This paper proposes that intelligent processes can be completely explained by thermodynamic principles. They can equally be described by information-theoretic principles that, from the standpoint of the required optimizations, are functionally equivalent. The underlying theory arises from two axioms regarding distinguishability and causality. Their consequence is a theory of computation that applies to the only two kinds of physical processes possible—those that reconstruct the past and those that control the future. Dissipative physical processes fall into the first class, whereas intelligent ones comprise the second. The first kind of process is exothermic and the latter is endothermic. Similarly, the first process dumps entropy and energy to its environment, whereas the second reduces entropy while requiring energy to operate. It is shown that high intelligence efficiency and high energy efficiency are synonymous. The theory suggests the usefulness of developing a new computing paradigm called Thermodynamic Computing to engineer intelligent processes. The described engineering formalism for the design of thermodynamic computers is a hybrid combination of information theory and thermodynamics. Elements of the engineering formalism are introduced in the reverse-engineer of a cortical neuron. The cortical neuron provides perhaps the simplest and most insightful example of a thermodynamic computer possible. It can be seen as a basic building block for constructing more intelligent thermodynamic circuits.
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