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After completing the 1973 book The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, it was obvious I’d just read something profound. I spent several minutes afterward contemplating the deeper significance of green life forms from begonias to Brussels sprouts.

It all led me to wonder why it had taken Cleve Backster, a national expert in polygraphing rather than some world-renowned cellular biologist, to discover plant consciousness that altered my own awareness so deeply.

Although most mainstream scientists at the time were pooh-poohing the premise that plants could feel and communicate as unfounded pseudoscience, I saw intuitive truth in Backster’s research. Some naysayers said since they they couldn’t reproduce the amazing results Backster had found, his discoveries were poppycock.

On a curious whim one morning, Backster had attached a polygraph to his office plant’s uppermost leaf to see if he might detect any response after he’d watered it. He got that and much more. The revelations for Backster continued as he broadened such tests using sensitive machines in his office to how the many plants he began working with could detect his thoughts and intentions.

Tompkins and Bird’s book focused on Backster’s decade of subsequent research with plant awareness, in the process capturing the attention and imagination of thousands of readers worldwide.

I was moved enough years ago to write more than one article about Backster’s research, which documented how plants and vegetables were capable of measurable responses to people’s thoughts and emotions even from many miles away. Backster also said the awareness displayed on his equipment even showed vegetables expressing alarm and shock as they realized they were about to be cooked in boiling water and consumed by humans.

Years later, the pleasant little man would write his own book, Primary Perception: Biocommunication with Plants, Living Foods, and Human Cells, which detailed results of more than three decades of experimentation that had steadily expanded beyond conscious interaction with plants and vegetables to include human blood cells.

And so I was naturally drawn to Joanna Klein’s New York Times’ article published in this paper’s ActiveStyle section this past Monday headlined “Plants show feeling, respond to sedation, study says.”

The story discussed how a pea seemed capable of assessing risk under poor soil conditions. It told of how a Venus fly trap seemed to count how many insects enter its trap and how plant use chemical signals to communicate with others, as well as with caterpillars.

The story doesn’t mention Backster’s groundbreaking work that initially drew razzings from the mainstream, but rather quotes the prestigious Annals of Botany, which also reported that plants can be frozen in place with anesthetics including lidocaine and types used when people undergo surgery.

It got even better, with the story saying “plants are complex organisms, perhaps less different from animals than is often assumed.”

Frantisek Baluska, a German plant cell biologist, put it another way: “Plants are not just robotic, stimulus-response devices. They’re living organisms, which have their own problems, maybe something like with humans feeling pain or joy. In order to navigate this complex life, they must have some compass.”

The Annals’ study said plants can use their internal compass to deal with competition, stress or development by absorbing information from their surrounding environment to produce individual anesthetics such as ethanol, cocaine and menthol, in a manner similar to the human brain releasing pain-dulling chemicals after trauma.

Those anesthetics can act within the plant that makes them and/or drift through the air to affect nearby plants.

Interestingly, Klein’s story said anesthetics used by humans can also work on plants, although exactly what they are affecting remains unclear. When the doping wore off, the plants revived, as if regaining consciousness, something we believe they don’t possess.

“How organisms are perceiving the environment or responding or adapting are based on some very similar principles,” Baluska said.

Klein reported, “The electrical activity that moves across neurons is thought by some scientists to contribute to human consciousness. If electrical activity is being disrupted by anesthetic in plants, too, causing them to ‘lose consciousness,’ does that mean, in some way, that they are conscious?”

“No one can answer this because you cannot ask them,” said Baluska.

Whether these unified primary perceptions science is now documenting at an advancing pace involve our animal species and others, our individual cells and even the atoms of water (see Messages from Water by professor Masaru Emoto), I continue to believe it’s all part of a collective and electrified consciousness field in which every energy form is connected through compatible receivers.

And that field is what any anesthetic can indeed temporarily render inoperative.

But wait just a puny peony here! What does a barely conscious aging journalist from the Ozarks know about such complex phenomenon as consciousness fields and electrical energies? Heck, I can’t administer a polygraph.

Yet I do believe Mister Backster, who died in 2013, is smiling today over Baluska’s work (as late-arriving as it might be). Perhaps some of those Backster detractors from back in the early 1970s will now begin to acknowledge the remarkable work and findings of this brilliant man from San Diego who was able to apply his own creative consciousness and related research 50 years ago to draw similar conclusions about the nature of inherent universal awareness.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at

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