Insect Rhythms at the Centre for Ecological Sciences


Research for the performance EMBEDDED PHASE DELAY 2012/13. Besides the Kammerbühne and the Media Markt in Freiburg the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore was chosen as the third site for the skype performance.

Since 1975 Raghavendra Gadagkar and his team are studying in a vespiary the origin and evolution of social life in insects and their communication, focusing on the South Indian wasp Ropalidia marginata. Rohini Balakrishnan and her team at IISc is focusing on the communication of crickets.

»The age of insects with its molecular vibrations, chirring, rustling, buzzing, clicking, scratching and scraping. Birds are vocal, but insects are instrumental; drums and violins. The insect is closer, better able to make audible the truth that all becomings are molecular (cf. Martenot`s waves, electronic music). The molecular has the capacity to make the elementary communicate with the cosmic.«

Deleuze/Guattari, Thousand Plateaus p. 308

»If I were a wasp I would have to be as intellectual as I am as a human beeing and not any less.«

Raghavendra Gadagkar Video, 42:07 min

The following text is an assemblage about this chosen site according excerpts by Jakob von Uexküll on »Theoretical Biology« (1920), quotes by Deleuze/Guattari (1980) and a lecture demonstration by Viswanath Nakod (2012).

Prozvenella Bangalorensis - New species of cricket from IISc campus

»Signal structure, signal degradation and signaler behaviour are being examined for evidence of sender strategies to avoid masking interference and maximize high-fidelity information transfer. Receiver strategies are being examined in terms of auditory mechanics, physiology and behaviour.

A detailed understanding of senders, signals, signal distortion and receivers should provide insights both into the functioning of a complex natural communication network and the evolutionary forces that do or do not drive it. The potential evolutionary forces include the transmission medium (examined using habitat acoustics), acoustic competition (via masking interference), phylogenetic constraints and predation.«

Rohini Balakrishnan about her research at the Centre for Ecological Science:

Interview December 07, 2012

Cricket Lab at IISc Bangalore

»The action proceeds rhythmically and in accordance with plan, without any mechanism being demonstrable. [...] But concerning the co-operation between the rhythmical impulse-sequence conditioning the action and the external indications which affect this rhythm, we remain quite in the dark.«

Uexküll p. 229/233

Scientist studying Ropalidia marginata at the vespiary of the Centre for Ecological Science

»In how far is an inner rhythm of the animal opposed to the external rhythm?«

»Here for the first time we meet with the idea of an external rhythm which enters into competition with the internal rhythm of the animal. If the several function-circles are fixed as reflexes, the whole life-course of an animal may give the impression of being a process that unrolls automatically. An indicator, such as the prey, attracts the animal, is devoured, and disappears. The indicator <t enemy" appears, and repels the animal, whose flight results in the vanishing of this indicator also. This led Loeb to consider the life of an animal purely from the standpoint of physics, as a chain of tropisms, and to transfer the rhythm of animal life entirely to the exterior.« Uexküll p. 307

»The inner rhythm must correspond to the external.«

» Indian Fruit Bat at the IISc

»It must first be shown that the threshold value of the external stimuli is determined by an inner rhythm based on a periodic change in the steering-gear. Thus, for example, an object will not act as an indication on a satiated animal, though it certainly would on a hungry.« Uexküll p. 307

»In many animals an inner rhythm, consisting of waking and sleeping, strives to fall in with the outer rhythm of the life-path that expresses itself in the alternation of day and night. By raising the threshold during sleep, all indications can periodically be suppressed. In the spotted dogfish, which rest all day and seek their prey by night, Beer found a periodic opening and closing of the pupil, which could be demonstrated in animals kept continually in the dark. The rhythm of ebb and flow is responded to in littoral sea-anemones by a periodic change in the reflex activity. In these animals also Bohn was able to demonstrate that there was an inner rhythm, which persisted for days in anemones kept in an aquarium.

Medial Experiment by Jakob v. Uexküll about the function-circle of crickets in »A Stroll Through the Worlds of Animals and Men«, 1957

»The rhythmical change of tone in an apparatus, compelling it to change of work, is an arrangement unknown in machines, and can be achieved only by means of a further mechanical device. The framework of animals, characterised by the presence of a protoplasmic matrix, makes the rhythmic change seem less mysterious. Actually, those who have concerned themselves more closely with the question, see in the protoplasm the cause of this phenomenon. We might speak of a chemical tide-change in the protoplasm, excited more or less by the external rhythm. These matters still lie so far beyond the possibility of actual investigation that we are reduced to mere conjecture. All that is certain is that there must be a rhythmically active impulsesystem at the back of this phenomenon also, furnishing the protoplasm with the power of performing a chemical tidechange. If we continue to observe the laws that maintain in their mutual dependence the indicators bordering the life-path of an animal, we penetrate deeper into knowledge of the external rhythm that influences the life-course. This law may consist in the spatial connection of the indicators, and yet to the animal this must appear as rhythm, because, as it moves along, it comes in contact with these in time only.«

