Werebudgie, @Amargith, @OrangeAppled (for you, this is a newly updated and revised version!), @Azure Flame
I'll take my stab at Ni, as an alpha-male INTJ. (Amateurs! )
I'm borrowing from my own earlier writings elsewhere, revising and extending them for this audience.
There are several different ways to describe Ni -- but it is important to keep in mind that Ni is synergistic, so any one of these descriptions may be inadequate or misleading.
1) Ni is "sudden insight". Think of shuffling across a carpet in your stocking feet in mid-winter; then reaching out to touch something metal with your finger. *ZAP*!
The *spark* you see, the unbearably intense, instantaneous, electric blue bolt -- that is Ni in action.
2) Ni is like a spider in a web. Think of a spider sitting in the middle of a web (consider a regular web, such as a common garden spider, not an irregular web, such as a black widow).
The web is composed of regular spokes with a crossbar spiral superimposed on it. Anything that touches the web will register: not only will it vibrate at the point of contact, but the vibrations
will propagate along the web according to where the nearest cross-linked strands are, and according to the strength and timing of the vibrations.
Much as the spider will pick up on this, so too, the possessor of Ni will be able to know just what strands of Ni are being hit by a stimulus, and be able to "back-fill" more information about the stimulus
than is immediately apparent to the observer.
3) If you don't like the idea of the spider, consider the idea of when you are watching digital TV, and there is a storm, or electrical interference, and the picture temporarily breaks up and pixellates.
(You can sometimes see this with a slow download on YouTube as well.) This resembles Ni in two ways.
First, by looking at the common characteristics of those blobs of pixels which *do* show up, the Ni can match a resemblance of what is seen, to known or expected objects, and infer what the blobs which
*do* appear, "ought" to have been. Second, it often happens that when this pixellation occurs, that the blobs first begin by being of a size on the same order as that of the screen, and then begin to coalesce
to blobs of finer and finer resolution. Ni can sometimes look at the *trend* in a what a blob is doing over time, and *extrapolate the process* to figure out what the end product "should have been."
Similar to the convergence of the expansion of a function in a basis set, or and "I see what you did there" in advance -- "I see where this is *going*."
4) Another way to look at this is that the Ni has a "map" of the world in their had: not necessarily a visual map, although many Ni's especially INTJs, seem to be *visually-spatially* oriented.
Instead, this is a verbal, or a *conceptual* map -- but with one important distinction. Instead of each spatial point corresponding to a spot in the real world, or to an individual concept,
each point consists of (think object-oriented programming addresses!) a mathematical *pointer* to where in memory to FIND information about that item, together with a tightly-coupled linked list
of the most closely associated items, and, either pointers to several more distantly-related items, or a special hash table with a master list of the pointers for ALL possibly associated items.
Then, when an item comes up, just as the spider triangulates the vibrations on the web, and runs along the thread silkenly, silently, and quickly, so too, the *mind* of the Ni will follow the hidden
pointers to draw up ALL information related to an item of interest, in parallel, and instantaneously, without laborious sequential searching, or having to generate the list of associated items AND then
go and look them up. And since all of this takes place internally, and invisibly to the observer, and at a high rate of speed, it looks like magic. This is the (in)famous INTJ Laser.
Also, this type of storage is a tremendous way to save memory, since there are many implicit details which come up "automatically" on the fly, just as you don't bother to tell someone in your
hometown what your area code is, when you are giving them your phone number.
