The INTJ thought process

Following his recent debate with Dr. Miller on the subject of free trade, Vox Day wrote up a post in which he made a very interesting note about how his thought process works:
It's as if the more clearly I am able to think through these complicated issues, the harder I find verbally articulating the path through them. At this point, I have to expect that if I ever come to correctly grok the fullness of all the myriad pros and cons of free trade, my verbal explanations will be reduced to seemingly nonsensical word bursts.
move... you know... war... people... um, mask of credit! 
Like Vox, I am an INTJ- an off-the-charts one, by most tests:

The difficulties that he encounters in attempting to articulate the leaps of intuition and logic that he makes are encountered on a daily basis by highly intelligent Rationals everywhere, and it is worth taking a moment to explain exactly how this works for us.

For the gifted, technically skilled introvert, our thought process is almost completely internal, as we spend truly enormous amounts of time locked up in our own heads. We are motivated by facts, data, and evidence- not by people or hearsay.

Because we spend so much time in our own headspace, we think laterally very easily; it is routine for us to start on a subject, go off on a mental wool-gathering trip for the next thirty minutes while web-surfing through YouTube videos of epic nutshots, and suddenly make an intuitive leap of logic and judgement that makes perfect sense- to us, anyway.

When we reach that end-point, we then subject it to an absolutely merciless series of tests to see if our theory matches the available evidence. If it does not, it is cast aside just as ruthlessly.

But if it does, and it is capable of withstanding the battering rams of fact and logic that we bring to bear against it, then we know that it must be the truth. A chain of logic, whether concluded in inductive or deductive fashion, is valid as long as the founding assumptions of that chain are valid, by definition.

And if that chain is found to be both valid and sound, then it is true.

There are limits to logic, however. Logic is not everything, which is why INTJs pair logical thought processes with our externally focused drive to test our ideas at all times against the facts of the real world. The main criterion by which almost any INTJ judges any idea is, "does it work?"

A chain of logical deduction could be beautifully elegant in its setup and derivation. But if the conclusion reached therein does not match with observable evidence, it is wrong and must be scrapped. End of story.

It's as simple as that, and we don't give a damn whose feelings we hurt in the process of ditching a stupid idea.

This is, of course, why INTJs are often deeply disliked by more emotional types. It's not that we don't feel emotions- we do, very strongly. Less mature Rationals who have poor control over their emotions can easily find themselves overwhelmed and unable to function because their logical, data-driven personalities are unable to mesh with their turbulent emotional states.

It's just that we don't allow emotions to rule over us. And we have absolutely zero tolerance for people who let themselves be ruled mostly by feeeeeeeelings instead of facts.

The result of this thought process is precisely what Vox outlined above. The more clearly we know and understand an issue, the more facts and evidence we gather in support of our ideas, the more certain we become that we have come across something which is TRUE. And the more certain we are that what we have is true, the more ruthless and uncompromising we become in defending it.

As INTJs, we are far more interested in getting to the truth than in being right. If what is true stands in direct opposition to what we believe, most of us will abandon what we believe to accept the correct paradigm. (Not always, obviously, but as a general rule, this is true.)

There are many benefits to having such a ruthlessly pragmatic approach to seeking the truth. The major unfortunate side effect of it, of course, is that the better we know something, and the more convinced we are of its rightness, the harder we find it to explain that same concept to others.

After all, to us, it is obvious. How can anyone not see what we see?! The facts match the theory! The logic is internally consistent!! The conclusion must surely make sense!!!

... And yet, whenever our conclusions challenge what others accept to be dogmatically true, those others fall apart while our conclusions stand inviolate. The fact is that most people are unable to handle the truth. So they stick to what they believe instead, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, no matter how carefully presented.

What Vox describes as his utter inability to translate that which he can plainly see to be correct and true to others is something I run into on a daily basis at work.

I work in a highly technical job involving a number of different disciplines and a large infrastructure chain of complicated risk and P&L systems. As technical risk/P&L experts go, I am quite simply the best at what I do. If that sounds like boasting, well, too bad- I make no apologies for who I am and how good I am at what I do. I got to that point by understanding my firm's systems, processes, infrastructure, and key personnel better than anyone else.

So when I examine a problem that someone else brings to me and diagnose the root cause, the solutions generally tend to be quite obvious to me. However, less experienced and skilled people often find it very difficult to keep up with me or figure out how I reached the conclusion that I did.

And it's all that I can do to stop myself from grabbing such folk and pointing frantically at my computer screen, yelling, "HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE THIS?!?! IT'S RIGHT THERE!!!"

What is obvious to people like Vox, and me, and probably many of the people who read what I write, often requires leaps of imagination- actually, intuition- that less introverted types find nearly impossible to make. Instead of reasoning their way to the solution, they substitute human interaction for thought, and attempt to get answers by talking.

The natural consequence of this is that they inevitably end up pissing off an INTJ at the very moment when he is trying to do his damnedest to articulate what seems so blindingly obvious to him that he finds it bizarre that he has to even bother attempting to explain it to anyone else. And this is the biggest mistake that anyone can ever make with a highly introverted, highly gifted person.

