If you have studied Jungian typology to any extent, you have no doubt noticed that the field is marred by a bias in favor of the intuitive types. Sensation types are commonly denigrated and abused, and the argument is often advanced that “so-and-so can’t be an S type because he is smart/ ingenious/ academic,” and the like.
In part, this is understandable. Most people online start out by reading about sensation types on Personality Page, which is really a great resource, but which also perpetuates the bias by describing the N types based on their best, while describing the S types based on their average. Another common resource for learning about typology is Isabel Myers’s book, Gifts Differing, which also strikes the bias bell by lauding the N types while passing over the S types with no great excitement.
A third popular culprit is David Keirsey’s Please Understand Me-series, wherein the N types are basically described as synonymous with everything exciting while the S types are described as little more than mindless worker drones. Little wonder, then, that actual ISTJs do not recognize themselves in the ISTJ description. (Compare Keirsey’s epithet for the INTJ as a “Rational Mastermind” with the ISTJ as a “Guardian Inspector” – flipping his bias around, we could also compare the INTJ “Insufferable Crackpot” with the ISTJ “Self-governed Executive” – now which one do you suppose that people would want to be the most?)
So as we have seen, most modern sources on Jungian typology perpetuate the notion that N types are cool and intelligent, while S types are stupid and boring. Yet, going back to Jung and his progeny, that is not how he conceived of Sensation. In fact, Jung repeatedly stressed that he found ST (and not NT) to be the “default” scientist type. Jung possibly also thought that Isaac Newton was an S type, and he made it clear that INTJs are not logical – so much for Keirsey’s “Rational Masterminds!”
What appears to have happened was that:
(1) “Intuition” was a misnomer from the start – it should more properly have been called “introspection,” “reflection,” “association,” or some-such. Because of this misnomer, it has been very easy for people to think that anything having to do with creative imagination and so on pertains to the domain of intuition. As Jung’s associate, Jolande Jacobi, has reported, Jung explicitly rejected the notion that fantasy and creativity was limited to the intuitive types. Likewise, “sensation” is also a crude misnomer, reducing the mental activity of the S types to the mindless and automatic functioning of the five senses.
(2) Intuition has been re-interpreted by Myers, Keirsey, and others to overlap more with a Big Five Personality term called “Openness” than with actual Jungian sensation. To give one example of the difference, say you have a scientist with low Openness going through some remarkable scientific data. According to the Big Five Personality way of thinking, this scientist is likely to miss what is new and remarkable about this data, as he mostly looks for what is immediately and concretely obvious. Now instead say you have a scientist who is a sensation type: Because this person is a sensation type, he will actually examine the data more thoroughly and report the more data precisely than if he was busy with abstract associations and introspective musings in his own head. The sensation type has a commitment to reality, which makes him adhere more closely to the actual data, whereas the intuitive type will always be ready to leave the actual data behind in pursuit of some unfounded interpretation that is not necessarily supported by the data, jumping from possibility to possibility, always in search of that unseen sight which nobody has seen before.
(3) Finally, a third thing that appears to have happened is that intelligence (IQ) has been conflated with intuition. Thus we get the familiar arguments that since Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, he really cannot be an S type, and since Frank Ocean can speak in complete sentences, he can’t be an ISFP, because certain other ISFPs are inarticulate. But IQ has nothing to do with type. If it did, then typology would cease being typology and start being a covert intelligence test, albeit with no actual requirements for purporting to have a high IQ. If it did have actual requirements, then anybody who reached a certain level of competence and smarts would automatically become an N type, no matter what their personality was actually like. N types would basically be S types with an extra layer.
It is true that when measuring large groups of people scientists tend to find a relationship between type and IQ. But then again, when scientists measure height, they also tend to find a relationship between gender and height. Men are generally taller, and N types generally have a higher IQ. But these are merely group averages and averages do not say anything about specific individuals. For example, think of the tallest woman you know and the shortest man you know: There is a good chance that the tallest woman is taller than the shortest man.
So while there is a correlation on the group level, IQ and type are not really related on the individual level. Thus you may have an S type who is a genius, and according to Horace Gray, even the intuitive faculty of such a man is likely to be better than that of most intuitive types. Or as we like to say: “Steve Jobs’s Ni may be tertiary, but it’s better than yours.”
So what happens on this site is that we attempt to avoid these biases against S types and go back to the original definitions of S and N, respectively. To give an example, if a person is a unitary personality, patiently dwelling on the facts, perfecting and paying attention to every logical outgrowth that follows directly from the facts, then that person is quite likely to be characterized by introverted sensation, and conversely, if a person has a ‘wild’ intellect that refuses to stay in harness, going ’round and ’round in pursuit of inspiration, and often contradicting himself along the way, then he is more likely to be characterized by introverted intuition. A comparison of Freud (ISTJ) with Nietzsche (INTJ) seems obvious here.
Not all readers will agree with us that this is the correct way to conceive of the S/N split:
- Some will prefer a dimension that deals with Openness rather than with sensation and intuition. To them we would say that they should study the Big Five Personality system instead of Jung’s typology.
- Others will want a tool that measures cognitive abilities and intelligence. To them we would recommend the study of IQ and IQ testing. The idea of multiple intelligences may also be to their taste.
- Others still are attracted to typology, not because they want a tool that helps them understand and appreciate others, but because they want a system that confirms to them that they are superior to others. To such people, we have no good advice.
Finally, it is important to note that we do not claim that our own judgment is infallible. While we consciously set out to follow the framework above, we are not immune to what effectively amounts to 30+ years of bias and re-interpretation of the original Jungian framework. Thus, while we try to follow the guidelines above, it is possible that we, too, have internalized some of the bias and thus failed to give the S types their due.
UPDATE JULY 2013:
Also of interest: George W. Bush is smarter than you.
Whatever one may think of George W. Bush in general, here we get a description of him that features a combination of traits that should not be possible according to the traditional, biased, conception of sensation:
[George W. Bush is] highly analytical and was incredibly quick to be able to discern the core question he needed to answer. It was occasionally a little embarrassing when he would jump ahead of one of his Cabinet secretaries in a policy discussion and the advisor would struggle to catch up. He would sometimes force us to accelerate through policy presentations because he so quickly grasped what we were presenting.
In addition to his analytical speed, what most impressed me were his memory and his substantive breadth. We would sometimes have to brief him on an issue that we had last discussed with him weeks or even months before. He would remember small facts and arguments from the prior briefing and get impatient with us when we were rehashing things we had told him long ago.
Think it’s a biased source? Bush and Kerry’s IQs have been estimated to be about equal. They’re equally intelligent, but John Kerry’s preference is for the abstract and theoretical. In other words, Kerry’s Openness to Experience is higher than Bush’s – which is why Kerry is an intuitive and Bush a sensation type.
What this update serves to show, then, is that given enough raw cognitive power and flexibility, sensation types can accomplish ‘intuitive’ feats and vice versa.