of complete novices learned how to perform a piece in only 20 minutes. The complexity of gamelan is an emergent property, of many players following simple rules.

The laws of metabolism are like gamelan music: an underlying structure on which living things can elaborate and improvise. Every place has its own unique conditions and history, and so every species, and population within that species, will be different than the rest, just as every Javanese village has its own musical traditions and conventions. And just as a gamelan group builds a world of music from a handful of notes, nature’s diversity takes the form of myriad variations on the theme of turning energy into offspring.

The rules of metabolism become most obvious when you look at many species over a broad size range. The more living things you encounter, the more impressive the similarities and regularities become. This pattern points the way to an understanding of nature that goes beyond the individual—after all, every wild place contains lots of species of lots of different sizes. And once you understand how individuals use energy, and if all use energy in the same way, the patterns seen in forests, flocks, and herds stop seeming like a mass of unconnected examples and start to look like the product of underlying rules.

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