As commenter Eduardo the Magnificent pointed out in response to an earlier post:
My big don't: I don't talk much, so when I do, it's important. Don't ignore, interrupt or belittle the speaker. Extroverts love to talk over each other, but there's nothing more disrespectful to an introvert. If the speaker pauses to collect his thoughts, don't take that as an invitation to cram 40,000 sentences of drivel and change the subject.
Every INTJ I have ever known is a relatively slow and laconic talker. My father and I are both INTJs, and both of us like to take the time to speak carefully, so that our words may be clearly understood. It is from my dad that I learned how to listen carefully and respectfully- because that is how he operates. I rarely interrupt people when they speak, as I would prefer to listen and be sure that I have heard and processed all of the information available before responding.

Unfortunately, this courtesy is rarely returned in kind. And as noted above, there is nothing more irritating to an INTJ than this. We absolutely HATE being interrupted. If we have taken the time to formulate a chain of reasoning and wish to subject it to more rigourous testing, then we expect to be able to express that reasoning in full.

If you don't want to hear it, just tell us up front. We'll simply shrug and get on with our day. We don't like having our time wasted.

On the rare occasions that we're being stupid, of course, then it is perfectly acceptable to interrupt and shoot us down. Better by far that a bad thought process be interrupted before it becomes downright idiotic, than to allow us to commit the cardinal sin of accepting as true that which is plainly false.

But if we're right, or if we're trying to explain something carefully so that you can understand it, interrupting us is a great way to disrespect what we have to say. At that point, we will usually do one of two things.

Either we will simply stop talking to you, because we know that you are clueless about what is truly important. Or we will make it clear that your presence is unwelcome, and do whatever it takes to remove ourselves from it.

In either situation, the likely loser will be you, not us.

Almost all of the above, by the way, probably indicates why Vox Day and others like him make perfect sense to me, and why I am almost never angered or offended by what Vox has to write. The simple fact is that he is right about most things. And he is right because he has taken great pains to observe the world around him for what it is, not what he wants it to be, and has then compared his thought processes to those observations with a level of rigour and scrutiny that is unusual even by INTJ standards.

And that is almost certainly why he won last night's debate. I didn't watch it, but I am quite familiar with the arguments that he would have made, and I am not the least bit surprised that even a U Chicago-trained economist had an immensely hard time dealing with the remorseless siege machine that is Vox's mind.

So, the next time you find yourself talking to a deeply introverted guy who really seems to know his shit, and you ask him how he could possibly think what he just said, and he gives you a look like you've just grown a second head, don't be too alarmed. He probably isn't the problem- you are.


  1. This is what I've been working on over the last year. I've pretty much relinquished all of my prior preconceived notions of how the world works and I must say it's rather alleviating. It's probably why I comment more in consent than in intellectual agreement or disagreement.

  2. It doesn't mean that I can't parrot back the latest arguments about X subject, though. It just means I don't know how they were developed.

    1. Liberating, is it not? Once you start questioning as much as you can, and you start finding your own answers instead of the ones you were taught, the world suddenly begins to make far more sense because you end up matching theory to observation, instead of attempting to bend the ugly facts to fit the pretty idea.

    2. No, not really. I'm finding it more ensnaring.

    3. It gets better with time and experience. The challenge lies in sorting out signal from noise, which gets easier over time once you learn what questions legitimately point to the signal, and what questions merely introduce more noise.

  3. I agree with most of what you are saying but intelligence plays a role here as well. How many times did you find yourself staring at a maths problem and after half an hour and two balls of scrap paper you reached for your phone to get help from a maths 'genius' friend only to tell you 'Dude it's obvious, you have to do blah blah...Duh' (assuming you are not a maths 'genius' yourself).

    I'm also a hardcore introvert but I think what you are talking about here has a lot to do with intelligence as well. If your work is highly complicated as you say then chances are that your intelligence trumps those of the average people who look at your reasoning behind the solution to a problem and have an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy and all they can think of is 'Not in a million years I will be able to go through this kind of logical reasoning with my own mind'.

    I'm not saying that you don't work hard in order to come up with such solutions, but your frustrations is less likely to stem from your personality trait.

    1. I agree with most of what you are saying but intelligence plays a role here as well

      Very true. Intelligence absolutely is a factor, a big one. I didn't bring it up (much) because I don't like bragging about my IQ- mostly because, although I am (by IQ standards) pretty smart, there are far smarter people out there. My IQ registers in the 135 range or so, which is not bad; but there are people who read this blog, and people whose work I read, are FAR smarter than me, in the 150-range.

      If your work is highly complicated as you say then chances are that your intelligence trumps those of the average people who look at your reasoning behind the solution to a problem and have an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy and all they can think of is 'Not in a million years I will be able to go through this kind of logical reasoning with my own mind'.

      Yep. That happens all the time. The tricky part of my job is not so much the "what" I do- the technical side isn't that hard. The tricky part is explaining it to people in such a way as to avoid making them feel bad. FEELZ, needless to say, is not my strong suit.

  4. I find it an incurable annoyance, having to carefully prepare my line of reasoning to be consumed by a mildly intelligent audience. This pales to the EXCRUCIATING torture of having to fortify my logic against the battering ram of rote "critical path thinking" ... popular arguments used to bypass and undermine the complexity of the root cause and solutions I uncover (extrovert tactical observation: summarizing vs thinking). When trying to democratize the INTJ logic, I think we all are faced with a similar dilemma.


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