An Alternative Introduction to the Four Dimensions: Abstract (N) / Concrete (S)

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
Concrete
Realistic
Prize enjoyment
Aware of current trends
Live in the present
Often use straight talk
Aware of surroundings
Notices details
Often like crime novels
Practical
Factual
Observation over imagination
Often content with status quo
Make things happen
Loyal to friends

If American; more likely to be conservative

N / Abstract
Future-focused
See possibilities
Prize inspiration
Aware of own inspiration
Introspective about the past
Often use difficult words
Flighty ideas
Imaginative
Often dislike crime novels
Reflect but do not always do
Theoretical
Imagination over observation
Often restless with status quo
Contemplate things
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.”

4 Comments

  1. I just want to comment well on the quality of work that this site produces on a consistent basis. It isn’t YAFTS (Yet Another Fricking Typing Site) – it’s the same content given at a different angle, with plenty of your own insights and solid explanations in each post. I love devouring it. I also love reading the subtext of the quotes and their arrangement in the main log.

    I’m wondering if there is a serious argument to be made for X types. I’ve tested X on numerous axes in the past; one of my girlfriends are the same way. Yet we generally self-type as ENTP and INFJ, respectively, and get along quite well – even when flipping a coin on a test can have us at INFP and ISFP if taking a test on similarminds. What gives? Do 50/50 splits have any value in the system?

  2. Thank you. We didn’t know the YAFTS expression, but find it very fitting for the internet in general. The same is true about this field in particular; it is crawling with experts who desire to posses expert status without actually having to work for it. And yes – we do spend quite a good amount of time arranging the quotes, haha.

    There are people who are very close to the middle with regards to the traditional letters (e.g. Bob Dylan seemingly on the verge between S & N). But, upon a close look, it will often be the case that they have clear(er) function preferences. While we won’t rule out that there might be a genuine x-type somewhere out there, we can say that we haven’t seen one ourselves.

  3. I have to agree that the articles are quite insightful and are what keep me coming back.

    While Sensation types certainly are more concrete, and this would logically make its antipode, iNtuition, abstract, I’ve actually often characterized it more like singular versus holistic — details versus the big picture. Since the big picture encompasses more information and is broader, thus more fuzzy on the details, it does seem to be more abstract than Sensation.

    I wouldn’t entirely agree about Introverts not being more abstract, either. Jung defined Introverts as more influenced by the subjective factor, and Extraverts as being defined by objects/environmental influence. Ideas are bit less concrete than objects, and you can see this in functions influenced by the Introverted orientation. Take, for instance, Introverted Thinking, which is more interested in logical principles, and compare it to its Extraverted counterpart which prefers to deal in more quantifiable terms and objective metrics. Ti is more rationalistic (Kant, Descartes), Te more empirical (Aristotle).

    So if you follow this premise, what does this mean for Introverted Sensation or Extraverted iNtuition? It’s difficult to imagine a function can be abstract and concretistic at the same time; it is ostensibly a contradiction in terms. However, upon closer examination, you can see that while Si does process sensory data, it is focused on how sensations influence the subject. These impressions are not bound to objects like with Se, and so they have more permanence; the subject latches onto them and prefers to stay to more comfortable, familiar experiences.

    The similarly paradoxical Ne is the inverse. It looks out at objects and finds associations to other objects, and so it would seem that rather than focus in on the objects themselves, they weave ethereal threads between them — yet these threads are still tethered to objects. You could perhaps see the associations made by Ne to be subjective interpretations of objects, but at the same time once pointed out, these connections are readily apparent to others; they are not highly personal as the case with Introverted functions. Ne seems to draw upon a more objective pool, and so it’s not usually esoteric or difficult for others to understand.

    So, specific versus general, or concrete versus abstract? Are they the same dichotomy? It depends on your perspective, but I say there are some important conceptual nuances as I had outlined above.

  4. Thanks for the kind words :-)

    As for abstraction, indeed Jung defined introversion as a forced tendency to abstract from the objects early on. However, we think that Jung was ultimately wrong in making this call.

    Of course, you are correct that Ti is more abstract than Te, but that seems to us to be more intrinsic to those two functions than having to do with introversion and extroversion. To give a counterexample, try comparing INTPs to ENTPs. It seems to us that ENTPs like Hume and Socrates are abstracting so much from reality that their philosophies becomes almost like a *pointing towards* something that cannot be articulated adequately, whereas the INTPs tend to support their theories with accumulated facts, rather than (as is the case with ENTPs) random examples.

    So the INTPs are actually more fact-based and thus preserving a connection to something concrete. A connection that is easily lost in the ENTPs.

    Actually, Si and Ne are “bastard functions” according to some classical Jungian interpretations. (E.g. in the book Jung’s Compass of Psychological Types.)

    Ne feeds off outer objects but then the function itself is a welling up of internal unconscious material.

    In the same way, the function of Si itself is an internal modulation; a personalized (introverted) adaptation to outside sense impressions.

    Se and Ni are thus more one-sided functions. Se as an externalizing response to something external, and Ni as an internalizing response to something internal.

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