1. Intro to this post
Every now and then I’ll be reading something, usually from the rationalist-adjacent community, and someone will say something like, “I want to express my identity, but it falls apart when people use identity to score points and dismiss perspectives,” and I think, well duh, there’s entire groups of people whose lives revolve around scoring social points1. But saying, “High-dominance Fs will be high-dominance Fs” isn’t particularly illuminating without a lot of context. So when someone on /r/TheMotte linked Scott’s Myers-Briggs post, I mentioned that I was thinking of writing a post on Myers-Briggs (which I shall henceforth refer to as just ‘MB’). Two positive responses and a decent number of upvotes gave me the
woo-hoo feeling positive social stimulus I needed to get started writing, so here we are.
If you’re not coming here via r/TheMotte, if maybe I know you in real life or I’ve linked you here from somewhere else in the future, then you’ll have to forgive me a certain one-sidedness to my presentation. I’m primarily trying to explain to NTs—apparently predominantly INTJs at that—what people who aren’t NTs are like. If you’re not an NT, and you want to know what NTs are like, this post can still be informative, but mostly because you’ll be hearing me say things like Ss think this way, isn’t that weird and you can then infer that Ns don’t think that way.
One complaint about MB is that it isn’t scientific enough, or that OCEAN is more scientific. I won’t dispute that. If someone wants to write an affordable pop-science-level book about it, I’d probably read it. (Like, seriously amazon?2) But in the meantime, I have found many MB distinctions to be useful.
Before we go into this, I want to point out that a lot of online MB tests kinda suck. I had several of my kids3 take one; I would type those kids as INTP, ENTP, and ISTJ, but the test kept giving the same INF result for all of them. Your best option is to familiarize yourself with the system and the dimensions themselves, and then identify which description comes closest to your perception of yourself. You are likely better at matching yourself to your closest description than a test is. That said, if you have no clue what your type is, a test can probably at least wiggle and point suggestively in the right direction.
3. Simple MB vs. Complex MB
One problem I have with handling this topic is that I have several overlapping MB systems in my head. I’ve read two different Myers-Briggs books and some other stuff online, each of which handles MB in different ways.
I learned what I’m calling ‘simple MB’ first, from a book that I found in my grandmother’s house, called Please Understand Me II, by David Kiersey. If you’ve looked at descriptions of your MB type from an online quiz, you’re looking at simple MB, although Kiersey does a much better job of giving you all the pieces and putting them together than any online quiz result. Simple MB gives you the four axes (I-E, N-S, T-F, J-P), the 16 types that result, and the four meta-types (NT, NF, SJ, SP), so if you’ve seen any of that, you’re looking at simple MB.
The other kind of MB I learned from the book Re-Modeling the Mind: Personality in Balance by Ruth Johnston. I highly recommend this book. I became Facebook friends with the author, and she is by far the most insightful person I’ve talked with about the inner workings of people. The book mixes neuroscience, Jung, and personal insights into a complex but very illuminating picture. This version of MB has some overlap with online sources that discuss ‘cognitive stacks’, but goes beyond them.
I will cover some important points about both simple and complex MB, but not even a very long blog post can capture all the important stuff. So, seriously, go read Re-Modeling the Mind.
3. Personality boxes
Seen in a broad way, like turning a telescope on the stars, all human beings have certain motivations in common: they want to survive, form relationships and avoid rejection. If we are all alike (a common focus for psychology research), then there is no way to specify what would be wise for this individual to do. …
But at the other extreme, the narrowest view, each human being is perfectly unique. Nobody will ever again be born in this place and time to this parent, and nobody will ever again read the exact same set of books or live in the exact same set of circumstances. …
Somewhere between these opposite poles, both true to an extent, we can find a way to group individuals in ways that allow them to see how they are alike and to learn from each other. The study of personality is exactly this effort: a way to look at features of individuals and group them so that we gain some wisdom about predicting what will work for them.
I define “personality” as the recognizable pattern of how an individual processes and responds to the world.
—Re-Modeling the Mind, emphasis mine
That passage always sticks with me. It is simultaneously true that a) humans have a great deal in common; b) no two are exactly alike; and c) at a scale in between those, there are personality trends to be identified.
