The Sixth Sense of Plants

In the 1960's Clive Backster, a lie-detector examiner, decided to add some greenery to his office, and thus began a passion for plants and their place in the world. In essence he opened Pandora’s box, as the science of plants became a lifelong study. He developed what would be known as the “Backster Effect.” For Backster, the journey began in 1966, late one evening when he decided impulsively to attach electrodes of one of his lie detectors to the leaf of his dracaena plant. Known as the dragon tree, because of the myth that it yields dragon blood. Backster wanted to see if the plant would be affected if he poured water directly onto the roots of his plant, and how soon would it take the affects show. The plant absorbed the water and Backster was surprised that it didn’t show less resistance to the greater electrical conductivity of the moister, the pen on the graph moved downwards instead of moving upwards.

The galvanometer is part of a polygraph lie detector, and when attached to a human being by wires through which a current of electricity is run, it causes a pen to make a tracing on a moving graph of paper in response to mental images, or a surge of human emotion. The machine is named after an English physicist and inventor of the automatic telegraph, Sir Charles Wheatstone, the electrical circuit is called a “Wheatstone bridge,” and is used in conjunction with a galvanometer. The bridge balances resistance, allowing the human body’s basic charge to be measured as it fluctuates under the stimulus of thought and emotion.

The way to elicit the strongest emotion is to threaten someone’s well being. Backster did this with his plant, he dipped a leaf of his dracaena plant in his cup of hot coffee, there was no reaction. He then thought that if he burned the plant he may elicit a reaction. The moment the image of a flame entered his mind, and before he was able to reach for a light, there was an instant and dramatic change in the tracing pattern on the graph, an upward sweep of the recording machine. Backster left the room and returned with matches, he found another surge had registered on the chart as though the plant had responded to a potential threat of harm. Backster then carried out his plan and actually set the leaf alight, surprisingly there was a lesser reaction on the graph. He then pretended he was going to burn the leaf and there was no reaction. Backster realized the plant was able to differentiate between a faux attack and an actual one.

The moment this took place Backster knew he had made a scientific breakthrough, and plants could actually think. From this experiment Backster began exhaustive studies as he tried to understand how the plant was reacting to what he was thinking. Along with collaborators, Backster tested twenty-five different varieties of plants and fruits, including bananas, lettuce, oranges and onions. The results from these tests were similar to the tests done on the dracaena plant. The implications from these tests were mind boggling for scientists and parapsychologists, as it answered the question of the existence of ESP (extra sensory perception).

Once he concluded that plants could sense peoples thoughts Backster began exhaustive studies on every variety of plant, he found that he got the same results of the fight or flight response from all plants, even when they were detached from the plant. A leaf taken from a plant would still respond in the same way, showing fear when threatened, even from unformulated threats such as the sudden appearance of an animal in the room, or a person the plant felt would hurt it. Backster conducted an experiment with a spider attached to his equipment in the same room as a plant. The dramatic changes in the recorded pattern generated by the plant just before the spider started to scurry away, showed that the plant sensed the same feelings of fear as the spider. The plant was experiencing empathy.

Backster believed plants had a natural acceptance of each other, but were very wary of humans and animals as they posed a potential threat to their wellbeing. If a plant sensed danger, or felt threatened in any way its response was similar to that of an animal or human, the plant would faint. If plants were threatened they would often immediately go into a dead faint, especially if they felt death was imminent.

An experiment was conducted on a philodendron that a man had tenderly nursed from a seedling, two scientists attached a polygraph to the plant and then asked the owner several questions, to some of the questions the owner of the plant was instructed to give the wrong answers. The plant responded via the galvanometer to the questions its owner answered incorrectly, this experiment showed that plants absorbed what was going on around them and retained memories.

In one spectacular experiment six of Backster’s students were involved, each of the students had to draw from a folded slip of paper from a hat, on one slip of paper a student was instructed to pull out a plant by its roots then throw it on the floor and stamp on it. This would be done while there was a second plant in the room to bear witness. The culprit was to commit the crime in secret and tell no one about it, neither Backster nor any of his students knew the identity. The surviving plant was attached to a polygraph and each of the six students involved in the experiment was paraded past the plant that was still alive. The plant did not respond to five of the students, but the meter went crazy when the culprit approached, showing that a plant could remember and recognize the person who caused grievous harm to their fellow plants. Other observations of Backsters revealed that a plant had a particular bond with its owner and the plant stayed tuned in even when the owner was in a different room, or several buildings away.

During later lectures as Backster was showing a slide of his original experiment with his dracaena plant in 1966, the plant in his office registered a reaction on the chart at exactly the same time as Backster showed the projected slide. With this behavior Backster concluded that plants maintained the link with a person no matter where they went, even when they were among hundreds of people. To further this conclusion Backster went into New York City on New Year’s Eve, armed with a stopwatch and notebook to jot down his activities, he began in Times Square. Backster ran, walked, was almost hit by a car, rode on the underground, and had a minor tiff with the owner of a news stand. He later returned to his lab and checked the three plants he had been monitoring independently, Backster found that each of his plants had displayed an emotional reaction in line with the adventures of his evening.

Backster conducted a similar experiment with a friend of his as she took a seven hundred mile plane ride across the United States. They found that her plants had registered emotional stress each time her plane landed. Backster found that even when a plant was screened by placing it in a lead container, the communication between plant and human did not diminish.

