1989/03: Secret Live of Plants: Chapter 3 – Plants That Open Doors
- See also FT: Secret Live of Plants
Plants That Open Doors
Next to probe the mysteries of plant communication was an “electronics specialist” from West Paterson, New Jersey, who happened to hear Backster interviewed on a radio program hosted by Long John Nebel.
An assiduous investigator of ESP and of the phenomenon of remote hypnotism, Pierre Paul Sauvin was equally at home in the “state of the art” and “feasibility considerations” of the engineer, mostly because of his training and employment for several large corporations, including Aerospace and International Telephone and Telegraph.
When Long John—a professional skeptic—roped Backster into a corner to get him to describe some practical uses for his discovery of primary perception in plants, Backster first suggested the exotic notion that in jungle warfare soldiers in dangerous territory could wire up the local plants to act as “stress alarm indicators” and avoid being ambushed. “But if you really want to make a psychologist sit up and take notice,” Backster told Long John, “you could instrument a plant to activate a small electric train, getting it to move back and forth on no other command than that of human emotion.” This notion, though singularly impractical, could be spelled out in Sauvin’s electronics jargon as an “anxiety response device,” and so fired him that he turned his bachelor quarters in a house overlooking the Passaic River into a Merlin’s cave of electronic equipment.
Sauvin claims that many of his insights and ideas for inventions come to him in psychic flashes, as if he were merely acting as a medium. He says he sometimes gets the factual data necessary for an invention without fully understanding the principle, or how it relates to the whole, and must get further details by questions addressed to “levels beyond.”
Using high-voltage generators which produce the sort of lightning arcs usually associated with Dr. Frankenstein, Sauvin can put 27,000 volts through his body and remotely activate a large doughnut bulb filled with helium to serve as an electronic ouija board, its dark rings flowing in one direction or the other in answer to his questions. He also developed a system guaranteed to hypnotize anyone, even the most recalcitrant, by placing the subject on an unstable platform in a pitch-black room and swaying before him a rainbow pattern of light that causes him to lose his balance.
With such exotic expertise it was not long before Sauvin had a toy electric train running round a track and reversing its direction through nothing but his thought and emotion relayed to a plant. He was able not only successfully to demonstrate the phenomenon before an audience of sixty in Madison, New Jersey, but to make the train start and stop at will under the klieg lights of a television studio.
As the engine moved around the track it would activate a switch leading to Sauvin’s body in such a way as to give him a sharp electric shock. Just ahead on the track, another switch was wired to a galvanometer attached to an ordinary philodendron. As the philodendron picked up Sauvin’s emotional reaction at being shocked, the galvanometer needle would jump and throw the switch, reversing the train. The next step was for Sauvin simply to remember the sensation of being shocked and project it in order for the plant to activate the switch.
Though Sauvin had long been interested in parapsychology and was fascinated with the psychological implications of a plant responding to human thought and emotion, his main preoccupation was the development of a foolproof plant device that could be activated by any human being. For Sauvin’s purposes it did not matter whether the plant was in any way rational or feeling, so long as it could reliably pick up his emotional signal and trigger the switch.
Whether plants were “conscious” or not, Sauvin was convinced they had an energy field similar to the energy field generated by a human being, and that somehow an interaction of these fields could be put to use. The problem was to develop equipment sensitive enough to take advantage of the phenomenon in an absolutely reliable way.
Perusing the endless stream of trade journals that passed across his desk as a technical writer for ITT, Sauvin was struck by a series of articles in Popular Electronics, on unusual electronic circuits and exotic weaponry, by a mysterious writer named L. George Lawrence. The author, intrigued by the Russian development of animal guidance systems for training cats to pilot nonjammable air-to-air missiles right onto target, speculated in his articles on training plants to respond to the presence of selected objects and images, evidently for a similar purpose. Rumored to be a high government official involved in security research writing under a pseudonym, Lawrence is in fact a European-born engineer, formerly a professor of audio-visual arts at San Bernardino College in California, presently the director of his own independent research institute.
