INTP (introversion, intuition, thinking, perception) is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to refer to one of the 16 personality types. The MBTI assessment was developed from the work of prominent psychiatrist Carl G. Jung in his book Psychological Types. Jung proposed a psychological typology based on the theories of cognitive functions that he developed through his clinical observations. From Jung’s work, others developed psychological typologies. Jungian personality assessments include the MBTI assessment, developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Cook Briggs, and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS), developed by David Keirsey. Keirsey referred to INTPs as Architects, one of the four types belonging to the temperament he called the Rationals. INTPs are one of the rarest personality types, accounting for 1–5% of the U.S. population.
Thales, der für den frühesten der griechischen Philosophen gilt, wurde schon von der Magd verlacht, die ihn bei Beobachtung des Sternenhimmels in den Brunnen fallen sah. Warum sucht er das Fernste, wenn er im Nächsten so ungeschickt ist!
Karl Jaspers: Einführung in die Philosophie, 1953, S. 16
“Es gibt vortreffliche Menschen,” sagte Goethe, “die nichts aus dem Stegreife, nichts obenhin zu tun vermögen, sondern deren Natur es verlangt, ihre jedesmaligen Gegenstände mit Ruhe tief zu durchdringen. Solche Talente machen uns oft ungeduldig, indem man selten von ihnen erlangt, was man augenblicklich wünscht; allein auf diesem Wege wird das Höchste geleistet.”
Eckermann: Gespräche mit Goethe, 25. & 28. Februar 1824, S. 90
Famous INTPs might include Thomas Aquinas, Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, James Madison, Jimmy Wales, Sergey Brin & Larry Page
The credit of the “smartest type” is often given to the INTP’s Judging counterpart, the INTJ. This really boils down to what type of epistemology you’re working with. If you’re working with society’s standard go-to, easy-to-measure, concrete definition, that is, who can get the highest grades, the best test scores, the highest IQ, then INTJ’s will rule out on top. This is because of their Judging function over the INTP, which allows them to make quick assessments without having to actually think much about anything. In this sense, it’s not unlikely for an ESTJ, ESFJ, or ISTJ to intellectually outdo the INTP as well, even though that INTP may be mental miles ahead of that XSXJ. But if you’re coming from a more philosophical idea of knowledge and intelligence, then INTP’s take the cake, no argument. Their Perception function over the INTJ allows them to conglomerate experiences, compare, and divulge in such a deeper manner than the INTJ can. INTP’s aren’t as concerned with physical limitations as INTJ’s are. A good way to imagine this difference is the INTJ as a scientist and the INTP as a philosopher. Once the scientist runs out of funding, and can’t afford his expensive microscopic instruments anymore, it is difficult for him to continue on in his field. But philosophy requires very little if any material at all to conduct, and the INTP’s never-ending inquisitive nature allows him to do his thinking nonstop in nearly every situation.
Like other introverts, INTPs can be anxious and self-conscious characters. It is not uncommon for them to display a handful of nervous habits, or at least some sign that they are not at ease. They generally avoid direct eye contact, as though the gaze of their interlocutor may somehow harm them or render them incapable of thinking or communicating. INTPs often have enough insecurity about the discombobulated nature of their Ne expressions in the first place. Feeling that someone else is watching or critiquing them only makes it worse. Like INFPs, INTPs can be slow to disclose the contents of their inner world. As strange as it may seem to other types, INTPs often conceal some of their most dominant personality features, namely, their highly cerebral, rational side. It may only be a select few who are granted full access to this side of the INTP. Others may only encounter INTPs’ inner world through encounters with their work, such as by reading something they have written. This may explain why many INTPs often take interest in writing, which provides an excellent forum for expressing themselves more fully and precisely.
Because of their reluctance to freely display the rational dimension of their personality, as well as the scattered nature of their Ne expressions, INTPs often feel their true level of knowledge and competence goes unnoticed by others. This is especially common in the workplace, where their lack of enthusiasm for organizational life, combined with their quirky outward demeanor, may be mistaken for incompetence. As discussed in my post on INTP careers, INTPs can struggle to find satisfying jobs within the system and are often happier functioning as freelancers or entrepreneurs.
When it comes to relationships, INTPs can also have a rough go of things. While they can use their Ne and Fe to attract potential mates, INTPs’ internal tug-of-war between their Ti and Fe, between their independence (Ti) and the relationship (Fe), can inspire a host of problems. This will be elaborated later in this profile in our discussion of INTPs’ Fe inferior function.
In some regards, it is only through exploring most, if not all, his theoretical options (what other types might see as rabbit trails), that the INTP can feel confident that he is moving toward his goal of discovering convergent truth. And consider this frustrating dilemma: the INTP may actually be a substantial way through the maze and approximating the endpoint, but being unable to see clearly see the endpoint, he has little way of knowing that this is the case. As such, he may be sorely tempted and even give in to the urge to go backward in order to exhaust unexplored paths for the ultimate purpose of proceeding down the correct one with a higher degree of certainty. Where INTPs hit a wall (no pun intended) is when this mental backtracking and exhausting of unexplored paths leads to the discovery of even more unexplored paths. The INTP can suddenly feel overwhelmed and wearied, forgetting why he rerouted himself in the first place and questioning everything he thought he knew. Beleaguered, the INTP may throw his hands up in the air proclaiming that nothing can be known and that no answer exists. With the aid of Si, however, the INTP can put a halt to his irrational worrying and recall the myriad things he knows with certainty: that certain paths traversed do NOT work. And by remembering what does NOT work, he can feel confident that he does, in fact, know something.
To other types, the INTP’s approach can look like sheer lunacy, but to the INTP, it seems a rational necessity when viewed from inside the maze. To be sure, this process can at times feel very frustrating or overwhelming to the INTP (imagine yourself lost in a maze without a map). With so many options before him and very little assurance that one route is any better than another (besides what his Si can afford him at familiar crossroads), it is easy for him to feel discouraged when encountering one dead after another. This, by the way, happens to be the way INTPs garner a reputation for being naysayers and pessimists, not to mention aimless wanderers.