One day Backster cut his finger and dabbed it with iodine while he was monitoring a plant on his polygraph, the plant reacted immediately to the death of cells in Backster’s finger. Backster found that when a plant witnessed the death of living tissue a recognizable pattern appeared on the graph. To take this study further, Backster poured hot water down the drain to kill bacteria in the sink, the plants reacted showing there sensitivity on a cellular level to the death of individual cells in their environment. Backster believed that sentience didn’t stop at the cellular level but went down to the molecular, the atomic and even to the subatomic, this led to him reconsidering what actually was inanimate.

During further experiments Backster found plants became so attuned to human beings that if they had prior knowledge of an experiment being scheduled, they could actually be non-compliant. This led Backster to develop an experiment that was fully automated with no human involvement, this took time to design and required an elaborate system of experimental controls.

After Backster had conducted his unusual experiments witnessed by many scientists, in March 1969. Medical World News, wrote that ESP research was “on the verge of achieving the scientific respectability that investigators of psychic phenomena have sought in vain since 1882 when the British Society for Psychical Research was founded in Cambridge.”

A grant was given to Backster by William M. Bonduran, an executive of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Bonduran did this in order for Backster to pursue his research. Bondura said, “His work indicates there may be a primary form of instantaneous communication among all living things that transcends the physical laws we know now and that seems to warrant looking into.” Backster then invested in electrocardiographs electroencephalographs, the cardiograph obtained readings more sensitive than the polygraph, the encephalograph gave readings ten times more sensitive than the cardiograph.

New research was born from Backster’s experiment with a plant he had attached to a polygraph. Backster was about to feed a raw egg to his Doberman pincer. As he cracked the egg meant for his dog, the plant attached to the polygraph showed an extreme reaction. He repeated the event the following evening and got the same reaction from the plant. Backster then attached an egg to a galvanometer and the reaction corresponded to the rhythm of the heartbeats of the chicken embryo, which has a frequency being between 160 and 170 beats per minute. This is what would be expected from an embryo three or four days along in incubation, the unusual aspect of this experiment was that the egg was store bought and unfertilized. After nine hours of active readings from the egg, Backster cracked it open and began dissecting it and to his amazement he found it contained no physical circulatory structure which would have led to the active readings he recorded. Backster was aware he had tapped into a force field not conventionally understood in current scientific awareness.

Thanks to Backster’s extraordinary discoveries through his ongoing experiments, further study was carried out in the 1930’s and 1940’s at the Yale Medical School, by Professor Harold Saxton, these insightful studies have more recently been understood. After the egg experiment Backster put his studies with plants on hold so he could research the origin of life.

Marcel Vogel a research chemist read an article written by Backster, he started reading the article as a skeptic and became a convert. Vogel was able to recreate Backster’s work, receiving the same results, such as a plant showing fear if it perceived a threat. From his own experiments, Vogel deduced that psychic energy like other forms of energy should be storable. Vogel enlisted the help of a friend Vivian Wiley who was a gifted psychic, he asked her to intuitively make suggestions as to how he could further his experiments. In response she went into her garden and picked two leaves from a plant, placing one in the living room and one on her bedside table. Backster’s friend decided her experiment would be to acknowledge the leaf on her bedside table and will it to live, and ignore the leaf in the living room, then wait and see what happens to each of the leaves. Vogel came to see the results a month later, he found that the leaf his friend had willed to live and acknowledged every day, was as fresh, vital and green as the day it was picked. The other leaf, the one his friend placed in her sitting room and ignored, that had been picked on the same day, at the same time and from the same plant, was turning brown and beginning to decay. Vogel began to consider that a power beyond natural law had kept the plant healthy and vital.

Continuing this experiment, Vogel removed three leaves from an elm tree and laid them on a plate of glass next to his bed. He established a routine everyday of looking intently at two of the outside leaves on the glass, sending them love and willing them to live, in the center was the third leaf which he ignored completely. Within one week the ignored leaf turned brown, shriveled up and had no life left in it. The other two leaves remained green, vital and healthy, the severed stem of both leaves had healed itself. Vivian was so enthralled by the experiment she continued it and two months after she had placed a leaf to shower with love next to her bed, and a leaf to ignore in her sitting room, the leaf that had sensed her love remained green and healthy and the ignored leaf had shriveled up completely.

Vogel concluded that he had witnessed the power of psychic energy. With further experiments and the documentation of a plant’s emotions, Vogel found that the intensity of the plants mutual response was the same as the energy exuded by lovers and close friends when they met. He found plants and humans interacted, picking up sensations from events and from other people, and the responses could be recorded through the plant. He believed that plants were a sensitive instrument for measuring people’s emotions and through sharing their thoughts and feelings, plant and human become one. Marcel Vogel believed plants opened new horizons with their ability to pick up messages of intent, either benign or malicious, are more truthful than when translated into words.

In October 1970, a Russian newspaper Pravda, published an article titled “What leaves Tell Us.” The reporter, V. Chertkov, witnessed plants revealing their feelings. This took place when the reporter was in Moscow and he visited the Laboratory for Artificial Climate at Timiryasev Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Hundreds of experiments were carried out by Professor Ivan Isideovich Gunar, head of Plant Physiology at the academy, and his staff. Through the many experiments it was found that plants have electrical impulses similar to the nerve impulses in man.

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