Monthly Archives: April 2018

The Elements of Jung’s Cognitive Functions (With Pretty Pictures)

If you have ever been to my place, you may have noticed this picture. People often ask me what it means, so rather than bore them with a lecture on Jungian psychology, I figured I would just write a post about it. In short, the drawing is an illustration of archetypal balance, with mapping Jung’s cognitive functions to the elements…which I explain below.

So what’s with the sun and the moon and the green people?

I’ve developed a passion for learning about Jungian psychology and archetypes for over a decade now. Jung posited that there exists a collective unconscious, in which universal ideals, thoughts, and patterns (the archetypes) live. These archetypes have existed since time immemorial; one could say they were created by (insert theological deity of your choice). They are symbols that seem to exist across cultures, whether or not the cultures had contact and could influence each other.

Archetypes can manifest in both the conscious realm (i.e. reality), and also within each person’s subconscious. The core archetypes are:

  1. The Persona – What we exhibit to the outside world; the self the world wants us to be
  2. The Shadow – The thoughts and areas we don’t want to acknowledge; the things that make us uncomfortable – the Dark Side.
  3. The Animus – The archetype of inherently masculine characteristics (associated with the Yang, in Eastern philosophy)
  4. The Anima – The archetype of inherentiy feminine characteristics (often associated with the Yin)

Over the years, scholars and authors have come up with very distinct manifestations of the archetypes, such as the Mother, the Hero, The Wise Man, etc.

Like pretty much everything in psychology, how these archetypes actualize or become dominant depends on nature and nurture. When they are very out of balance, it causes angst and depression. So its not surprising that many people today are popping pills or lining the pockets of psychotherapists because their ideal self is nothing like who they actually are. Especially in today’s world of social media, when the gulf between the real self and the ideal self have become even wider.

When our persona and our shadow, and the anima and animus, are are truly accepted as a whole, a person’s true authentic self emerges. It often involves a syzygy – a reconciliation of opposites (and also a great Scrabble word). This may involve accepting the things about ourselves we do not like, or being comfortable with certain aspects of our own or opposite gender.The important thing is that the person has recognized and accepted th e right combination of archetypal influence, not always shifting to the opposite extreme.

OK, that’s great, but what do those letters mean? Are they chemical symbols or what?

The letters refer to Jung’s 8 cognitive processes.

Carl Jung

The core concept of Jung’s Psychological Types is the idea of Introversion and Extraversion. These are not the actual personality types which which you’re familiar, but the ideas behind them. Introversion involves directing energy towards one’s inner thoughts and feelings, while Extraversion involves focusing on the external world and other people.

Jung also distinguished dimensions by which people process information (Sensing and Intuition), and how they make decisions (Thinking and Feeling). This remind you of a personality test you had to take for work or school or church. Maybe it was my Mass Effect MBTI Chart – which ironically, draws most of the traffic to this site :p. While many people have heard of the Myers-Briggs tests and personality types, what is interesting is that this test is based off of Jung’s cognitive functions.

The Sensing process involves a preference for processing tangible facts – what is right in front of you. People who use iNtuition are more comfortable processing concepts and ideas. Sensing considers “what is or what was” and iNtuition looks as “what could be”. These are both what are known as the “perceiving functions.” Thinking and Feeling are the “Judging” functions. Some people more readily prefer to use logic to make decisions, while others prefer to take personal relationships into account.

These processes can be Introverted (drawn inward), or extraverted (drawn outward). Since each process can be either introverted or extraverted, therein lies 8 cognitive functions. These form the backbone of the Myers-Briggs test:


People differ in which of these functions come naturally or cause struggle, but we use all 8. This is explains why people see things differently, and why HR departments everywhere want people to take this test so it can help people understand other personality types, which hopefully will minimize conflict, and make less work for them :-).*

When you take a Myers-Briggs test , it is trying to measure the specific order in which you prefer using each function – from being just as natural as breathing to requiring intense effort.The ease at which these cognitive functions come to you are ranked as primary, secondary, tertiary, etc. A person’s most preferred 4 processes are associated with the persona or the conscious self. It is what we know we have mastered. The lesser-preferred functions are those that often manifest subconsciously (like I said, we use all 8), and may be associated with an unresolved part of ourselves, or a part that makes us feel vulnerable.

How the different Myers Briggs types prefer to use each function.

OK, I kinda sorta know what where those letters come from, but what’s with the volcanoes and stuff?

A few years back, I read about this theory from a psychiatrist who was able to map the functions to an archetype, and each function played a particular archetypal role depending on the order of preference (i.e. your Myers-Briggs “preference”.)

I’ve also spent a copious amount of time playing role-playing games, and one thing that interested me was how there were certain kinds of “magic” worked against certain types of enemies. Often, fire would be strong against ice, but weak against water. Perhaps I have taken a few too many of those fluffy Facebook quizzes about “what element am I”  that I started to wonder if it would be possible to not only match up the elements in such a way they manifested in these cognitive processes, but how they interacted with each other. When we extrovert one function, the introverted part of that same function.