The default human tendency is to model other people’s minds based on our own. Thanks to (a), this is a really useful place to start. By observing other individuals (b), we can learn to predict specific ways in which those specific individuals react to the world differently than we do. But (c) lets us aggregate those individual observations into categorical predictions that we can then more easily apply to other people.
No categorization system outside math is perfect. A lot of people look at MB and decide it only sorta fits them, or doesn’t fit them at all. That’s ok. MB also fails to capture many possible other ways of grouping people. That’s fine, too; it’s still good at capturing the differences that it does distinguish between. In the end, the purpose of MB isn’t to have a system where everyone fits definitely into perfect and complete boxes.
The worthwhileness of MB comes from understanding people better when they do fit in those boxes. Familiarizing ourselves with the system trains us to expect certain ways that other people predictably differ from us. And, hopefully, this leads us to understand and empathize with them. When you see how others are wired differently than you, their incomprehensible behavior becomes a little less incomprehensible, and sometimes that means they become a little less monstrous. Maybe they aren’t doing things wrong after all; maybe they are just doing things in a way that works for them, the way you do things in a way that works for you.
Learning the MB system also helps us predict people outside our bubble. Although you have almost certainly interacted with a wide variety of personality types throughout your life, it is often the case that people self-sort into bubbles with disproportionate numbers of similar personalities. This happens through choosing work fields that appeal the most to particular types, through interacting with family whose types may be (but might not be) similar, or through being drawn to friends who have similar interests. If you read /r/TheMotte or work in a tech field, you are very likely to interact with a disproportionate number of NTs. Learning MB can help you remember that other types exist. This is especially important when you’re the type of person who likes to discuss political solutions that would hypothetically affect other people. An INTJ’s utopia may be an ESFJ’s nightmare. MB can thus tell you why your glorious plan to fix all of society is going to fail, which is a useful prediction to have in advance.
4. Ss and Ns
I’m not going to go into the Introvert-Extrovert axis, because everyone who been on the internet before has a reasonable grasp of the simple MB version of this. It takes on a different meaning in the complex MB version, but we’ll get to that later. For now, we will start with the S-N axis.
S is for Sensing and N is for iNtuition, (because “I” was already taken by Introvert). S-N is the Perceiving axis. It’s about what we literally perceive; it’s about what we pay attention to. This distinction is often described as Ss being outward-focused and Ns being inward-focused, but that can come across as implying that Ns are selfish and Ss aren’t, which is not the case. Selfishness is unrelated to the S-N axis. So let me describe it instead by saying that Ss are paying attention to the things that are literally in front of or around them. In that way, they are the ultimate realists. Ss think about concrete things. Ns are paying attention to abstract things. Ns are only paying enough attention to the real world to get the info we need to keep building and refining our interior models.
Ns think that Ss are shallow. Ss think that Ns have their head in the clouds.
I’m an N. When online MB quizzes give you results on a spectrum, I score in the upper half of the N field, far from the midline. One of my daughters is an S. I’ll call her Banana; she’s slicing a banana behind me as I type this. Banana likes to tell me stories about what she sees on her walk home from school. They go kinda like this…
Her: “Mom, I saw this flower on the way home, and it was missing a petal.”
Me: “… ok.”
Listening to her talk is often a case of me waiting for her to get to the point and then realizing she doesn’t have one. For her, the immediate observations themselves are the point.
She recently turned 13 and received a cheap smartphone for her birthday. She took this picture on the way home, and she was really excited to show it to me. For me, as an N, this picture rates a, “huh, interesting”, a moment’s wondering about the science behind one tiny bit not rotting yet, and then my mind moves on to the latest political issue being discussed on /r/TheMotte or whether I’m going to be the DM this week in my weekly online RPG. For her, this unusual sight is practically the highlight of her day.
It’s not just that she finds a mostly-rotted apple with a perfectly good strip more interesting than I do. It’s the difference in what we find interesting about it. To me, the apple immediately triggers wondering about the science behind why the little strip looks fresh when the rest is rotten; that is, I’m focused on how the observation affects my model of the world. To her, the sight is interesting in and of itself. She isn’t focused on the why or on making abstract connections; the concrete thing itself has her attention.
She is just as bored with me, if I try to discuss the kinds of things that interest me the most. She would probably only read this blog post if she knew she were mentioned in it, and then she would skip all the parts that weren’t about her.
