Instead of moving in the way he would have expected, the galvanometer was moving in a pattern reminiscent of a human's emotional response.
Intrigued, he decided to see what would happen to the response if he threatened the plant. He decided to burn the leaf, but no sooner did he form the thought in his mind, than the tracing pattern took a dramatic upward sweep! There was another surge in the reading when he got some matches, and a smaller surge when he actually burned the leaf.
However, when he later only went through the motions of burning the leaf, without any real intent to do so, the recording showed no reaction at all.
From that moment, Mr. Backster set off on a course of research to attempt to understand what was going on beneath the surface of the Plant Kingdom.
With his galvanometers and electrodes and recording pens, he observed many unusual things. Leaves continued to cause readings even when they had been detached from the roots, or cut up into little pieces. When confronted with immanent catastophe, or a person who routinely killed plants, they appeared to "pass out," that is to say elicit no reading at all, much like an animal in the death grip of the predator.
They seemed to respond to a person's "lying" or "truthing" much as a lie detector could. They could respond to the emotional states of a person with whom they had a relationship - the caregiver - even though that person was across the street, across town, or across the country. And they responded at the exact instant that the caregiver experienced the emotional stimulus.
He observed that plants seemed to "pay attention" to any kind of animal life in their vicinity, and often reacted to the animal's actions before they actually happened. Furthermore, he noticed a marked reaction to the death of animal cells, even things as trivial as bacteria dying from boiling water being poured down a sink.
It seemed obvious to him that the plants were picking up signals through some hitherto unsuspected medium of communication. He tried shielding the plants inside Faraday cages or lead shielding, which didn't affect their responses at all. From this he concluded that, whatever path of communication was being used, it was not within the electro magnetic spectrum.
At about the same time, in California, an IBM research chemist, Marcel Vogel, began to replicate some of Backster's results. While he did use a number of electronic recording devices to measure plant reaction, Vogel was also interested in the power of mind and emotion. and claimed to have kept cut leaves alive and green simply by lovingly exhorting them to be healthy, while a similar leaf which he ignored soon turned brown and dead.
He reported the experiment of a psychically gifted friend, Vivian Wiley, who picked two leaves from a saxifrage plant in her garden. One she laid beside her bed, the other in the living room. Every day when she woke up, she focused on the leaf by her bed and willed it to live; the leaf in the living room she paid no attention to. After a month, the leaf in her bedroom was still green and vital, while the living room leaf was brown and dried!
He worked with the object of recording plants' ability to attune to and record the emotional states of people with whom they had a relationship, himself as well as others. He found that different plants responded more or less strongly, even different leaves on the same plant could be more or less receptive. He also found that his own state of mind was integral, requiring a sort of meditative awareness of the energetic relationship between himself and his test subject plant.
Vogel continued to work through the 70's, writing articles, lecturing, and appearing on TV. He sums up his discoveries like this:
"It is a fact: man can and does communicate with plant life. Plants are living objects, sensitive, rooted in space....They radiate energy forces that are beneficial to man. One can feel these forces! They feed into one's own force field, which in turn feeds back energy to the plant." *
Mr Backster and Mr. Vogel published articles, or there were articles published about their work, in The International Journal of Parapsychology (1968), National Wildlife (1969), Medical World News (1969), Argosy magazine, and Popular Electronics, among others. Probably needless to say, the Scientific Establishment dismissed their observations as basically nonsense. The idea that plants could have emotions or perceptions of emotions does not fit with scientific understanding of how the world operates; besides that, very few of Backster's and Vogel's results could be repeated by other researchers. Of course, Vogel's explanation that the mindset of the experimenter was vital to the outcome of any experiment did not help. But it does explain a few things.
* Tompkins, Peter and Bird, Christopher. The Secret Life of Plants. New York, Harper and Row.1973
(by Marlie Graves)