5) Hearkening back to the spark analogy earlier, think of what happens when one enters a dark room and turns on the light just for an instant (either the light bulb blows out, or it is switched off again immediately). One's mind gets a brief glimpse, registering on the retina, of the items in the room: no details, but enough to tell the table from the sofa, the sofa from the chairs, whether the room is carpeted or not, where the cat is sitting. So too, when the Ni switches on, the mind is given a brief but POWERFUL sense of the big picture. This is important for two reasons, which sound the same, but are each subtly and powerfully different. The first is, if your Ni-retinal-image of the room tells you where the cat is, and whether the room is carpeted, and the position of the furniture, then that may tell you a lot more about the "backstory" of the room: dining rooms are not carpeted, if the room has a piano, it is most likely NOT a kitchen, if the cat is content that tells you about the atmosphere of the home, etc. All of these can be "backfilled" at leisure (so to speak) while your neural pathways are composing your sentences to whoever-it-is you are talking to about the insight, other pathways are supplying the backstory on little-used backchannels which can be mixed into your description from the "fluff buffer" where one stores filler words and irrelevant details, as the conversation suggests. The other reason the big picture is important, will be explained after the next description of Ni, because it depends on both this description and the next, and incorporates elements of both.
6) Continuing the analogy to the spider, and moving more to multidimensional topology (henceforth "multisurface")[*] Some people have described Ni in the mind of a INTJ as a series of rapidly-flashing *visual* images which cycle through all kinds of objects, events, and topics (for the visually oriented). For those not so visually oriented, consider the idea of a multidimensional surface (think of one of those computer-generated grids which show space-time warping in the vicinity of a black hole, but much more variegated and puckered, and generalized to N dimensions). Ni is like this surface in two ways. First, similar to the light-bulb/retinal image analogy above, Ni will take an instantaneous snapshot of the multidimensional surface, showing the peaks, valleys, wrinkles, holes, and other topology. Just like the snapshot of the room, a brief glimpse is all that is necessary to give the large-scale features, which are stored for a time in memory. Having the big picture makes explicit knowledge of small-level details unnecessary, since if one's retinal-picture *knows* that the surface is just heading down a steep hill at some particular region, then one simply doesn't have to go slow while looking out for potholes or speedbumps. Also, some Ni's have the capability of taking multiple snapshots of the multisurface from different perspectives (think shining a light on a golf course in the dark from different directions, think partial derivatives) to gain even MORE information than a single snapshot would have yielded.
It gets a little tricky now, so hang on.
There are three different features of Ni which are associated with the multisurface.
First, and to clear it out of the way -- this multisurface analogy makes possible the very rare, but *extremely* powerful, "faster than light" or "warp drive" capability of the INTJ. What this is, is when the Ni takes a snapshot of the multisurface in question, and something about it looks...an ALARM! bell goes off inside the INTJ mind, that "we've seen this before!" or "this reduces to an already solved problem." At this point, the INTJ simply skips ahead (using the linked-list-of-pointers) to retrieve the known situation *in toto* from their mind, and instantaneously both correlates elements of the existing multisurface to the one just now being considered, and *backfills* all of the relevant internal topography and relations between items, from the old surface to the new. The INTJ can do this at an ENORMOUS rate of speed, since at that point, we're just regurgitating something which is already known like the back of our hand, or re-reading a favorite well-loved book, anyway.
The second point, is that whether you consider a spider's web, a linked list, or a multisurface, the Ni map of the world, once it is complete, allows the Ni user to do two things;
first, if you give them a point in isolation, they can usually identify where it is within the big picture almost instantly.
second, the Ni need not have a 'solid picture' to compare to; it can (like the grid depiction of a multisurface, or like predicting the pixellation on a TV in advance) infer the big
picture from fragmentary or incomplete data.
The third point has to do with the multiple snapshots from different perspectives, of the multisurface, in the Ni's mind.
There is a socionomics site (and I agree with many, Socionomics is just "frog in a blender MBTI") which describes different types of mental processing, some of which are used by the Ni:
Here are the key elements from there:
The Evolution–Involution dichotomy confers different scales of examination in a problem. Evolutionary types see small to large. Details are distinct. Scale is specific and precise like geographical map. Involutionary types on the other hand, see large to small. Details are vague. Scale is general and broad. The scale will alternate in Negativists, since they think more alternatively, but the same priority will remain.
The Ni can start with fragmentary details, and extrapolate the trend to generate a big-picture map; or the INTJ can start with the big-picture map and interpolate, or backfill by analogy to known cases, the details.