Because Ss aren’t as interested in abstract models and making mental connections between things, Ns often interpret that as Ss being less smart. This is far from the case. Banana gets top grades; she is consistently recommended for the school’s Talented and Gifted program4, a feat my N kids have sometimes but not always achieved. (When she was younger, I homeschooled for a few years. When asked to give a summary of a book she’d read, she’d spend twenty minutes giving you every detail of the plot from start to finish, a feat of memory that none of my N kids could come close to matching.) She may not find abstractions and model-building as interesting as I do, but she’s quite capable of thinking things through and finding meaningful connections.
Roughly three-quarters5 of the general population are Ss. Are you an N who grew up feeling that everyone around you was shallow and uninteresting? That’s why. The majority of people you could meet, on average, are Ss. They find mostly-but-not-completely-rotted apples interesting, not because of what it means, but just because it is. They talk about the weather, because the weather is what’s right in front of their faces, and they pay attention to the reality that’s right in front of them.
There are, however, some circles in which Ns outnumber Ss. In academia, the ‘three-quarters’ figure reverses itself, so most of the people you meet are Ns. I expect /r/TheMotte to be almost entirely NTs, with a small minority of NFs and STs.
Even the N-est of Ns may indulge occasionally, but if someone frequently posts pictures of their food to social media, you should guess that they’re an S.
This is an aside, but I’m going to briefly foray into super unreliable territory. I had a conversation with an N friend about whether her young son would turn out to be an S or an N. I suggested that even though it was hard to tell yet, from behavior or conversation cues, that he clearly looked like an N. Something about the eyes, a certain relatability. Something that comes across to my N self as a vague, remote likability. I haven’t figured out what physiological cues are responsible for this, and one likelihood is that it isn’t anything you could tell from a photograph at all, but rather a matter of what the person chooses to look at. If you want to see if you can tell what I’m talking about, try watching Mitt Romney speak and Ron Paul’s response. Or Paul Ryan vs. Biden. Don’t pay attention too closely to what they’re saying. Just watch their faces and listen to the sound of their voices, and see if one of them doesn’t feel more relatable than the other. If you want to know which of the two I think is an S and which is an N, check the footnote6. I hope it goes without saying, but this is a ridiculously unreliable way of identifying Ss and Ns. Another ridiculous way of identifying Ss and Ns? The internet. Romney is an: ENTJ, ISTJ, ISFJ. Pro tip: he’s probably an ESTJ. But you did just hear me say that on the internet, and I did just warn you against believing random people typing others across the interwebs, so take that with a grain of salt.
5. Ts and Fs
T is for Thinking and F is for Feeling. T-F is the Judgment axis, just as S-N is the Perceiving axis. Just as S-N tells us what you are paying attention to, T-F tells us how you judge the world, which scale you use to measure what’s important and what matters. Ts judge the world by rules, numbers, and logic. Fs judge the world by human relationships. Does it matter more that the house you’re thinking of buying is affordable, or does it matter more that it gives you shivers of joy inside? A similar distinction is tapped into when people talk about the left brain being words/numbers and the right brain being art/connection7. Truth vs. Love is one of the oldest dichotomies out there.
To exactly zero people’s surprise, it turns out that demographically, most men are Ts and most women are Fs. It’s important to recognize, however, that those are “mosts”. Female Ts and male Fs exist, and they can suffer if society tries to pigeonhole people into gender stereotypes.
For reference, I’m a T…barely. If the axes were scales, and you put me on the S-N one, the N side would plummet as fast as a feather on the moon. If you put me on a T-F scale, it would drop like a feather on Earth; that is, it would wobble up and down with the breeze for a good minute, and then settle with the T side a feather’s weight lower than the F.
Being an F is not about being an emotional drama queen. Not that emotional drama queens don’t exist, but Fs can be cool and reserved, especially introverted Fs. Feeling doesn’t mean emotional in this context; it means relationship-oriented. But Fs will pay more attention to emotions than a T. For a T, emotions are unreliable and they often feel like a distraction from the important stuff, like investigating the natural world. For an F, emotions are one part of their toolkit for handling the world—a world made up of people.
Me: What’s most important for a bunch of INTJs to understand about Fs…?
Johnston: Fs don’t find emotions a distraction, they actually learn important truths from them.
