Ken Wilber Describes His Savant-Like Abilities

Ken Wilber


Ken Wilber Describes His Savant-Like Abilities
By David Sunfellow

For those of you who are fans of Ken Wilber — or just interested in how he is able to understand and synthesize so much information, so fast, into books (and systems of thought) that are so groundbreaking and far-reaching — here’s an interview that is worth listening to. Extracted from a longer interview that occurred between Fielding Graduate University students in the first course of an Integral program, the segment below is a mere six minutes long. Randy Martin, who is faculty in the program, serves as the moderator. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, who is also faculty and the Director of Academics at Integral Institute is also on the call. Among other things, Wilber is asked how he keeps track of all the information he reads and processes. Does he use notebooks, computers? His answer:

“It’s all in my head… I don’t take notes. I don’t have notebooks. I work on a computer and that’s it… I don’t know why this is so, but it is almost like idiot savant… I’ve read at least a PHD level in 23 disciplines… I’m aware that this is extremely weird and rare…”

Wilber then describes what it means to him to have an ability like this:

“My duty is to use it responsibly and communicate it to the best of my ability… I believe it’s some sort of deep metaphysical rule that you’re allowed to understand an important truth if you agree to communicate it. And I think if you don’t, you get sick. Your soul gets really, really sick. So that’s my main concern: how to handle this responsibly…”

How, exactly, does the process work? Wilber describes it like this:

“Usually I just have maybe four or five books open that I am having to type quotes from and that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll jot down notes about maybe the names of chapters of some things, but I don’t have any notebooks or information or anything like that at all and the thousands and thousands of books I’ve read, for some reason, I retain the information. It is not a photographic memory because that’s kind of useless. You have to understand the information. But for some reason I retain the understanding of the information. And so I can recall it. All of it sort of right back to when I was 18 and started doing this… I also have an idiot savant level of pattern recognition… Because I have that pattern recognition, if I would read like Jane Lovinger and then two years later read Eric Yance and years later read Robert Kegan or something, I would instantly see how they fit. It just pops up in my mind… I don’t think these things through. I’m looking at them like I am looking at a cup, or a rock, or a table. I’m just reporting what I see. And so the reason I write so quickly is that I am not thinking. I’m seeing, or hearing, or feeling. And so when I sit down to write a book, the book is basically already done in my head… Usually only it only takes about a month or so to write a book… And the first draft is usually very close to the last draft… Is he special, or is he weird? Well, history will tell.”

Finally, Wilber emphasized that he did not think this ability was unique to him. Rather, he believes that everyone who reaches certain stages of personal development will develop similar abilities:

“It’s not something I invented. It’s something I discovered… It’s brought forth and enacted by those who grow and develop to that level or structure of consciousness. And it’s something we are all bringing forth as we move into this territory… I just stumbled on the place a little bit earlier…”

To listen to the complete interview, go here (MP3)