When Intuitry Beats Memory
Tuesday December 11, 2018
Note: Thanks to kind reader Mike, who provided an audio narration of this article. [MP3, 13MB]
In talking to a psychiatrist friend recently, I was struck by how frantic we are, as a culture, about memory. We’re all about strengthening it and preventing the loss of it, and our research into the human mind condition emphasizes all of this memory work. This is starkly opposed to the topic of intuitry, or an ability to use the intuition, to conceptualize, to visualize, to integrate the inner world’s imagery and idea space.
The role of memory is especially dominant in areas we value most nowadays, like productivity. Do you remember the thing you needed to do? Do you remember how to do it? Do you remember when you said you’d have it done? Do you remember where you left off? I find that all of these questions must be answered in order to maintain a highly engaged level of productivity. In the productivity triangle, the “Clarity point” so often means building direct access to that memory, or in the worst case just rewriting that memory—a real time-waster.
And yet…we’re better than that. We as INTJs are far above that level. Many of us don’t even realize it. We push ourselves to remember: If I could only remember every piece of knowledge of domain X, I’d be an unstoppable reference! If I could only remember my goals every waking moment of the day, I’d work on them more often! If I could only remember my client’s kids’ names and other family details, I’d mention those things more often and win their favor!
A while back I started a file for myself, a sort of dossier to read, for whenever it happens that I completely lose my memory. For that day when I come to my senses and I have no idea who I am and who I’m supposed to be. Such an event will probably never happen, but it was an interesting experience. The file is called “Who I Am” and it sits in the root of my writings folder, now a labyrinth of thousands of journal entries, mental models, tips on watering the office plant, and so on.
Why so much memory?
Looking at the date on this file for a clue as to the why, I wrote it during an extremely challenging time, when I worked closely with a team of ISTJs, people who absolutely worship the concept of “recall,” as it is their dominant Jungian psychological function, introverted sensing (Si).
ISTJs are famously productive, as a type. As individuals, sure, I know some really slovenly ISTJs who sit around and don’t do much, who are in the wrong career and who have been in therapy for years. But as a type, ISTJs are nothing if not productive. Our modern culture really highly reveres the ISTJ. The logistician. The Jeff Bezos, the type of person who is slowly but steadily tying all the loose ends together and making it all work like a machine.
The ISTJ—again, as a type— remembers. If you want to help out an ISTJ, if they’re stressed, if you need to distract them while you pick their pocket—just ask them about their past. “Where did you grow up?” “What do you remember about your parents?” “Do you remember your first day on the job?” Very little why, and a lot of what and who mixed in with a reasonable amount of when.
These past experiences inform the ISTJ’s functional mode of judgment, their executive ability, their organization toward getting stuff done.
And this type of psychology, in turn, informs an entire world economy of stuff-doers.
To be a stuff-doer, you have to be, at some level, a stuff-learner. So you learn stuff by doing it, and you remember how you did it, or you go through a bunch of classes and you get a sheet of paper that says you learned stuff. And you have to learn a lot of stuff! So much that it’s overwhelming. So we come around to the modern higher education system, which heavily rewards rote memory as a result. Can you read or write something, and just remember it? Phew, I’m so glad—you’ll pass. Do you need to work with the data, really apply it, see the outcome, in order to remember that thing? Ah, I’m so sorry—you’ll likely struggle, as do many INTJs, in higher education.
In the NT and NF category, I believe this explains at least partially why the intuitive psychologies so widely seen in big-picture-thinking academia are those of the INTP and the INFP, likely followed by the ENTP and ENFP. Here you have people who take a very Si-friendly approach to learning, people who need to see the details. The INTJ professor is rare. Not rarest, but rare, in comparison. The INTP and INFP can do rote learning, and in fact if you just aren’t picking up the theory, they’ll often encourage rote learning before they’ll encourage project-based learning.
Well, going back to Who Am I and the frightening prospect of losing my memory—I was wrapped up in Si at that time, working with lots of ISTJs. When I got an email from one of them, the character of the email was usually: “Did you remember? Just a reminder!” So I’m not surprised that it struck me to remember. Remember! At the same time, I was memorizing and trying to remember countless other things as well.
And—it wore me out. I couldn’t do it anymore and had to quit working so closely with that team. The symptoms were coming back. For me, the heavy symptoms of overkill-focus on Si proceed like this:
- Mild: Let’s organize and schedule everything!
- Medium: Let’s memorize lots of things, too! Let’s also study and improve our memory systems! Memory pegs, roman rooms, chaining…
- Terrifying: Depression (productivity exhaustion), suicidal ideation, development of speech disorders.
Meanwhile, experiencing this mutiny of my own psychology, I’m watching “better memorizers” whiz by, happily checking off their lists.
