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THE SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS
Plants and ESP
The dust-grimed window of the office building facing New York's Times Square reflected, as through a looking glass, an extraordinary
corner of Wonderland. There was no White Rabbit with waistcoat and watch chain, only an elfin-eared fellow called Backster with a
galavanometer and a house plant called Dracaena massangeana. The galvanometer was there because Cleve Backster was America's
foremost lie-detector examiner; the dracaena because Backster's secretary felt the bare office should have a touch of green;
Backster'swas there because of a fatal step taken in the 1960's which radically affected his life, and may equally affect the planet.
Backster's antic with his plants, headlined in the world press, became the subject of skits, cartoons, and lampoons; but the
Pandora's box which he opened for science may never again be closed. Backster's discovery that plants appear to be sentient caused
strong and varied reaction round the globe, despite the fact that Backster never claimed a discovery, only an uncovering of what
has been known and forgotten. Wisely he chose to avoid publicity, and concentrated on establishing the absolute scientific bona fides
of what has come to be known as the "Backster Effect."
The adventure started in 1966. Backster had been up all night in his school for polygraph examiners, where he teaches the art
of lie detection to policemen and security agents from around the world. On impulse he decided to attach the electrodes of one of his
lie detectors to the leaf of his dracaena. The dracaena is a tropical plant similar to a palm tree, with large leaves and a dense cluster
of small flowers; it is known as the dragon tree(Latino draco) because of the popular myth that its resin yeilds dragon blood. Backster
was curious to see if the leaf would be affected by water poured on its roots, and if so, how, and how soon.
As the plant thirstily sucked water up its stem, the galvanometer, to Backster's surprise, did not indicate less resistance, as
might have been expected by the greater electrical conductivity of the moister plant. The pen on the graph paper, instead of trending
upward, was trending downward, with a lot of sawtooth motion on the tracing.
A galvanometer is that part of a polygraph lie detector which, when attached to a human being by wires through which a weak current
of electricity is run, will cause a needle to move, or a pen to make a tracing on a moving graph of paper, in response to mental images, or
the slightest surges of human emotion. Invented at the end of the eighteenth century by a Viennese priest, Father Maximilian Hell, S.J.,
court astronomer to the Empress Maria Theresa, it was named after Luigi Galvani, the Italian physicist and physioloogist who discovered
"animal electricity." The galvanometer is now used in conjunction with an electrical circuit called a "Wheatstone Bridge," in honor of the
English physicist and inventor of the automatic telegraph, Sir Charles Wheatstone. In simple terms, the bridge balances resistance, so that
the human body's electrical potential-or basic charge-can be measured as it fluctuates under the stimulus of thought and emotion. The standard
police usage is to feed "carefully structured" questions to a suspect and watch for those which cause the needle to jump. Veteran examiners,
such as Backster, claim they can identify deception from the patterns produced on the graph.
Backster's dragon tree, to his amazement, was giving him a reaction very similar to that of a human being experiencing an emotional
stimulus of short duration. Could the plant be displaying emotiion?
What happened to Backster in the next ten minutes was to revolutionize his life.
The most effective way to trigger in a human being a reaction strong enough to make the galvanometer jump is to threaten his or her
well being. Backster decided to do just that tot the plant: he dunked a leaf of the dracaena in the cup of hot coffee perenially in his hand.
There was no reaction to speak of on the meter. Backster studied the problem several minutes, then conceived a worse threat: he would burn the
actual leaf to which the electrodes were attached. The instant he got the picture of flame in his mind, and before he could move for a match,
there was a dramatic change in the tracing pattern on the graph in the form of a prolonged upward sweep of the recording pen. Backster had
not moved, either toward the plant or toward the recording machine. Could the plant have been reading his mind?
When Backster left the room and returned with some matches, he found another sudden surge had registered on the chart, evidently
caused by his determination to carry out the threat. Reluctantly he set about burning the leaf. This time there was a lower peak of reaction
on the graph. Later, as he went through the motions of pretending he would burn the leaf, there was no reaction whatsoever. The plant
appeared to be able to differentiate between real and pretending intent.
Backster felt like running into the street and shouting to the world, "Plants can think!" Instead he plunged into the most meticulous
investigation of the phenomena in order to establish just how the plant was reacting to his thoughts, and through what medium.
His first move was to make sure he had not overlooked any logical explanation for the occurence. was there something extraordiinary about the plant?
About the particular polygraph instrument?
When he and his collaborators, using other plants and other instruments in other locations all over the country, were able to make similar
Observations, the matter warranted further study. More than twenty-five different varieties of plants and fruits were tested, including lettuce, onions
oranges, and bananas. The observations, each similar to the others, required a new view of life, with some explosive connotations for science.
