By Michael Pierce
“Architect.” That is what David Keirsey called them. I’ve also heard “Thinker” and “Engineer.” The INTP is stereotypically a ponderous individual; an absent-minded professor who spends all day pontificating on the implications of an intriguing principle, caring little for their appearance or others’ opinions, comically and endearingly awkward in social contexts and possessing a certain quirky charm. This is just a stereotype, and I’m going to do my best to offer a more substantial definition.
Let’s break down what constitutes the INTP functionally.
They are a Perceiving type, meaning that they prefer extroverted perceiving and introverted judging. This means that they base their judgment criteria on subjective, inner information, while simply observing and drinking in objective information and experiences. You could say that they are more receptive towards the outside world and more aggressive towards their inner experience.
Their preferred way of doing this is through extroverted intuition and introverted thinking. Extroverted intuition is innovative: it perceives and seeks out new possibilities from objective data, finding the ones with the most promise and bringing them to fruition. Introverted thinking is deductive: it seeks to develop an internally consistent logical system by deducing all the necessary implications of a set of premises.
Third, they are very similar to the ENTP; both prefer Ne and Ti. The INTP, however, prefers Ti more than Ne. Nevertheless, they are in some sense the same type, or at least sister types. I personally like to call NTP types the “Thinkers”, because they combine a passive, multifaceted examination of possibilities in the world with rigorous ordering and logical deduction within their minds, thus appearing to quietly observe the world and ponder on it. Of course, “Thinker” is merely a nickname to help me remember the NTP nature, and does not mean that NTPs are the only types that think, or the best at thinking, or even more likely to pursue a career or lifestyle that is centered around this stereotypical kind of thinking.
The INTP, then, is a “thinker” for whom their inner logical principles and deductions are more interesting and important than their objective observation of possibilities. They are primarily concerned with developing and ordering their subjective understandings of things into consistent systems.
The word I like to use to describe the INTP nature is “abstracting.” Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the INTP nature is their great interest in getting to the bottom of things, stripping away all the accidental traits and getting at the underlying, bare, mathematical framework of a system or idea. For the INTP, this is the great search for truth, the search for the underlying principles of the universe.
This process results from the combined efforts of Ti and Ne. Ne observes objects through a fuzzy lens, so that it’s easier to imagine what other things the object could be and to associate the object with other objects. In exchange for clear facts it obtains possibilities and connections. This is combined with Ti, which tries to organize its impressions of objects into a perfect architectural system. Thus, the INTP looks at a fuzzy, interpretative image of objects, discovers the logical framework behind that interpretive image, and the resulting framework is something that can be applied to many other objects. In other words, if you had an animatronic bear, and you stripped away the outside suit and all of its outwards artistic appearance and skin covering and laid bare the undecorated, cold, but essential mechanics, then you could redress the robot in whatever skin you wanted: bunny, duck, fox, crocodile, human. The underlying mechanics would be the same. The INTP is not just looking for the underlying logical structure of things, but is looking for logical principles that are applicable to a multitude of appearances or circumstances.
For instance, an INTP would likely be fascinated by a structure made entirely of the same size of triangle. With that one idea of a triangle you have nearly infinite possibilities, you could practically make anything, big or small, simple or complex, and all you need is that one simple triangle. They love the great ingenuity and cleverness involved in such architecture. Other examples might include an INTP taking a trading card game, stripping away the card art and nonessential Fe appearances to get to the underlying structure of the game, and then replicating it with simple playing cards. Another example could be represented in The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, which describes the underlying archetypes behind various mythologies. This is why I like to use the word “abstracting,” because the INTP wants to make bare the abstract principles behind a thing, despite how cold or lifeless the thing may now look. The INTP’s Ti searches for a basic principle or idea from which a grand multitude of Ne possibilities can be derived.
This abstracting nature of the INTP provides several interesting characteristics. First, the INTP has a strong belief in universal morality. This is demonstrated by other types, but it is critical in the INTP. A great example of this is Immanuel Kant, who sought to provide the world with a set of objective, universal moral standards: his Categorical Imperative. These standards are meant to be universal, affecting everyone no matter their accidental circumstances, and built from three simple maxims.
