The Broken Wing Ruse
They blast off like a heart attack. You're walking on a woodland trail absorbed in the forest's beauty and stillness when out of nowhere there’s an explosion from underfoot so intense you can virtually feel the slap of wings and the jet wash from a bevy of ruffed grouse bursting out from the underbrush. It's exciting, but sometimes you need a moment to gather your shoes and socks and put them back on. And in midsummer when walking with the dogs the mother grouse not only erupts from cover, but comes right at you beating her wing furiously but always just out of reach of the dogs’ jaws that are now agape. If you can retain the presence of mind to look to one side you can see her small fledglings scurrying in the opposite direction from where the mother is leading the dogs, the little ones parting the ferns as they spread out while keeping their heads down.
This summer I was walking with a couple and their dog and while we were talking about emotion as the operating system of animal consciousness (its universality being the reason why emotion is infectious) the mother grouse pulled her broken wing routine on us, fluttering and catapulting in the middle of the trail "trying to entice" the dog to follow her away from her little ones. When the dust settled I took advantage of this “ruse” to illustrate how emotion is the universal operating system of animal consciousness. I asked the couple how they would entice a shy dog to their side. They both said that they would talk in sweety-pie tones and pat their leg, in fact, rather vigorously. Exactly I said, as I mimicked the mother hen flapping her wings by patting my side as if my arm was wounded. In other words, even human beings display the broken wing ruse when we are ATTRACTED to a dog and want to make ourselves an object-of-attraction. Patting our side and talking in squeaky high tones to draw a dog near is the human version of the broken wing “ruse.” We don’t pause to figure this out, it is the simple autonomic fact of how our mind is composed so that when we are trying to become the object of attraction we involuntarily act "prey-like," i.e. vibrating our body in an intense, non-threatening, i.e. emotionally conductive manner. This carries on up into our choice of words, phrasing, cadence and tone of expression and into absolutely every aspect of human behavior. When we act prey-like we are radiating energy by behaving in an "ungrounded" yet periodic fashion which to the animal mind means "free energy" available to the first comer, and this induces a dog to emotionally project itself into our body, the necessary first step in making physical contact.
But is the hen by making itself the object of attraction, for all intents and purposes, the same thing as knowingly trying to entice the dogs away from her chicks? How shall we deconstruct the complexities of the broken wing ruse with the mother hen rushing the dog and then moving away from her chicks, all the while keeping the dog right on the edge of getting her so that the dog will remain close enough to feel it has a shot, but isn’t ever going to catch her in a million years because she always can take to the air to increase her safety buffer? And secondly, did one mother hen sometime long, long, long ago manage a rudimentary version of this behavior due to a random mutation in its genes which increased the survival rates of its progeny until ultimately the mutation not only became predominant in the genome, but even amplified to the full-fledged behavior, or fixed action pattern, we observe today? No, I don’t believe that such mainstream evolutionary theories are a reasonable interpretation of behavior which I hope to make clear by deconstructing the broken wing ruse.
First of all, our mental time-driven rational logical system of analysis sees a very complex chain of events that we then sum up with the term instinct (because it’s inborn and reliably repeated throughout the species) and which simultaneously encapsulates the above notion of random mutations and gradual genetic shifting of the population. Meanwhile an energy theory interprets everything as a function of attraction. 1) The mother hen is attracted to her chicks, 2) the dog is attracted to the hen, and most critically, 3) the mother hen is ATTRACTED to the dog.
Attraction functions through the predator/prey module as this is the only way that emotion can flow. The predator is that which projects emotion, the prey is that which absorbs emotion. So the mother hen is attracted to her chicks, she projects her energy into them, this energy is complex in that it’s manifested as her physical center of gravity and all physical memory thereby attached, so that the hen plus her chicks equal one group mind. Because of the complexities of all these moving parts that are now externally manifested with the presence and activity of the chicks, in other words, as a complex action potential that is in constant motion and thereby generating complex forces, the mother hen experiences more energy than she would otherwise have available to her. She feels more predator-like than at any other time of her life. The hen’s body/mind as an emotional pipe is opened by the presence of the chicks; her emotional system is dilated and in addition to this extra energy her mind is thereby available for programming by an external agent, i.e. her chicks. The nervous system of the mother hen becomes integrated into and sublimated to the nervous systems of the chicks and so the prey instinct (the simple prey/predator module) can’t run to an immediate completion (i.e. the mother hen can’t make prey on her chicks) due to the “mirror effect.” By virtue of being healthy the chicks can reflect the emotion of attraction the hen projects onto them, back onto her, and therefore the simple instinct can elaborate into a more complex expression of behavior. This multi-party group mind is a platform that can increase the amount of energy and therefore the complexity of information that is available to each component of the group mind. Between them there is but one mind as an energy circuit and this pinging back of energy via emotional projection increases the mother hens’ charge, it’s constantly being amplified so that whenever the chicks are excited stressed/agitated/frightened the mother hen will need to ground out this increased charge. The mounting charge and the increasing of the mother hen’s emotional carrying capacity by virtue of her mind refracting into multi-components raises her “prey threshold” i.e. the amount of resistance she can convert into a coherent force of attraction. She can attain the bottom reaches of what I call Drive, or what I used to call, the “complex prey instinct.” In summary, she now has the wherewithal to pursue her attraction to other animals the form of which are of such intense resistance value that they would normally collapse her state of attraction. In short, she feels like “attacking” a dog that she is always attracted to, but for most of her life immediately collapsed by.