Unfortunately, the components for sophisticated circuits such as those devised by Lawrence—though worth mere pennies, in terms of materials— would cost thousands of dollars of engineering man-hours to produce, and were in any case not available on the market. But from one of Sauvin’s jobs as a specifications engineer on a large government contract he had salvaged what might be just the right pieces—some phase-looplocked discriminators pressed into microelectronic silicon wafers that had been junked by the lab as unfit for the temperature requirements of space.
With these “chips” Sauvin was able to build a Wheatstone bridge for measuring electrical potential with alternating instead of direct current, and an automatic gain control circuit by means of which he hoped to be able to distinguish very fine changes in the energy fields of plants. The sensitivity achieved was one hundred times greater than could be obtained with Backster’s galvanometer and eliminated enormous amounts of electronic “noise.” What Sauvin was now measuring was no longer voltage amplitude but phase shift, or the fine lag between two running voltages. The result gave Sauvin an instrument roughly comparable to an ordinary light-dimmer switch, in which a plant leaf acted as the switch. Variations of apparent resistance in the leaf would cause a light to get brighter or dimmer depending on the response of the plant to outside effects.
As soon as his device was functioning, Sauvin set about monitoring plants around the clock. To catch the tiniest nuances of phase shift Sauvin hooked his plants to an oscilloscope, a big electronic green eye with a figure eight of light whose loops changed shape as the current from a plant varied, making patterns much like the fluttering of the wings of a butterfly. Simultaneously, a varying tone was produced by current run through an amplified tone oscillator which enabled Sauvin to hear minute changes in vibrations, and know how his plants were reacting. A bank of tape recorders kept a permanent record of this oscillating tone, along with a monotonous beep every second from a WWV
international time-signal broadcast. With a stopwatch Sauvin could run a check on the effect he was having on his plants from a distance, whether down the street, at ITT, or off on a holiday.
Some of Sauvin’s Merlin equipment now came into its own, especially a complex system of automatic phone-answering and recording devices. For some years Sauvin had been carrying on a moonlighting operation, writing for various specialized magazines, under various pseudonyms, while retaining his regular job. To keep his cover and not arouse the displeasure of his masters at ITT and yet be able to consult with his editors and answer their queries any time during the day, Sauvin had devised an ingenious system. By means of a small radio transmitter strapped to his leg and a battery of automated and preprogrammed tape machines at home he could communicate via his home phone, receiving messages and giving answers, all from his desk at ITT. For various editors to identify themselves to Sauvin’s automatic equipment he developed such simple tricks as having an editor run his finger along a pocket comb close to the phone mouthpiece, generating an easily identifiable sound wave which would trigger from the automatic equipment the appropriate reply. As a cover for his own low-toned conversations from his desk, Sauvin developed the habit of humming to himself most of the time he was at work, soon becoming known as the “hummer” of ITT.
This Rube Goldberg equipment served Sauvin admirably for remote-controlled communication with his plants. He could call his own number and speak to his plants directly; he could monitor the tones of their response via the amplified audio-oscillator, and from wherever he might be he could control the light, color, temperature, or recording equipment in his quarters. When electroding his plants Sauvin gradually realized that like Vogel he could obtain the best results from plants with which he established a special mental rapport. This he would accomplish by putting himself into a light trance, wishing the plant well, tenderly touching or washing its leaves, till he could feel his own energy emanations entering and interplaying with those of the plant. Like Backster, Sauvin found that his plants reacted most strongly to the death of living cells in their environment, and most consistently to the death of human cells. He also found in the course of his various experiments that the
simplest signal he could transmit to his plants, extrasensorily, to which they would respond with a sharp enough reaction, was to give himself a light electric shock, the very simplest method being to swivel his desk chair and then ground the accumulated static charge by touching his finger to his metal desk. His plants several miles away would react with an instant surge. Just as with the train experiment, Sauvin eventually found that he merely needed to remember or re-feel a shock for his plants to pick up the signal, even from as far away as his holiday cottage eighty miles north of his West Paterson lab.
