Complexity Theory, Consciousness, and Everyday Life with Neil Theise, M.D.

Theise writes, “Generalizations about how we are all ‘one with the universe’ are so common these days as to be trite.” Using the observations of an ant colony led to the discovery of the importance of “quenched disorder.” Which means a few of the ants get off the beaten path and by doing so, they are instrumental in the survival of the colony. Theise describes the importance of this random act, “If you have no randomness, then there’s no way for the system to change how it’s responding if the environment changes, such as if the sugar cube is used up. When that sugar cube is used up, some ant in the colony has to be finding another sugar cube. It’s going to be those ants that aren’t following the line that are likely to bump into something…It’s this limited randomness that’s really key that all complex systems share, whether we’re talking about humans and human society, ants in an ant colony, cells in a body, there’s got to be a limited range of randomness”. This randomness in biological life makes us different from machines. Also included in this deep dialogue is a discussion about how the brain does not create consciousness. Researching what is the origin of consciousness poses the “hard problem” of science. As Theise explored complexity theory he learned, “What complexity theory teaches me is to remind myself, where are my boundaries? What view am I choosing to look from? Am I looking from the communal level and my boundaries are the people that are in my community? Or is it just me in my little bounded self? Or is it the cellular level? In which case I’m part of the entire biomass of the planet. Who am I becomes a question of how am I looking at myself?” He’s describing what the Buddhist call the “Absolute” and the “Relative”. They are a complementarity. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Neil Theise, M.D. is a practicing pathologist and leading stem-cell researcher as well as an explorer in the nature of consciousness and its relationship to us and the cosmos as revealed in Complexity Theory. Theise is also a senior student of Zen Buddhism at the Village Zendo, in New York City, under the guidance of Roshi Enkyo O’Hara.

Neil Theise is the author of:

  • Notes on Complexity: A Scientific Theory of Connection, Consciousness, and Being. (Spiegel & Grau 2023)

To learn more about the work of Neil Theise go to

Topics explored in this dialogue include: 

  • How, as a pathologist, Theise is neither a molecular biologist or a cell biologist. He calls himself a tissue biologist
  • How Theise discovered that stem cells move around the body making a lot more diversity in human tissues
  • How the artist, Jane Prophet, who created on a computer a technosphere, introduced Theise to complexity theory
  • Why the study of ant colonies led to understanding the importance of some ants going off the established path in what is called quenched disorder
  • Why random behavior, known in science as quenched disorder, is vital for adaption to life and makes biological life different from machines
  • What does physicist Max Planck, father of quantum physics, say about everything being derived from consciousness not matter
  • The question is, if consciousness comes first, how does it give rise to a material existence
  • How Buddhism supports the theory that in the field of the absolute, there is no separation, everything is one.
  • How our physical boundaries are actually quite porous and on a quantum level we are inseparable from the Earth
  • How each of us has a choice to be an “errant ant” and strike out to a new frontier and add our personal creativity to the mix

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