A Definition of Se and Si

Michael Pierce is a video maker and contributing guest writer for CelebrityTypes. As always with guest writers on the site, Pierce’s piece represents his own insights and type assessments and not necessarily those of the site. Still, we very much enjoy his work and are pleased to be able to share it with our visitors.

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“C.G. Jung said his wife was a particularly well-balanced person, full of common sense: ‘She was a sensation type – you couldn’t put anything over on her.'” – Bennet: Meetings with Jung (Daimon 1985) p. 80

By Michael Pierce

If we:

  1. Define extroversion as objective, in the sense that it is on good terms with objects and wants to relate itself directly with them.
  2. And define introversion as subjective, in the sense that it is not on good terms with objects, but rather with the subject, and always relates to objects secondhand through the lens of the subjective.
  3. And we then define Sensation as the perception of the actual and current nature of a thing.

Then we may roughly define Se as:

  1. Perceiving the actual, current nature of objects.

And Si as:

  1. Perceiving the actual, current nature of the subject’s relationship to objects.

Following these definitions, one is concerned with objects in the world, the other with one’s subjective impressions of objects in the world. We then arrive at the conclusion that Se is observational and Si is impressionistic.

Sensation vs. Intuition

The difference between the Intuitive and Sensation functions in a Jungian context is that while Intuition is concerned with possibilities and associations and what a thing could be, and is in many ways naturally imaginative and anticipatory in its perceptions, then Sensation is first and foremost concerned with what the thing actually is now; what we know about it now, and what it is doing now. Where Intuition is always looking beyond the actual nature of the object, Sensation is concerned with the properties that the object could be said to possess at present, aside from any imaginative or wishful thinking. In the mind of a Sensation type, such predictions should be made later, after the thing has been understood on its present terms. However, to Sensation, such anticipations must take a back seat; they always pale in comparison to the vividness of the actual, current thing.

Although we generally associate ‘Sensation’ with the physical, if we extend the meaning of Sensation to sensations of any kind, then we have something closer to a concept covering ‘stimulation caused by a thing itself.’ The human senses, whether physical, mental, spiritual, or otherwise, sense a thing, or are affected by a thing, and they take stock of what this Sensation is like. The thing that generates such sensations does not have to be concrete itself: Heidegger, an Si type, was primarily concerned with complex metaphysical questions. I believe Sensation is present so long as it is experienced as a sensation from the thing itself, and not just from an idea about the thing, or a concept associated with the thing. The point of Sensation is not what the person is interested in, but what aspects of those things catch their attention: For Sensation, it is whatever arises from the thing itself, as it stands, that is of primary psychic importance.

Intuition, on the other hand, is not stimulated by the thing itself, but always by possibilities of the thing, or the associations that could be made on the basis of it. Intuition is concerned with what is about the thing, and not with the thing in itself. Thus Intuition has a remarkable ability to ignore the thing itself, going right to the associations and always leaping beyond it. As Ric Velasquez has said, Intuition is not Sensation with an extra layer: Intuition oversteps the object, while Sensation remains with it.

A Definition of Se

Se, because of its preoccupation with objective relations, is more in-the-moment as a function. However, one facet of Se that has often been misunderstood is as follows: Se, at least when unrepressed, is not overindulgent, unrestrained, or utterly sensual. Nor is it unable to operate outside of the moment, unable to think, theorize, or the like. Those are the properties of inferior Se, which have wrongfully been attributed to individuals with non-inferior Sensation.

Se is not sensuality incarnate, but is the most direct experience of objective reality possible, a mode of being-in-the-world, where you yourself become a moving part of the world, and things become extensions of yourself. In this mode, you don’t look down on yourself doing things; you just do them, skillfully and in-the-moment while navigating impediments and using the conditions given to your advantage. Se, particularly when it is more dominant, does not want to introspect on what it’s doing, because that puts a separation between itself and the world. Se wants to meld with the objects of its interest; become one with them and become one with the objective world as it exists.

A Definition of Si

Se wants to immerse itself in reality without any barriers between oneself and the outer world. By contrast, Si does want a secondary view of reality. To Si, “being-in-the-world” seems a thoughtless, dangerous and reckless way to live. To Si, being totally present in the moment without recourse to the subjective aspect of experience is a shallow way to live indeed.

