Does thought require sensory grounding? From pure thinkers to large language models

Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 97:22-45 (2023)
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Does the capacity to think require the capacity to sense? A lively debate on this topic runs throughout the history of philosophy and now animates discussions of artificial intelligence. Many have argued that AI systems such as large language models cannot think and understand if they lack sensory grounding. I argue that thought does not require sensory grounding: there can be pure thinkers who can think without any sensory capacities. As a result, the absence of sensory grounding does not entail that large language models cannot think or understand. I also consider to what extent quasi-sensory grounding can at least boost the performance of a language model.

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David Chalmers
New York University


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