As Sauvin’s main problem remained that of getting his plants to be sharply attuned to his person rather than to their immediate environment, when he was away for several days, he had to devise some means of attracting his plants’ attention even more effectively than addressing them over the long-distance phone. As his plants reacted most strongly to any damage done to himself or to any part of his own energy field, he experimented with remotely killing a few cells of his body in the presence of the plants. The system worked admirably. The problem was to obtain cells that would remain alive for protracted periods. Blood worked well enough, hair was difficult to kill, but sperm worked best of all, because, as Sauvin explained, it was easier to obtain than bleeding, and much less painful.
These experiments led Sauvin to wonder if plants might not react just as well to emotions of pleasure and joy as to pain and shock. Not only was he tired of shocking himself, he was afraid that repeated shocks to his plants, even indirect ones, might be unpleasantly loading his karma. Sauvin soon found that his plants did react to joy and pleasure, but with wave patterns that were not sharp enough to trigger a switch reliably. Undaunted, Sauvin decided on a more daring experiment. During a holiday with a girl friend at his lakeside cottage he established that his plants, eighty miles away, would react with very high peaks on the tone oscillator to the acute pleasure of sexual climax, going right off the top at the moment of orgasm. All of which was very interesting and could be turned into a commercially marketable device for jealous wives to monitor their philandering husbands, by means of a potted begonia. But it was not yet conducive to a simple, foolproof system of getting a plant to trigger a switch consistently.
There was no question in Sauvin’s mind that he could affect a plant at a distance; but he could not rely on the system for any really sensitive fail-safe purpose because his plant might at any time react to some stimulus in its own environment, such as the sudden appearance of a cat or of a bird outside the window snapping up an insect. Sauvin therefore wired three plants, each set in a different room, and thus in a different environment, to a single circuit which
could only be activated if all three plants reacted synchronously. By keeping the plants in separate environments Sauvin hoped the required stimulus would be synchronous only when it came from him, wherever he might be. This was still not positively foolproof, because at times one plant or the other might not fully react to the stimulus, but it was a step forward in that it prevented any random stimulus from affecting all three plants at once.
Sauvin was now anxious to release his data confirming Backster’s findings and to make public his own contribution to a science which he felt had a potential for the world no less great than Marconi’s use of radio waves. But in a country where government and industrial executives are less interested in the quaint notion of communing with nature than in developing sophisticated weapons of offense and the gadgetry of mind surveillance, Sauvin had a hard time finding either a sponsor or an audience.
Unable to interest the mass media, or such conservative journals as Science or Scientific American, Sauvin decided to angle his material to the engineering and mechanical journals to which he was already a regular contributor. To incite the interest of the editor of a car magazine he concocted a story about a device that would enable him to start his car by remote control by means of thought waves to a plant. With the help of a small radio transmitter this proved to be a simple enough operation, the only technical difficulty being the designing of a gadget that would give just the right pressure to the ignition key, repeat the pressure if the engine failed to catch, and release pressure the moment it did.
The device was designed to appeal to a citizen with the prospect of being able to wake up on a frosty morning and get his car and heater started while still comfortably enjoying his breakfast. But for Sauvin there was one defect: a plant was not really needed; the device could be operated directly by radio. To include his beloved plants in a worthwhile gadget attractive to automobile and home owners, Sauvin cooked up a system whereby a man returning on a snowy night could approach his garage and signal his pet philodendron to open the doors. Here the plant’s function of responding only to its master would make it admirably burglar-proof.
