesty), perhaps the greatest of the “big pictures,” is incredibly important to me.

For the first post in the series (on introversion), click here.

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