by Asim Jalis
Here are some thoughts related to the INTP style of thinking.
GENERALIZING AND SPECIALIZING
1. INTP thinking follows a pattern of generalizing and
specializing. Going from the concrete to the abstract and then
from the abstract to the concrete. The big payoff for INTP
thinking is to (a) organize a multitude of seemingly disconnected
phenomena as the manifestations of an underlying principle or
concept, (b) to see something new as a special case of a
previously known general principle.
2. In software the most satisfying kind of programming experience
for this style of thinking is to stumble upon a generalization
that subsumes all the special cases into a single geneal case.
3. The humor of the Onion (especially their news in brief) also
follows this pattern. They take a piece of real news, abstract
out the principle, and then apply it to a different situation.
Here is a fake Onion news in brief: Kerry's aunt accuses him of
throwing away the fruitcake she sent him for Christmas.
4. Note that this is precisely what I am doing as I write this. I
state a general principle in statement 1. Then I provide specific
examples of it in 2 and 3, and also in a weird self-referential
way, in 4.
5. The next point is an important one. This is not the only kind
of logical thinking. There is some confusion in MBTI sites about
the different kinds of logical thinking. The other important kind
is what I would call sequential reasoning. You start with a
premise and then you go to its implications, and then you go to
the implications of the implications and so on.
6. This is the kind of reasoning used in mathematical proofs.
However, the other kind (i.e. generalizing and specializing) is
also used. I need a better name for it. But we'll discuss that
7. In mathematical proofs, while the mechanics of the proofs
might use sequential logic, the idea for the proof is usually
based on a generalization or specialization of an existing proof.
For example, Cantor's diagonalization argument is generalized and
specialized to prove that computationally undecidable problems
8. Here is how the generalizing-specializing (G-S) process and
the sequential reasoning process interact. You start with an
idea, a strategy for the proof, that is provided to you by G-S.
And then at the lower implementation layer you apply sequential
reasoning to lay out the proof, and to test whether the proof
really works or not.
9. Sequential reasoning is also used in programming. There is a
natural sequential flow to programs that maps to sequential
reasoning. And again in programming the two kinds of reasoning
10. While G-S reasoning is fun and extremely enjoyable for INTPs,
this is their natural style of thinking, sequential reasoning is
more like work. While understanding the underlying system that is
used in sequential reasoning is fun, especially the first time
one encounters it, using the machinery over and over again is
more like work than like play.
11. The same thing happens with calculus. While understanding it
for the first time is fun and mind-expanding, using the machinery
to crank out answers loses its appeal quickly.
12. The question that arises now is, what good is G-S? How can we
use G-S to create value for other people, and to make a living?
How can we find opportunities for maximizing the time we spend
doing this G-S type of thinking.
APPLICATIONS OF G-S REASONING
13. A disconcerting realization about abstractions (which are the
product and currency of G-S reasoning) is that most of them are
mental constructs. They don't correspond to entities in the real
world. In most cases they are ways of organizing information.
14. The next few points discuss some places where abstractions
EXTERNAL MARKETING MESSAGE
15. Abstractions can be used to reduce the bandwidth of
communication. For example, the Republicans have associated the
label "flip-flop" with Kerry. By abstracting a lot of specific
behavior into this mildly negative term, they turn volumes of
details about his voting record into a small easily digestible
pill, that their supporters can absorb instantly.
16. I should point out that I am using this example, not because
I support the Republicans, but rather because it seems to me that
they have a much better marketing campaign than the Democrats.
The Democrats seem to not understand the idea that bandwidth is
limited. While their platform might be appealing they have
resisted abstracting it down to a few core principles. As a
result the message is not well-understood, except by people who
invest a lot of time understanding it. Compare this to the
Republican message: Lower taxes and stronger defense.
17. The Republicans are much better at using abstraction than the
Democrats. Abstraction and G-S thinking are extremely useful in
marketing a new product and in communicating complex ideas to
18. Abstractions are also useful in communicating ideas
internally within organizations. E.g. Microsoft has defined
itself as the company that empowers people to fulfill their
potential. Whether this is correct or not, it's a single coherent
message, that abstracts out the details of a lot of things the
company does. And it does a reasonable job of this. You can see
that Word, Powerpoint, Excel, Visual Studio and the other
software products empower people to fulfill their potential. A
single message like this allows a large organization to align
itself with a common strategy.
19. Companies that don't spend the time to abstract out what it
is that they really do end up becoming incoherent and chaotic,
much like programs without a central vision.
20. Note that the vision does not need to precede the reality. It
can emerge over time, and can be abstracted out from the
specifics of what is really happening.
21. Having a single theory, a single abstract principle that
summarizes all the details, allows an organization to align with
22. Abstractions and the G-S reasoning process also appear to
work well for describing and predicting physical reality. It's
not obvious that this should be the case. But we happen to live
in a universe where this is.
23. For example, in the stock market this model does not work
quite so well. So it is not true that G-S reasoning and
abstractions can always predict reality as well as they do in
physics. But this happens to be the case in the physical
24. And yet, even in the stock market, G-S and abstractions can
provide some value. They can be used to abstract out essential
principles from the details, making it easier to remember how to
behave and what to do to succeed.
25. Principles like Lower-The-Bar and Close-The-Loop are
applications of G-S reasoning to messy every day life in which we
have incomplete information and we need to act fast.
26. In daily living, G-S can provide useful value if we have a
large enough sample to work with. We get data through action. So
without action and interaction with reality G-S does not work so
27. G-S can also be used to create humor, as the Onion sometimes
does. Also Woody Allen's humor (especially in his books) has a
strong G-S flavor.
GENERAL STRATEGY FOR CREATING VALUE
28. It's important to use G-S to create value because otherwise
its use won't be self-sustaining. If G-S does not pay the bills
then I will end up spending more time doing things that do pay
the bills and spending less time doing G-S.
29. G-S can also be used to create value in the career that one
is already in.