Second, the INTP does not want to be influenced by the crowd. The INTP values individuality: they say, “I won’t bother you if you won’t bother me,” and “don’t take my word for it, figure it out yourself.” The INTP believes individuals should be their own moral and intellectual authority, firmly independent and self-sufficient. For this reason INTPs are known for their great dislike of bureaucracy, which they perceive as an inconsistent, unruly and inefficient engine made of unquestioning, unthinking soldiers. In this sense the INTP may appear very similar to the INFP, in that both have a certain individual quirkiness to them because their values or principles develop isolated from others. The INTP, however, although it is repressed, perceives values, feelings, or emotions as negative and entirely superficial things, at least when compared to logical principles, while the INFP is the opposite: they replace logical principles with deeply felt values; logic is seen as common, unsubstantial and misleading. If Fi is a protestor standing in front of a Te bulldozer, then Ti is a serene monk unmoved by all the dramatic demonstrations of power by their enemy. Despite others’ emotional outbursts and fierce pageantry, INTPs prides themselves in remaining thoroughly cool-headed and purely logical no matter the circumstances. They hold firm to their internal logic despite outside sentimental opposition.
Third, the INTP has a definite thirst for universal, underlying knowledge. Unlike the INTJ who seeks to understand their environment in order to get a foothold on it, the INTP seeks to understand the principles behind the environment in order to get a foothold on their understanding of it. The INTJ seeks knowledge as a means to an end, being whatever goal they’ve decided they need to accomplish in the outside world, while the INTP seeks knowledge for its own sake, so that they can better understand the theoretical principles running the universe. In this way the INTJ is more materialistic while the INTP is more metaphysical. The INTJ wants to grasp an idea in their hands and use it as a tool, to substantiate it or manifest it in reality, while the INTP doesn’t care as much if this happens, seeing as reality is a world of appearances, and they are interested in the underlying truths behind it. INTPs search for dispassionate knowledge, separate from emotional baggage or unessential appearances. This is why the INTP is perceived as very ponderous, because they often are. They prefer the thinking over the actual doing, and they may even struggle with sticking with a project long enough for it to fully mature in reality, due to the thirst of their Ne for more and more possibilities over complete ones.
The INTP demonstrates a tertiary Si. Like with the INFP, this can give the INTP an appreciation of routine and preparation to balance out their Ne and approach the future more thoughtfully. Because neither of these opposite functions is repressed, they can better coordinate or combine their efforts to grant the INTP a certain meticulousness; Si grants the INTP an attention to detail through their intense inspection of subjective experiences, and combined with the multifaceted searching of Ne, they tend to view all sides of a subject meticulously, in a more controlled way, potentially making their arguments or thoughts airtight from all sides.
The INTP’s inferior or repressed function is Fe. The INTP feels that truth is the underlying, raw, cold, pure logical principles and framework, which is covered by nonessential, ornamental fluff and detail. This view is a result of the INTP’s overwhelming preference for Ti. The INTP is very often agitated or even disgusted by others’ emotional irrationality, or what they perceive as such; in other words, others conforming to sentimental appearance instead of obeying a consistent logical standard, such as the ENFJ drifting to the right or left of logic in order to present things more dramatically. INTPs pride themselves in holding fast to their principles, staying rooted to the ground.
They are unaffected or even aggravated by people trying to connect with them on the level of appearances. Of course, INTPs often find themselves somewhat clumsy when dealing with objective emotions or sentiment, feeling unfulfilled, empty or agitated in social situations or whenever they must deal with customary appearances, especially if they seem to sacrifice efficiency or detract from the core of what needs to be done. The INTP can also have difficulty expressing their own emotions, and may show childish enthusiasm, disproportionate frustration, or numb coldness in all of the wrong situations. The INTP is not a robot; they have very genuine feelings and values, but their attempt to express things in a pleasing or emotionally appealing way can seem peculiarly unpracticed or immature, conveying that the INTP is genuinely happy, sad or excited, but in rather clichéd, superficial, or overblown ways.
So in summary, the INTP is “abstracting,” seeking to strip away all that is nonessential to an idea or system and get at its underlying structure, from which they can apply whatever skin they want. This promotes a sense of universal morality, honesty, and a thirst of knowledge for its own sake. Their tertiary Si provides a meticulousness and appreciation of routine, while their repressed Fe gives them a dislike of mere appearances and emotional displays, as well as a certain clumsiness or juvenility in handling such things.
Thanks for reading, and to all the INTPs out there, thanks for trying to get down to the bottom of things and show us what really underlies our universe.
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