The second letter details whether one’s attention is naturally focused on concrete reality or on abstraction. In the classical terminology regarding Jungian type, these traits are often rendered as Sensing, meaning concrete, and Intuition, meaning abstract. However, this terminology is often counter-intuitive to the newcomer.
Being concrete-minded relates to observing and experiencing the world around oneself as fully and as precisely as it appears. Conversely, an abstract-minded person often misses out on a lot of details, as his or her brain is wallowing in abstractions and associations. For example, take a look at the following picture:
A concrete-minded person would conclude that it is a picture of the Eiffel Tower taken by a photographer standing below the tower on what must have been a cold fall day since the people walking around at the base of the tower are wearing coats and the leaves on the trees in the background are turning brown. The person may even notice specific people in the picture, such as the person in the red coat and the woman pushing a baby carriage. An abstract-minded person, by contrast, would look at the same picture and then conclude that: The tower is phallic and imposing; it can be viewed as a symbol of fertility; it might have been the wish of the builder to articulate his dominance over other architects or to assert mankind’s triumph over nature. In other words, an abstract-minded person would pay heed to all of the non-immediate features of the situation, whereas the concrete-minded person would first grasp the immediate situation in its entirety, focusing on facts and details, the “nuts and bolts” of the structure, its color and its surroundings, before moving onto the abstract interpretation.
There is nothing wrong with being either abstract or concrete. They are simply two ways of experiencing the world. Without abstract-minded people, academic research would progress only very slowly, and without concrete-minded people, society would be far more chaotic and disorderly, and most crimes would probably never be solved as criminal investigators would be prone to miss essential clues and details.
Misleading terms such as “abstraction level” tend to suggest that abstract-minded people can do anything that concrete people can do, but this may be an artifact of the values embedded in the educational system. Education is geared towards the strong suits of abstract-minded people, such as coming up with clever interpretations and using difficult words. However, the real world has equal use of either orientation.
|S / Concrete
Aware of current trends
Live in the present
Often use straight talk
Aware of surroundings
Often like crime novels
Observation over imagination
Often content with status quo
Make things happen
Loyal to friends
If American; more likely to be conservative
|N / Abstract
Aware of own inspiration
Introspective about the past
Often use difficult words
Often dislike crime novels
Reflect but do not always do
Imagination over observation
Often restless with status quo
See both sides
If American; more likely to be liberal or libertarian
While having a high degree of abstraction often entails a certain cerebral agility when it comes to discussing abstract ideas, the downside seems to be an increased openness to unsubstantiated, and even bizarre, ideas. In philosophy, for example, there is no end to the amount of societies that have been dreamed up by abstract-minded researchers and which work perfectly on paper, yet do not work in the real world. A classic example to this end is “How would you feed New York City?” While many an abstract-minded person would attempt to come up with a new and better system for supplying NYC with all the food and drink it needs, the only correct answer hitherto proven to be successful is, “I wouldn’t.” New York City is fed by a multitude of concrete-minded and realistic people, each keenly perceptive of his or her link in the chain. There is no grand abstract mastermind, nor is there any master plan. Every time and everywhere such a master plan has been attempted for any free city, the result has been shortages of food and a dramatic decrease in the number of different foods available.
Finally, another drawback of being abstract-minded may be clinging too much to one’s intellectual intuition, that is, one’s subjective, internal ideas about how things are and what they mean. Many controversies in science and philosophy have been (and still are) really about abstract-minded people clinging to their subjective intuitions about how things are rather than weighing the evidence factually and realistically. Of this danger, the philosopher Karl Popper said:
“[Intellectual intuition] can never serve to establish the truth of any idea or theory, however strongly somebody may [intellectually intuit] that it must be true, or that it is ‘self-evident’ … For someone else may have just as strong an intuition that the same theory is false.”