Cognitive processes, or gear-shifting
In "cognitive processes" theories, Se, Si, Ne, Ni, Te, Ti, Fe, and Fi are categories of conscious mental activity, so that nearly everything we do mentally can be fit into one category. Different versions of "cognitive processes" assign pretty different meanings to the same two-letter codes, but here is a sample of how the approach works: memory, or recalling the past, is Si; envisioning future scenarios is Ni; playing sports is Se; having sex is Se; saying something to put people at ease is Fe; expressing your emotions is Fe; keeping your emotions to yourself is Fi; brainstorming is Ne; finding the leverage points that will repair a system is Ti; making and following a schedule is Te; etc.
This leads to questions like:
• "Which cognitive process do I use when stroking my cat? Fi because it's empathic? Fe because it's expressive? Se because it's physical? A combination of those three?"
• "Which cognitive process is recognizing a face? Se because it's visual? Ne because it involves a pattern? Te because it involves putting something into a category? Si because it's recognizing something known from the past?"
Another way to put it is that these theories make Se, Si, Ne, Ni, Te, Ti, Fe, and Fi into something like gears in a car, and you shift between them just like when driving. For example, "It's time to plan next year's budget. Since that's in the future, I'd better use my Ni."
A type, in terms of these theories, is usually a hierarchy of "preferences": everyone has a favorite cognitive process, a 2nd-favorite cognitive process, and so on, down to a most-disliked, or 8th, cognitive process. In other theories of this kind, a person's type is a hierarchy of how much skill or strength they have with each cognitive process, suggested by Steve Myers' "mental-muscle diagrams" (though he defines type in terms of a favorite mental muscle).
Hypothesis: Lenore's function attitudes are conflicting forms of mental representation
Lenore Thomson, by contrast, is describing conflicting ways that the brain structures or represents the self and the environment. Each attitude gives you a different view of the same situation, and it's hard to see in terms of more than one of them at the same time, something like a Necker cube. Having many conflicting ways of looking at the same things was Nature's way of giving you extraordinary adaptiveness, many opposite ways of structuring information creating greater stability than committing stiffly to any one form of coherence. Each attitude gives you a different mechanism for orienting yourself in a situation and navigating through life.
It's not so easy to switch between attitudes, especially J and P attitudes. J attitudes are "left-brain": addressing small amounts of information at once, interpreting them as signs and symbols, making a decision, and moving forward to the next sign or symbol, orienting especially by words and numbers--that is, linguistically. P attitudes are "right-brain": addressing large amounts of information perceived simultaneously, and making sense of it "all at once" by grasping it as a gestalt, orienting to the overall pattern, and responding "in flow" with spontaneous and fluid muscle movements, varied and expressive vocal intonation, etc., rather than words and numbers.
Lenore's type concepts have less to do with preference than with what what you consider honorable or true to yourself. Everyone seems to find P attitudes more enjoyable. From a J perspective, though, it's irresponsible to have playtime all the time.
On top of all this, more than one attitude simultaneously affects your actions. In particular, the inferior function is often at work in a way that's hidden to the person's conscious self-understanding but (often) obvious to others. For example, an ISFP might simultaneously try to stay in the right-brain mode of achieving whatever instinctively seems good, without following procedures or predetermining results, and at the same time seek social validation as someone with credentials, who's been proven to know what they're doing, isn't just making this up as he goes along, deserves to carry a lot of responsibility, deserves to have other people defer to his decisions because of his greater authority, etc.--simultaneous and conflicting introverted feeling and extraverted thinking. The one hand is all love and delight; the "alien hand" is all authority and obedience. (See Parliament of Attitudes.)
Lenore's attitude concepts have to do with situations where there is potential for conflicting priorities: conflict between self and community, conflict between the need for free-form response and the need to maintain order and boundaries, conflict between high-bandwidth and low-bandwidth forms of communication, conflict between the need for action and the need for reflection.
