Brilliant, but spectacularly ignorant about some things

I think, by now, it’s fairly established that Sherlock Holmes is an INTP (possibly going INTJ, or being ‘a high-functioning sociopath’ as he puts it himself). An extreme, almost fantastical one at that.

Nonetheless, I see in Sherlock many subtle parallels to my own mind; its complex workings and all, and how I function and interact with the people and world around me. It is a mirror in which I see an extreme, fantastical version of myself; everything I could be and every facet and flaw that come with the ever-so brilliant INTP mind. In celebrating and critiquing Sherlock, I, inevitably, celebrate and critique myself; all the while taking into account that he is fictional and a hyperbole of my personality. Luckily, the BBC has outdone themselves with their modern adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic protagonist in the “Sherlock” series and done nothing to shorten the highly entertaining ways to stretch and complicate the ways of how far an INTP would or could go.

One matter in particular struck me as a clear parallel to myself when I re-watched “Sherlock” the other day.

Remember the scene in episode 3, season 1, where Sherlock is peeved by Watson’s description of him; “how spectactularly ignorant he is about some things” despite his brilliance to “see through everything and everyone in seconds”, alluding to Sherlock’s ignorance about who is Prime Minister and whether the Earth goes round the sun? Sherlock says he does not find such “rubbish” important enough to remember or he has simply deleted it from his hard drive/brain to make room for more important and useful information, especially regarding his work.

It is, as always, an incredibly funny interaction to witness, because, once again, we are given a peak into one of the strengths but also greater weaknesses of the INTP mind.

I have the same ‘condition’, so to speak. I do know that the Earth goes round the sun though, but I’ve been put on the spot several times because of my ignorance about equally common knowledge; of unwritten codes and laws most people know about and take for granted. For example, I more or less suck at mental arithmetic and remembering proverbs or road names, despite having lived in the same two cities for most of my life, and in general, geography is a city in China for me (pun intended). Unless, of course, I have specific knowledge I can pin on a certain city etc., I do know. And I know one can teach oneself something close to a photographic memory that rivals that of Sherlock Holmes, mind palace and all, by practicing a memorizing technique where you pin knowledge to a system of something you already know.

I could do that – but I’m just too lazy.

However, it is relative what information one deems common or universal knowledge, what one finds is ‘rubbish’ and what one finds important and useful. Sherlock, after all, knows particularities that could be viewed as ‘rubbish’ and what he otherwise would have deleted from his ‘hard drive’, were they not useful and benefitial for the given case he is investigating. For example, at one point, he is given a cigarette from his brother at a morgue and asks if there isn’t a law against smoking indoors. This rather common knowledge one would presume he would know about, had it been useful to a specific case (or the writers of the show). Anyhow, it isn’t in this one, so why should he know it? It’s very INTP. Something I would do myself.

It’s ‘funny’ how the INTP mind can come off as quasi-autistic at times.

E.g. this one time in high school, in a geography class (ah, the irony!), I was the only one who had figured out how to make a graph that showed two types of complex statistics on Excel so I had to scurry around between two different computer rooms to the entire class, my teacher included, to show them how to do it. Not that difficult to figure out, to be honest, if you only bothered to look what the programme offered, so I was a bit baffled when even the IT nerds of the class asked for help!

On the other hand, I only just recently discovered that Word actually has an automatic function for making a table of contents … *sighs* All the energy I could have saved all these years instead of doing it manually.

So. There you have it.

Like Sherlock, I’m ignorant about matters I deem trivial to remember, focus or dwell on, if I do not find them useful or if they do not add to the bigger picture. And I get perplexed and irritated if people keep focusing on them instead of getting to the point of the matter that is truly important. Even more so, if they do not see what is more important! (Or, say, what the INTP finds important).

This is why INTPs may come off as aloof and even unfeeling to certain sensibilities and other people’s feelings etc.. I do not see myself as ‘cold’ as Sherlock, but I reckon if I had his abnormal skills (including a photographic memory) and put them to use in solving cases in the complex magnitudes as him, I too would have to close myself off to certain aspects of human interaction to make room for sheer brain power and the intricacies evolving the case I was solving. And, to some extent, I do. Out of sheer, practical necessity. Not because I/he don’t care deep down – which Sherlock proves he does, again and again – but because he has this gift and must put it to good use, inevitably distracting him from other more ‘mundane’ parts of life. He isn’t a god, after all. If he was, he would be able to do both/all of it with equal attention. It doesn’t excuse his gruff treatment of those around him in the long haul; his and the INTP’s fault is to get off on being brilliant and solving (or obsessing about) paradoxes and the impossible, but it is simply the reality of knowing and being close to an INTP – or, at least, an extreme version of the INTP.

