So I got really frustrated that there is no good article about Ni vs. Ne. I think to understand either of these functions, one must first recognize what intuition is and that both of these functions simply have a different process by which they intuit information. Indeed all functions are this way, but Ne/Ni are probably the two most misunderstood functions out of the 8. Please leave any comments, criticisms, or suggestions as I fully recognize that I could be very wrong with much of this. However, I do believe I am right, and I think these are good descriptions. If this is indeed a good description of both functions, mods feel free to sticky. Special thanks to @Ace Face for proofreading and checking for correctness for me throughout this process. Without any further ado, enjoy!
The problem with the cognitive function descriptors that leads to a lot of confusion between the different functions is that one function will be described with traits that the other function possesses, and the other function will have those traits left out. For example, Fi is a value-based moral compass where Fe is an objective judgment of the morals external to the self. Somehow, it seems that many people get the impression that Fe is somehow less moralistic than Fi. I see the same confusion between Ne and Ni.
The truth is that both are abstract perceiving functions that are all about making connections between abstract ideas. They are both pattern-recognizing and they both deal in symbols and true meaning. The key to understanding both functions is to understand the methods by which they go about doing these things. Both are very different in these methods, and that is where their differences are. This is not something that is easy to explain to someone who does not understand the differences between the two functions in just a few sentences, so this is going to be a long post.
Ah yes, Ne. The best of the intuitive functions! Okay maybe not, but I like it a lot. The truth is that Ne is a really incredible function that is very powerful when used correctly. How Ne intuits ideas is objective. That is to say that it sees symbols, ideas, and patterns in the object at hand rather than the subject (Ni is subjective), so the Ne user sees an objective symbol. For the purposes of this post, please think of an object as anything that can be perceived, such as an object, situation, story, etc. That is not to say that Ne is always correct in its observations. The contrary can also be true. The reason behind this is that Ne will see all possible symbols and ideas for a specific object. However, the Ne user is not always conscious of all of these possibilities. What ends up happening to eliminate these possibilities is that the judging function Ne is working with at any given moment will assist Ne in eliminating certain possibilities. For example, with myself (Ne-Ti), if I saw a car parked, I could easily eliminate the possibility that it has been retrofitted with a rocket to launch it into space since there would be no visible rocket on it, and cars aren’t made that way (but it would be really cool!). That reasoning is that of Ti. If you would like a more colloquial example, ask an ENTP what it’s like when they really like a girl/guy or ask an ISFJ what it’s like when they are really worried about someone they love. Ne without a judging function is extremely irrational, and even with a judging function, that judging function needs to be well developed in order for the user to come to the correct conclusion about all of the possible ideas.
To summarize this particular point, Ne is an explosion of ideas that sees every possibility, given a specific object. Honing in on one idea is the job of whatever judging function that is working in tandem with Ne. An appropriate visual representation would be that of a supernova. What starts as a star explodes into all of its properties removed from the object itself and completely deconstructed. Ne does a similar thing. It completely deconstructs an object according to the ideas, symbols, systems, what have you associated with that object.
One thing that is heard often about Ne is that it is all about making connections. That is indeed true, but Ne needs to have a correct base to jump off of in order to make the correct connections. It is my belief that Ne on its own can make connections based on all of the possibilities it intuits, but those connections will have little relevance to the outside world. The resulting structure would look more like a giant ball of tangled Christmas lights a la Christmas Vacation rather than a structured and organized web. Knowing this, a well-developed judging function is crucial to Ne making the correct connections required for being a well-developed individual. So yes, Ne does make a ton of connections, but Ne without any other function does not do this well. Ni doesn’t either, but that’s for a different reason.
Again, as stated above, introverted intuition makes connections, sees symbols, etc. However, Ni is subjective rather than objective. Remember that we are thinking of objective and subjective in the sense that an objective function is all about the object at hand and the subjective function is all about the subject at hand. Given that, Ni without any other functions cannot intuit anything as it perceives based on past data that was gathered by the user. It must be presented with a goal, and it must have data that already exists to work. Where Ne can simply see through an object to its systems and symbols, Ni literally recreates them based on information that is known. In this way, Ni very much studies the subject at hand much like a student would study a subject for school. When studying, the professor or teacher will choose a textbook (or it is chosen for that teacher/professor by the “powers that be”), not all of the information in the textbook is relevant to the subject at hand. In that way, the student will not read through the entire book since the course may simply cover certain chapters. Ni is much the same way, and the Ni user’s past experiences and learned material (facts, feelings, etc.) can be thought of as the textbook in this situation. Ni will skim through the information in a very subconscious manner, ignoring what is irrelevant and including what is relevant. Eventually, much like a student towards the end of the course, what is to be perceived becomes more and more clear until, finally, what is being intuited is simply seen as a whole.
To use the astronomy example that was used to describe Ne, Ni is much like a nebula. A nebula, if you don’t already know, is a cloud of particulate and other forms of matter in space that slowly forms into a star system. Over time, what looks like an amorphous blob begins to collapse in on itself until a star is formed and possibly planets as well. These solar systems that are formed are there for the long term. Ni is much the same way. The systems and models that Ni forms are often very much long-term models and systems that will stand the test of time and hold up well under scrutiny. This is why Ni is often described as the long-term system building function. The more relevant information an Ni user possesses, the stronger the system that is being built. The less information an Ni user possesses, the weaker the system that is being built or the system may simply never coalesce.
To summarize Ni, where Ne is an explosion of ideas from one thing, Ni is where one idea coalesces from many ideas.
Ne is not a long-term system builder. This is a true statement. In fact, I believe there are only 4 types that are long-term system builders that use Ne. Those are ENTPs, INTPs, ENFPs, and INFPs. And to use the term “build” is somewhat a misnomer. Often an Ne/Ji user will stumble upon a long-term system or simply have an idea once the Ne/Ji has gathered enough information. In many ways, the long-term systems that Ne/Ji users might form can be superior to that of an Ni user, but most of the time they will not. The breadth of knowledge that an Ne user will gather brings new perspective to the systems being built, and it may present an angle that Ni would not have seen as relevant. However, this is somewhat rare. However, in terms of systems that already exist, Ne will almost always see what Ni does not.
Ni does not see the symbols and connections in ideas and objects external to the self. This is also a true statement. At least it is in terms of directly seeing symbols and connections between objects as they are directly perceived external to the self. Since Ni pulls information that is known to the user away in order to form symbols and systems, it does not perceive an object directly. It takes what is known about the object to form the symbols about that object. In many ways this is reinventing the wheel, so it cannot directly see the symbols in something external to the self. Research (other forms of perception, Je, or actual research) must be done about that object so that Ni can see the symbol.
Ni takes a long time. This is false. At least in most situations it is. Depending on the complexity of the system being intuited, Ni may instantly form a system or find something’s true meaning quickly, or it may take a long time. This is variable depending on how many moving pieces there are to Ni’s goal.
Ni is not specific. Ni is as specific as it needs to be. If information is not relevant to the system being formed, Ni ignores it. In this way, Ni users may be very general in the systems they form or they may be very specific. It really depends on Ni’s goal.