So while we can understand why the hen goes toward the dog, why does she go away from the chicks with dog hot on her heels if she isn’t cognitively aware of what she’s doing? Well, we could ask at what other time does the hen leave the chicks when she is simultaneously attracted to the chicks? When they’re hungry and squawking for “more, more, more.” The hen leaves the nest to make prey on whatever it is that ruffed grouse feed on, and she can’t consume them herself because when she’s leaving the chicks she’s feeling ungrounded and is needing to connect the worm, grub or insect to their waiting beaks in order to return her mind to a neutral state of wholeness. The chicks make the hen feel vulnerable and she needs to leave them and gather food in order to calm herself. And so for the same reason she attacks the dog to relieve an even more intense kind of stress and in this complex form of the prey instinct she feels a magnetic REPULSION FROM her chicks simultaneously and to the same degree she feels a magnetic ATTRACTION TOWARD the dog. These are opposite and yet equal polarities of the same complex feeling of attraction.
Another way to summarize the behavior would be as an equation as in Boyle’s law wherein we could think of this particular frame of reference (chicks + hen + dog) as a containment vessel and in this case it isn’t big enough for two predators that aren’t likely or able to flip polarities. For the mother hen to be attracted to the dog and to her chicks simultaneously, she has to increase the volume in the frame of reference to reduce the pressure. Her connection to her chicks as part of her mind is a specific degree of tension and so she’s driven to be attracted to the dog as a means of venting an intense amount of accumulated stress from the agitation of her chicks and the fledging period of always remaining hyper-vigilant and especially attracted to predators, (once the mother hen nested on the side of our road and every time I drove off the property she flew under the front wheels. After several occurrences I realized her nest must be nearby and that these weren’t near misses) and the only way she can keep all of this in mind while keeping herself close to the dog is by going away from the chicks. The broken wing ruse is still not quite a full drive expression as in a high capacity dog because it has a distinct load/overload setting above which the hen cannot go and also there is a terminus point beyond which she also cannot go.
Are there other correlates in nature to a feeling of magnetic repulsion due to a sense of vulnerability/exposure to a prey item? Yes, the impulse in many animals to cache their food; or to bury their excrement, for deer to guard their back track after traversing fresh snow, or a dog cowering in the corner when the owner comes home to discover the trash strewn across the kitchen floor. And then are their other variants of the “broken wing” in bird behavior? Yes, the hawk mantling its prey by draping its wings over its kill, the mother hen tucking the chicks under her wing, the Rooster dancing around the hen with his wing fanned out to the ground during a courting ritual, the chickens brandishing their wings in mock flight when they square off in an altercation.
When I argue with behaviorists that the special qualities of dogs indicate they are endowed with a high emotional capacity, and with emotion being the universal operating system of animal consciousness (in other words dogs aren’t different from other animals per se, it’s just that their emotional capacity is higher and so therefore they can go by feel when other animals must go by reflex or habit, and this then means that they can generate “traits-on-demand to fit with the object of their attraction), they counter by saying that dogs aren’t particularly special and also with the idea of fixed action patterns. The behaviorists maintain that each species have their own unique and complex set of reflexes and that this accounts for innate variability of any given species, with learning and thinking accounting for any acquired degree of variability. I counter with the observation that there is a basic set of genes for the body types of all animals, from fishes, reptiles, birds to mammals, with each unique body type and function emerging due to the timing of these genes turning on and off. Therefore it would be logical to suspect that fixed action patterns could likewise emerge from the basic emotional building block of prey/predator emotional module as a universal operating system for all animal consciousness. The higher the emotional capacity of an individual, the more flexible it can be with pulling up relevant components of the so called fixed action pattern to construct an appropriate response to the energetic parameters of a situation it finds itself in. I believe this is the most conservative interpretation of animal behavior and that it is also the only model consistent with a theory of evolution by way of common descent.
Yes there are action patterns but no, they need not be fixed. Because dogs have a high emotional capacity, the actions patterns aren’t fixed, the various components can be unplugged from a sequence that is adaptive in one context, rearranged and then fitted into another context, spontaneously, innately, automatically, BUT NOT BY REFLEX (or by thought), rather by feel. This is what I mean by generating “traits on demand.” So rather than calling it an oxymoron as in a flexible-fixed-action-pattern, let's just call it; emotion as the universal operating system of animal consciousness.