—Facebook chat, my emphasis
Read that again, if you skimmed past the quote. Fs don’t find emotions a distraction; emotions teach important truths.
Let me give an example, which my four-year-old daughter conveniently just provided.
She is a very strong F, and she wants to watch TV. She went through asking, being told no, and fake-crying about it, which is pretty typical of any 4yo. But then she told me, “I’m crying about it,” exactly as if that was as an argument for why she should be allowed to watch TV. My T children would never have tried that. They would have cried, but they wouldn’t tell me that they’re crying as a way to persuade me to change my mind. They’d have tried arguing that it was a good time to watch TV, or accused me of being unfair, or something like that. To my little F, the emotion she has about watching TV feels like a perfectly real, logical, and compelling reason to give to another person. When she’s older, she will be able to come up with more sophisticated arguments, just as my little Ts’ arguments improve with age, but her arguments will often still involve seeing emotions as truths.
Fs are often and not unreasonably associated with touchy-feely people, but it’s worth noting that they aren’t necessarily associated with touchy-feely opinions. Personality type does not predict political or social positions. There can be T and F reasons for or against most anything; being a T or F has more to do with what kind of reasoning you use to get to your conclusions, not which conclusions you come to.
6. The simple MB version of J-P
J is for Judging and P is for Perceiving. In Jung, in complex MB, J and P have a complicated meaning; simple MB took that complex thing and boiled it down to asking if you like lists. So simple MB uses J to mean someone who likes to plan ahead, have routines, make lists, be on time. Ps like spontaneity and keeping their choices open.
That’s a valid personality difference, even if it doesn’t capture the complex version, which I’ll get to. In simple MB’s version, I’m a J, because I like lists and being organized. I had to learn that I must never, ever, ever go shopping with my husband if I can help it. My preferred mode of shopping is to go in with a list, pick out the same brand of things that I always do, and get out as quick as I can. His mode of shopping involves wandering slowly—so. very. slowly.—through the aisles, looking for anything that happens to strike his fancy, and then spend five minutes in front of each item, comparing prices and quality, before finally coming to a decision. These differences are perfectly acceptable, as long as we aren’t trying to do it together.
7. Four Temperaments
The four MB axes produce 16 combinations, which are then grouped into four larger sets: SJs, SPs, NTs, and NFs. In practice, these four sets seem to convey more real-life relevant information about dominant personality traits than other possible simplifications. My treatment of these will be comparatively shallow, more introducing stereotypes and less personal illustrative examples.
The relationship between SJs and SPs is featured in pretty much every movie or TV series ever. Your SJ has a plan for their life, they do things by the rules, they take their responsibilities seriously. Then the wild and carefree SP comes along and upends their life, urging them to live in the moment, forget about the future, and take chances. That ends happily in Hollywood, but in real life, the SJs are just as likely to have a civilizing and moderating effect on the SPs as vice versa. But office manager convinces freedom-loving thrill-seeker to do boring paperwork is a hard sell for a movie.
SJs are the quintessential workers, keeping up with duties and responsibilities. They make up the largest fraction of the population, and it’s a good thing they do. They get the chores done, and any society would be lost without them. The only downside is that they expect you to do your share of the chores, too. Because SJs are such reliable helpers, they are easy to forget about and so are chronically under-appreciated. Remember to thank your local SJ today.
The furthest extreme of the SP personality is the activity junkie. The guy who does extreme sports, jumps from airplanes, puts his head in a crocodile’s mouth. Since not everyone is an extreme stereotype, SP can also look like a mechanic who likes the hands-on work, an aspiring actress, or a regular office worker who constantly does little things to “mix it up” or “keep it fresh”.
The furthest extreme of the NT stereotype is the mad scientist or the absent-minded professor, oblivious to the mundane details of ordinary life while discovering the secrets of the universe in their lab. Bringing things out of fantasy and back to the real world, NTs like to build abstract models, develop theories, and sometimes test those theories. They make good computer programmers, scientists, etc. Some NTs make great ideologues, because, ironically, their interior model of the world can feel more real to them than the mundane world outside. NT politicians may try to shape the world around their ideas, instead of the other way around.
