Backster, Cleve (b. 1924)

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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 1968.

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 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 nowand 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 methodology.


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.