Backster, Cleve (b. 1924)
Former interrogator for the CIA who became one of America’s
leading polygraph (lie detector) specialists. He became director
of the Keeler Polygraph Institute in Chicago and later
founded the Cleve Backster School of Lie Detection in Manhattan,
New York. During the late 1960s, he became famous for
his experiments in plant ESP, using polygraph techniques. His
experiments tend to support the idea that plants are sensitive
to human thoughts. Some of his experiments were sponsored
by the Parapsychology Foundation and involved tests to see if
plants reacted to the destruction of live cells.
Backster believed plants that had become attuned to a particular
human being appeared to maintain that link wherever
the person went and whatever he did. Backster concluded
‘‘There exists an as yet undefined primary perception in plant
life, that animal life termination can serve as a remotely located
stimulus to demonstrate this perception capability, and that
this perception facility in plants can be shown to function independently
of human involvement.’’ Procedures and results
were reported in the International Journal of Parapsychology in
The Backster Research Foundation was founded to sponsor
Backster’s research in plant sensitivity. It was funded by a
$10,000 grant from the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation of
Bach, Richard Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina. William M. Bondurant of the
Babcock Foundation stated that Backster’s 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.’’
While some of Backster’s conclusions may seem fantastic,
the sensitivity of plant life to environments is indisputable.
What is unknown is how much of this sensitivity is related to any
paranormal interchange. Much pioneer work in this field was
investigated with delicate apparatus by the late Sir Jagadis
Chunder Bose, an Indian scientist in Calcutta. The careful scientific
experiments of Bose were reported in a series of papers
and books, notably Response in the Living and the Non-Living
(1902) and Plant Autographs and Their Revelations (1927). Drawing
upon the experiments of Bose, later researchers investigated
the reactions of plants when stimulated by music and dancing.
The work of Cleve Backster, Bose, and others revived the
whole question of plant sensitivity. While many were impressed
with Backster’s data, others were skeptical and suggested alternative
explanations for his results while others questioned the
Backster, Cleve. ‘‘Evidence of a Primary Perception in Plant
Life.’’ International Journal of Parapsychology 10 (1968) 329–48.
Galston, Arthur W., and Clifford L. Slayman. ‘‘Plant Sensitivity
and Sensation.’’ In Science and the Paranormal Probing the
Evidence of the Supernatural. Edited by George O. Abell and
Barry Singer. New York Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981.
Tompkins, Peter, and Christopher Bird. The Secret Life of
Plants. New York Harper and Row, 1973.
Whitman, John. The Psychic Power of Plants. London New
English Library, 1974.