From Sentience to LLMs: How Language Unleashes Consciousness and Intelligence


There is a new paper in PNAS, Building transformers from neurons and astrocytes, where the abstract stated that “glial cells account for between 50% and 90% of all human brain cells, and serve a variety of important developmental, structural, and metabolic functions. Recent experimental efforts suggest that astrocytes, a type of glial cell, are also directly involved in core cognitive processes such as learning and memory. While it is well established that astrocytes and neurons are connected to one another in feedback loops across many timescales and spatial scales, there is a gap in understanding the computational role of neuron–astrocyte interactions.”

The computational role of neuron-astrocyte interactions in relation to transformers, and the AI architecture responsible for LLMs may play a role in the future of generative applications. The success of LLMs drives regular assessments of their capabilities. There are debates about their intelligence and what they do to predict the next word. The debates are not about whether they access language but that language is not intelligence. Something similar is said of consciousness, where many say language is not consciousness.

Consciousness is described with experience for example, what it means to see red or smell lavender. So, if a word is seen, does that not mean consciousness too? If someone is told to imagine the scent of some air freshener, and the person does, evoking a bit of what that scent is and pleasure, has language not driven consciousness? With its capability to do so, is it not a part of the apparatus? When someone makes and sends a message, regular or digital, using the letter “I” does language not express the person’s existence? Isn’t it an extension of the awareness of the person’s being?

No Language, no consciousness?

In biology, genetics can determine what an organism is, while the mind can determine what it could become. What an organism would be is largely expected with time, while what it could be is mostly learned. However, everything that an organism could become is derived from what it would be. Although genetics plays a central role, the nervous system and memory also contribute to determination.

Knowing math for humans is what could. Other organisms don’t know math, exceeding what would and could. Language is how math is learned. It makes it possible for humans who understand it better to express it than have other humans learn. Language carries intelligence, contains intelligence, and is intelligence. There are debates on syntax and semantics, linguistic, contextual, and nonlinguistic forms. There are deductions in mind, within fractions of seconds that don’t seem to involve language, but it is an option and in cases where it is used or the output, it bears much.

Language is commonly understood as human language. It is differentiated from communication. However, language could have a broader meaning than some of the rigid cases. When a bird, in a group, takes a sharp flight for some reason and others follow, if moving is communicated, can the action not be loosely described as a language, a type of bird language?

Moving could signal that the one closer to something had seen a threat, so when others notice, they get that as part of a medium for their communication, or language, and follow. If that move prevents danger, can it not be said to be a constituent of their consciousness and intelligence? Language, for humans, is a property of the available stretch of the mind. It is not everything but plays a major role, to receive intelligence, to give it as well as for the consciousness of being and experience.

Can birds speak the language of flight?

The human mind consists of two main components: electrical and chemical impulses. These sets of impulses interact to generate various degrees of understanding, including emotions, feelings, sensations, perceptions, regulations, thoughts, memories, and more. Each set has its distinct characteristics.

Humans possess greater intelligence compared to other organisms due to a unique characteristic called “stairs” or “drifts,” which are sets of chemical impulses. These impulses, encompassing neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, neurohormones, and others, are regulated by electrical impulses. The varying proportions of these chemical impulses account for the differences between taste and sight, the gradations in touch, the distinction between emotions and feelings, and the dissimilarity between memory encoding and retrieval.

Since all that is in the mind are electrical and chemical impulses, what becomes experienced is structured by rationing, which electrical impulses induce and takeoff from. Synaptic clefts are part of the rationing destinations. There are different brain circuits with more specializations for certain functions than for others. The customization of their localized rationing shapes what they do. Language is available at some of these rations, whose expansions begin early. Communication can be said to be more distributed than language, though signing is a form of language even in non-standard cases.

Humans can think out loud or say things with little to no pause, showing a connection between thought memory and language. Whatever is thought about is something known. All that is known is in the memory. Thought can be said to be the transport within the memory space. There are possibilities within memory, including intelligence and consciousness. The possibility of language increases how human intelligence can be expanded, as well as the extent of human consciousness.

A bull’s tale: The power of memory without language

When a bull is on a field, looking back and forth, its consciousness of experience is also using a form of thoughts to make inferences, on risks communicated to it in various forms. It does not have language, but that is not what makes it vulnerable, it is that it does not have enough rationing to understand better, in the limit of its mind. When the bull is in transport, it may observe that it is being moved but be unable to understand how the medium came about.

The limits of other organisms are not necessarily because they can’t speak, type or write, but they lack rations for understanding, complex problem solving, and so forth, which humans have. It may also be more difficult to tame other organisms if they were more intelligent or had more rationing, even without language.

Language makes intelligence easier for the human species. It would have been possible to make strides without it, but would have been more difficult. AI has language, containing human intelligence. There is no difference between some of the accurate outputs of LLMs and what some experts in some fields would answer in some situations.

Some people are looking for AI with all the other properties of human intelligence that include understanding to categorize AI, but those may not be necessary. Language is used to communicate those and since generative AI has access, it must not have those to be included. Consciousness can be defined as the rate of knowing for any species, with humans having the highest degree. Language is included in what humans can know, factoring in human consciousness. Other forms of communication of other organisms or their rudimentary languages also add to their totals. For AI, the language of humans it has can be estimated for its consciousness.

Photo credit: The feature image is symbolic and has been done by Christopher Isak with Midjourney for TechAcute.

This guest article has been submitted by David Stephen. While we appreciate guest contributions, it's important to note that the views expressed by the author are not necessarily reflective of those held by TechAcute.

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