Comment on “Can memes explain the birth of comprehension?”

Avant, Vol. XI, No. 2, doi: 10.26913/avant.2020.02.13
published under license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Daniel C. Dennett
Center for Cognitive Studies,
Tufts University, Medford, MA USA

The commented paper: P. Grabarczyk. (2019). Can memes explain the birth of comprehension? Avant, 10(3). doi: 10.26913/avant.2019.03.29

Received 30 June 2020; accepted 9 July 2020; published Online First 22 July 2020
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Paweł Grabarczyk explores the shortcomings of my meme theory, concentrating on my rather perfunctory treatment of meaning in BBB. He notes that I deem words the best examples of memes and claims that if I don’t have an account of the meanings of words as memes, I can hardly use memes to explain comprehension. He is right, but I think that I have provided the elements of an account of meaning of words that can be readily united and presented to meet his excellent challenge. In BBB I concentrated on phonology and semantics, leaving syntax largely untouched, since I couldn’t see through the fog of war among the linguists on this contentious topic, and Grabarczyk also sets syntax aside, but recently my own thinking on how to handle it has been informed by Daniel Dor’s remarkable book, The Instruction of Imagination (2015), which analyzes language as a “social communication technology,” banishing most of the Chomskian innateness dogmas and replacing them with reverse engineering of cultu-rally transmitted habits and dispositions. Dor ignores meme theory and doesn’t rely as much as he should on evolutionary processes (and free-floating rationales), but he has clearly set out a reimagined set of specs for language, filling in many details only dimly suggested by my sketchy account. I recommend it to all serious thinkers about the phenomena of language. […]

Keywords: memes; comprehension; artificial intelligence; meaning; From Bacteria to Bach and Back


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“Avant” journal – the task financed under the contract 711/P-DUN/2019 from the funds of the Minister of Science and Higher Education for the dissemination of science.
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