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Secret Life of Plants

Secret Life of Plants

4.5 9
by Peter Tompkins, Christopher Bird, Christopher O. Bird

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The world of plants and its relation to mankind as revealed by the latest scientific discoveries. "Plenty of hard facts and astounding scientific and practical lore."—Newsweek


The world of plants and its relation to mankind as revealed by the latest scientific discoveries. "Plenty of hard facts and astounding scientific and practical lore."—Newsweek

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HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.93(d)

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Chapter One

Plants and ESP

The dust-grimcd 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 galvanometer 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 was there because of a fatal step taken in the 1960s which radically affected his life, and may equally affect the planet.

Backster's antics with his plants, headlined in the world press, became the subject of skits, cartoons, and lampoons; but the Pandora's box which be 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 ofsmall flowers; it is known as the dragon tree (Latin draco) because of the popular myth that its resin yields 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 physiologist 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 emotion?

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 wellbeing. Backster decided to do just that to the plant: he dunked a leaf of the dracaena in the cup of hot coffee perennially 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 be 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 be 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 pretended 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 bow 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 occurrence. Was there something extraordinary about the plant? About him? About the particular polygraph instrument?

When be 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 been 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 are attributable to chance.

What People are Saying About This

Henry Mitchell
This fascinating book roams...over that marvelous no man's land of mystical glimmerings into the nature of science and life itself.

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Secret Life of Plants 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You have probably heard about George Washington Carver, famous for transforming the peanut into many marketable products such as peanutbutter, and Luther Burbank, the plant genius who developed marvelous new varieties in his plant breeding programs. If you want to learn about their achievements, you can look them up in an Encyclopedia. But if you really want to know what they did to produce their amazing achievements, you need to read The Secret Life of Plants. This book contains details about their childhoods, for example, that George Washington Carver was a frail child and that he maintained a secret greenhouse in the woods where he cured sick plants. Also, that as a child, he used plants to cure sick animals. You can also learn about the way these geniuses worked with plants, for example, that Luther Burbank had an amazing intuitive ability to know which of the plants in his plant breeding experiments contained the traits he desired. He evidently could go through millions of seedlings and pick out the ones that showed the most promise. Furthermore, The Secret Life of Plants also describes the exploits of plant geniuses you may not have heard of, for example, a great Bengali scientist, knighted by King George V for his achievements, Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose, who discovered the interrelationship of plants and electromagnetism. There is also the Russian husband-wife team, the Kirlians, who discovered a way of photographing the aura around living things. In addition, you can read about Canadian researchers at the University of Ottawa, who used sound vibrations to speed up the growth of plants. There are many more fascinating topics covered in this book, among them, the North Scotland community of Findhorn that works with nature spirits to produce amazing gardens, that dowsing is considered a respected science in France, and that the alchemists¿ goal of transmuting elements is effortlessly accomplished everyday by plants. Co-author, Peter Tompkins, who also penned such fascinating tomes as Secrets of the Great Pyramid and Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, unearths fascinating information by detailing the work of scientists shunned by conformist academia. Being an avid organic gardener, I especially enjoyed learning why and how chemical fertilizers deplete the soil of nutrients, and also the amazing research that shows that plants have produced the nutrients they needed without supplemental chemicals or additives. Probably The Secret Life of Plants is the most valuable to me because it shows how scientists using plants were able to prove the reality of telepathy, something researchers holding up index cards to human subjects have not been able to do adequately.
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FalstaffPC More than 1 year ago
Quite possibly the most fascinating book I have ever read. Being inquisitive, this fits my enjoyment level at the top. Buy it and read it, you won't be able to put it down.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book opens your mind and heart with facts and contemplations... a mystical study into the delicate, eclectic awareness of the vegetal world. It is both a spiritual journey and scientific history into the exploration and findings of the courageous, brilliant individuals who braved a new world towards insight. For the lay and studious, this book is a classic!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very thorough investigation into plants and the role they may play in our world. Interesting plant research from around the world is presented in a very digestible form. Plants responding to human emotions, forgotten ideas on bio-dynamic composting and more. Work from the USA, Russia, India and other countries is referenced to author and source, making for some very convincing arguments that plant do have a 'secret life'. Not for people who refuse to 'think outside the box'. A book that is a great read the first time through, and a great reference everytime after.