Outside the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore

»When the funnel-roller beetle cuts its precise mathematical line, the several leaf-veins enter one by one into its surroundingworld. The whole birch-leaf, which to us appears as a definitely outlined object, is broken up for the beetle into a number of indicators, which can be connected together in time only according to a certain rhythm. The inner rhythm must correspond to this external rhythm, if it is to control the fixing of the sequence in which the indicators appear as the leaf is cut through. Here, accordingly, the inner rhythm controls the outer, for the path followed by the animal within a group of indicators fixed in space is not given afresh each time by these as they successively surge up; the reverse is true, for the inner rhythm itself consists entirely of sign-posts, which are obliged to cover themselves with the indicators.«

»The inner rhythm must correspond to this external rhythm, if it is to control the fixing of the sequence in which the indicators appear as the leaf is cut through. Here, accordingly, the inner rhythm controls the outer, for the path followed by the animal within a group of indicators fixed in space is not given afresh each time by these as they successively surge up; the reverse is true, for the inner rhythm itself consists entirely of sign-posts, which are obliged to cover themselves with the indicators.« Uexküll p. 309

»Nuances of rythm in Hindustani Music«

Lecture Demonstration by Pt. Viswanath Nakod (Tabla) accompanied by Sri Rajendra Kumar (Violin) and Dr. K.S. Vaishali (Voice)

Bangalore Nov 25, 2012

»It was Helmholtz who once pointed out that music creates sensations of movement.«

»When we are so much under the influence of music that, forgetting the origin of the sounds and whether they come from this instrument or that, we give ourselves up to the rhythm, the subjective directionsounds are aroused in us without there being any accompanying movement of our body; and these, together with the sounds, seem to fill the space belonging to them.«

»And in all languages the popular description of sounds as "high" and "low" bears this out. In order to make very vivid what is meant by existence in subjective space, let us think of ourselves as condemned to move by swimming about in water, without eyes or organs of touch. In such a case, we should learn nothing from our swimming movements beyond the changing claims of our subjective direction-signs; we should learn absolutely nothing about forward movement in space.« Uexküll p. 50

»The succession of the polar systems in time proceeds according to a rhythm belonging to the organism itself, a rhythm which changes from one type to another.« Uexküll p. 214

»In place of melody, we may also speak of rhythm or of symphony, according to whether we have in mind the rules of the impulses in their simultaneity or in their sequence.« Uexküll p. 216

»The individual impulse-system is dependent on the material only in so far as that must yield the suitable genes if the system is to become manifest. It is dependent on the adjacent systems only in so far as its fixed position is determined by its being set between them. For the rest, development within each system proceeds quite independently, according to the general rhythm which is prescribed to the systems collectively; it is all one whether the normal quantity of material is present, and there is no regard paid as to whether adjacent systems shape structures in a normal way, or produce only a reduced organ, or no organ at all.

All of which proves to us the existence of an independent natural factor, representing a self-contained rule built up of part-rules, which, on their side, arrange the impulses both in space and in time. Once the impulses are set free, it does not matter whether they achieve a material effect or not; the rule of genesis proceeds calmly on its way, and sends forth its impulses according to its own law and rhythm.« Uexküll p. 218

Nest of Ropalidia marginata at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore

The action proceeds rhythmically and in accordance with the plan, without any mechanism being demonstrable.

Uexküll p. 229

»We see a hundred strangers collected together in an open place; suddenly one of them performs a movement, the rhythm of which makes a special impression on us, and we know for certain that this person is an acquaintance. Often, however, we remain in doubt as to who exactly it is.« Uexküll p. 96

»Fabre did pioneer experimental work on instinctive actions when he disturbed the burrow of the digger wasp and interfered with its care of its young. He showed that, however well the entrance to the burrow be masked, it is confidently rediscovered; as soon as the burrow is found, the insect feeds its larve in the prescribed manner. On the other hand, if the upper wall of the burrow has been removed, and the insect is allowed to enter its dwelling, which is no longer shrouded in darkness, the indications are lacking that lead to the feeding of the young, and the wasp gives that up, even if she be treading on her own larve.

