Recently there was a poll about INFJs and psychic abilities on here. I found it very interesting, because a lot of members do seem to report having experiences that fit the description for supernatural phenomena. I wanted to expand a bit on what I think it is that gives Ni-doms, specifically INFJs (because of Fe) this "mystical" quality that we seem to be famous for. Reading the INFJ descriptions from sites like PersonalityPage, you'd think we were a bunch of crystal-ball wielding magicians. That image might be somewhat symbolic of the truth.
I will say that I don't intend to rain on anyone's parade and that I'm not here to declare once and for all that no psychic or supernatural powers exist. I don't believe in them, but I understand that I can't account for the experiences of others. These are just my thoughts, from a skeptical angle, about how these very real feelings and experiences could happen by means of our cognitive functions.
Some of the psychic experiences that I've seen INFJs refer to include premonitions about things that will happen in the future, being able to tell what another person is thinking or what they'll say, having a gut feeling when something is "off" or "wrong," etc. I don't deny that INFJs have a skill for this. I think Ni sits happily at the root of it all, with Fe as its right-hand man.
There are a million explanations for Ni, and I think it's possible to read all of them and still not quite understand what Ni does. It makes sense for it to be one of the most difficult functions to describe - Jung himself expressed frustration at it. Automatically, that will make the Ni-dom appear mysterious to others. We're all quite aware that our inner landscapes separate us from others and can make us difficult to understand, despite how well we understand ourselves. The fact that we often "just know" things certainly seems like it could be a sixth sense, a gift, a power. I'm not entirely saying that it isn't.
One of the things Ni is responsible for is identifying patterns and symbols in our subjective experience. As we move through life, we have all kinds of different experiences, and Ni takes note of the things that seem to connect. I believe we're doing this unconsciously all the time, and with Ni being our primary function, we have probably done it since childhood.
Like Si, the other introverted perceiving function, Ni depends on information gathered and processed in the past to form new perceptions. However, unlike Si, it does not require an event to occur in order for this perception to take place. Being iNtuition, it can jump ahead, or take a look at the "bigger picture" to see what's coming next, as opposed to focusing on what is happening right now.
This allows for experiences like "premonitions." Ni builds a system of connections from our past thoughts, experiences, relationships, and so on. It runs in the background, sort of like a heart monitor, checking that things are going according to "plan" - that plan being made up of past connections that we've found to be true. The moment something diverts from that plan, we get a sense that something is different. Often, you'll hear someone say that they had no reason to believe that anything was wrong, or there was nothing that lead them to the conclusion they arrived at.. but secretly, Ni was working hard at alerting them that the pattern had been violated, perhaps long before any event actually occurred. The Ni-user themselves might not realize what it was that alerted them to this, they "just know." Our very clever intuition picked up on it.
In combination with Fe, this can lead to all kinds of experiences that are very hard to explain. Without knowing a person well, we might be able to predict what they will do next, or read their thoughts. We may get a very clear idea of how an event will unfold before it does. We sometimes know things that seem impossible to know. I believe Ni (with Fe) are behind all of this. These times when we "predict the future" come from an intricately built system of past experiences and understandings, where connections have been made that we might not even understand on a conscious level. Before we know what's happening, Ni scans the past, accesses the proper connections, and then bypasses the present and points to the future based on what it already knows. This is also the source of many "aha!" moments that we know and love.
I think another factor that is important to consider about Ni is the way in which we consider it to be truth. My dad is a magician and does a psychic/supernatural act, and has taught be quite a bit about the way it works, and I see a very clear connection between how fake psychics work and now Ni works.
One thing I have learned about, that many of you may be familiar with, is called "cold reading." Self-proclaimed mediums like Sylvia Browne and John Edward are very good at this. Using cues from the person they are reading, they gather information and basically make educated guesses, guided by their pre-existing understanding of human experiences. Something that is vital to their routine is that "hits" are retained, while "misses" are quickly abandoned and forgotten. When one of their guesses ends up being correct, they draw it out and place emphasis on it. If a guess doesn't make sense to the client, they go off in another direction. The important thing is that the client has a good, clear memory of the things the psychic was right about, and doesn't really remember all the things the psychic said that made no sense.
Ni is more efficient than that, but it works in a similar way. When our intuition points to something or makes a "prediction," and that prediction turns out to be right, the information that lead up to it is internalized and integrated into the system for further use. In the future, similar triggers or symbols may alert the Ni-user to this pattern again, where they now have an even stronger hand in predicting what will happen. When all of this happens, our inner perceptions feel like absolute truth, backed up by the fact that these connections were made in the past, and reinforced when the connection proves true again.
When our intuition is wrong, it may be internalized in a different way, as a sort of "firewall" in the system to stop intuition from following patterns that don't exist. This, too, makes Ni more efficient in the long run by avoiding irrelevant information and concentrating on those patterns that have been reinforced. It's also possible that we just discard the information, even forgetting that we ever had that premonition to begin with, because it does not end up being reality.
It's interesting to me that there is this similarity between the way one fakes insight, and the way true intuition works. It's also sort of like Ne, "throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks." The system of gathering information and making the predictions with better accuracy, though, is what gets a psychic rich and famous. It's also what makes Ni-users such powerful intuitives. And we practically do it in our sleep.
Again, I have no intention of stomping on anyone who does believe in the supernatural, or who believes that psychic powers exist, or maybe even that they have psychic powers themselves. If one has an experience that truly can't be explained, I certainly can't prove how or why it happens. This is just my view of how Ni can be responsible for these experiences, by working as a sort of pattern radar in the back of our mind. No doubt, it is a gift either way.