NFs are like NTs in that they search for deep meaning in the universe, but to them, that meaning isn’t about the structure and laws of the natural world; it’s about relationships and emotions. Their abstract models are about the people and the interactions between people. NFs are the proverbial mystics or gurus. They are insightful, the ones who can pick up on others’ moods and understand the subtle dynamics of people interacting with each other.
It’s worthwhile to note that, while types are often drawn towards certain professions, those professions often can and do benefit from atypical types participating. All the types have complementary things to offer, so an atypical type can fill holes that no one realized were there.
8. All of the above
Everything I’ve written so far is a part of simple MB. Now I’m finally going to move on to complex MB. I won’t be able to cover everything in complex MB; this will just highlight a few essential components. For more, go read the book.
Down the rabbit hole we go!
The first thing to know is that everyone has both T and F; everyone has both S and N. Everyone uses their Sensing to pay attention to the world around them; everyone uses their iNtuition to find meaning and connections. Everyone sometimes judges the world by rules and logic; everyone sometimes judges the world by relationships. These are the four mental functions that everyone comes with.
If you have an N or an F in your MB type, that tells you which function is dominant, which function you use more often than the other, which one has cut deeper grooves in the pathways of your brain.
No one uses their dominant function 100% of the time. Sometimes you use your lesser functions. This can look like a hard-nosed workaholic who is soft and cuddly with the little kids at home, an NT who occasionally enjoys playing with their S artistic side by sketching people, or a stressed-out NF who decides to pursue a less-loved job for the money.
In this way, complex MB is much more dynamic and flexible than simple MB. You can argue that this makes it less useful, because it’s predicting too much and spreading expectation value across too many possibilities; and you’d have a good point. But it’s also observationally true that people act in opposite ways at different times, so a model that doesn’t predict inconsistencies is going to have limited usefulness anyway.
9. Introverted & extroverted functions
There’s a bit in Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Sequences that I wanted to quote at the start here, to demonstrate what I call existential safety. Anyone who is familiar with him will not be surprised that googling “existential safety eliezer” brings up a lot of AI-related links instead. I eventually found it though:
Eliezer18 trusted Science.
…Thus, when once upon a time I came up with a stupid idea, I thought I was behaving virtuously if I made sure there was a Novel Prediction, and professed that I wished to test my idea experimentally. I thought I had done everything I was obliged to do.
So I thought I was safe—not safe from any particular external threat, but safe on some deeper level, like a child who trusts their parent and has obeyed all the parent’s rules. …
That’s the trust I’m trying to break in you. You are not safe. Ever.
Not even Science can save you.
—No Safe Defense, Not Even Science by Eliezer Yudkowsky, my emphasis
This captures what I mean by existential safety, and the reverse, existential dread. They’re both a feeling, an experience, and so subtle that’s it’s easy to have them affecting you at the edge of consciousness without being explicitly aware of it. Existential dread is not fear of any particular threat that could impact you; it’s fear of somehow just not being ok. Martyrs can undergo terrible torture with comparative happiness if they feel that God has their back; that’s how important or strong a sense of existential safety is. Even though there are specific ways in which they are super duper not ok, they’re somehow still ok. Conversely, anticipation of upcoming suffering is often worse than the suffering itself, because the anticipation isn’t just the fear of specific, concrete results; it’s accompanied by a vague fear of not being ok.
Now look at Eliezer’s quote again. What did he think he had to do to be existentially safe? Science. The rules of science would protect him. Thinking correctly would keep him safe.
In that post, he rejects that feeling of safety, arguing (accurately enough) that it’s an illusion. But at the moment, we are more concerned with what generated that feeling in the first place, because all of us are constantly affected by similar existential safety issues in complex ways that aren’t always obvious at first. Eliezer himself says in that post, “I never thought those words aloud, but it was how I felt.”
To reiterate, Eliezer felt that thinking correctly would keep him safe, not from any particular external threat, but just safe period. In MB terms, one of his four mental functions—Thinking—was operating in a way that was looking out for danger and compelled him to feel that he would be safe if and only if he performed Thinking in the way that was RightTM.
Complex MB calls this introverted thinking.
This is an entirely different meaning of introverted than you are used to. It doesn’t mean ‘thinking that doesn’t like to be around people’. It means something more like ‘danger-oriented thinking that pays attention to an inner sense of right and wrong’. It’s opposed to extraverted thinking, which is something like ‘outward-oriented thinking that goes with whatever works’.
