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Cleve Backster, polygraph expert, featured in The Secret Life of Plants for his Primary Perception research
Cleve Backster

To learn more about Cleve Backster's research, read The Secret Life of Your Cells by Robert B. Stone, published by Whitford Press, 1989. Buy now from

Pictures from Cleve Backster:
The clamp arrangement that was attached to the leaf and used to monitor the reaction

Part of the apparatus used to automate the research project

Primary Perception research

     (These are excerpts from a talk that researcher Cleve Backster gave at a Silva convention in 1995. For more information, you can read the book, The Secret Life of Your Cells by Robert B. Stone, about Backster's research and its relationship to Jose Silva's mind training systems. This talk is copyright 1995 by Cleve Backster and used with his permission.)

by Cleve Backster
     This is the original plant that was attached back on February 2, 1966, in my lab back in New York City.
     For whatever reason, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to see how long it took the water to get from the root area of this plant, all the way up this long trunk and out and down to the leaves.
     After doing a saturation watering of the plant, I thought, "Well gee whiz, I've got a lot of polygraph equipment around; let me hook the galvanic skin response section of the polygraph onto the leaf."
     Now this is a whetstone bridge circuit that is designed to measure resistance changes, and I felt that as the contaminated water came up the trunk and down into the leaf that the leaf becoming more saturated and a better conductor it would give me the rising time of the water....I would be able to get that on the polygraph chart tracing.
     Well this was the thing that started it.

     Now the thing trended downward rather than upward, which amazed me a little bit because it should have been going slowly upward on the tracings, if it was going to show a drop in resistance.
     I moved it up here - this was my move - and then it came down again, and this is the thing that amazed me right here because this contour right away...I'm looking and thinking, "That's got the contour of a human being tested, reacting when you are asking a question that could get them in trouble."
     So I forgot about the rising water time and said, Wow, this thing wants to show me people-like reactions. "What can I do that will be a threat to the well being of the plant," similar to the fact that a relevant question regarding a crime could be a threat to a person taking a polygraph test if they're lying.

     About 15 minutes along - 13 minutes and 55 seconds along in this initial observation...I had tried different things to try to get a reaction from this plant - I had even dipped a neighboring leaf into a cup of rather warm coffee - and the plant didn't show me anything like a reaction. It showed me, if anything, boredom, and just continued to go downwards. If this thing were an individual, the fact that they were getting bored and sleepy.
     But over here, the idea occurred to me, the idea occurred to me - and only the idea - "I know what I am going to do: I am going to burn that plant leaf, that very leaf that's attached to the polygraph."
     Now I didn't have matches in the room. I wasn't touching the plant in any way. I was maybe five feet away from the desk. I was essentially away from the plant.
     The only new thing that occurred was my intent to burn that plant leaf.
     Right here, split second-wise, was when I thought of burning that plant leaf and the image entered my mind. I wasn't using words at all.
     And up that the thing went into a wild agitation.
     Now this was very late at night and towards morning. The building was empty and there was just no other reason for this reaction. This had been going along at a fairly stable level all the way up to this point.
     So this amazed me.
     This, I would say, would be a very high quality observation, and my consciousness hasn't been the same since. And this happened in 1966.
     I thought, "Wow! This thing read my mind!" It was that obvious to me right then.
     So then I went to get some matches from the next room. The secretary was a smoker, and I got some matches out of her desk and brought them in.
     The next will show where I came back in the room, right about here. I lit the match. I was even into burning a neighboring leaf rather than the leaf I had hook up. Somehow that was already a special leaf already.
     Even before I had a chance to do this I thought, "Well, this massive degree of reaction that I'm getting here, I wouldn't be able to see any additional reaction if it did occur."
     So I thought, "Well, let me reverse the process and remove the threat from the room."
     So I took the matches back out of the room here, came back in at this point, and the thing just evened right out again, which really rounded it out and gave me a very, very high quality observation.
     Now when my partner in the polygraph school we were running at the time came in, he was able to do the same thing also, as long as he intended to burn the plant leaf. If he pretended to burn the plant leaf, it wouldn't react.
     It could tell the difference between pretending you are going to, and you are actually doing it, which is quite interesting in itself from a plant psychology standpoint - not industrial plants that I am talking about.

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