David Bowie: Discerning Ni-dom

Can we talk about two things?

One is David Bowie.

The other is how “easy” it is to be (mis)typed as a Ni-dom online.

I watch people automatically type characters and celebrities as Ni-dom all the time, when they show absolutely zero emphasis on actual Ni. Basically, it comes down to a method like this:

+ Oh, you’re not sentimental or traditional – you must be Ni.

+ You’re intelligent and can talk about abstract stuff sometimes – Ni.

+ You question authority and do your own thing – Ni.

+ You’re not like other people and can’t relate to your SJ parents – Ni.

But that … is not Ni. None of that is Ni. NONE OF IT.


David Bowie was Ni.

This interview is a classic example of Ni-dom. About 6 minutes in, the interviewer brings up the internet and Bowie lights up like a fire engine and starts high-abstracting. You get the feeling that this is really all he wanted to talk about, and he would go on talking about it, endlessly, if he could. None of it is tangible. All of it is impressionistic and subjective and the interviewer is totally lost. He looks on, confused, trying to pull Bowie back to specific examples and tangible things and Bowie keeps going. The internet is a powerful force of rebellion. It is an alien invading our lives. Its vast potential is untapped. Art is not complete until the gray space inside it is filled in, until people project their interpretation onto it and become part of the art itself.

Look at the art Bowie creates. Read his lyrics. Intangible. Personal symbolism. Nothing pertaining to reality that has not been highly subverted and recreated into abstract symbols and hidden meanings. He says that it’s hard for him to create art because it never feels it is entirely complete – he is trying to express an internal Ni impressionism into reality and it doesn’t always work. That is how introverted functions all are to some degree – almost insanely difficult to get out of your head into lyrics or writing or art – but Ni is so impressionistic that the result is “weird” to a level that you rarely see in other types.

Better yet, watch his music videos. What do they mean? What does HE mean? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it, specifically? What is he saying with “I’m Afraid of Americans”? It is a judgment on America’s reputation for violence and at the end he concludes “God is an American.” What does that mean? That Bowie fears God? That God is violent and thus an immoral force? It’s impressionistic. It’s unclear. More lies under it than is readily apparent to interpretation. And, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Look at his 70′s and 80′s appearances on SNL. The weird outfits, the weird background aesthetics, which … were surreal and untouched by reality in any way, an attempt to manifest an inner abstract concept in visible form – which often turns grotesque in some way (this is still true of his later music videos). That is Ni. All Ni. So much damn Ni.


Remember that, when you’re looking for Ni celebrities or even assessing your own personality. It isn’t enough to abstract once in awhile or for fun (and there is a difference between generalized Ne-abstracting and Ni high abstracting). It isn’t enough to make a weird comment now and again. It isn’t enough to talk in metaphors. It isn’t enough to be creative or intelligent or take an interest in the realm of abstraction. It isn’t enough to find small talk boring or daydream or have a single goal for your life.

Those things are not Ni.

Unless Carey Mulligan, or Benedict Cumberbatch, or God forbid, Taylor Swift, can do this Bowie-level Ni consistently throughout their conversational history and choices in life, unless their entire worldview and artistic history is saturated in Ni, they are not in any way, shape, or form Ni-doms.

On a minor note, given Bowie’s delight in introducing new concepts to people and inspiring them to create their own subjective impressionistic art, and his clear preference for intense analyzing, he was likely INFJ… one of the few actually legitimate ones in the industry.

Cross posted to my tumblr.

26 Replies to “David Bowie: Discerning Ni-dom”

  1. Thanks for this great example of a Ni-dom musician. I have gotten INFJ once when I took an online MBTI test (I’ve gotten other results taking the test at different times in my life), and I know that deep down, I am NOT an Ni-dom. I’m still trying to figure out my type (none of the extroverted functions fit me as dom, and I’m not Ni-dom). By the way, I have learned so, so much from your tumblr blog. And one of the submitted profile posts got me started on a show (Avatar: The Last Airbender, post was on Princess Azula, ENTJ). How cool is that? 😀

    You mentioned Taylor Swift. What type would you say she is? Her songs seem ESFJ.

    I’ve been reading the other comments here, and am wondering: what type do you think best represents the “lay” person? Or, which type is most likely to win an award for “Most Average Person”? I guess it can differ by country though, and their different societal expectations masking peoples’ true types. Ooh, here’s a future idea to discuss – what types have traits valued by what countries?