Heretofore the debate between scientists and parapsychologists on the existence of ESP, or extrasensory perception, has ben fierce, largely
because of the difficulty of establishing unequivocally when such a phenomenon is actually occurring. The best that has been achieved so far
in the field, by Dr. J.B. Rhine, who initiated his experiments in ESP at Duke University, has been to establish that with human beings the phenomenon
seems to occur with greater odds than than are attributable to chance.
Backster first considered his plants' capacity for picking up his intention to be some form of ESP; then he quarreled with the term. ESP is
held to mean perceptions of touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste. As plants give no evidence of eyes, ears, nose, or mouth, and as botanists
since Darwin's time have never credited them with a nervous system, Backster concluded that the perceiving sense must be more basic.
This led him to hypothesize that the five senses in humans might be limiting factors overlying a more "primary perception," possibly common
to all nature. "Maybe plants see better without eyes," Backster surmised: "Better than humans do with them." With the five basic senses, humans
the choice, at will, of perceiving, perceiving poorly, not perceiving at all. "If you don't like the looks of something," said Backster, "you can look
the other way, or not look. If everyone were to be in everyone else's mind all the time it would be chaos."
To discover what his plants could sense or feel, Backster enlarged his office, and set about creating a proper scientific laboratory, worthy of
the space age.
During the next few months, chart after chart was obtained from all sorts of plants. The phenomenon appeared to persist even if the plant leaf was detached
from the plant, or if it was trimmed to the size of the electrodes; amazingly, even if a leaf was shredded and redistributed between the electrode surfaces
there was still a reaction on the chart. The plants reacted not only to threats from human beings, but to unformulated threats, such as the sudden
appearance of a dog in the room or of a person who did not which them well.
Backster was able to demonstrate to a group at Yale that the movements of a spider in the same room with a plant wired to his equipment could cause
dramatic changes in the recorded pattern generated by the plant just before the spider started to scamper away from a human attempting to restrict its
movement. "It seems," said Backster, "as if each of the spider's decisions to escape was being picked up by the plant, causing a reaction in the leaf."
Under nomral circumstances, plants may be attuned to each other, said Backster, though when encountering animal life they tend to pay less
attention to what another plant may be up to. "The last thing a plant expects is another plant to give it trouble. SO long as there is animal life around,
they seem to be attuned to animal life. Animals and people are mobile, and could need careful monitoring."
If a plant is threatened with overwhelming danger or damage, Backster observed that it reacts self-defensively in a way similar to an opossum-or,
indeed, to a human being- by "passing out" or going into a deep faint. The phenomenon was dramatically demonstrated one day when physiologist from Canada
came to Backster's lab to witness the reaction of his plants. The first plant gave no response whatsoever. Nor did the second; nor the third. Backster
checked his polygraph instruments, and tried a fourth and a fifth plant; still no success. Finally, on the sixth, there was enough reaction to demonstrate
Curious to discover what could have influenced the other plants, Backster asked:"Does any part of your work involve harming plant?"
"yes," the physiologist replied. "I terminate the plants I work with. I put them in an oven and roast them to obtain their dry weight for my analysis."
Forty-five minutes after the physiologist was safely on the way to the airport, each of Backster's plants once more responded fluidly on the graph.
This is the first half of the chapter I hope you enjoyed it.
A) Formatting is your friend.
B) Didn't Mythbusters leave this one twitching in the dust?
Tis better to sit in silence and be presumed a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.
Second half of the First Chapter of The Secret Life of Plants: A fascinating account of the physical, emotional, and spiritual relations between plants
There is still a third portion to finish off the Chapter
This experience helped to bring Backster to the realization that plants could intentionally be put into a faint, or
mesmerized, by humans, that something similar could be involved in the ritual of the slaughter before an animal is killed
in the kosher manner. Communicating with the victim, the killer may tranquilize it into a quiet death, also preventing its
flesh from having a residue of "chemical fear," disagreeable to the palate and perhaps noxious to the consumer. This brought
up the possibility that plants and succulent fruits might wish to be eaten, but only in a sort of loving ritual, with a real
communication between the eater and the eaten-somehow akin to the Christian rite of Communion
-instead of the usual heartless carnage.
"It may be," says Backster, "that a vegetable appreciates becoming part of another form of life rather than rotting on
the ground, just as a human at death may experience relief to find himself in a higher realm of being."
