Rewilding the Science of Animal Behavior - Immediate Moment and Concentric Ring Theory

I’ll be adding to this thread, one section at a time, as the Immediate Approach Theory has a lot of sub-parts, so it will be lengthening over the next couple weeks with those new sections.

I love this theory because it heals some deep schisms in our ability to think critically about psychology and behavior:

  1. It puts the emotional state of both the observer and the observed back into the center of the inquiry, rather than rejecting the emotions of the observer and/or the observed as “biased” or not objective.
  2. It is a whole-system view, rather than a reductivist view, while at the same time benefitting from all the scientific thinking that we’ve done into physical systems over the past couple hundred years.
  3. It links up smoothly with my experience of traditional ecological knowledge and the mentoring I’ve had from both indigenous and non-indigenous experts in the natural world.
  4. It puts the body and mind back together, into a seamless bodymind, and then proceeds to find new differences within that structure - especially the triad of the gut-mind, heart-network-mind, and big-brain-mind.

I’ll be posting a more polished version of this on my blog later , but I thought I’d give the gang here a sneak peek and a chance to offer feedback/ask questions.

Some background on why I find this especially exciting from my particular point of view - I’m part of a community of folks who apply insights from complexity sciences to human systems. You can learn more at


Immediate moment theory was developed by Kevin Behan, based on a lifetime’s experience training protection canines and companions, see

In the past couple years the approach has been heavily informed and supported by the Constructal Law work of Adrian Bejan. I believe there are very few rewilders who would not benefit from reading his book “Design in Nature” - a perfect bridge between indigenous and modern sciences.

If this article interests you, keep coming back - the parts of the basic theory still to be added at the bottom:

  1. Acceleration and Vibration of Prey
  2. Prey Drive and Emotional Capacity
  3. Emotional Capacity and Social Role


The more dimensions a system (aka the more complex), the more they benefit from modeling them with simple rules. Immediate Moment theory will be modeling animate behavior in this way, using simple structures and rules. If you’d like to understand more about simple rules and how they manage to model massively complex behavior in simple ways check out

You could also read the Tao Te Ching or research any traditional wisdom system to see simple rules in action.

To the dismay of most people in the modern world, all models are wrong - every single last one - but some are useful! A model by its very nature is a map of the universe. Maps are useful to the degree to which they leave some information out and focus in on a subset. Ask any cartographer. A complete map of the universe would be the universe itself - and completely useless as a map.

Onward to the map!


This is a big one, but you have to grasp it for the model to work. Use the force Luke - there is only one field of emotion that flows in and through all animate beings.

Like gravity, in this field, you don’t have a bunch of individual emotions each person is experiencing, but rather, much like swimmers in a pool, everyone is experiencing the activity of the emotional field from their unique vantage point. Gravity also works on this principle - we are all participating in a field of gravity from our unique vantage point.

One big force, many individual experiences of that force.


Let’s focus in on that. Emotion is a force…of attraction.

Here we get to a place where all the old traditional wisdom systems start colliding and becoming real in modern terms. Emotion is literally a force that flows in and through all of us and ‘attracts us’ to each other. It binds the galaxy (well, for now, let’s just say animal beings) together!


What this means is that animals literally are attracted to the sign and presence of other animals, just like magnetism. You are an animal, and also subject to this force. Notice that animal life and other humans are constantly pulling your attention to a degree that rocks, clouds, plants don’t. Holding a rock inches in front of your face is much different than a face being inches away from your face!

This is another fundamental aspect of this model - you have to be able to acknowledge and identify the arresting, attractive impact of other animals on your internal feelings.

At this point we are going to start differentiating between Emotions and feelings - Emotion is the attractive force between all animals. Feelings are happiness, anger, fear, etc., flavors of that emotional force. This will be clearer as we go on, and since Emotion is now used in a specific unconventional manner I’ll capitalize it.


This is something that the book Design in Nature goes into extensively, in terms of Constructal Law. If you’re curious about the thermodynamics of animal form and movement, drink deeply from that well. I recommend it. If not, just accept this as a given:

A land animal is a wave of water that has figured out how to escape the ocean and move across land. A bird is that same wave that has figured out how to fly. A fish is a self-contained wave moving through the ocean.


Cutting to the heart of things, the source of all good feeling is good movement in accord with the most powerful locomotive rhythm that animal is capable of - running, flying, swimming, etc.

As trackers know, there are two air-time phases to an all-out gallop or run for a quadruped, in this model they are called projection and collection. The spine bows under then over, just like in the image above that traces the wave-form.

In the tracking literature (Elbroch, Moskowitz, etc.) you’ll see this called by other terms such as extension and gathered phases, etc.

An animal feels good to the degree they are satisfying this locomotive rhythm as part of their overall daily rhythm (obviously animals must sleep sometimes, etc.)


Obstacles to the flow of that locomotive rhythm wave-form across the landscape interrupt that ectstatic feeling of good movement. These can be walls, uncrossable canyons, predators that terrify, etc.

The experience of these obstacles is laid down physically in the body as ‘physical memory’, something that informs behavior by being triggered and re-lived later. Think of PTSD, trauma, etc. Re-lived, not remembered.


