Words without thoughts


Language is a proxy for thoughts. We can’t send information directly between brains, so we use language to approximate what we’re thinking.

When we hear or read what others have said, we don’t just think about the words. We attempt to recreate and understand the original thought behind them.

We sometimes encounter thoughts without words. An infant can’t say “I’m hungry”, but they know when they have an unpleasant feeling. They may even know the solution, or at least that they need help.

But prior to the recent explosion of large language models, we never encountered words without thoughts. Coherent sentences that aren’t simplifications of a lifetime of thoughts, feelings, and experiences are foreign to us. Our expectation that words imply thoughts lead us to overestimate the intelligence of these models.