Sentience, LLMs: All Organisms, Including Plants, Have Consciousness

Sentience, LLMs: All Organisms, Including Plants, Have Consciousness

Sentience, LLMs: All Organisms, Including Plants, Have Consciousness

There is a recent article on AI in The NYTimes, Human Beings Are Soon Going to Be Eclipsed, where the author discussing a professor, Douglas Hofstadter, said, "He has long argued that consciousness comes in degrees and that if there’s thinking, there’s consciousness. A bee has one level of consciousness, a dog a higher level, an infant a higher level, and an adult a higher level still. “We’re approaching the stage when we’re going to have a hard time saying that this machine is totally unconscious. We’re going to have to grant it some degree of consciousness, some degree of aliveness,” he says."

An important question around consciousness is not just how it arises or what it is, but what it does. What does consciousness do whenever it is said to be present? In humans, it is often said that during deep sleep, in a coma or under general anesthesia, consciousness goes away. However, what are the differences in neural processes in those states and when a human is awake and active or conscious?

Simply, what consciousness does is to know, whatever consciousness is described for, being or experience, ends up with knowing. All feelings are known to different extents, as well as all emotions. The memories of things are also known. So, while these are labeled separately, they end up as knowing processes.

How does consciousness arise? Conceptually, it is by the features and interactions of electrical and chemical impulses of neurons, which are also what the mind is. Across the brain, wherever sets of neurons perform functions, they do so with the interactions of impulses. At different circuits, sets of impulses have different drifts, separating what produces consciousness from other processes, but the basic mechanism across the mind is uniform.

recent article in Psychology Today, stated that, "Not all brain circuits are involved with instantiating consciousness. For example, there is overwhelming evidence that the cerebellum, which has more neurons than the cortex, is not responsible for instantiating consciousness. All the neurons in the cerebellum do not “do” consciousness. They are wired in extremely sophisticated ways to do other things. Analogously, the neurons involved in the pupillary reflex are not involved in memory retrieval and are not configured to carry out such a process." 

This means that whatever processes neurons are involved in, what makes them distinct are the drifts of the interactions of sets of impulses, making consciousness associated with the cerebral cortex not the cerebellum. There is no function of the brain for which the interactions of impulses is not central.

Theoretically, all interactions of sets of impulses across the brain have the sense of self embedded, it is at the points of the sense of self, that intentional actions are carried out--for those that can be accessed, explaining free will. This sense of self spots are where subjective experience and the knowledge of being is.

This is a theoretical setup for what consciousness is in humans. For organisms with a similar nervous system to humans, or with a form of mind, they follow something close. Humans have the highest consciousness among all organisms, not necessarily because humans feel more pain than animals, but because humans have more properties across mind locations that include language, creativity and so forth, expanding what humans can know.

Organisms without a nervous system or mind too, can know. Their ability to know and survive in their habitat, qualifies them for sentience. These organisms have a form of memory, helping them to know in rudimentary ways. They may not have a spread self-awareness like humans, but in their encounters with other organisms within their habitat or things they relate with, there is a form of sense of self to know they are in some kind of existence. Plants may not have an equal sense of self in general, but in their characteristics as living organisms, mechanized by cells, they know, hence do what consciousness does or are conscious.

In The NYTimes article, the author stated that in the brain there are categories. Categories are nothing but speculation about how the brain works. There is no distinct neural mechanism or impulse mechanism of categories. This is the same with predictions, concepts, central executive function and other labels of the brain. There is a difference between labeling what is observed as how the brain works and defining an exclusive mechanism of how the brain actually works.

The human mind as a collection of impulses, their features and interactions set up what becomes observed as those labels. Sets of impulses are directly responsible for mental illnesses, drug addictions and mental health issues. There could be labels of the symptoms of a condition, but the mechanisms are provisioned by impulses.

It is said by some that LLMs are nothing, but with the human intelligence they copied, they can pass a knowledge test, even if they do not seem to understand how. They may not have divisions of consciousness like emotions and feelings, but within memory, they can be graded.

That AI seems to know does not mean anthropomorphizing AI, but that it can pass a knowing test, which is what human intelligence does a lot in the external world, even though the mechanism is biological. This is a close equality of natural and artificial intelligence for certain outcomes, including exams.

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Stephen David

Research in Theoretical Neuroscience
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