A few years ago, my friend told me that there was a book festival coming to our area. I wasn't very interested until she sent me a list of the authors that would be speaking, and I saw the name, Jane Smiley. You might as well have told me that Shakespeare was coming to town. Jane Smiley has been my favorite author for almost 20 years. She is remarkable because she can put herself into the minds of all her characters, even animals, and see life from their perspective. She captures perfectly the personalities you are likely to encounter every day, yet her observations on life are the kinds of things you would go on pilgrimages to learn.
After Jane Smiley spoke at the book festival, she signed books. When it came my turn, I asked her if she knew anything about the MBTI assessment, because it seemed like she had such insight into personality. She said she didn’t base her characters on personality types, but she had taken the MBTI instrument years ago, and came out an INTP.
I was stunned. I never would have guessed that she was an INTP. I just assumed that anyone with that much insight into people had to be an F. I remembered INTPs in interviews for The Type Reporter, telling me things like, "I have never understood people, and it doesn't get any better with age." I remembered the blunt comments of the INTPs in my social circle, uttered so guilelessly that I didn’t really take offence. Even Jane Smiley, when she was answering questions, said some things that could ruffle feathers a bit.
On the other hand, I also remembered that Carl Jung, the creator of the type theory, identified himself as an Introverted Thinking type, and since he was so abstract and symbolic, I’m assuming he was intuitive and thus an INTP. Also, David Keirsey, the creator of temperament theory, identified himself as an INTP. I have never had someone or something "get me" like the type and temperament theories do, and both of them were the creations of INTPs.
How is it that INTPs, who seem to be the least interested in how people work, can sometimes understand so much about how people work? How is it that they can sometimes so successfully describe other people’s thoughts, even people who are completely different from them? It's a mystery that has been at the back of my mind for decades.
It could be that empathy, which is the strength of the feeling type, helps in understanding the feelings that unite us. But INTPs, who will admit that empathy is not their strong suit, might be freer to notice the thoughts that divide us.
Or it could be that INTPs don’t often turn their very focused attention to the human mind, but when they do, they are able to do the same thing they do when they become interested in anything... detect the patterns, the underlying structure, the architecture of the system. I don’t think Jung and Keirsey got the bulk of their insights from observing people’s personalities, as much as they were able to find the patterns in theories of personality.
Another thing about INTPs that might help them understand people is that they are not hampered by our shared thinking or accepted conventions. All intuitives ask "why," but INTPs ask why the most; they are the ultimate questioners. In fact, if I ever ask an INTP a question, and they don't immediately question my question, I'm going to die from shock.
I read a profile in The New Yorker magazine of an artist named Tino Sehgal. At the age of 11, Sehgal wrote a letter to his parents saying, "I don't want to be part of this Christmas thing."
"I rejected my presents,” he remembered. “This whole kind of Christian colonizing of what was a collective, pagan ritual...I was enraged, somehow, by that."
When I read that I thought, “This guy has got to be an INTP.” Even the title of the article was, "The Question Artist." Someone that independent in their thinking, that free of the collective, might be the only one who can stand back far enough to notice the principle roles that everyone plays in the collective.
That's my current thinking about the mystery of the INTP, but I expect that INTPs will question it. Even the author of The New Yorker article wrote, "I should acknowledge that there's a good chance that Sehgal would quarrel with everything I've just said."
Nevertheless, I want to thank INTPs for what they have contributed to humanity, not so much in social situations, but to our god-like understanding of so many things, including ourselves.