Sensing and Intuition

The two perceptive functions, sensing and intuition are the two basic ways in which we perceive, or take in, the world. These functional choices therefore determine something very fundamental: how we view the nature of the world and what it is that we find important about it.

Sensing types are those of us who see the world as being made up of data, or facts. Of component pieces, and lots of them. Extraverted sensing types, in particular, see the world as being composed of all different sense impressions that come in through their sense organs. This is what the world is made of and – for some sensing types, this is all the world is made of. If you are trying to explain an idea to someone, and they interrupt with words like “that’s all very fine, and I’m sure it’s a very interesting idea, but it’s a bit airy-fairy, so why don’t you just give me the plain facts of the matter”, your interrupter is likely to be a sensing type. The ‘typical’ blunt, common-sense oriented executive, or the police chief in countless films.

Sensing types are, of course, very good at using facts and incoming sense-data. They can remember details like who was at a party five years ago, who they were with and what they wore, and they know that the laminex coating on their kitchen bench is 4.4mm thick polyethylene plastic with an oil-resistant vinocarbonyl finish. If you’re ever involved in a court case, make sure that all your witnesses are extraverted sensing types! Sensing types also tend to be to – and to want to – use tools, computers, machines and other things that require manual dexterity and the ability to concentrate upon details for a prolonged period.

Intuitive types, by contrast, regard facts, or detail, or data as being mere stepping stones, or ways of demonstrating the proof of, ideas. Ideas are all important. As a consequence, intuitives tend to be relatively uninterested in ‘mere’ facts or boring detail: they prefer ideas, overview, a helicopter perspective and possibilities. They therefore are also much better at perceiving and using ideas, than they are with sense data. Where a sensing type, shown a forest, will count the trees and know the species they are (and possibly their commercial value), but may fail to perceive that trees constitute a forest, the intuitive will immediately grasp that she/he is seeing a mighty forest and what type of forest it is (a romantic one and a dangerous one, for example), but may fail entirely to see the individual trees that make it up. When asked about the forest later, they are likely to be entirely unable to say what sort of trees were present, how high they were, and so on. As we have been told so, in many MBTI workshops, sensing types “can’t see the wood for the trees” and intuitive types “can’t see the trees for the wood”.

All this can lead, at its worst, to a situation where sensing types regard intuitives as having their heads in the clouds with little ability to comprehend or work with the ‘real’ world of hard data. To an intuitive, the sensing type can be a mere hewer of wood or fetcher of water: okay for unimportant, boring or trivial tasks, but empty of ideas (and therefore essentially uninteresting) and unable to grasp ideas or the relationships between ideas. In a word, uninspired. The sort of person who would talk about the relative merits of different brands of lawnmower.

This clash can actually be a very serious matter. The two types differ at a most fundamental level: that of what is fundamental to the makeup of the world. And, therefore, what the most important things are that you need to know about the world. There are a number ways of telling whether you, or someone else, is a sensing type or an intuitive. You can look at their kitchen, for example. If this is an interesting and ever-changing mess of dozens of recipes torn from magazines, pots that won’t fit into cupboards, little heaps of herbs and undiscarded, four-day-old stews, you are dealing with an intuitive. If the (home-made) shelves are lined with neat rows of clean pans and implements, all arranged in order of size, the benches are wiped and the implements are polished and stored away after each use, you are dealing with a sensing types.

Or watch how a person copes with an assignment, let’s say writing a chapter of a cooking book. And let’s imagine they have 20 days to write 40 pages. The sensing author will sit down in their tidy, well ordered study and looks at the ranks of annotated data. Taking down their wall calendar (colour-coded coffee brown to match the carpet), they mark off twenty days and decide to write two pages every day. They do this, without stress or panic. Actually, they write four pages a day, and the chapter is returned with the comment “all worthy but please cut by half, too many details and similar versions of every recipe”.

The intuitive author, by contrast, goes into the slum they call the study and perch on the edge of the desk, while trying to find a chair that isn’t full of still unclassified material for future books. They clear a space on the desk and start hunting for the wall calendar. They discover seven, half-full cups of coffee cups and while washing these up in the kitchen make another cup of coffee. While doing this, they notice that the fridge needs cleaning out….a couple hours later, they give up the hunt for the calendar and make up a timetable on a piece of scrap paper (which they lose, almost immediately). They decide, like the sensing author, to write two pages a day, beginning the next day. The next morning, however, they just don’t feel like writing. The very thought makes them lethargic and full of ennui: even depressed. So they muse a little about the chapter, do a little light gardening, drink some coffee and start re-reading novels of C.P. Snow. The same sequence of events (more or less) happens again on the mornings of the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and continuing days. On the morning of either the nineteenth or twentieth day, the chapter will be ready in the author’s head. They find that they just have time to write it out, in a single, 12-36 hour dash, before the deadline. When it is submitted, it is likely to suffer one of two fates: acceptance and acclaim, or a return, together with a terse note pointing out that the author has completed the wrong chapter.

Finally, and most obviously, you could watch the person cook, or you could read one of their recipes. The preference for sensing or intuition for the authors of cooking books, is, psychologically speaking, the most obvious thing about the author. After all, when you write down a recipe you are, above all, describing the nature of the desired cooking process. What the elements of the dish are, how they should be manipulated and, perhaps, what sort of tools and techniques you need to use. You are less likely to be primarily concerned with who you are cooking for or – beyond the need to eat – the purpose of the meal.


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