That is why with Si we get the stereotypical Si cautiousness, which is often misinterpreted as fear. But if we could peek into the mind of the Si type, we would see that this cautiousness need not be fear at all: It may just as well be considerate of its own perceptions, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the circumstances.

Whenever Si senses a thing, it does not really sense the thing, but rather the impressions the thing releases in the psyche, that is to say: How the thing relates to the personal consciousness of the Si type. As a result, Si tends to be cautious and approaches the future not as an in-the-moment improviser but as a careful planner, watching what it is doing and minding its routines. In this way, Si stands a bit removed from the activity or object itself; a disposition which naturally encourages a different outlook than the one of the Se type’s unmediated “being-in-the-world.”

So for example, if you show Se and Si a red balloon:

  • Se will recognize its shape, the kind of latex that it is made of, its string, the particular shade of red. In this way, Se is rather like most portrayals of Sherlock Holmes where he examines the objects of a case in great visceral detail.
  • Si considers how this balloon looks like this other balloon it saw, or is reminiscent of the kind of balloon at this one birthday party for their child, or they may like the shape, or the material, not for its own virtue, but because it relates positively to something else that has previously been experienced.

Conclusion

So in conclusion:

  • Se prefers to do things reflexively, naturally, and in-the-moment, brilliantly improvising and accommodating each changing detail into its activities as it arises.
  • Si prefers to consider, plan, and move slowly and steadily towards its aim, maintaining an impenetrable and infallible approach that the person is certain will work.

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24 Comments

  1. I’ve read stuff like this a million times now, but I am not sure how would this mean anything to anyone unless they can experience the difference between the functions in their own psyche. Until I can actually experience both functions and see the difference for myself, all I can say about this article is that it is one big unproved hypothesis.

  2. There’s an organizer on YouTube whose organizing solutions are quite clever. For example, she created a Lazy Susan out of two round baking pans stacked on top of each other separated by marbles in between, to allow the top pan to spin.

    Is that an example of intuition focusing on the possibility of an object? Would Se just see those round pans for their intended baking purpose and Si just relate them to a memory?

  3. What’s fascinating to me though is that the terms subjective and objective are often faltering when describing these experiences to people who are of these ‘types’. Objective/Subjective as co-dependent relations are necessarily instantiated by virtue of the existence of the other. Object is always object FOR subject; Jung borrows this point with the emphasis especially pulled from Schopenhauer.

    But for Si or Se, as Rashad points out, the mode of being-in-the-world is viewed as ‘objective’ by both precisely because they constitute their phenomenological perspective. But therein lies the key- Jung’s system admits of an absolute orientation in which subject/object are the most essential pair. Heidegger might agree with Rashad- that object/subject relationships cannot be ‘segregated’ as Jung does it.

    I donno. Just spitballing.

  4. No, we agree with everything you said, and even more oddly, Jung claimed to be a solipsist but as you point out still attempts an “objective” ground zero for psychic life.

  5. You guys should have a definition of ne and ni as well; I’ve still found the current ni definitions to be rather like jazz; you know what it is but it’s hard to exactly define.

    Also you guys should do typings of fictional characters; sheldon cooper from the Big Bang theory would be a good istj for instance :-)

  6. Hard to type people with aspergers or autism, how do you differentiate behaviour that is typical of a disorder vs behaviour typical of a type? Do these people even fit into one of the traditional 16 types when their brains have been changed so much?

  7. The asp/aut people that we have worked with and typed have often been ST, but really, we wouldn’t feel comfortable speculating. You might want to look into Simon Baron Cohen’s theories on the matter, though. They would seem to suggest a link between asp/aut and T.

  8. While there may be some asp/auts amongst STs, especially ISTJs I think, I believe INTJs and INTPs, particularly the latter, are also prevalent amongst autistics.

    I believe this owes to the Schizotypal Personality Style, which has an “Autistic Cognitive Style”. Whilst there is a distinction between personality styles and personality types, you’ll notice asp/aut is correlated with more intps on the site than istps.

