Do you put more stock in facts than in flighty theory and philosophy? Do you prefer to do something every day? Are you results-oriented? Then you are probably Sensing.
Or would you rather ignore immediate events in favor of discussing ideas and abstract concepts? Do you find the sports channel boring? Do you have a hard time remembering the color of the building outside your window or where you put those important tax documents? Then you might be Intuitive.
Sensing and Intuition
Sensing and Intuition describe two different ways to process information from the outside world:
A Sensing type (S) focuses his attention on the impressions provided by the five senses. Sensers focus on their concrete experiences. Roughly speaking, the memory of a Sensing type serves as a photo album containing snapshots from various events. Sensers relate directly to their surroundings and make decisions quickly and instinctively, and when a Sensing type plans for the future, these plans involve specific events and activities.
In contrast we have the Intuitive type (N) who tends to tune out the immediate sensory impressions and use his reflective capacities to identify the underlying patterns of these sensory impressions instead. Intuitives tend to remember less about individual episodes and more about what he perceived to be the causes and consequences of a given chain of events. Intuitives cherish having time for analysis and thinking and their reactions are typically not immediate, the way those of Sensers are, but instead manifest themselves after a period of reflection.
As a concrete example of the difference between S and N, let us imagine that an S and an N go to the movies to see Top Gun. Afterward they are each asked to sum it up. The S type will say that Top Gun is about a bunch of elite pilots undergoing military training and eventually they end up fighting the Russians. But the N type will say that Top Gun is a homo-erotic love drama.
The concepts of Sensing and Intuition come from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). MBTI theory assumes that humans have a natural preference for either S or N, and that this preference can be clearly identified for each person. MBTI is used on a very large scale within the coaching and HR industries and substantial financial interests are at stake to support this assumption of binarity. But the scientific basis for humans to have this unique and unequivocal preference is extremely fragile, and so while a person’s height or weight can be measured objectively, there is no such objective standard when it comes to MBTI. So in principle, your opinion about whether I am S or N is just a good as mine.
What does make good sense, however, is to apply the concepts in the description of behavioral patterns: When my friend tells me that he was at a very Intuitive birthday party, I will know right away that what he means is that this party featured lively and abstract discussion on high-brow subjects. I would also know that there was probably no loud music or dance floor – which is what I would expect if my friend had instead told me that the birthday party in question was extremely Sensing.
Strengths and Weaknesses
So basically, where the Sensers are the masters of action, the Intuitives tend to be at home in the domain of abstract thinking. This divide has led to a kind of thinly veiled elitism amongst the Intuitives who perceive themselves as more profound than the Sensing types as well as completely unfettered and without any real constraints to their ideas. When Intuitives are out there selling instruments like the MBTI to a Sensing audience, the Intuitives tell the Sensers that they are much more in touch with their five senses, but when the Intuitives converse in a all-Intuitive setting, they perceive Sensers as limited beings, wholly unable to reason in the abstract domain.
IF the Intuitives could actually manage to implement ideas from their abstract thoughts into their daily lives, then their elitism might actually be justified. But this is where the weakness of Intuitives becomes apparent.
Because he gets caught up in his abstract ideas and internal world of reflection, the Intuitive forgets about what is real. Theoretical analysis is engaged in not because it is necessary, but because it is entertaining. Introspective psychological insights of an uncomfortable nature (those that are the prerequisite for real growth and maturation) may come quicker to Intuitive types than they do to the Sensing types, but being endowed with their over-active capacity for reflection, Intuitives will quickly and painlessly spin out new alternative theories on the matter that effectively drown out the inconvenient truth.
Another thing about Intuition: Intuitive types are abstract in their reasoning, but a capacity for abstract thinking is by no means the same as a capacity for logical thinking. Despite the fact that it is impossible to determine with 100% certainty whether a given person is S or N, you will nevertheless find dozens of threads at typologycentral.com that eagerly discuss whether a given celebrity is S or N. Typology Central is of course, an N-dominated website, because which Senser would bother to waste his time like this?
So while a person would be justified in pointing out that Sensers are slow(er) to recognize patterns and read between the lines, it would be equally fair to emphasize that Intuitives can sometimes have a very hard time finding a concrete application and outlet for their abstract ideas.
What is best?
In my opinion you should strive to master the positive elements of both Sensing and Intuition. To apply Intuition makes sense, provided that there is a real problem to be solved. To practice abstract thinking just for the sport is fine, but only if it is not at the expense of productive action. Conversely, to live wholly in the senses is natural, as long as you remember to reflect upon yourself and your surroundings every now and again and implement any changes that may be necessary.
Finally, if you are a Senser, and you are made to feel inferior by the Intuitives around you, please take that in stride. A person who forgets to apply Intuition may have to repeat some mistakes in in his life, but while doing so, he is actually out there, living life. An Intuitive who neglects Sensing will not even realize that he is forgoing concrete action until one day he wakes up to the uncomfortable realization that he has spent years doing… nothing!