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Plants Have Feelings, Too
An excerpt from The Intention Experiment
by Lynne McTaggart:
"Cleve Backster.... a lie detector expert during the Second World War.... was among the first to propose that plants are affected by human intention.... His notoriety (came) from a series of experiments that purported to demonstrate that living organisms read and respond to a person's thoughts.....
In order to elicit the equivalent of alarm in a plant, Backster knew he needed somehow to threaten its well-being.... It was obvious to him that he needed to pose an immediate and genuine threat: he would get a match and burn the electroded leaf. At the very moment he had that thought, the recording pen swung to the top of the polygraph chart and nearly jumped off. He had not burned the plant; he had only thought about doing so. According to his polygraph, the plant had perceived the though as a direct threat and registered extreme alarm. He ran to his secretary's desk in a neighboring office for some matches. When he returned, the plant was still registering alarm on the polygraph. He lit a match and flickered it under one of the leaves. The pen continued on its wild, zigzag course. Backster then returned the matches to his secretary's desk. The tracing calmed down and began to flatline....
This plant, it seemed, had read his thoughts.... This could have occurred only if the plant possessed some sort of sophisticated extrasensory perception. The plant somehow must be attuned to its environment, able to receive far more than pure sensory information from water or light.
Backster modified his polygraph equipment to amplify electrical signals so that they would be highly sensitive to the slightest electrical change in the plants. He and his partner, Bob Henson, set about replicating the initial experiment. Backster spent the next year and a half frequently monitoring the reactions of the other plants in the office to their environment. They discovered a number of characteristics. The plants grew attuned to the comings and going of their main caretaker.....
Most intriguing of all, there seemed to be a continuous two-way flow of information between the plants and other living things in their environment. One day, when Backster boiled his kettle to make coffee... poured the residue down the sink, he noticed that the plants registered an intense reaction.
The decided to take some sample from the drain and examine them under a microscope, which showed a jungle of bacteria.... When threatened by the boiling water, had the bacteria emitted a type of Mayday signal before they died, which had been picked up by the plants?
Backster, who knew he would be ridiculed if he presented finding like these to the scientific community, enlisted an impressive array of chemists, biologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and physicists to help him design and airtight experiment.
.... He tried to think of the one act that would stir up the most profound reaction, something that would evoke the equivalent in the plants of dumbfounded horror. It became clear that the only way to get unequivocal results was to commit the equivalent of mass genocide.... Brine shrimp were already destined for the slaughterhouse. Only the most ardent antivivisectionist could object.
Backster and Henson rigged up a gadget that would randomly select one of six possible moments when a small cup containing the brine shrimp would invert and tip its contents into a pot of continuously boiling water. The randomizer was placed in the far room in his suite of six offices, with three plants attached to polygraph equipment in three separate rooms at the other end of the laboratory. His fourth polygraph machine, attached to a fixed valve resistor to ensure that there was no sudden surge of voltage from the equipment, acted as the control.
Microcomputers had yet to be invented, as Backster set up his lab in the late 1960s. To perform the task, Backster created an innovative mechanical program, which operated on a time-delay switch, to set off each event in the automation process. After flipping the switch, Backster and Henson would leave the lab, so they and their thoughts would not influence the results. He had to eliminate the possibility that the plants might be more attuned to him and his colleague than a minor murder of brine shrimp down the hallway.
Backster and Henson tried their test numerous times. The results were unambiguous: the polygraphs of the electroded plants spiked a significant number of times just at the point when the brine shrimp hit the boiling water. Years after he made this discovery--and after he became a great fan of Star Wars--he would think of this moment as one in which his plants picked up a major disturbance in the Force, and he had discovered a means of measuring it. If plants could regisgter the death of an organism three doors away, it must mean that all life-forms were exquisitely in tune with each other. Living things must be registering and passing telepathic information back and forth at every moment, particularly at moments of threat or death.
Backster published the results of his experiment in several respected journals of psychic research and gave a modest presentation before the Parapsychology Association during its tenth annual meeting. Parapsychologists recognized Backster's contribution and replicated it in a number of independent laboratories, notably that of Alexander Dubrov, a Russian doctor of botany and plant physiology. It was even glorified in a best-selling book, The Secret Life of Plants.
...Backster carried on with his research... eventually amassing file drawers full of studies of what he referred to as "primary perception." A variety of plants that had been hooked up to his polygraph equipment showed evidence of a reaction to human emotional highs and lows, especially threats and other forms of negative intention--as did paramecia, mold cultures, eggs and...yogurt. Backster even demonstrated that bodily fluids such as blood and semen samples taken from himself and his colleagues registered reactions mirroring the emotional state of their hosts; the blood cells of a young lab assistant reacted intensely the moment he opened a Playboy centerfold and caught sight of Bo Derek in the nude.
These reactions were not dependent on distance; any living system attached to a polygraph reacted similarly to his thoughts, whether he was in the room or miles away. Like pets, these systems had become attuned to their "owner." These organisms were not simply registering his thoughts; they were communicating telepathically with all the living things in their environment.
...Even though his laboratory experiments were now entirely automated, when he left the office, the plants would remain attuned to him, no matter how far away he went. If Backster and his partner were at a bar a block away during an experiment, he would discover that the plants were responding not to the brine shrimp, but to the rising and falling animation of their conversations. It got so difficult to isolate reactions to specific events that eventually he had to design experiments that would be carried out by strangers in another lab.
...Ingo Swann had come to visit him at his lab in October 1971. Swann wanted to repeat Backster's initial experiment with his Dracaena. As expected, the plant's polygraph began to spike when Swann imagined burning the plant with a match. He tried it again, and the plant reacted wildly, then stopped.
'What does that mean?' Swann asked.
Backster shrugged. 'You tell me.'
The thought that occurred to Swann was so bizarre that he was not sure whether to say it aloud. 'Do you mean,' he said, 'that it has learned that I'm not serious about really burning its leaf? So that it now knows it need not be alarmed?'
'You said it, I didn't' Backster replied. 'Try another kind of harmful thought.'
Swann thought of putting acid in the plant's pot. The needle on the polygraph again began to zigzag wildly. Eventually, the plant appeared to understand that Swann was not serious. The polygraph tracing flatlined. Swann, a plant lover who was already convinced that plants were sentient, was nevertheless shocked at the thought that plants could learn to differentiate between true and artificial human intent."