    E.g. Glenn Gould, Einstein are asps, Tina Fey also refers to being “like an autistic person” in relating to animals.

  9. @Luke

    One of my very closest friends is autistic, and most likely INTP. Just throwing that out there, it may not mean anything. :)

    To go back to your earlier post, Sheldon Cooper isn’t ISTJ! :D I’d say more likely ENTJ.

  10. @Luke
    @Admin

    Perhaps the wonderful Karl Pilkington is an example of an asp/aut ISTP? He certainly has a lot of the tell-tale signs.

  11. @rachelw

    Sheldon is quoted as saying “I’m a fan of homeostasis, namely I don’t like change”, a sign of inferior ne.

    I wouldn’t say he was ENTJ but he certainly could be INTJ, since he has most of the traits of narcissistic personality disorder. He has an almost equal weighting of ni and si, making his type hard to determine.

    Since he does display grandiosity, if you consider him in a more general view, then I’d say INTJ.

    I have two INTP close friends myself, one of which is also asp. My step-mum is INFP and also asp.

    It doesn’t surprise me that Pilkington would be asp, since he has strong ti, and a disregard for his audience (inferior fe), which are correlated with asp.

  12. I’d also identify Lisa Simpson as an infj. She’s dedicated and wishes to work hard and look at the holistic view of an area. She’s idealistic and also polite/soft spoken with a strong tertiary ti.

    She also has inferior se, noted in one episode when, after trying to lose weight, she eats almost an entire cake on a binge. There’s probably further evidence of inferior se in other episodes.

  13. Also voldemort as entj. Jk Rowling States his biggest weakness is his inability to love and he is pretty poor at dealing with emotions (inferior fi). Also he’s not as concerned with his vision as he is with power (dominant te), something that distinguishes him from magneto who predominantly wants a world where mutants are accepted; magnetos vision comes before the power acquisition. Magnetos inferior se isn’t really prominent, unlike professor xs (seen in days of future past where he takes too much spine serum). Xavier would also be an intj.

  14. I have a different perspective, regarding viewing intuition as seeing the possibilities of the thing, and Se as seeing the thing. In my experience, Se and Ne are both concerned with the possibilities of the thing, but in different ways. I’ll use my daughter for example. She’s Se. She sees a stick. But she doesn’t just see a stick lying there. She sees the possibilities of what she can _do_ with the stick–tie a string to both ends, and make a bow, hit stones with it, drag it behind her on her bike through the dirt, and draw lines in the dirt, or maybe as a walking stick, or maybe as a sword, and enjoy hitting things or sword play with another child. All of these possibilities are material, and connected to the material world–yes, there is imagination, and even pretend play involved.

    On the other hand, an Ne child could see the stick, and think–sword. She picks up that sword, and the world that is around her fades away in her mind, so she sees not a stick, but a sword, and not merely a sword, but now, it’s a fantastical world, and there is the enemy to fight. The table becomes a castle wall, and all sorts of imaginary things are taking place, not in the material world, but in the child’s mind. In fact, the child may not even hack about with the stick. The stick has ceased to really matter or even exist in the child’s mind, but the mind is seeing and imagining things that the material world only suggested or stimulated into her mind. Or maybe, a rock found stimulates the mind to go look it up, and see what kind of rock it is–sedimentary or igneous, and a further study into the geography of the area, and the rock may be completely forgotten, and left in the dirt.

    Both Se and Ne can be about potential and imagination, but for Se, the potential tends to be more material, physical and connected to what I can do right now, and the enjoyment or usage remains more firmly grounded–even when, for instance, playing war with the sword, or imagining that a bicycle is a motorcycle (accompanied with the necessary loud noises). In fact, it may draw the person even further into the material world–moving constantly to the next thing that will spur the imagination or action. Ne will invariably lead away from the material beginnings and into conceptual musings, at least this is how I’ve observed it. Curious how you (ahem) perceive my distinctions.

  15. @HouseOfGlass, I don’t think an Se type is incapable of seeing possibilities. And especially children are more naturally imaginative than adults anyway, and have an easier time with that.

