Fe and Fi Types: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Brian Cox

In an earlier post we argued why the physicist  Neil deGrasse Tyson is ENFJ. And if you are into physicists that are in the habit of making science-popularizing performances, you may also be familiar with the British physicist Brian Cox, whom we estimate to be ENFP. These two men showcase how Extroverted Feeling (Fe) and Introverted Feeling (Fi) play out in different types that set out to fill the same functional role, namely that of science popularizer.

Starting with deGrasse Tyson, the thing to notice is that he builds up a common vision for the audience – a vision in which the audience has a part to play. In this keynote speech, deGrasse Tyson spells out, “What we’ve gotta do: … that we have to double NASA’s budget.” The feeling process is out there. It’s objective, for others to see in full and to participate in. Likewise, as we quote deGrasse Tyson on the main site:

Tyson: “When [we do something like going] to the moon, everybody knows about it. And everybody becomes a participant in some way. Either an actual participant … or [as] an emotional participant, because they embrace the idea.”

Compare Brian Cox

Introverted Feeling (Fi), on the other hand, is about one’s own personal experience, personal values and the intense, subjective experiencing of them. Where Fe creates an exterior, tangible judgment, and is therefore objective, Fi, by contrast, creates an internal, intangible judgment and is therefore subjective. As Jung said in his portrait of the Fi types, the outer signs of Fi are but a pale shadow of the inner richness of the subjective experience. In fact, in Jung’s words, the outer signs of the Fi process are but a “parallelism,” that is to say, their outward demeanor is often harmonious and inconspicuous, but at the same time a trained observer will notice little cues that the outer inconspicuousness is but a vestige of the delight that the Fi type is experiencing on the inside, in a subjective form that cannot be directly communicated to others.

If Fi seems hampered when compared to Fe with regards to popularizing, that is because – as opposed to Fe – Fi’s first order of business isn’t about communicating with other people at all: Fi is about depth and intensity of feeling within the Fi type himself, and external objects as well as other people are entirely secondary to Fi.

This is also why Fi types are generally better artists than Fe types: Fi champions the personal vision, – take it or leave it – while Fe tries to appease and align itself with the current state of affairs. And as a general rule, appeasing and aligning detracts from intensity.

Like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Cox is on a popularizing mission to increase public awareness of and interest in science. But as Cox is an ENFP and interacting with other people in a directive (judging) manner isn’t his core competency at all. (Cox’s dominant function, Extroverted Intuition, can also interact with people, but during such interactions, Ne types take on an informative rather than judging role.)

So directing people toward doing specific things is not Cox’s primary competency. He does not deploy the tools of direct emotional persuasion that deGrasse Tyson has. As we have said before, when deGrasse Tyson presents a piece of information, the “correct” attitude (i.e. what he wants us to think or feel about something) is already obvious even before he reaches any conclusion or presents any actual argument concerning the subject.

This is the typical modus operandi of Fe’s persuasive powers. Fe persuades by manifesting an air of nobility about a given standpoint – an air that engages the audience’s feeling function and implicitly lets the audience know that if a contrary opinion were to be expressed, this would disturb the general well-being in the room.

Fi persuades by being sympathetic

Yet as we have said, Brian Cox does not have a preference for Fe. Because Cox’s judging function (Fi) is the opposite of deGrasse Tyson’s judging function (Fe), we must also expect that Cox’s manner of persuasion is the opposite of Tyson’s, and indeed it is.

Instead of persuading his audience by appealing to tangible, external objects (like deGrasse Tyson says: “We build a suit of launch vehicles that will enable us to go…”), Brian Cox stresses instead the personal enthusiasm that is generated by increased funding for science, in this case the CERN supercollider: Cox repeatedly stresses how exciting the work on the supercollider is to him.

Undeveloped in the outwardly judging manners of deGrasse Tyson, Cox’s means of persuasion are indirect: Cox’s entire presentation takes the form of a narrative (i.e. informative rather than directive). During his presentation he offers a series of innocuous jokes and repeatedly laughs in an engaging, disarming manner, seemingly at nothing in particular. This produces the effect in us that we find Cox sympathetic and harmless, perhaps even slightly submissive. (Here it is important to note that this point pertains to Fi and to Cox’s specific expression and manner of using Fi; not to all NFP types in general.)

So instead of appealing to externals, like Tyson, Cox talks about the personal intensity of his feelings and values regarding astrophysics. If we find him interesting, we can listen, and if not, we can tune out. Again Fi is ‘take it or leave it,’ where Fe strives to engage the entirety of the audience.

