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Will Fraker

Associate Editor, Aeon

Will Fraker is an associate editor at Aeon. He studied a mixture of philosophy, biology, and social & critical theory at Wesleyan University. When he’s not thinking about these things, he’s probably playing music or climbing rocks. If you have any questions about re-publishing or syndicating Aeon’s content, he is your guy.

Written by Will Fraker

Edited by Will Fraker



Recent Comments

Minding matter

Will Fraker

While there are some intelligent criticisms here, I think it is important to make two things about the article a bit clearer. Firstly, there isn’t a single mention of the supernatural – the piece is certainly not suggesting that consciousness can’t be explained naturalistically. Indeed, the knee-jerk reactions here are helping prove a broader point, which is that materialism and naturalism are too often conflated. I think that perhaps a broader goal of this piece is to un-do this assumption… ‘well, what is a naturalistic explanation that isn’t materialism?…’ you might ask… good question! Second point – this is not the quesiton the article is answering! This is the question that the articl...

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The empty brain

Will Fraker

It’s important to understand that the anti-representational approach to the brain isn’t simple behaviorism. I, too, would prefer to speak about information and algorithms than to think of myself as nothing more than a highly evolved Pavlov’s dog. There are moments in the essay that may give the impression of behaviorism (as well as in the wording of the question, which we’ve since changed), but the embodied cognition approach is rich and as revolutionary as Robert Epstein is arguing, and here’s why.

As Mats Lewan pointed out, few people actually believe the brain stores veridical representations of the outside world. But the point isn’t how good or bad a given representation is or ...

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Beyond cell wars

Will Fraker

What a fascinating look at the way scientific understanding is never disentangled from cultural knowledge; indeed one is generally scene through the lens of the other. The grip of military metaphors makes sense, at first, because it is certainly the most intuitive. Germs etc. are ‘foreign’ bodies that have to be defeated, as the author notes. But the easy answer is rarely the right one, so what’s problematic here is the way this metaphor has a chokehold on our understanding and can influence people to think and act in a certain way. Susan Sontag’s famous book ‘Illness as metaphor’ chronicles the ways in which false metaphors about sickness can prevent people from getting the right treatme...

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Chomsky, Wolfe and me

Will Fraker

Daniel Everett – thank you so much for this eye-opening piece. I appreciate the subtlety of your logic; it shows great patience in the face of the broad stroke rebuttals from your antagonists.

I was struck by the apparent similarities between some of your thinking and the work of Derek Bickerton, particularly his conception of language as cognitive niche construction, ‘the need to build communities’ having led to symbolic displacement in communication and then, ultimately, language. I also know, however, that Bickerton is a Chomskyan linguist, as he advances the ‘bioprogram’ hypothesis that argues for the existence of an innate grammar.

If you have a moment, I’m curious as t...

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Why pray?

Will Fraker

I am somewhat of two minds here. On the one hand, I find it intuitive that prayer, in its myriad forms, would be triggering something similar in all the brains, bodies, lives of the people who practice it. On the other hand, I want to be cautious about falling into a neuro-reductionist/universalist sinkhole… To say that someone praying for divine intervention is exhibiting a similar neurological pattern to someone meditating feels myopic to me… It seems to ignore all the ways in which cultural/personal differences influence the experience of a prayer. Yes, prayer absolutely has biological impacts, and they may even be similar, but to ignore the different manifestations for the sake of bio...

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Who owns the earth?

Will Fraker

Private property threatens the environment so long as it allows the ‘mine’ to eclipse the ‘ours’… What I love about this essay is how clearly it shows that private property and commons ownership are not independent and incongruent models – they only become incongruent when private property is treated as a sufficient model unto itself. In other words, private property threatens the commons when it is the only lens through which we view the land… it’s either mine or theirs or hers, etc. as opposed to the ‘mine’ depending on what we share.

It seems to me that this is what Malchik sees as the problem with Hardin’s seminal piece. It’s not really the tragedy of the commons, it’s the trag...

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The interrogator’s soul

Will Fraker

I find it to be somewhat ironic and insightful that the ‘rebels’ are the ones that are less likely to inflict torture on another human. The tendency to mould oneself to a social environment is apparent all throughout life, so it makes some evolutionary sense that the self-interest of ‘fitting in’ would trump the ethical burden of harming another, especially when that other is invisible and unknown. But the irony of the ethical rebel reveals that the foundation of rebelliousness may not necessarily be self-interest but social distinction, because if it were the former then following the rules would certainly be the way forward. Interesting that both rebels and rule followers are defined re...

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Beyond true and false

Will Fraker

The paradox of motion has always caused me a headache. The paradox, as told through the thought experiment with Achilles in the Turtle, states that a faster object (achilles) will never be able to overtake a slower object (the turtle), because during the time in which the faster object moves to close a given interval, the slower object will create a new one… and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. To me, this paradox is so frustrating because it introduces a direct conflict between intuition and logic. Resolving that tension can be disorienting, but is ultimately worth the time (and READ MORE→ See comment

Is this life real?

Will Fraker

I think this idea is entertaining to engage with, but the existence of the question is less epistemologically challenging than it is indicative of deeper anxieties we have about our autonomy and the authenticity of the ‘reality’ we purport to be experiencing. It’s another way of asking, ‘does all this really mean anything?’ or ‘is there really such thing as freedom?’

But to get back to answering the question itself, I want to draw from a Daniel Dennett thought experiment that sealed the deal in my understanding of the proposition’s untenability. Dennett begins by demonstrating the sensations that are indeed possible to simulate – the vestibular signals of being lying down, the phys...

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Why we need to stop thinking so much about climate change

Will Fraker

This is an important re-framing, but I don’t think tackling climate change and keeping our eyes on local causes of degradation is an either/or, nor do I think that that’s what the author is arguing. Instead, I think it calls for a re-grounding of our broader environmental concerns in more local action, which I absolutely agree with. It is a sort of double think, seeing the problems in the foreground while understanding the way they feed into a bigger issue. After all, there is a good chance that efforts to promote local ecosystem health will also have a positive impact on both mitigating climate change and strengthening ecosystems to be more resilient to its effects.

I’m having tro...

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Ancient ruins keep being ‘discovered’: were they ever lost?

Will Fraker

I think the distinction here is far more than a semantic one. Sure, it is okay to say, from a given perspective, ‘oh I discovered this or that’. But the piece argues that claims about ‘discovery’, ironically enough, are enabled by a non-situated, dis-embodied perspective that has disproportionate power in determining what is ‘True’. These colonial perspectives, one might say, have a long history of obscuring and deligitimizing indigenous knowledge. As such, claims to ‘discovery’ aren’t benign, and don’t merely stand alongside indigenous perspectives as another ‘viewpoint’ – they undercut them and make them invisible.

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The buildings of the future will keep rearranging themselves

Will Fraker

I’m interested by Peter Hankins statements, but I’m not completely sure his analogy holds up. It’s not as if buildings would have an infinite array of possibilities for arrangement or dynamism. Instead, there will be constraints to what can arise, and the configuration at any given moment will exist within these constraints as a product of the needs of the resident and the demands of the environment. Instead of an evolution from recorded music to ‘whatever noises at any given moment’, I see it more as an evolution from written classical music to improvised jazz. There are still harmonic constraints in the latter context while leaving lots of room for creativity and spontaneity.

On ...

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