    The difference is that the Se-type is interested in the stick, and in doing things with the stick. So she needs to think of some things to do with it, so that she can do those things. The Ne-type doesn’t actually care about the stick though, she cares about the possibilities. The stick is useful because it stimulates those possibilities.

    For the Se-type, the possibilities are a means to the end of doing something with the stick. For the Ne-type, the stick is a means to the end of considering possibilities.

    So for the Se-type, possibilities which lose sight of the stick are useless. But the Ne-type is totally ok with that, because she didn’t really even care about the stick in the first place.

  16. @tobias087, as an Se-aux, I have to say that your portrayal of Se is very two-dimensional, and falls short. As I described Se, this is how it is for me. You may see it as just about the stick, or things to do with the stick, but it’s not like that. But overall, however, it seems that you more or less repeated what I said, but with less depth of the Se side. Is it safe to presume you are an Ne type? :-)

  17. The book Functions of Type has Se practices like: when driving, merge with the car. Feel yourself become more powerful as you press the gas pedal. Look at the gas gauge and think of how thirsty you are. That was under the header “Merge with the environment,” which is one of 8 loose categories listed for Se activities.

    As for the commentor who said the existence of two separate attitudes of the sensing function, Se and Si, remains pure speculation unless he personally can experience both: this is an interesting question to me and one deserving of more exploration.

    Can we actually use both attitudes of a function?

    The book Functions of Type has the following schema. I’ll give an example using my type, INTJ:

    1. Ni at highest development
    2. Te at mostly high and some medium development
    3. Fi at mostly medium and some low development
    4. Se at mostly low and some medium development
    5, 6, 7, 8. Ne,Ti, Fe and Si at low development except for possibly a select few activities where one can achieve medium development

    I have practiced tasks for functions 5-8 and I am not sure whether I am truly using those functions or simply trying to complete the task with another function. Dario Nardi shows how each type uses what it has available to solve problems that other types may be better suited for and solve with greater efficiency and/or aptitude.

    Naomi Quenk has said the third function can switch. I sure feel like I have Fi because I feel like I have a strong conscience that makes me guilty if I betray it (Fi), as opposed to a gift for being a guide to others (Fe)–of course these are just caricatures of Fi and Fe for brevity, but the point is that I don’t think I am great at Fe. But when I practice the Fe practices in Functions of Type I can do okay on some of them, and I wonder if I am actually using Fe or not.

    In any case, I’m not sure if it is possible to experience Se if you have Si in your stack or vice versa. I’m on the fence about it, because they seem so irrevocably different… I can do some of the Si tasks but I don’t feel like I am using the same part of my brain they are using. That’s just a hunch, though.

    Incidentally, having a book with practices for each function is great for validating your friends’ personality types. I have seen my ISTJ friend leap to attention to answer effortlessly the task: list all the members of your extended family in order of age. I’m like, um, I don’t even know how old they are, let alone having them organized by age…

  18. Hey HouseOfGlass,

    I’m Se-dom. And this claim:

    “On the other hand, an Ne child could see the stick, and think–sword.”

    I can identify a lot with.

    Your examples are not indicative of MBTI. I could be wanting to ‘enter a fantasy world’ if I FEEL like it IN THE MOMENT. If not, then I’m doing something else.

    That stick-sword example is more reflective of enneagram type 7. Type 7s are creative. Your stick-sword example applies to any man that is creative. Creativity and MBTI don’t have a correlation.

    Your daughter’s way of seeing the stick sounds more like Ne.

  19. @duke

    I think it’s easy to be confused about the difference between Se and Ne, because it’s difficult to express in words.

    It’s easy to mistake N for “imagination” when actually imagination has nothing to do with typology. Like intelligence, imagination is something completely separate. That’s how I prefer to think of it anyway. :)

    It is true that iNtuition can be described as “more imaginative” than Sensation, but only in the sense that it is more unrealistic, impractical, and not as in touch with the reality of the situation.

    Imaginative S types not only have bigger imaginations than the average N type (creating complex fantasy worlds in fiction or directing science fiction movies, for example), but they are also much more in touch with reality. So this common view that N is S with an “extra layer” is completely unfounded, and actually it could be argued that the opposite is more true. :)

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