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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

I am not a story

Will Fraker

Stories are certainly a profound tool for grasping the world, perhaps our only one, for better or for worse. I love how Ball’s article explores this briefly in the context of science – selfish gene theory & multi-world cosmologies all depend on extremely specific narrative structures/assumptions, which are not necessarily required by the maths, as he says. Perhaps even more so, our way of understanding neuroscience falls into this trap. X region in the brain causes Y to happen in the body, or b neuron sends signals to c which inhibits h which disinhibits q, etc… The instinct for ‘storifying’, as it were, may be a byproduct of neurological architecture and it leads to an interpretation...

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Epic fails

Will Fraker

New observations, experiments or ideas will always carve out new implications that are in need of corroboration. In this sense, one cycle of the scientific method is necessarily incomplete. These gaps that are left when implications are fully parsed out are quick to be filled by new theories that are nested within the broader paradigm, and it is usually these theories inside theories that await corroboration (i.e. Higgs Boson). When something such as Vulcan fails to be corroborated we should be okay letting it go without having to say goodbye to the Newtonian paradigm as a whole. In other words, we need to be comfortable with the gaps that are left by strong theories, but more willing to ...

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The hunt for human nature

Will Fraker

Really enjoyed this essay – those closing paragraphs bring it home in such a clear way. It’s fascinating to see how conceptual tools like biological essentialism, much like the paleolithic knife, aren’t constrained to single uses – they’re deployed in context to serve specific political or ideological purposes that can easily contradict each other across time and space. I agree that instead of seeking (or presuming) a ‘god’s eye’ view of human nature that’s devoid of politics, it’s best to keep track of the mutual influence between the spheres to arrive at a more complete picture.

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My secret life

Will Fraker

I think Jenkins hits the mark when she touches on the different phases of secrecy and how they map on to psychological development. Initially, secrecy is a tool for grasping basic things such as object permanence, etc. As we age, secrecy becomes a window into grasping more complex elements of the human soul. I vividly remember the first major secret I ever had to keep; it definitely was an important step in that it taught me to understand and respect the private life of another family. My best friend’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and she (my friend) wanted someone to confide in during the early stages before the family was more public about the diagnosis. I was about 8 years o...

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One more time

Will Fraker

There are as many reasons for music’s importance as there are types of music, so I’ll try to condense my reasoning into two broad categories.

Music as experience - Music triggers a visceral response, as anyone who has felt their hairs raise in response to a particular chord progression or evocative melody can attest. And pleasure isn’t the only response. Indeed, disgust, although less common, is equally as powerful. After all, the Renaissance church had to ban the tritone because they suspected that it was the devil’s interval, which you can read about

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And their eyes glazed over

Will Fraker

I think that technology, broadly speaking, has absolutely enhanced my focus on personal pursuits. It has opened my eyes to what’s out there, allowing me to find inspiration, which is often a pre-requisite for focus in my book. That being said, I think the particular patterns of addiction that are cultivated by technology, or perhaps social media more specifically, pose a real threat. It comes down to the difference between short-term rewards and delayed gratification. The focus it requires to absorb information and produce things of value requires the ability to see the broader picture and recognize the value of holding off on instant rewards in the pursuit of more slow-burning ends. I fi...

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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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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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What every dictator knows: young men are natural fanatics

Will Fraker

Yes, I think it is essential that we consider biology when discussing politics, but, as Peter Hankins says, it is very important that we don’t reduce politics to biology. When adopting a naturalistic perspective, there is a very strong intuitive pull to think of biology, or perhaps more specifically neuroscience, as the bottom floor of explanation, the root of everything. But there is strong evidence for how politics and social context might influence biology in more of a reciprocal relationship. It is hard to get into that whole debate in such a pithy opinion piece, but it is important to think of how group dynamics could actually be shaping the levels of neurotransmitters, and ...

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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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What if?

Will Fraker

I love the way this article emphasizes how the process of writing history is central to the way history is viewed. It is all to easy to assume that history is merely the reproduction of objective events, but that is an extremely dangerous assumption to have. Just like with the natural sciences, in fact even more so, the perspective of the writer, their social context and all the power dynamics therein influence the way the history is produced. I see how historians’ resolute commitment to primary sources is one way to resist the contamination of perspective, but even the analysis of primary documents isn’t completely objective. Of course, I don’t think counterfactuals are the only

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It’s not easy being green

Will Fraker

Absolutely. Formalised rituals generally create an opening for the re-assessment of values and priorities by making the familiar strange. They challenge participants to build or step into a new world, a microcosm where the habits of the everyday are no longer enacted unthinkingly. What comes to mind are the various initiation rituals throughout the world (from Navajo tribes to fraternities), whereby, as Victor Turner might argue, pre-existing social structures are violated and ‘neophytes’ are thrust into a liminal, transitory state that allows for them to return to society anew, taking on different roles and responsibilities. I think that there is no reason that putting this format to the...

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