Nest of Ropalidia marginata at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc Bangalore

It also seems that, with bees and wasps, certain indications must appear in a certain order if the rhythmical course of these insects' very complicated instinctive actions is to proceed successfully, whether these have to do with the constructing of the dwelling itself or with the actual care of the young. Recently, too, we have had some more exact information about the making of the spider's web. But concerning the co-operation between the rhythmical impulse-sequence conditioning the action and the external indications which affect this rhythm, we remain quite in the dark.« Uexküll p. 233

»We can also think of this coming into being and then dying away as though it took place cinematographically; then we participate in the rhythm, and so get the right impression of the species as a rhythmical sequence of acts. The process of shaping, which follows on plan, and the forms it produces, which likewise operate to plan, mutually release one another.« Uexküll p. 245

Outside the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore

»In the course of this, the direction reveals itself as an independent process, having its own rhythm. This rhythm is especially obvious in the successive formation of mouth, stomach, etc. in the case of the Infusoria. The rhythm is affected, indeed, but not created, by the excitation proceeding from the receptors. The impulses bringing about the formation of framework must be connected together by a rule of their own into a unified imperative, in the same way that the handles which an engineer pulls in reversing the levers of some steam-engine must follow a fixed rule. But the directing of the organism does not lie in the hands of a being standing outside; it is entrusted to the protoplasm from which the whole machine has proceeded, and which, from the initial constructing of thereof, reveals a rule of its own.« Uexküll p. 274

»The pseudopodia of the amrebre, responding simultaneously, or one after the other, unite to form nervous bridges. In this way, the impulse-rhythm, setting in quite mechanically, can be excited by external interference. If the rhythm of the impulse-melody is determined beforehand, the first onset of the excitation suffices to make the impulses of the amrebre respond automatically, and, conducted to and fro, further and further, it overcomes the inhibition generally, and permits the impulse-invasion to follow in the given sequence.« Uexküll p. 238

»The only thing that we shall be able to show is the coming in of an automatic rhythm in the bridge-forming - a kind of self-active "Bahnung", if I may use Erner's term.« p. 284

»In a melody we distinguish three things-the notes, the sound-sequence, and the beat-sequence. In melody only the last of these is described as rhythm. But it is different as soon as we transfer the word melody into other associations. 1£ we compare some living process with a melody, the beatthe rate at which the process takes place-interests us quite secondarily; on the other hand, the regular alternation in which the part-processes release one another, comes into prominence, and is then described as rhythm, although it really corresponds to what we describe as sound-sequence in the melody.« Uexküll p. 301

»Now the sound-sequence in a melody is also the expression of a law, for which we have no exact word. It is true that, in a general way, we speak of the relationship of the sounds; but for the special law determining the sound-sequence in a certain tune, we have no expression. In this case also we help ourselves out with the word rhythm, although that is intended to describe the special law of beat-sequence. But it is necessary to distinguish between the two. Accordingly I shall describe the law displayed in the soundsequence as rhythm, and that displayed in the beat-sequence as "beat-rhythm."

In melody the conditions are extraordinarily clear: the sounds are arranged in a fixed relation, which in all circumstances must be preserved, if no dissonance is to come in. The rhythm of the single sound-sequences, however, cannot be derived from this relation, which has been compared to a seven-sided column, for the law of that relation tells us nothing, for instance, as to whether two related notes are to sound simultaneously or in succession.« Uexküll p. 302

»The entire function-circle formed from inner world and surrounding-world constitutes a whole which is built in conformity with plan, for each part belongs to the others, and nothing is left over to chance.«

Function-Circle by Jakob v. Uexküll, 1920

»The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless derritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid's reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome.«

Deleuze/Guattari, Thousand Plateaus

»Now it is true that each member of the chain-i.e. each function-circle-is an independent action on the part of the animal; but the chain itself-i.e. the rhythmic sequence of the function-circles-is a creation of the external world, because the order in which the indicators appear depends on associations that are independent of the animal.


»In comparison with the general rhythm of the impulses which controls the whole life, the beat-rhythm is very insignificant, for it plays an important part only in the higher animals.«

Possible stage for Intercoporeal Splits in the old HYDRAULICS LAB - »Nothing is as vast as emty things« (Francis Bacon)

»The stroke of the wing in a bird is regulated all the time by the receptors, while in insects it is only the beginning and the end of the rhythmical wing-beat that depend on these; the rhythm itself is quite automatically exerted from the wing-muscle centres.« p. 312

»A bee cannot be a lizard; it cannot even be a wasp. Nor can it simultaneously belong to two species; it can only be itself, within the limits set it by Nature. Every organism can only be itself.«

Uexküll p. 164


Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari (1987) A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Raghavendra Gadagkar (2010) What can we learn from insect societies? In: Nature and Culture (Eds.) R.Narasimha and S.Menon), Centre for Studies in Civilizations (CSC) and Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture (PHSPC), Volume XIV, Part 1, New Delhi, pp.357-365
Jakob v. Uexküll (1926) Theoretical Biology. New York: Harcourt