By Cleve Backster
Summary by Susan Joseph
You most likely are aware,
from the experiments by Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose and others that plants respond
favorably to certain types of music. But, do you know that the plant on your
windowsill is “in-tune” with your thoughts and “anticipates” your return home,
or that the unfertilized eggs in your refrigerator, the bacteria in yogurt, and
cells removed from your body also respond to thoughts and actions? Although the
scientific world has not yet fully embraced the existence of “biocommunication”
between all living organisms, Cleve Backster’s experiments over the past 40
years, which he chronicles in “Primary Perception,” provide convincing evidence
of the interconnectedness of all life.
Famous Dracaena Plant
Mr. Backster, who is a
leading expert in polygraphing, traces his interest in biocommunication back to
February 2, 1966 when, on a whim, he attached two small electrode pads connected
to a polygraph machine to a leaf on a common houseplant, a dracaena plant, to
determine how long it would take for water to travel from the roots to the
leaf. However, instead of recording the expected decrease in electrical
resistance due to the arrival of water, the polygraph record indicated just the
opposite—it showed the same increased resistance seen when a human subject was
experiencing a fear of detection. This intriguing pattern prompted Mr. Backster
to try other techniques used to get responses from human subjects. Since
sensitive questioning, which would be used on a human subject to determine if
they were “hiding” something, would not work on a plant, Mr. Backster decided to
see if he could “frighten” the plant by immersing one of its leafs in hot
coffee. When there was no notable reaction, he thought about burning a leaf.
The moment the image of a burning leaf entered his mind, the polygraph recording
pen jump to the top of the chart, indicating real fear. This discovery set Mr.
Backster upon a lifetime pursuit of conducting experiments to detect the
reactions of plants, living foods, and animal cells to human thoughts. His
efforts to publicize his findings have, quite frequently, elicited strong
negative reaction from the scientific community and the public.
For the following several
years, Mr. Backster focused on refining his polygraph techniques for recording
plant reactions. He varied the type of polygraph equipment used, varied the
types of plants tested, and continually improved upon scientific protocol.
Through his experimentation, Mr. Backster came to conclude that plants are a
sensitive indicator of emotions emanating from other life forms in their
immediate area, particularly the emotions of humans. The experiments also led
to the following observations about plants:
have the ability to discern true intent:
The “threat” to do something harmful to the plant had to be real for the plant
A plant “defines” its territory and becomes attuned to the activity of life
forces within that area. As such, if a plant defines its space as being two
connected rooms, it may remain unaware of or tune-out activity in an adjacent
develop an affinity for the person who takes care of them:
This characteristic was discovered when the polygraph showed the plant appeared
to anticipate Mr. Backster’s return to the laboratory the moment Mr. Backster
decided to return. Further research showed that the plant only responded when
there was a definite spontaneous decision to return, not if Mr. Backster merely
thought he should return, but delayed his return. Furthermore, experiments
showed that the plant’s perception was not affected by distance. Mr. Backster
could be in the same building or miles away and the plant would perceive he was
appear to be very sensitive to the death of a wide variety of microscopic life
characteristic was discovered accidentally when trying to account for unusual
polygraph activity. It was traced to the moment that boiling water was poured
down a sink drain after making coffee, killing the bacteria growing in the
drain. Further experimentation showed that after exposing a plant to three or
four repetitions of the pouring the boiling water, plant reaction subsided. Mr.
Backster speculates that plants react to the injury or death of microscopic life
forms because the forms emit some type of signal that the plants pick up as a
potential threat to their well being; once a plant realizes there is no threat,
as becomes evident if the event happens repeatedly, it stops responding with
retain sensitivity to injury or death of human cells:
This discovery, too, was accidental and then later confirmed through
experimentation. Mr. Backster observed plants responding to activities going on
in an adjacent restroom, outside of their “territory.” Their reaction was
eventually traced to the flushing of urinals with a disinfectant. The
disinfectant was killing the living human cells in body fluids being excreted.
However, unlike when non-human life forms were being injured or killed,
repetition of the “killings” did not “desensitize” the plants.
Based these observations
of plant characteristics, Mr. Backster began to suspect that a plant’s
perception or reaction to events was more basic, or primary, than traditional
views on perception and led to his coining of the phrase “primary perceptions.”
Mr. Backster also began to realize that, if he were to succeed in having his
finds accepted by the scientific community and public, he would have to follow
scientific methodology and expand his experiments beyond polygraph tests.
First Published Experiment
The first experiment
conducted following strict scientific methodology was designed to test whether
plants reacted to the death of non-human life forms. Four polygraph machines
were used—three attached to three different plants and the fourth, used as a
control, was attached to a fixed value register. At random times, a machine
designed by Mr. Backster would drop a cup of water containing brine shrimp into
boiling water. Brine shrimp are raised as tropical fish food. The experiment
showed that when the brine shrimp died, the electroded plants reacted on a
statistically significant number of occasions.
