Marr's levels and the minimalist program

Mark Johnson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


A simple change to a cognitive system at Marr’s computational level may entail complex changes at the other levels of description of the system. The implementational level complexity of a change, rather than its computational level complexity, may be more closely related to the plausibility of a discrete evolutionary event causing that change. Thus the formal complexity of a change at the computational level may not be a good guide to the plausibility of an evolutionary event introducing that change. For example, while the Minimalist Program’s Merge is a simple formal operation (Berwick & Chomsky, 2016), the computational mechanisms required to implement the language it generates (e.g., to parse the language) may be considerably more complex. This has implications for the theory of grammar: theories of grammar which involve several kinds of syntactic operations may be no less evolutionarily plausible than a theory of grammar that involves only one. A deeper understanding of human language at the algorithmic and implementational levels could strengthen Minimalist Program’s account of the evolution of language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-174
Number of pages4
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


  • evolution
  • language


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