The inward-focused vs outward-focused thing may sound like I’m duplicating the S vs N distinction, but this is something different. All four of the mental functions—Thinking, Feeling, Sensing, iNtuition—have both introverted and extroverted versions. So we can call them iT and eT, iF and eF, iS and eS, iN and eN. I’ll discuss how they all get put together in the next section, but in this section I just want to give a feel for each individual piece.
An8 introverted function is:
- idealistic, in the sense of believing in Plato’s perfect forms
- deeply resists change
- absolutely sure of itself
- a bit negative
This all flows from the fact that introverted functions are oriented towards avoiding threats. They are functions where our brains have a subtle DANGER WILL ROBINSON playing constantly in the background. This may seem odd in a function that we’re calling “inward-oriented”, since threats are external, but the function is detecting threats by inwardly deciding how things are supposed to look, and then sending you the danger signal when the outside world doesn’t match9.
An extroverted function is basically just the opposite:
- pragmatically takes the world as it is
- flexible: rolls with the real world’s changes
- a little cheerful
Again, this all flows from having mental functions that aren’t oriented toward danger. The red klaxon is off, the function is basking in the glow of existential safety, so it relaxes and puts its energy towards exploring the real world in its own function-specific way.
It may sound like extroverted functions are always better than introverted functions. If the real world were devoid of any threats whatsoever, that might be the case. Since it isn’t, introverted functions are important to have around.
Re-Modeling the Mind has a whole chapter for each function, laying out what the introverted and extroverted versions look like. Have I mentioned that you should go read the book? Summarizing the important effects into a short paragraph doesn’t do it justice, but here goes.
Extroverted Thinking unsentimentally runs the numbers and figures and acts on them. “People can fool you, guesses can go wrong, and even experience doesn’t always predict what will happen. But numbers themselves don’t lie.”10 eT is competitive, open to rule-breaking if it seems like a net advantage, and thrives in fields like lawyering and real estate, although Re-Modeling the Mind also gives an example of eT showing up in a model giving a TED talk on manipulating appearances.
Introverted Thinking has strong feelings about logic and TruthTM, as seen in the Eliezer quote above. It does well with abstract math, because math follows the rules that iT believes keep it safe. It also has strong feelings about fairness. iTs may compete to be the first in their field, or they may compete to be the most perfect person, however they define that.
Extroverted Feeling pays attention to group social dynamics and pecking order. eFs care about their place in the whole, and may even be competitive about it. They do things that may seem passive-aggressive to others, like withdrawing when hurt and expecting the other person to make it up to them. They may have trouble understanding that other people don’t have the social senses that come naturally to them.
Introverted Feeling is a hopeless romantic who is hurt when relationships don’t match their perfect ideals. iF relates to each member of a group as an individual, and may have trouble with groups, because groups sacrifice perfection for getting along. iF hangs on tightly to the few they deem close. iFs may have trouble expressing their emotions adequately.
Extroverted Sensing pays attention to the sights and sounds as they are. eS is great at having the body control and cheerful confidence to play sports, drive cars, or do acting. eSs make great salespeople and speakers because they can read people’s body language and respond, without necessarily empathizing.
Introverted Sensing wants the world to look orderly and attractive. This can apply to keeping your home clean and wearing nice clothes, but it can also apply to things like how presidents should look presidential, men and women should dress and behave in masculine and feminine ways, and everyone should be respectfully grave at funerals. iS sends out danger warnings when those visual cues and signals don’t match reality.
Extroverted iNtuition makes maps of the world, exploring all the real-life connections it can find. Inventors rely on eN, looking for ways to improve things. eN is imaginative and loves sci fi’s “what if?” questions.
Introverted iNtuition has a sense of what connections are supposed to be there, and looks for those. This gives iNs the feeling that they know truths hidden to others, which makes them great conspiracy theorists and journalists. It also gives them the exact opposite response to social visual cues that iS has: to an iN, those signals dangerously cover up the hidden truth.
11. Putting the pieces together
I said before that everyone has an S, N, T, and F function. In each person, each of those functions is either introverted or extroverted. My N is eN, not iN. My S is iS, not eS. And so on.