So, now the meat and potatoes of this blog post.

Extraverted Functions

Above the sun, you have the Extraverted functions. These tend be associated with the Yang.


Extraverted Thinking (Te)

The outward focus of applying logic to ones environment. It is process that often drives scientific experimentation, systems building, logistics, and process improvements. I chose Ice to represent this function not just because this manifests itself as a bit like “cold, hard logic”, but because ice is crystallized water, meaning that it has a distinct and orderly structure. Snowflakes are special and unique, but are all based on a hexagonal pattern.



Extroverted Sensing (Se)

This is pure, unadulterated living in the moment. It is complete awareness of what is happening around us. It drives us to be focused on what’s right in front of us, rather than trying to project to the past or future. I chose Air to represent Se because this process manifests itself as the freedom to just “be” and enjoy life. Like a clear, sunny day, it brings out color and focus into our environment.



Extraverted Intuition (Ne)

Envision a group of advertising professionals in a brainstorming session. Changes are, they are using Ne – taking existing concepts and finding new ways to apply them.  I imagine the “brain on Ne” as a constant “storm” of ideas, with frontal cortex neurons firing on all cylinders. I chose Lightning to represent this process because just as quickly as a an electrical moves from one cloud to another, so does Ne when it comes to integrating concepts because…the possibilities are endless!.



Extraverted Feeling (Fe)

Extraverted feeling, in its mature form, manifests itself like a warm hug. It can also be used to manipulate others because this process is what helps us to understand people. Generally, people who have a high preference for Fe present a serene, positive aura and disposition. I chose plants and flora for Fe because, to be real, there is nothing more zen and calming than walking in a garden. But while some flowers are pretty, others have thorns.


Introverted Functions

Below the moon, you have the Introverted Functions. Introverted functions correlate more to the Yin. They operate a lot like their extraverted cousins, but they illustrate how the process is drawn inward.


Introverted Thinking (Ti)

Moving clockwise, we come to Introverted Thinking. This function is associated with inductive reasoning, or theory building. It is what enables us to come up with theories and models to most succinctly explain how the world works. I chose Cosmos for this because what fundamentally drives our biggest questions more than space-time? People who use this function may spend a lot of time in their heads, trying to reconcile tough questions, like who created us or whether we are along in the universe.


Introverted Intuition (Ni)

Introverted iNtuition is similar to its cousin Ne, but instead of mashing up concepts and trying to find new ideas, Ni looks to find symbols and meaning through unseen events or ideas that exist only in the person’s head.** I chose water to represent Ne because, at least internally, it can be broad and deep. The world is 70% ocean, but we know so little about what is underneath it – an inner world waiting to be explored.


Introverted Sensing (Si)

I chose Earth for Introverted Sensing because this process keeps us grounded. People who use Si spend a lot of time experiencing the word, but in their heads through past moments they have already experienced. It is pragmatic. Like mountains and rocks are built upon layers of lava and sediment, Si is built upon past experiences. Brainstormers and innovators are well and good, but we need people who can execute their visions, snap them into the real world and keep new traditions going.


Introverted Feeling (Fi)

When Feeling is directed inward, the focus becomes ones emotional relationship to ones self. It explores what we can feel passionate about, and ensures that we are living a life consistent with your internal “moral compass.”  Fi reminds me of lava under the surface, so I chose Fire to represent it. The emotions it opens us up to will burn in a way that fuels us, but often can provide great pain. This “inner flame ensures that we do not become cold to what we’re passionate about.


*You may be wondering why the Myers-Briggs test has 16 results instead of 8. That’s because Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs (yes,it was invented by women – you go girls! :p) added another layer – Judging and Perceiving as dimensions. You can read more about this here


Often people will take the Myers-Briggs and get a result that is NOT them. Unfortunately, the test asks a lot about behavioral and thought tendencies to get a sense of your thought preferences, but because we are often putting on our “persona” in the would, we may skew our responses accordingly.. The test is truly limited because it cannot directly measure what’s going on in your head, but it can indicate to some degree, your personality “tendencies.” I hesitate to use the word “type” because people are nuanced…and we’re all special snowflakes, am I right? .  

To get the most accurate results, I advise a) taking a test that has more than 10 questions (like those fluffy ones on Facebook), and b) taking the test in the comfort of your homes…or in a busy Starbucks if you’re an extrovert ;-). The longer the test, the better it can really assess your preferences. Usually these cost $$, but If you are looking for a free test that does not want your account information, I would check out They have a 100+ question test… 

**To be honest, Ni is he most abstract of the functions, and I say this because it happens to by my dominant process. Often, things make perfect sense in my head, but when I try to put them in some tangible form (e.g writing, art, or verbalizing), I feel like I flub it up somehow.