Mr. Backster presented the
results of his experiment in September 1967 before the Parapsychology
Association. In December 1967, the Journal of Parapsychology published an
abstract on his plant research and, the following year, an article titled
“Evidence of a Primary Perception in Plant Life,” was published in the Winter,
1968 edition of the International Journal of Parapsychology.
Initial Reactions from the Scientists and the Public
When the results of the
plant-brine shrimp experiment were published, there was intense public interest
and interest from the scientific community. Mr. Backster became somewhat of a
celebrity with invitations to present his findings at universities, scientific
gatherings, and even before the Congress. When one small article appeared in a
magazine, almost 5,000 scientists requested additional information on the
experiment. His laboratory also became a popular site for many celebrities to
visit and he appeared as a guest on the Johnny Carson, Art Linkletter, Merv
Griffin, and David Frost shows. Mr. Backster’s celebrity status increased even
more with the publication of the Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and
Christopher Bird in 1972. His work also received praise from Eastern-block
researchers and, in 1972, a Soviet scientist, V. N. Pushkin, reported he had
duplicated Mr. Backster’s research with plants using a different type of
machine, the EEG (electro-encephalograph), which is conventionally used for
Many American researchers
either avoided public commentary on his work or dismissed it as a waste of time
or quackery. However, in 1975, Edgar Gasteiger of Cornell and John Kmetz of
Science Unlimited Research Foundation reported Mr. Backster’s theory on psychic
phenomena in plants had been disproved—that they had been unable to successfully
replicate his experiments. Mr. Backster publicly challenged their work, noting
problems in their approach, specifically that they had not followed proper
automation of the experiment. They had had contact with the plants before
conducting the experiment, thus compromising the experiment by allowing the
plants to “attune” to the environment.
Mr. Backster continued his
research into “primary perception,” expanding the type of monitoring equipment
used and the type of plants, but he did not attempt to replicate his plant-brine
shrimp experiment. Some of his other experiments involved using eggs and yogurt
with live bacteria and resulted in even more astounding discoveries.
experimentation with eggs began after he determined plants in his laboratory
were responding when he cracked open eggs. This led to the attaching of
electrodes to an unfertilized egg. The polygraph recorded small but rapid
cyclic serrations that looked like human pulse beats, except much more rapid,
about 157 per minute—the same heart rate of a 3-day old chicken embryo. The
question raised is whether this is a recording of the etheric field, that which
would later guide the physical development of a pre-hatched chicken.
With the use of
electrocardiograph-type (EKG) instrumentation and electroencephalograph-type
instrumentation, conventionally used for monitoring the heart and brainwaves,
respectively, Mr. Backster discovered unfertilized eggs responded to the
external environment. In one example, Mr. Backster abruptly picked-up his
sleeping cat. At the moment the cat responded angrily, with claws extended, the
egg showed increased activity. Eggs being monitored also responded when another
egg was dropped into boiling water.
This latter discovery of
eggs responding to the “death” of another egg prompted an effort to design a
“replicable” study of the phenomenon. For this experiment, an egg was
electroded for an EKG recording and 10 eggs were dropped into boiling water at
random times. However, instead of seeing a reaction to each “death,” the
electroded egg reacted only to the first “death.” This experiment led Mr.
Backster to speculate that when life forms are warned of impending death they go
into a defensive state, the equivalent of fainting. He speculated that either
the first egg dropped into the boiling or the electroded egg warned the other
nine eggs of their impending death and they reacted defensively. If this is
true, it could add greater insight into the saying of a grace before eating.
Tuning in to Live Bacteria
Experiments using yogurts
showed “primary perception” in bacteria, that the bacteria in yogurt was very
attuned to human interaction in the immediate area. In one experiment, Mr.
Backster fed nutrients to a sample of yogurt taken from the yogurt that was “electroded.”
The electroded yogurt responded as if it expected to be fed. Bacteria in yogurt
also reacted when “unfriendly” bacteria on food “died” either from being heated
or digested. However, as with the eggs, Mr. Backster speculated that when the
first bacteria were terminated by the gastric juice, they warned the remaining
bacteria as evidenced by the limited reaction in the yogurt.
Experiments using yogurt
also led to evidence that bacteria had an apparent capability to prioritize.
Despite the chaos caused by having numerous in a room involved in varying
activities, the bacteria in a yogurt was able to focus on what was happening to
bacteria 15 feet away that was immersed in vodka. This suggests that there is a
primary perception process, equivalent to “psychological set” in humans, but on
a bacterial level.
From Animal Cells to Human Cells
Having studied primary
perception in plants, eggs, and bacteria, Mr. Backster moved on to studying
primary perception in animal and human cells. These experiments showed that,
like plants, animal and human cells: (1) are aware of and react to events
affecting other living organisms, (2) react to injury or death of all other
living organisms, (3) that human “thoughts” that will result in the injury or
death of a living organism provide a type of notification to that organism that
allows it to become “desensitized.” The experiments also showed that the cells
remain “attuned” to the emotions and thoughts of the donor, i.e. to the person
from whom the cells were taken.