I find his ‘controversial’ nature and the general reaction inside and outside the Sherlock-universe rather entertaining – from an insider perspective. I know what he’s doing because I do it myself. As mentioned before, INTPs are contradictory, puzzling creatures at best and despite our principielled logic and honest and blunt rhetoric, we’re also ‘deviants’ who have learned the necessary art of seemingly adapting ourselves to the outer world and blending in when necessary in order to learn. We’ve learned how to put on the Extrovert mask, so to speak. We are impersonal analysts to the core who have a personal interest in the world and use our skills to see through people’s general behavior and tendencies when wanting to understand, deduce and conclude where our own role in all this is going to be. It is a subtle and rather affronting, manipulative skill when you learn about it. Because, in truth, we are actually deceiving people – yet, it is not for any personal and evil, scheming purposes. Not per se. I’ll try to explain: First and foremost, it is our way to operate in a world that doesn’t necessarily fit us, yet not a world that we look down upon or do not genuinely want to understand in all its complexity (which I find INTJs are more inherently prone to).

So, even when Sherlock behaves oblivous and rude, we cannot know for sure how oblivious he actually is of his own behavior. I think, like me, he can be more self-aware than he shows and play on these ‘faults’; thus, at the same time, allowing himself to be genuinely indifferent to the things he finds trivial and dismiss the people who actually act stupidly, while also using this as a cover for not only getting the wanted reactions out of people (well, I never said INTPs didn’t harbour a secret, Machiavellian superiority complex), but also get to observe something entirely different at stake. If you’ve noticed, he does this on several occasions, leaving many a perplexed faces behind. Of course, we all have our moments of unthinking stupidity, as does Sherlock, but personally, my mind has about hundreds of analyzing ‘voices’ speaking all at once; I can never NOT take myself and my own position into account as well. It may be stifled by the 99 other ‘voices’ from time to time; thus, the sudden shifts and turnabouts of character, before zooming back and meta-commenting on ourselves in-between. As a result, we cannot help being self-aware and self-ironic to a fault (or, at least, I am), so much that we sometimes have trouble knowing when we are and when not. It’s all mixed up in a very fragmented, complex system where everything runs simultaneously but not necessarily in a conventional structure. To explain plainly, it is not a systematic system in the same, decided way as in the INJT mind (in my understanding). INTPs hardly know the system of our thinking beforehand, only that it is there and that somehow everything is connected in complex, changeable ways that we love to discover. We understand it as we go along. This is our modus operandi and I can certainly see why this is both intriguing, irritating, baffling and exhausting to those around us who do their best to try and follow our rapid, sporadic, abstract observations. You can never rightly know where you’ve got an INTP. Is she/he actually brilliantly stupid or stupidly brilliant? The borders between genius, idiot and madman are definitely blurred. And I think this is what makes Sherlock Holmes such a popular phenomenon, still. It is also the reason why I love reading people’s deductions of him because they are very telling of this particular aspect. Especially the INTPs’ own, various analyses. We can see things about him that only we would understand, but we are also our own blindspots. We’re so good at ‘deceiving’ everyone else that we can be ‘deceived’ by ourselves. And we know that. Thus, our own, distracted bouts of self-introspection and random meta-comments. We learn while we think and think while we learn.

Though I do agree that Sherlock may not be 100% INTP but verge on INTJ and ISTP characteristics as well in his various portrayals, I do not generally agree with the notion that Sherlock isn’t at all an INTP. I do not agree that INTPs aren’t observant but rather we observe everything at once and naturally cannot regard everything with the same amount of focus, leaving out matters others normally would deem important. We see the elephant in the room that most people don’t see, and we don’t see the elephant in the room that other people usually see. Sherlock has been given the fantastical, superhuman version of the INTP skill here: He is able to observe everything in one take, focus on the smallest of details with equally concentrated analysis and deduce the most outrageously specific information based on all these things that, in my mind, could also say a thousand other things. Oh well. It’s makes for great entertainment, doesn’t it?

“Sherlock” gives you an idea of what an INTP is like, flaws and all – added Sherlock’s own, unique personality and some enhanced skills. He is as fictional as he is an idealized representation of a reality. And I think people should be as celebratory and critical of his brilliance as they should keep in mind that INTPs are not merely fantastical creatures from the world of fiction one can stretch as one like; here for entertainment and problem-solving of the strangest paradoxes, but real, autonomous human beings in whatever complex, less ‘visible’ and legendary forms they take in the real world.

In fear of sounding rather bigheaded now, I can’t help wondering if the inherently astute and impressive deductive skills and reasoning of INTPs make most people (naturally or unconsciously?) harbour a sort of inferiority-superiority complex towards us and want to point to and laugh at the INTPs’ obvious flaws regarding certain social contexts? Whether people keep clinging to our ‘anti-social freak’ nature (rather pathetically, since it’s already an established fact), yet wanting the cake and eating it too by being fascinated or entertained by our ‘brilliance’ at work…?

Not to say that ‘most people’ are stupid (like Sherlock probably would), but I’m simply trying to understand why it seems INTPs (including myself), in particular, get this two-faced treatment again and again; being treated as both a wallflower and a freak; a rare specimen in a zoo. Made for laughs when people get bored, put to use because of our deductive, efficient brains and then cast away again with no greater care … ‘because we are, after all – weird’ and ‘is better off left alone, aye?’. Why is that? Do other types get the same treatment, just in a different way?