So taken together, Fi is subjective, largely inexpressible, and also indirect in its means of persuasion. As Jung said of the Fi user: Because the primacy of his feeling is directed inwards, the Fi user must struggle to “convey it to [his] fellow man in such a way that a parallel process takes place in him.” That is to say, Cox must try to convey his inner, subjective and intense value judgment to us, even though that is largely impossible, because by its very nature, Fi pertains to a person’s inner life.

Incidentally, that is why we have included the following quote about Brian Cox on the site:

Jane Fryer: “There’s something about his … poetic descriptions [and] bubbling emotions … that demystifies science and makes it fascinating.”

As it happens, poetry is a particularly apt vessel for conveying Fi outwardly, and as our INFP page can testify to, many of the world’s most famous poets have been INFPs. This is because poetry is in itself a parallelism. Poetry can only express the seeds, the bare essentials of a mental image; the process of the mental image’s unfolding will have take place in the receptive reader’s mind. Like Fi’s, poetry too, attempts to express the inexpressible. Poetry, too, persuades by indirect means, and by eliciting the instinctive sympathies of the reader, rather than by the conscious analysis that can be more readily applied when gauging prose.

In short, Brian Cox describes an approximation of his personal enthusiasm and feeling (Fi) and then it is up to his audience to react to that as they see fit. Like an artists’ production, his message is ‘take it or leave it.’ In contrast, Neil deGrasse Tyson urges his audience to accept his message by enveloping it in an atmosphere of warm unity, making it difficult for the audience to ignore or reject his message without breaking the emotional bond he has forged.

27 Comments

  1. Brian Cox probably is an INFP. Your comment on his “harmless” demeanor, “even slightly submisse”, perceives that. There’s no evidence of inferior Si and, well, it’s even hard to make an argument for dominant Ne.

    Off-topic note one: Penn Jillette is an obvious NF; ENFP to be precise. You seem to have based your typing around the bigthink videos, what surprised me even more, as they clearly despict technical (T) considerations supporting humane considerations (F) [and not the other way]; personal ethics/values over logic. His preference for Feeling is as clear as it gets.

    Off-topic note two: why do you think that ENTPs are “somewhat linked” to the dependent personality, as the antisocial personality to what they’re “strongly linked” contradicts it?

  2. 1
    We are aware that Brian Cox seems INFP yes. We have researched this extensively to be sure. But in terms of the functions, he still appears to us to be an Ne dominant type. The personality style is not the same as the personality type and so while Cox certainly has some styles that are uncommon for ENFPs, our approach in such cases is not to try and make the type make sense of the style. In other words, we agree that Cox’s style points towards your typical INFP style, but in terms of the functions, we think he is a perceiving dominant personality.

    2
    As for Penn Jillette, we will look into him once more. We did indeed look at the Big Think videos (as well as other material). It has happened before that people have confused the ENTJ/ENFP split (See Keirsey on Alexander Hamilton).

    3
    Good question. It is virtually impossible to have a dependent and an antisocial style at the same time. (See, here we have the personality styles again). So yes, a given ENTP can’t be both, but if you look at our ENTP page, some have dependent styles and others are antisocial styles. We are seemingly faced with a paradox: How can such opposites be tied to the same type? But in fact, the question is not unanswerable. In developmental psychology it is postulated that both dependency and antisocial issues are tied to a lack of proper care during childhood (coupled with certain genetic dispositions that have to be present). The person who gets too much care can turn out with a dependent style and the person who gets too little care can end up with an antisocial style. So while the final phenomena are opposites, they have a shared root.

  3. I was about to reply “why anyone wouldn’t care for ENTPs so consistently is beyond me”, but then I saw it.

  4. Where does this information about particular personality styles and personality types being linked come from? Is there evidence to support this, or is it just theorised that this is the case?

  5. We theorized it on the basis of our personal experience (and the people on the site). So it is not perfect, but we haven’t seen anything similar in this field at all.

    There is actual data on the correlation between Big Five scores and personality styles that shows good correlations, so the same is almost certainly true with types. But to our knowledge there is no reliable quantitative data on type and style. Ours would actually be a good set of hypotheses to test :)

  6. If Brian Cox’s style is INFP-like and not so ENFP-like but in terms of the functions, you think he is a perceiving dominant personality, what reasons do you have for thinking he’s Ne dominant? Just curious.

  7. His style is in our opinion Dependent, rather than Histrionic/Narcissistic/Borderline/Hypomaniac which are the usual ones for ENFP and which are all more attention-grabbing styles. Dependents are more soft even when Ne dominant (we think e.g. John Stuart Mill and Neil Patrick Harris are Dependent ENPs).

    We don’t have the type to do a write up on Cox just now, but we’ve added it to our requests list. Though you could try to determine his type by looking at his inferior function.

