Ni is orienting yourself by an explicit representation of the mapping between signs and meaning. For example, "This dark-stained mahogany table is supposed to make me think the owner is upper-class" or "We put north at the top of maps (rather than, say, the bottom or the right), because northern countries traditionally had more power, and we perceive 'higher on the page' to mean 'more important'." From an Ni standpoint, one doesn't feel oriented until one can articulate explicitly what are the signs one is supposed to look at and what are the meanings one is supposed to take from them.
Because the mental space that Ni "lives in" is the world of all possible ways of mapping signs to meanings, Ni leads you to consider not only the accepted ways of mapping signs to meanings, but others.
For example, why couldn't dark-stained mahogany mean "lower class"? For example, what if instead of viewing failing a test as an occasion for shame, we viewed it as an occasion for celebration? How might our lives change if we merely rewired the interpretations we are giving to things?
An Ni perspective leads one to seek out the leverage points of any system. What is triggering what? What "good faith" assumptions are being made, and what would happen if those assumptions were violated? For example, ants "interpret" certain pheromones as "meaning" that something is a larva that needs to be fed. Some parasites have evolved the ability to give off these same pheromones, triggering the ants to feed them. The parasites have found a way to game the system by exploiting its assumptions. The parasites don't orient by Ni, of course, but this kind of analysis takes an Ni approach. One can apply this same kind of analysis to almost anything: looking at a system not through the lens of "how it's supposed to work", but from outside the system, merely characterizing how it converts a sign into an interpretation, triggering a cascade of behaviors.
Lenore characterizes Ni as "about the box" as opposed to Extraverted Intuition's "outside the box"
. That is, an Ni orientation leads you to describe the assumptions and rules that a given system of thought or perception is following.
Ni on this perspective is a decidedly left-brain orientation. It doesn't lead you to flow with anything or even participate. It leads you to stop, get "into your head", and even act in ways that go against the spirit of a system
, or to think about ways that going with the spirit of rules can lead to unexpected and undesired results.
In contrast to most other definitions, this one has nothing mysterious or particularly "intuitive" about it. Ni on this definition is simply a matter of looking at things from a "meta" perspective, explicitly characterizing how signs are getting mapped to meanings.
This simple definition, combined with the idea of ego-orientation, explains the many standard observations about NJs and SPs: the "commenting from an outside perspective" usually seen in INJs, the coldly "objective, impersonal" style usually seen in INTJs, the interest in pointing out that social myths exist to support power structures usually seen in INFJs, the interest in gaming a system or throwing a monkey wrench into it usually seen in SPs, the seeking of the social "cat-bird seat" usually seen in ENJs, the endless levels of meta-discussion found in INJ-filled academia, etc.