As I backed away from these experiences, simultaneously learning my way around my personal psychology, I got to this Point of Anti-memory in the INTJ psychology: The intuition.
What is Intuitry?
To contrast the intuition with the memory, I’ll call it “intuitry.” Not that intuition isn’t a good word; it just needed a little surgery to call out the contrast against the memory.
Intuitry and Memory can and should and will always to some degree work together, of course. Each can inspire and feed the other. (And there’s another -ry word in here: Livingry toward which we’d better push with a combination of intuitry and memory).
But intuitry is more like anti-memory in the sense that it pre-calls, rather than re-calls.
Memory can tell you the task you were supposed to complete today, the one you are duty-bound to complete. Intuitry can tell you the task that you can complete today, the one your psychology is absolutely ready for.
Memory can tell you the person you were supposed to meet today. Intuitry can tell you the person you need to find today.
Memory can tell you the way you did this task before. Intuitry can tell you the way you’ll do this task today, or further in the future.
Memory can tell you that you saved your notes in Microsoft Word last time, using its outlining feature. Intuitry can tell you to draw your notes in Microsoft Paint next time, using colors, metaphor, and visual depth.
Intuitry is pre- and pro-. It is proactive, it is preventative. It is precognizant, it is prospective.
We INTJs have something deeply special, in our intuitry. Intuition is our dominant Jungian function—Ni. Introverted intuition. We receive subjectively-meaningful imagery and metaphor all the time. Opening up that feed is just a matter of giving attention to it.
If ever there was a reason to shape the job to fit the tool, this alone is it. No tool better fits our grip, our working style, our comfort zone. In the role-playing game of life, you will get no higher dice-roll bonus modifier for using a tool than you will for using this one.
If you’re a sick INTJ and can’t get things done—intuit first, memorize later.
If you’re an ineffective INTJ and can’t find your true self in your work—intuit first, productivize later.
If you’re a powerful INTJ and just aren’t sure what’s next—intuit first, continue with the work of your past later—if ever.
In doing this work, we expose a powerful part of ourselves to the world. Unfortunately, we can’t expect the world to begin singing its praises. After all, this is an aspect of human psychology to which most of the world would prefer to give no attention. I cannot emphasize that enough. But this was never our job, to be the standard package, so to speak.
Finding our way with intuitry may be difficult at first. At a personal level, it may require that you engage in new research, new learning, and the development of new tools. Conveniently though, these are different things than what you’re probably doing now. And by being different, they hold a special appeal to the INTJ. Things that hold your appeal are more likely to motivate you. Motivation is its own domain of energy—it is the opposite of being depressed, feeling sick, and losing hope.
By coining this term intuitry, my hope is that in the midst of our contextual cultural rush toward productivity, we can give even more room to the great-strides work of the deep and symbolic inner mind. Just as we are surrounded by the biggest-picture questions of all time, now is the perfect time in the human evolution to emphasize and further leverage the human intuition.
Did I mention that you can play a big role in that?
Here are some of my intuitive notes. Yep—Microsoft Paint, or Kolourpaint in Linux. Or something else—maybe a colored pencil drawing based on what I see in the freckles on my arm.
In taking these notes to corral the workings of the intuitry, I either start drawing and see what comes out, or I ask myself what I need to do and then draw the imagery that comes to mind. Symbol-analysis is a key follow-on. What do the symbols, colors, and shapes suggest? What feelings do they bring to mind?
In many cases these processes will give me a sort of ignition-answer, from “take it easy—rest, do nothing” to “start on this task first,” while in other cases the result is a sort of pro-phecy: “The timeline will look like this. Here’s how things will go.” Relating these answers to other people, when others are concerned in the problem-sphere, can be difficult (the subject-to-object gap of the intuition can require a lot of patience to bridge on the part of both parties), but it can also bring about deeply satisfying co-intuitive experiences.
It’s all symbolic, metaphorical, directive, didactic (on the part of my subconscious). It’s terribly subjective—I wouldn’t trust another person to interpret a single one of these drawings unless they knew me inside and out, though by analyzing the forms I’m sure some expression of the kind of person I am could be derived.
And it works. My Si-dominant friends, the ISTJ and the ISFJ, tell me they wish they could have it. In fact, I wonder—would those friends develop speech impediments if they tried to integrate my dominant function to the same degree I have tried to integrate theirs? Hmm…
Each one of the intuitive drawings above was, at the time, more powerful for me than a checklist, or a meeting, or a schedule.
(And it’s not limited to drawing: For further cues, look to the music you’re listening to, the clothes you’re wearing, the food that sounds pleasant right now. What do the textures, harmonies, contrasts, and forms bring to mind?)