I may be projecting now, but I sometimes have my misgivings about how people separate or compare the INTP character Sherlock Holmes from the living, breathing and – in fairness – much more complex and less utopian INTPs of this world. I’m not saying that I have personally experienced people comparing me to Sherlock or expecting me to be like him, only that Sherlock has become soooo romantized and mythologized, flaws and all, that his legend is cemented through him being an icon, an idea, only fleshed out in two-dimensional medialities; on paper, on the screen, etc.. He will forever stay as such, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t complex. Not only was he well-written by ‘birth’, but he is also an INTP; he cannot not be complex (in my perhaps rather subjective opinion). Again, other MBTI types are thus not deemed as uncomplex, but INTPs are inherently puzzles from the somewhat contradictory composition and nature of their personality. And that is just it: INTPs in real-life are not well-written from birth like Sherlock. They are complex at being complex.

The last thing INTPs (well, any of us) need is becoming romantized and mythologized; we are not passive subjects nor active objects of entertainment – created by an outside source or author – that people can project themselves or an idealized version of INTPs onto without any consequences. We are highly autonomous subjects and main-creators and -narrators of our own lives; not medialized and idealized but living and multidimensional. Not based on any pre-conceived or after-analyzed ideas of our personality, not even MBTI. It may be easy for me to say after I’ve discovered MBTI, but it wasn’t a matter of not having a personality before, I simply didn’t have any name for it. Especially not one born of consensus and shared by others. When I did, it all just clicked; like I somehow knew it already but it was hidden behind a veil.

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, right?

Sure, Sherlock still gives a mysterious aura, but his personality must add up from the beginning in order to connect his ability to solving intricate crimes to that of his brilliance. If you think about it (the crime genre as well), he cannot be entirely complex at being complex. It must somehow all add up – even what is left as mysterious must be left so for a reason that is Sherlock, the icon. Watson must somehow stick around for a reason. Moriarty must somehow stay alive for a reason. It’s all very meta if you think about it. Or anti-meta if you like.

Anyways, Doyle certainly created a masterpiece we’ll probably never be able to get tired of investigating and reliving. Perhaps because few other stories gives such vivid and intriguing inside to the mind and life of the INTP. Or rather what the INTP could be … perhaps only realized in a fictive world.

But INTPs in real-life are not so. (And I take the liberty to talk on behalf of all INTPs, if not all types, because I believe this to be true). Or, that is not our purpose. We are – us. Humans, not characters. How can I better describe it? We may show signs and patterns of behavior like Sherlock but what we do or say or feel, we do – not because it fits with a greater scheme or because others feel like it. We do it sometimes without any reason at all. We feel for ourselves as an action in itself; not just as a causal reaction from something that has been written down or expected or projected from someone else’s action or idea (if that makes any sense?). Just like any of you would probably say about yourselves – all other existential, religious, psychological theories aside. What you know in your core. All in all, couldn’t you say the same thing about all personality types, all humans? When we see a character with our personality, we see a mirror of ourselves, however perfect, idealized and flawed it may be, it is not us. It is still a mirror of us. Polished and flat, giving the illusion of flesh and bone and three-dimensionality. And it can never be us (unless the future comes up with a ‘solution’ to that). We are all our own, all inherently autonomous and think and feel for ourselves; everything that we have so far claimed separate us from the animals and the robots.

It should be a given, but I feel I need to stress this nonetheless.

I don’t know if INTPs are in more danger of being, to some extent, idealized and made into fantastical beings because we are so … puzzling. Rare and seemingly obscure. Especially in real-life. In Sherlock, one version of this rare, obscure specimen has been discovered and the puzzle at least gets to make some sense. It is dealt with beforehand – by someone else. I get that one would be prone, more or less unconsciously, to regard and read people from pre-conceived ideas and representations (I’m sure I’ve done so as well; it seems only human) and if our [INTPs’] ‘fate’ is to be represented – in whatever enhanced form – through Sherlock Holmes, it certainly isn’t the worst comparison. It’s nice to have an ally, after all; one you can always use as your trump card and with an iconic and literary resonance such as Sherlock Holmes’, it is a character whose legitimacy few dare to question.

But, all in all, the idealized glasses just don’t do much good when we [INTPs] try to make ourselves seem less puzzling and more accessible in order for people to get to know our true selves. Of course, on the other hand, it may help people to understand us better.

I hope for the latter.

I think I’ll end it on that note. I always tend to get a bit out of hand with these posts but I hope you’ll bear with me. As usual. Now, go watch some “Sherlock” 😉

*revised 27/6/16*


One thought on “Brilliant, but spectacularly ignorant about some things

  1. Pingback: A romantic, ingenious, flawed scientist | Confessions of a female INTP

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