Indeed, in building a long chain of cause and effect, it is difficult to avoid the danger of circularity, the risk of falling into circulus vitiosus—a vicious circle in the proof. Kurt Gödel's theorem on the incompleteness of formal systems, asserts that any sufficiently complex system of rules is either inconsistent, or contains conclusions that can be neither proven nor refuted by the rules of that system. This established limits in the applicability of formal logic. Using the deductive-axiomatic method, the medieval Scholastics in particular, attempted to rigorously prove the existence of God. Resulting from closure of causes in terms of effects, they circularly arrived at a definition of God as the thought which thinks of itself.
The INTJ, who has Ni, also can pull in Causal-Determinst Cognition through their Te.
Holographic cognition has a characteristic penetrating, skeletal-revealing, 'x-ray' nature. It unhesitatingly cuts away details and nuances, giving a coarsely generalized representation of the subject. Take for example the two orthogonal cross-sections of a cylinder: the horizontal section looks like a circle, and the vertical section looks like a rectangle. Two different perspectives of an indivisible whole which, when superimposed in the mind, produces transition to a higher level of understanding about the object.
SLE thinks this way in battle. Analyzing the situation, they simplify it to two or three facets (frontal, flank, and/or rear), but then quickly go to a higher tier of understanding. LII grasps the problem from opposite sides, mentally rotating the situation in three dimensions around its semantic axes. ESI first draws near to a person, then moves away, seeming to probe the individual from all sides, cutting off those who could let them down. IEE detects the possible hidden motivations of a person, as if building their psychological 'hologram'.
*THIS* is the multi-snapshot method, and what the Ni does to combine the information from the multiple snapshots.
And this holographic cognition is a key element in our "faster-than-light" capabilities, since, as we consider a mindscape object from multiple angles, we are constantly comparing it to our database of known objects internally -- by analogy, using an auto-CAD program to rotate the view of a widget on the screen, to look at it full-on, from the side, beneath, up, down, upside-down, under various lighting : and we can compare these appearances from within our mental database to a signal from outside, enabling us to pinpoint and pounce correctly ("gotcha!") on VERY little or obscure information.
Characteristic of a 'vortex' is its self-organizing nature, moving like a whirlwind. This manifests mentally as a rapid search for options, tests, and the subsequent screening of variants which do not yield results. It operates on basis of testing, advancing to the goal through trial and error. In a sense, it is comparable to a perpetual lab experiment in the brain.
The first advantage of Vortical cognition—liveliness and naturalness. It seems to simulate the actual processes occurring in nature. Another advantage—faith in success and luck. Synergetics do not confuse temporary setbacks with error; they will undertake attempt after attempt until success ultimately comes to them.
Its chief disadvantage is that the intellectual search is often blind and uneconomical. Another difficulty is its randomness and spontaneity. Synergetic intellect is a kind of chain reaction that catalyzes itself. The mechanism of positive feedback operates: if not curbed, then the concentration of effort first leads to an explosion, followed by dissipation.
This is related to two areas of Ni. One, the list of all possibly associated topics, relevant to an initially suggested topic: often the Ni will jump hodgepodge and willy-nilly through the associated list, looking for best matches to the desired topic or information sought: and oddly enough, will *watch its own search internally* (just like watching the TV pixellation blobs getting into focus) to decide whether to slow the search near a particular item on the internal list, or to skip to another portion of that list altogether. Two, if one has heard of "s(t)imulated evolutionary" algorithms where one samples randomly over the entire configuration space in order to find a *global* extremum in the function? This Vortical search is much the same way, subject to the the internal monitoring on convergence I just mentioned.
I hope this helps. I've REALLY divulged a LOT of trade secrets typing this.
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[*] by analogy to the Born-Oppenheimer approximation to the solution of nuclear motion within the average field of the electrons -- whose state in turn depends on the positions and relative velocities of the nuclei).