  8. I also agree that Cox seems to give of more of an INFP vibe than an ENFP one, but I don’t insist that’s the cast. Though I’m a bit skeptical about the idea of personality styles because it makes thing a little more convoluted, at the same time I can certainly see there being multiple phenotypes of ENFP and the other fifteen types, and so it may be a necessary evil.

    I’m guessing the personality style is more about overt behaviors than private cognition, so would that mean the personality style would be a better predictor for psychopathological predisposition? For instance, an individual who processes information like an INTP but is more consistent with the Five Factor Model’s INFP equivalent as he scores high in Agreeableness — would you predict he’d be more likely to exhibit schizotypal traits or avoidant traits?

  9. You have the right idea. And for your question, more likely to be Avoidant if high in Agreeableness.

  10. Avoidance is very poorly understood, or confused with Dependence. Simply put, Dependents are harried by their thoughts when interacting with others. Histrionics are harried while alone. But Avoidants at never at ease, neither in social settings nor alone. This is a bit of an oversimplification. The point is that Avoidance can seem structurally ingrained, like Schizotypy, perhaps.

  11. Avoidant personality disorder only seems similar insofar as it’s a Cluster C disorder like dependent personality disorder, meaning both are fraught with anxiety. Both types have a poor self-appraisal, but dependents latch onto people, or at least one strong caretaker, as they feel helpless without others; and avoidant personalities are going to act like agoraphobics, actively avoiding people in fear of rejection.

    I know somebody who exhibits avoidant traits and is handicapped enough by them to warrant a diagnosis. I’d actually be shocked were he not if he sought treatment. I have some dependent traits, myself, and given the amount of diagnostic inflation these days I won’t be too surprised if I get diagnosed as dependent in the coming months by my psychiatrist (the other fitting Axis II is considered largely redundant and I believe is no longer featured or at any rate very seldom diagnosed).

    Perhaps avoidants will be anxious regardless of their setting, but schizotypal personality disorder is more serious; the psyche is much more compromised with SPD.

  12. Several people have now reviewed Penn Jillette, our verdict is still ENTJ. We found other mistakes in our assessments, to be corrected soon, but not Penn Jillette.

  13. It would be easier to tell you why he’s not ENFP. Well, we agree that he plays the ENFP persona (he is a creative person after all), but it’s not the underlying cognitive type. He is not particularly fluid and flexible, as an Ne type would be, but much more rigid and heavy duty in his statements. He is also far more factual than a person who would supposedly have inferior Si. Just a few pointers here.

  14. Nice article.

    While I’m a Brit (and a grateful one – it’s very hard to find concise but visible accounts of Fe vs Fi in operation), perhaps a video comparison of Neil Degrasse Tyson with Michio Kaku might be a little more tactically populist?

  15. It would be a really cool idea to compare Fe and Fi science popularizers, not least since so many people still don’t think that F types can be scientists. We won’t say that Kaku is necessarily more populist than NDGT, though, they’re both really zesty when it comes to drumming up support.

  16. I have to say I didn’t really enjoy this article as much as I enjoy reading most others on the site.

    I think the descriptions of introverted Feeling are pretty good, and I see nothing to disagree with there. You give us a pretty good summary of that function. :)

    But your Fe descriptions don’t ring true to me, and are very unflattering. I don’t think Fe is mainly about emotionally manipulating people to take your personal viewpoint. And I don’t think it’s about ordering people around, telling people what they should do or think.

    Fe does try to tap into the “common vision”, as you say, but it sounds like you think the EFJ is just imposing their own personal viewpoint on the situation with nothing to back up their views. How can this be Fe? Where is the objectivity? :) Instead, Fe tries to get in tune with the Feeling tone environment as it already exists out there in the world, without imposing judgement on it, and then will – if they notice a problem – try to make little changes in that tone by working with it (collaborating, discussion sessions etc), not against it. I don’t know, it’s something you just feel out and hard to explain. :D

    If Tyson DOES behave in this way, it would count as a sure-fire argument against EFJ for me, unless he is a Narcissist or has some personality quirk to make him so unusual for his type. If he is an Fe type, he is probably ETP because this kind of Fe use is very childish/immature, yet extremely effective at persuasion.

    I think that’s the single biggest misunderstanding about Fe, and is probably why the site associates EFJs with Narcissism.

    Overall, I just really didn’t enjoy this, and couldn’t relate at all.

  17. Yes, it’s removed from the main page, almost deleted, living its own life in a shadowy underworld.

  18. Oh right. :)

    There’s still a link underneath Cox’s entry on the ENFP page, so I assumed it was still an “official” article. :)

  19. Lol, I was thinking about another article. Well, I’ll have to read it again when I have more time. :) /R

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