Consequently it's a mistake to attempt to categorize human activities, or even all forms of cognition, as one function attitude or another. By itself, stroking your cat is not the sort of thing where those kinds conflicts arise. On the one hand, it calls upon a right-brain state of mind, because you have to bring your muscle movements into harmony with the cat in a smooth, continuously adapting way rather than in a linguistic way. So in that sense you could say it calls forth a P attitude. But stroking a cat calls for no special development of talents beyond the musculo-neural development of a small child. It certainly calls for no political choice between upholding the social contract, extending the social contract, or doing what you believe is right even when it opposes recognized social authority. What really takes a P attitude is trusting your ability to respond "in flow" when something is truly at stake for you, vs. trying to manage it by bounding it within known, stable, verbalized categories. (See Place-Your-Stakes Exegesis.)
Instead of categorizing human activities or cognitive processes with two-letter codes, we might understand Lenore's theory by asking which aspects of a single activity or part of life provide the cues that each function attitude tracks. We could describe what each attitude brings into focus with a question:
These questions don't define the function attitudes (e.g. one could ask "What's the truth?" from a left-brain state of mind, but then it wouldn't be Ti), but they hint at them indirectly, by indicating what seems most relevant to each way that the brain represents matters of ego orientation.
- Se: What is happening now? What stands out and gets attention here? What is my gut reaction to it? What do I feel like doing right now? What needs no explanation?
- Si: What are the facts? What label can I put on this situation so I know what it is and how to deal with it? What is my personal stake here, that I need to keep my eye on? What is the known region that is my business to protect against the unknown?
- Ne: What is the big picture that this is a part of? How could we incorporate some of the broader context, so we get new information that will change our present understanding of the situation? What will change this situation into something else? What's next?
- Ni: How is our way of interpreting this situation actually shaping the situation? What would we see if we looked at this situation not in terms of any interpretation at all, but just as it is, agnostic with regard to interpretations or context? Where are my blind spots? What unintended consequences could arise from a given action?
- Te: How does this meet or fail to meet the appropriate criteria? What are those criteria? What goal are we trying to achieve, and what action in the present situation will move us in that direction the fastest? Who knows the most about this, and should therefore be deferred to?
- Ti: What is the truth, regardless of what anyone thinks and regardless of any predefined categories or criteria? What causal factors are in play, what potential do they have, and what whole do they form? What is my part in the overall system? What does the whole need me to do, to create/restore/continue the harmony or principle that keeps it alive?
- Fe: What are my obligations in this situation? Who else has a stake in this and what are their concerns? What action will people recognize as placing me for them or against them, and where do I want to stand?
- Fi: What is truly good? What living need calls out to be fulfilled, simply because of who and what we are--as opposed to our social status, achievements, track record, past agreements, past good or bad deeds, or anything else that would justify saying that one "deserves" or "has earned" something? What is the truly beneficial thing to do, regardless of obligation or social recognition? What is the moral "true north" that I should follow in this or any other situation, and what does it demand of me here and now, regardless of consequences?
Notice that these questions aren't each limited to any activity or particular sphere of life. Each applies to everything, and the answers you get can pull you in different directions. Thus you must choose. The need to choose is the basis for distinct types and even distinguishing between function attitudes in Lenore's system.
The value of learning about the function attitudes is that it gives you greater awareness of the choices that you're actually making. The ISFP mentioned earlier may still choose to assert authority and demand deference, but now he will do so knowingly. And that makes all the difference. Now he will assert authority with some understanding of what it takes for people to recognize you as an authority, and some understanding of the costs of succeeding in that pursuit.
See Type and Sexuality for a concrete illustration of the "eight questions" approach and how it contrasts with the approach of categorizing activities or spheres of life under two-letter codes: "Which function attitude is sex?" vs. "What aspects of sex seem most important when you look at sex through each function attitude?
"Attitude" is a more appropriate word than "cognitive process" for these concepts, because the difference between attitudes is what they emphasize or prioritize. "Cognitive process" doesn't suggest that processes nullify, oppose, and broaden each other, the way conflicting attitudes do. "Cognitive process" suggests something that you can turn on or off at will, whereas an attitude is something that takes a long time to develop, refine, and change. Most importantly of all, "attitude" suggests the Necker cube phenomenon: multiple, conflicting ways of seeing the same thing, which are hard to bring into focus simultaneously (though it would be nice to have a word that suggests this even more strongly).