    1. Taylor Swift is an ESFJ, yes. Her songs bleed SiNe and Fe.

      I hate to answer that question, because it implies by extension that “boring” people are all of a specific type, when in reality boring people are simply those who have yet to waken their full potential, irregardless of type.

      But the most people who populate the world are sensors, in general.

      1. ^ Yes! I see that; a lot of people have more potential than they actually utilize, but life throws many stressors that can get in the way.

        I was recently thinking about what types/functions suit which singing voices. Singing is one of my interests, and I’ve been reading a lot about it. Have you ever thought that certain singing styles seem to fit well with certain types? (Well, part of it is also overall musical style choice.)

          1. True. Though in musicals and cartoons, there sometimes is a pattern between the character’s temperament and the voices chosen for them.

            “boring people are simply those who have yet to waken their full potential, irregardless of type.”

            ^I like this. Oh, and when I meant “most average”, I meant “most representative of the human population in general”, which doesn’t necessarily mean boring.

            Speaking of “boring”, SJs (unfairly) have this reputation. There’s this one episode of a show I watch, in which an SJ character tries to prove she can have fun: “See? Fun!”

  2. It is hilarious to me, and sort of sad, that all it takes for people to respond to your blog posts is for you to post about MBTI. WHY?! You post about so much other awesome stuff!!!! People need to respond to everything and not just MBTI related posts!

    Ahem, moving on off the soapbox, I wondered where this post vanished to and am thrilled to see it back. And now I have a really clear picture about Ni and I totally understand now why Bowie has always confused and confounded me. Just listening to Moonage Daydream is enough to make me shake my head because every bit of it is abstract or metaphor for things I will never understand because it was all inside his own head. Man, no wonder I don’t get him! But that’s okay. He was a genius in his own right, I’m sure, well loved, but waaaaaaay beyond my hemisphere.

    1. MBTI interests people because we are all either searching for a sense of self or where we belong.

      But thank you for the encouragement. 🙂

      That is how Ni appears in people… and how it appears in visualization. (An entire movie of Ni would be “The Fountain”!) I like Bowie, but he is a bit of a mystery. I like his “I’m Afraid of Americans.” The video is also less weird than a lot of his stuff. But most of his videos are pure Ni expressionism. Fascinating stuff.

  3. You said “and there is a difference between generalized Ne-abstracting and Ni high abstracting”. Could you clarify this a bit more?

    1. Try John Lennon — THIS interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EL4to_3p260) in particular is a terrific showcase of Ne-dom.

      Look how often he references the Si mantra of “this is how it’s always been, and always will be…” Yoko Ono kicks in with some NiFe (she’s INFJ) for about two minutes and then Lennon just Ne’s over the top of her, and is broad and generalizing and not at all conceptually intuitively deep in any way — just skimming the surface of abstractions and tying in unrelated concepts as they occur to him. (I actually wish he’d let her talk more, I was interested in her perceptions and thoughts on what the interviewer was asking.)

      1. Huh, interesting. I have a whole lot of thoughts, but I’m not really able to articulate them in writing right now, or explain with enough precision that I’m ok with sharing them. (Talking in person is so much easier in some ways.)
        Anyway, I’ll try. Here goes:

        As a likely high Ne user (INTP), Ni users seem a little more abstract in some ways. More… fuzzy? That’s where the “Intangible. Personal symbolism.” part that you mentioned in the article comes in. Although it’s possible I’m mistaking the Fe of INFJ’s, which might add some of that “personal” difference. It would interesting to have some INTJs to compare here as well.
        Ne, on the other hand, seems a little more connective. In my brain, the Ti/Ne (if I’m right about my type) feels a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. I’m trying to constantly see everything clearly enough, so that I can connect a whole bunch of pieces and make a broad whole. If I don’t have a piece defined enough (Ti, I think), then I won’t have any idea which other pieces to connect it to (Ne, I think). But it’s never about the piece itself, or seeing all the meaning of it, or the future of it. Which seems Ni.

        Does that make sense at all?

        I think I understand Lennon’s conversational style a bit more, although his interrupting of Yoko Ono gets rather annoying. I have a strong principle to let other people talk if they wish to, which counteracts my tendency towards this a bit, fortunately.