This is a little more difficult to understand, but goes to the root definition of the Constructal Law and the thermodynamic nature of life. “For a finite flow system [living being] to persist in time [to live], it must provides easier access to the imposed currents that flow through it.” This means the flow system must improve its configuration by incorporating the resistances to its flows into its configuration - for example, a river splits to go around a rock. A pack of wolves split to run around both sides of a hill (or orient around a large prey animal to take it down and ingest it).

Finding resistances, and incorporating them into ourselves, is a fundamental part of being an animal being. It is the fundamental process under physical growth, learning, community healing, everything. Doing these things allows our personal “flow system” to “persist in time”. We must find new resistances and incorporate them in order to live.

This is a thermodynamic reality for any flow system, whether a river basin, a solar system, a human, a tree.


And so this becomes a thing. You (and any animal) want what is hard to get, more than what is easy to get, because incorporating resistance is written into your fundamental thermodynamic nature.

The reference to ‘IMBALANCE’ I’ll explain more later.


Okay now we’re starting to zoom in. The animal flow system, united by Emotional attraction, configures itself around negative and positive poles, like magnets.

This directly correlates to the Second Law of thermodynamics, areas of high concentration flow to areas of low concentration. Potential energy is stored, then released. For the purposes of the Immediate Approach model, negative is high concentration, positive is low concentration.


Predators are “upstream”, prey are “downstream”, in the flows of Life.


A Predator isn’t just a Thing, any animal can have a Predatory Aspect.

The Predatory aspect reflects Emotion energy back at other animals, like a mirror reflecting light.


The Preyful aspect is the opposite. It absorbs Emotional energy and grounds it.

This is where things get very, very amusing. It means, for you, as a human animal, you are attracted and grounded by that which is “cute”, “infantlike”, “welcoming”, “fuzzy”, “liquid”. You are also attracted to smells, urine, poop, sweat, hair, because they are parts of an animal body with no predator aspect at all - completely preylike because they completely absorb your attention and emotional energy. They don’t “look back at you” when you look at them.

This is why we examine the toilet after we poop in it, our tissues after we blow in them, the snow after we’ve peed on it, our boogers once we’ve plucked them from our nose. This is why young children are attracted to parental body odor (rather than repelled). As animal beings, we are magnetically attracted to these Preylike things.

We may be culturally conditioned to go “yuck” at some point as we grow up, but as any tracker can tell you, finding animal poop fascinating again is something that comes flooding back to us naturally.

This is why when you’re at a party, you gravitate to the dog, cat, or baby in the corner, reflected away from and repelled by all the Predatory party goers, attracted to the Preylike, welcoming, grounding animal.

Thinking of these things in accord with this model keeps me quite amused most of the time. You can play endlessly with these concepts, and I encourage you to do so. Why do parents tell their children “I could just eat you up!”. Why do pets paws look so munchable? Why does cuteness and kissing go together? Look for preylike qualities and notice yours and others’ reaction to them.

Conversely, look for Predatory qualities - intense stares, sudden movements, hard/sharp/rough/reflective surfaces, objects, people, and notice how they make you and others’ feel.


Some animals move in social groups as herds, flocks, packs, and so on.

Regardless of the species, think of the social group as a collection of Predators, and the center as the Prey (hence the plus sign at the center).

Because of the attractive field of Emotion, the pack arrays itself equidistantly as a circle with prey at the center.

Migrating Geese, with a directional goal (prey) rather than an animal one, array themselves in accord with the location of that prey, along with taking advantage of each other’s wake. Which brings us to…


Wave coupling! Geese array themselves as one giant Goose (two wings that meet at a head in the center in a big V), because of the wakes their wings generate, assuming the next goose in line positions themselves just right, create free energy for movement. Because the leader geese keep switching out this means this entire group moves more easily than any individual goose could on their own.

Functional social groups are thermodynamically sound, which means they generate massive good feelings in accord with the locomotive rhythm, in accord with the flow system of Emotion.

These Harmonic pathways, these “just-right positions and places to capture free energy via wave-coupling”, can be found everywhere in the natural world, not just in social groups. Successful animals adapt their physical bodies and minds to move in accord with these pathways of powerful good feelings.


Because the flow system is composed of Emotion, it’s super important to continually return to the feelings generated in each animal in the vantage point in the system.

What I love about this model is that monitoring your feelings (as the observer and/or the observed), and that of other animals, is no longer excluded from the inquiry into behavior - it is central to it.

So group action creates the maximum sense of Emotional flow and good movement.


Zooming in. Not only are there Predators(-) and Prey(+), but there are also Predator(-) and Prey(+) ends of the body!

The Predator end (the negative end) has the eyes, ears, mouth/teeth, whereas the Prey end (positive) has the anus, scent gland, haunches/rump, viscera.


A Predator is looking for the Prey to be open (eyes averted) - the action of looking for the location of the eyes (the negative) gives the Predator access to the food/body of the Prey (the positive).

The more fundamental version of this is ‘Finding and incorporating Resistance into the flow system extends the life of the system’, as referenced earlier.

Animals are therefore deeply aware of eye and head position, because they are ‘resistances’ due to their predatory aspect, and so that governs the flows in which they pursue and flee from each other.