Some Jung/Myers-Briggs sources will just list your four functions in a particular order called a “cognitive stack”, that represents the most-dominant to least-dominant functions. Re-Modeling the Mind has a more creative image for expressing this balance—a child’s mobile:
Each round ball is one of the four functions. Each rod is one of the axes, either the S-N Perceiving axis or the T-F Judging axis. As you can see from the picture, you can’t just have your four functions arranged in any order you want; the strongest will be on the same axis as the weakest. There are other rules for how the functions naturally arrange themselves.
Although I like the mobile picture, I’m not writing a book, so I can’t draw out all the ways that the functions can fit into those balls. Accordingly, in a reluctant nod to the cognitive stacks people, after I list the rules for arrangements, I’ve included a chart that shows all the possible sets and arrangements of functions. Not coincidentally, there are 16 arrangements, and they correspond exactly to the 16 four-letter types.
Briefly, these are the rules for putting the functions together.
- One function will be top dog and get the most use. It can be any of the eight [e/i] x [NTSF] combos listed in the previous section.
- On the Perceiving N-S axis, one will be i and the other will be e.
- On the Thinking T-F axis, one will be i and the other will be e.
- If the top dog is one of the Perceiving functions, the second strongest function will be a Judging function, and if the top is Judging, number two will be Perceiving.
- If the top dog is an i, number two will be an e, and vice versa.
- The first letter in your MB type, I or E, tells you whether the top dog is i or e.
- The last letter, P or J, tells you whether—of the top two functions—it’s the Perceiving function that’s e or the Judging function that’s e.
In complex MB, I’m not an INTJ; I’m an INTP. Here the P and J don’t have to have anything to do with whether or not I like lists. If you’ve classed yourself as any sort of J or P because online quizzes ask you about whether you like routines, you should forget about that and look at which set of function descriptions fit you the best.
The 4-letter types are built from the cognitive stack, not the other way around. But if you know your 4-letter type, you can look at those first and see if they fit you.
The conventions and conversions are less important for understanding people than seeing the complex ways that different types share particular functions with other types.
For example. In simple MB, my ESFJ friend looks the exact opposite of my INTP-ness. And yet I quite often find myself noticing a similarity in our thought processes at a deep level. In complex MB, this makes sense; if you look on the chart, you can see that we share all the same functions, just in a different order. That order matters, and anyone who meets the two of us will probably notice those differences before they notice the underlying similarities. But those similarities are there, too, and in some ways, I have more in common with my ESFJ friend than I would with an INTJ, even though I share three letters with the INTJ.
There’s more great stuff in Re-Modeling the Mind.
- A chapter on levels of dominance; I found this especially helpful, as dominance had always struck me as an annoying thing that other people do; this chapter helped me see both that I had my own, different dominance needs that others may not get and that high-dominance people’s need was legitimate
- Discussions of what it looks like when personalities are unbalanced and don’t fit the chart you just saw
- Comparisons of certain functions to types of movies
- Discussions of how the “top two” functions interact and how that plays into simple MB’s version of what Introverted and Extroverted mean
- The role of iF and iT in what your conscience looks like
But I need to think about wrapping this post up, and I don’t want to take away all incentives to buy the book, so I’ll leave further details a mystery.
Throughout this post, I’ve tried to scatter ways in which MB predicts different things about people and has a practical effect on my thinking. Now I want to wrap up with a few more examples of expectations that MB generates in me, on a general level. These aren’t high-reliability, scientifically-backed-up predictions; just low-level intuitions formed by MB and experience.
Not everyone cares about truth the way I do. Sometimes this means that people are dominant Fs and are only kinda tangentially interested, if at all, in factual-truth-seeking, but sometimes it means that people have eT and truth is a flexible, practical thing to them instead of the inviolable sacred thing it is to me as an iT.
While everyone in general spends lots of time online these days, Ns—and especially INs11—will on average spend more time than Ss, who get more stimulation from the physical world than Ns do. Online quizzes and the like (more so in some areas of the internet than others) will thus represent Ns at a higher rate than the general populace.
Fs argue differently. They sometimes sound like they’re appealing to facts, but if you keep pushing them from a T perspective, they might not respond well.