        1. Ni to me seems more… obscure than Ne. With Ne, you get a general sense of what they are talking about and can communicate more easily with them on a level that is tied in some way to “how life has always been” (like Lennon said, kids have always had sex and always will; it’s only that people are more aware of it now, and they may be jealous that they were not as uninhibited as a teenager).

          Ni is more personal and subversive and often difficult for others to comprehend — as is the case with many of Bowie’s surreal music videos or even the film “The Fountain.” What does it mean? It’s a sequence of images, shifting back and forth between the ancient past and the present and the future; but what is the meaning??? That’s Ni. Often incomprehensible to outsiders.

          Ni tends to be just as weird in INTJs as well, but you see it less often; NiTi creates double-abstracting whereas Te grounds the INTJ into more straightforward speech. (Anne Rand would be a great example of an INTJ if you want to watch her interviews; all high abstractions but very frankly expressed.)

          What you describe does sound common to the TiNe; unlike the ENTP, the INTP has to test ideas for logical truth before integrating them into the whole (Ne).

          Yes, he did interrupt her too much. That is fairly common in FiTe types who are fully engaged in the conversation or following a Ne-trail of thought.

          1. I agree with you about Ni being more obscure than Ne–at least for outside observers. My Ni ideas are much clearer INSIDE my head than outside of it . . . if that makes sense. I have these Ni “visions” that I sort of dig up from deep inside my brain, and even though *I* can see them clearly, I can’t even always express them to myself in words. So you can guess what happens when I try to express them to other people–oftentimes, people who don’t even use Ni. I usually have to fall back on using simple language and highly convoluted imagery that leaves people looking at me like, “Um . . . WHAT?” It’s funny, because I’m usually a very articulate person, but when I’m in the middle of Ni-abstracting I’m anything but articulate. I think it confuses my teachers sometimes . . . Oh, well.

          2. Jessica:
            I’ve heard a lot that that’s a sign of Ni, being unable to explain your thoughts easily. Except that I have that too, frequently. Now it might just be that I am mistaken about my Ne use. But I also think it might be because intuitive in general can sometimes find it difficult, since they don’t think as concretely as sensor types. And maybe it also depends on the person’s learning styles? I’m not sure if ease of verbalization is necessarily completely connected to personality type.
            On the other hand, I don’t think I ever use convoluted imagery, like you. I use a lot of metaphors instead, and try to get across the idea that’s very clear in my head by finding the distinct similarity it has with other ideas. So maybe that’s a Ni/Ne difference there too?

          3. If you are INTP, it’s Ti that you’re having trouble articulating.

            None of the introverted functions are easily translated into dialogue, and all of them wind up being highly abstract in their nature.

            Ni – abstract concepts.
            Si – abstract sensations.
            Ti – abstract logic.
            Fi – abstract ethics.

          4. So I suppose what I have to clarify is the difference between Ti and Ni. What exactly IS the difference between “abstract concepts” and “abstract logic”? Logic always seems to have conotations of linearity, which it doesn’t seem to have in my brain, but maybe because I also have Ne? I just “feel” an idea very clearly, and can compare and contrast it easily with other ideas, though not necessarily explain anything.

            By the way, I did have an official typologist person video chat with me and think I was an INTP, although I can’t help thinking she might have missed some things (maybe because I wasn’t able to explain things well). Also she first thought I was INTJ, which I’m definitely not .

          5. Ti is logical precision. Something logical weighed very heavily and carefully so that it is completely and utterly thought through and precise. You see this in INTPs in their tendency to cover every area of logic in sharing their theory, before delving into the inevitable Ne rabbit-trails and side explanations (the alternatives and opposing arguments).

            Ne is the ability to see multiple perspectives on an issue simultaneously and hold them to be equal in their merit / worth, without desiring to commit to one particular train of belief or thought.

            Ti manifests in INTPs in eliminating some of Ne’s purity in this sense, by first rationally testing all theories and conflicting ideas with pure rationality first (does this make sense??). The IPs are therefore more narrow than the EPs because the EPs have no such filter — the ENTP processes ideas independently before handing it over to logic, the INTP processes the logic of the idea before fully entertaining it.

          6. (She thought I was INTJ when the video part of the chat wasn’t working. Apparently seeing me made a difference too, which is interesting.)