One of the first
experiments involved a fresh beefsteak. EEG instrumentation detected reactions
in an electroded beefsteak when a piece that was taken from it was being
digested. It also reacted strongly when Ajax cleanser was poured on the cutting
board used to slice the steak. Experiments also showed that a fresh beefsteak
reacted to activities involving a piece of it that had previously been frozen,
thus leading to the conclusion that freezing does not impair biocommunication
biocommunication experiments on human cells was the next challenge. The
decision was made to experiment with oral leukocytes, commonly called “white
cells,” because they could be easily collected from the mouth. Using a
centrifuge to separate the cells from the saliva, the leukocytes were placed in
a test tube into which a wire electrode was inserted. The electrodes were then
connected to the EEG type instrumentation. Following are the results of some of
the experiments included in a 1985 report Mr. Backster co-authored with two of
his lab assistants entitled, Biocommunications Capability: Human Donors and
In Vitro Leukocytes.
Leukocyte cells, like plants, reacted when the donor first “thought” about
inflicting a small cut on his hand and treating it with iodine, but not when
the act was committed.
Leukocyte cells showed a full-scale reaction, hitting the top and bottom
limits of the chart recorder, when the donor was reading a Playboy magazine.
When he closed the magazine, the cells calmed down, only to be reactivated
when he reached to open the magazine again. Other experiments showed that
cells would react to the injury or death of other types of cells from the same
cell donor, at distances of 15 feet or more apart, such as living cells being
expelled from the body and being exposed to air and the urinal disinfectant.
Leukocyte cells reacted when the donor, located 10 blocks away from the
laboratory reacted emotionally to an episode of “Hill Street Blues” that
involved holding a policewoman captive. In 1983, the U.S. Army Intelligence
and Security Command, with the assistance of Mr. Backster, replicated
experiments using in vitro leukocytes cells and observed human cell
biocommunication over a distance of 12 miles, and at a distance in excess of
50 miles in less structured tests.
Biocommunication Research and Current Scientific Attitudes
Although Mr. Backster has
published and lectured extensively on his work, and a few laboratories have
successfully replicated his experiments with human leukocytes, it has been
difficult to achieve prescribed repeatability requirements required for the
accumulation of acceptable empirical data on biocommunications. Most
laboratories have yet to make the necessary changes in procedures to
successfully conduct biocommunication experiments. The success of
biocommunication experiments is dependent upon a degree of spontaneity as living
organisms detect “thoughts” and therefore are able to prepare. The conventional
planned research project, by design, has no spontaneity. Moreover, in
biocommunication research, the intentions of the experimenter—negative or
positive—can affect the results.
If the right conditions
can be achieved for serious research, there are many unanswered questions about
biocommunication that merit study, particularly questions such as: (1) is there
a distance limitation, (2) what is the speed of the communication transmission,
and (3) is the communication capable of penetrating “shielding,” such as lead.
Preliminary work indicates distance and shielding does not prevent
biocommunication. If experiments find that biocommunication is faster than the
speed of light or radio transmission, this could be beneficial for future space
travel. Currently, using conventional communication methodology, there are
transmission delays of 20 to 30 minutes. Also biocommunication work could
provide support for the concept of “nonlocality” that is discussed by quantum
physicists. If “nonlocality” existed, there would be no communication distance
limitation and there there would be “zero time consumption.”
Learning more about
biocommunication could provide spiritual insights. Science has never provided a
reasonable explanation concerning how prayer and meditation, particularly over
vast distance, could be effective when the time required for such communication
was confined to the speed of light. The concepts of a limitlessness
biocommunication and “nonlocality” could explain how we communicate with God.
could advance holistic health care and explain why a patient’s attitude can
affect medical outcomes. Experiments with leukocyte cells suggest that other
cells of the body may also be influenced by the quality of a donor’s thought
process and emotional state. It is possible that varieties of illness may
result either from the expression or the suppression of negative thoughts or
The capability for
long-term monitoring, using biological sensors, opens possibilities for
monitoring under a wider variety of circumstances, such as when a donor is
undergoing surgery, attending therapy sessions, pre-testing television shows, or
while playing sports. More advances in technology may allowing monitoring crops
or giant redwoods, for example.
Mr. Backster strongly
believes that the key to acceptance of biocommunication among all living things
is enabling as many as want to experience their own observation of
biocommunication at work. Currently, such observations require sophisticated
equipment, such as polygraph machines or EEG and EKG type instrumentation. A
possible long range solution to this problem entails making available to the
curious and open-minded individuals a comparatively inexpensive EEG-type device
which will be portable and, most likely, battery powered. Mr. Backster is
working on developing such a device, partially financed from his share of the
sales of Primary Perception.
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