On one occasion, to show that plants and single cells were picking up signals through some unexplained medium of
communication, Backster provided a demonstration for the author of an article appearing in the Baltimore Sun, subsequently
condensed in the Reader's Digest. Backster hooked a galvanometer to his philodendron, then addressed the writer as if it were
he who was on the metter, and interrogated him about his year of birth.
Backster named each of seven years between 1925 snf 1931 to which the reporter was instructed to answer with a uniform
"No." Backster then selected from the chart the correct date, which had been indicated by the plant with an exra high flourish.
The same experiment was duplicated by a professional psychiatrist, the medical director of the research ward at Rockland
State Hospital in Orangeburg, New York, Dr. Aristide H. Esser. He and his collaborator, Douglas Dean, a chemist at Newark College
of Engineering, experimented with a male subject who brought along a philodendron he had nursed from a seedling and had cared
THe two scientists attached a polygraph to the plant and then asked the owner a series of questions, to some of which he had
been instructed to give false answers. The plant had no difficulty indicating through the galvanometer the questions which
were falsely answered; Dr. Esser, who at first had laughed at backster's claim, admitted, "I've had to eat my own words."
To see if a plant could display memory, a scheme was devised whereby Backster was to try to identify the secret killer
of one of two plants. Six of Backster's polygraph students volunteered for the experiment, some of them veteran policemen.
Blindfolded, the students drew from a hat folded slips of paper,on one of which were instructions to root up, stamp on, and
thoroughly destroy one of two plants in a room. The criminal was to commit the crime in secret; neither Backster nor any of the
other students was to know his identity; only the second plant would be a witness.
By attaching the surviving plant to a polygraph and parading the students one by one before it, Backster was able to
establish the culprit. Sure enough, the plant gave no reaction to fivve of the students, but caused the meter to go wild whenever
the actual culprit approached. Backster was careful to point out that the plant could have picked up the reflected the guilt
feelings of the culprit; but as the villain had acted in the interests of science, and was not particularly guilty, it left the
possibility that a plant could remember and recognize the source of severe harm to its fellow.
In another series of observations, Backster noted that a special communion or bond of affinity appeared to be created between
a plant and its keeper, unaffected by distance. With the use of synchronized stopwatches, Backster was able to not that his plants
continued to react to his thought and attention from the next room, from down the hall, even from several buildings away. Back
from a fifteen-mile trip to New Jersey, Backster was able to establish that his plants had perked up and shown definite and positive
signs of response-whether it was relief or welcome he could not tell-at the very moment he had decided to return to New York.
When backster was away on a lecture tour and talkd about his initial 1966 observation, showing a slide of the original
Dracaena, the plant, back in his office, would show a reaction on the chart at the very time he projected the slide.
Once attuned to a particular person, plants appeared to be able to maintain a link with that person, no matter where he went
even among thousands of people. On New Year's Eve in New York City, Backster went out into the Bedlam of Times Square aremed with
a notebook and stopwatch. Mingling with the crowd, he noted his various actioins, such as walking, running, going underground by way
of subway stairs, nearly getting run over, and having a mild fracas with a news vendor. Back at the lab, he found that each of three
plants, monitored independently, showed similar reactions to his slight emotional adventures.
To see if he could get a reaction from plants at a much greater distance, Backster experimented with a female friend to
establish whether her plants remained attuned to her on a seven-hundred-mile plane ride across the United states. From synchronized
clocks they found a definite reaction from the plants to the friend's emotional stress each time the plane touched down for its landing.
To test a plant's reaction at still greater distances, even millions of miles, to see if space is a limit tot he "primary perception"
of his plants, Backster would like the Mars probers to place a plant with a galvanometer on or near that planet so as to check by telemeter
the plant's reaction to emotional changes in its caretaker at ground control on earth.
Since "telemetered" radio or TV signals traveling via electromagnetic waves at the speed of light take between six and six and
one-half minutes to reach Mars and as many to return to Earth, the question was whethere an emotional signal from an earthbound human would
reach Mars faster than an electromagnetic wave or, as Backster suspects, the very instant it was sent. were the round-trip time for a telemetered
message to be cut in half it would indicate that mental or emotional messages operate outside time as we conceive it, and beyong the
"we kep hearing about non-time-consuming communication from eastern philosophic sources," says Backster. "They tell us that the universe
is in balance; if it happens to go out of balance someplace, you can't wait a hundred light-years for the imbalance to be detected and corrected.
This non-time-consuming communication, this oneness among all living things, could be the answer."
This has been the second portion of Chapter 1. "Plants and ESP" from the Book The Secret Life of Plants By Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird
Here is a link to first part of the chapter.