If I engage in a friendship with a T, I need to expect that a sense of closeness or intimacy will be much harder to achieve than with my F friends. Ts are, however, great for arguing politics or philosophy (more-so the NTs than STs), which I can’t do so much with my F friends. If I bring a problem to F friends, they’ll give me sympathy and sometimes important insight. Those with dominant iF especially are the most insightful creatures ever. If you bring them a problem, they will try to guide you to your highest loyalty to find the answer. If I bring a problem to T friends, I should expect them to want to problem-solve it and offer solutions. Many people already have that dynamic coded into their brains under male/female differences, but it’s helpful to code it under T/F differences instead for when you meet female Ts and male Fs. .
In writing and re-writing this post, although I talked about my kids because I wanted to use them as examples, I’ve otherwise downplayed the fact that I’m a mom, because that is the kind of thing that I expect to be a turn-off for many NTs. NTs don’t find people as interesting as ideas, so even though this is a post about people, I tried to focus on the ideas-about-people aspect of it instead of doing any extraneous discussion of the real people who show up as examples. So I didn’t list all my kids, their ages or genders; I removed three longer emotional examples from the T-F section; I downplayed my friendship with the author of Re-Modeling the Mind and changed references from “Ruth” to “the author” or “Re-Modeling the Mind” to keep things more abstract. The removed things would have added interest for Fs or even NTs with strong F sides, but would have turned off the T-est of readers.12
For those of you who are familiar with the concept of decoupling13, I suspect that it correlates with one of the personality dimensions; either the N-S axis, so that high decouplers are Ns and low-decouplers are Ss or close-to-Ss…or possibly high decouplers are those who have eN and low decouplers are those with iN.
Hopefully you’ve taken away some helpful ways to understand the people around you and predict them better. Even more hopefully, you’ve gained at least a little bit of a sense that it’s ok for them to be different, and that the world works best when we don’t try to turn everyone into ourselves.
- To be clear, I’m not saying that being a high-dominance F justifies dismissing other people’s perspectives or anything remotely like that.
- For posterity’s sake, that search currently looks like this. A handful of expensive and dense-looking textbooks, and one affordable religious interpretation. Below that are books whose relationship with the 5-factor model looks iffy, or which seem focused on abnormal psychology.
- I have a lot of kids.
- They don’t seem to have a TAG program, which is why I’m confused every year when I go for parent-teacher conferences and the teachers want me to sign a permission slip to let her be in it. Maybe someday I will track down that particular mystery.
- Pretty sure both those books cite the exact number, some percentage in the 70s. I, however, am super horrible awful at remembering exact numbers/dates/names. So in my head, it’s just “3/4”.
- Ron Paul and Paul Ryan are the Ns and I’m mostly sure that Romney and Biden are Ss. As I expect this post mostly to be read by Ns, I expect them to feel the Pauls are more relatable, regardless of how much you agree/disagree with their politics. My hypothesis is that Ss experience a similar likability towards other Ss, but I haven’t discussed it with any. It’s tricky to convey the question to someone of a different type without giving them the impression that you’re calling them unlikable.
- Yes, yes, the sidedness of the brain is greatly exaggerated, yada yada. But the theory persists partly because, regardless of brain physiology, people find the words/numbers/logic vs. art/poetry/music/emotions dichotomy to reflect real life in some way.
- There are some almost-but-not-quite-exact quotes from Re-Modeling the Mind going on in this part.
- I’m glossing over a bunch of stuff in Re-Modeling the Mind about inborn templates and Jungian archetypes, because the latter phrase alone is going to set off people’s woo detectors. I can’t do justice to it in this post, so I’m staying away from it for now, but let me say that the author takes the concept of Jungian archetypes and turns it into something sensible and un-woo.
- Quote taken from Re-Modeling the Mind, to no one’s surprise.
- Not to be confused with iNs. iN is a danger-oriented iNtuition function; INs are dominant Ns who have an introverted function as the top dog. INs are INTJ, INTP, INFJ, INFP, whereas iN is had in the top-two by ENTJ, INTJ, ENFJ, INFJ.
- The author of Re-Modeling the Mind recently managed to hilariously and accurately point out that I, as an NT, would not want to read a book with me-as-a-mom in it; I’d need to find a way to give myself more science cred before I’d want to read about my experiences per se. (Reading about my ideas is another matter.)
- The only link I’ve seen that explains decoupling is one that had pages and pages of discussing something else first before talking about decoupling. If someone has a link with a better, straightforward description of the concept, I’d appreciate getting that.