          7. (I’m not sure where this reply is going to end up in the “chain”–hopefully it goes to the end, where I want it. If not, my apologies.)

            My oldest brother is Ne-dominant (ENTP), so it’s quite interesting to see the difference between his intuition and mine. He definitely has the tendency Charity is talking about, of being able to see all the possible solutions at once AND believe that they can all be true. And my Ni, on the other hand, is like, “Nope. Sorry. You have to pick ONE.” It certainly makes for some fascinating conversations 😉

            He is also much, much more articulate than I am–he never seems to struggle with putting his thoughts into words the way I do (and the way my INTJ sister also does.) I guess that’s because he’s Ne-Ti, rather than Ti-Ne, like an INTP (so his dominant function is extraverted and therefore more objective?)

          8. Ne is… an interesting function to have. I’ve conflicted with Ni’s before in their insistence of “pick one.” No, I can’t. Frodo in LotR represents ALL THESE THINGS, you have to see them all!!

          9. I don’t mind seeing multiple possibilities/solutions . . . but I prefer to pick ONE main solution and concentrate on that. Like, I’ve never read LotR; but if I had, I would probably acknowledge that “yes, Frodo COULD represent a lot of different things, but I prefer to emphasize just one of them.”

            Out of curiosity, is Ne more common than Ni? Or–maybe–is high-order Ne more common than high-order Ni? Because I find that my tendency to insist that “you CANNOT hold two contradictory beliefs as true; you MUST aim for absolute consistency” seems a little . . . odd to most other people. So I was thinking, well, maybe most of them just don’t use Ni, or use low-order Ni, or something along those lines.

          10. I have quite a few high Ni-friends (ENFJ, INFJ, and INTJ) and for them, the tendency is to mull… and mull… and mull… and take in information, but once they do reach a solution or conclusion, it is singular and absolute and unlikely to shift. Sometimes, my Ne confuses them or brings to light something they might have missed; and their Ni does the same for me. (Like, I asked one of them what Bowie meant in his song about fearing Americans and she gave me a straightforward explanation that made me go o.O)

            I think that yes, Ne-dom/aux is more common than Ni-dom; but sensors outnumber intuitives by about 60 to 1… IF you want to believe statistics.

            However, it bears mentioning that Si-doms are inclined to the “one answer” desire too. However, it is Ti that ascribes to the desire for absolute consistency as well — so for the INFJ, there’s a lot of scrutinizing and absolutism going on.

            But no, most people do not use high Ni.

          11. That is a completely accurate description of my general thought process–“to mull, and mull, and mull” over something until–BOOM–I reach my conclusion and it’s not likely to change anytime soon. Although, yes, just like you were saying, my Ne-dom brother is often able to point out new perspectives and angles that I hadn’t thought of before, and I do find that helpful . . . Between his Ne/Ti, my Ni/Fe, and my sister’s Ni/Te, the three of us can pick apart the plot of basically any movie or book known to mankind. It’s a killer combination 🙂

            Interesting. That kind of confirms what I’ve noticed in my own life–only very rarely have I run into anyone who seems like they might share my high-order Ni function. In a way, though, I’m kind of glad because I think that if everybody was Ni-dom like me, society would pretty much fall apart. We do our best, but practical concerns are generally not our strong point.

          12. That sounds… familiar.

            I sometimes complain because between my Ne and my friends’ Ni, we can argue 36 different angles on the same material and wind up back where we started, with no real answer to any of the 10,000 questions we posed during our discussion. And it is true that Ni/Ne pick up on different things, so we continually surprise one another with angles or thoughts the other person has not thought about.

            Haha, yes, if intuitives ran the world… yeah, not good.

  4. I don’t want to sound intellectually stuck-up, or anything–but I honestly do not understand why the interviewer is so confused. What Bowie is saying isn’t so abstract–or, at least, it’s not what I automatically label “abstract.” To me it just seems like a completely normal way of thinking and talking about ideas. It’s just what I DO.

      1. And I’m afraid I AM one 😉

        But really, until I started looking into MBTI and cognitive functions, I never thought of myself as an “intuitive” or “abstracting” individual, at all. I just thought . . . well, I guess I thought that’s the way EVERBODY’S mind worked.

        Perhaps I’ve been slightly “spoiled” by being raised by a Ni-dominant mother and having at least one Ni-dom sibling . . . 😉

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