To arouse the interest of serious scientists who might wish to provide Sauvin with the necessary funds for a proper lab, Sauvin hit upon the idea of showing that an airplane could be flown by thought control with the aid of his plants attached to his sensitive devices. For years Sauvin, already a licensed pilot, had enjoyed the hobby of flying model planes, some with a wing spread as large as six feet, controlling them entirely from the ground by radio signals, getting them to bank, loop, speed up, slow down, and even land. By a slight adaptation to his transmitter equipment Sauvin is able to start, stop, or affect the speed of a model plane in flight by transmitting a thought to a plant.
In the sensitivity of plants Sauvin also saw a means of detecting a potential hijacker at an airport before such a criminal could board a plane and endanger passengers. He therefore suggested “Operation Skyjack,” a system whereby plants could be used in conjunction with galvanometers and other sensitive devices to pick up the turbulent emotions of a hijacker being screened by security, the problem at an airport being to safeguard not only the lives of passengers but their rights as citizens not to be subjected to unwarranted search. Already the U.S. Army has taken an interest in the project. At Fort Belvoir, Virginia, funds have been provided for research on plants. The Army is
interested in devising ways of measuring the emotional responses of people via plants, without having to sensitize the plants to a special person beforehand.
The Navy is also showing interest. Eldon Byrd, an operations analyst with the Advanced Planning and Analysis Staff of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Silver Spring, Maryland, has been duplicating Backster’s experiments with some success. A member of the American Society for Cybernetics and senior member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Byrd attached the electrodes of a polygraph to the leaves of a plant, and has been observing definite fluctuations of the polygraph needle as the plant responds to various stimuli. Like Backster, Byrd found that by merely thinking of harming a plant’s leaf it was possible to make the polygraph needle jump. Byrd’s experiments involved monitoring a plant’s reaction to stimuli from water, infrared and ultraviolet light, fire, physical stress, and dismemberment.
Byrd believes the galvanometrical effect produced by a plant is not caused by electrical resistance in the leaf, but by a change of biopotential in the cells from outside to the inside membrane, as defined by the Swedish Dr. L. Karlson, who has shown that a cluster of cells can change polarity, though the energy which causes cells to become polarized is not known. Byrd believes that a voltage change in the cells is what is being measured, and that it is the mechanism of consciousness which causes the change in potential. Byrd’s research supports Backster’s observations that plants exhibit a quality of awareness and an empathy to other organisms that are stimulated in their presence. Like Backster, Byrd also found a major problem in his experiments to be the plants’ tendency to “faint” under excess stress, suddenly ceasing to respond even to the most basic stimuli, such as light and heat. Like Backster and Sauvin, Byrd was able to demonstrate on television a plant’s reaction to various stimuli, including his intent to burn it. On camera Byrd got a plant to respond to his shaking a spider in a pill box. The plant responded with about a second’s delay, the response continuing as long as a minute. He also got a strong reaction when cutting the leaf from another plant.
Byrd, who has a master’s degree in medical engineering from George Washington University and is a member of Mensa, a worldwide organization whose primary requirement is an extremely high intelligence quotient, has no ready solution to explain the apparent response of plants to human thoughts, and is open to widely disparate explanations, including alterations of the earth’s magnetic field, supernatural and spiritual phenomena, and the mysterious mechanics of bioplasma. In a paper presented in 1972 to the American Society of Cybernetics, Byrd reviewed numerous Russian experiments with thought transmission via “bioplasma,” which certain Soviet scientists claim to be a previously undiscovered form of energy.
In May, 1973, Byrd began to set up an experiment to instrument the tiny leaves of Mimosa pudica, which are so sensitive that they collapse when touched. Byrd believes that, by using a thin wire barely touching a mimosa leaf, he can pick up through a special amplifier minute changes in voltage or resistance. Also available to Byrd is one of the world’s finest chart recorders, made in West Germany by Siemens, which shoots out more than three feet of recording paper per second with the patterns recorded by a jet of ink only a few microns wide. With these devices Byrd hopes to be able to pick up plant reactions which have hitherto gone unnoticed.
Byrd is also planning to work with a primitive marine alga, Acetabularia cremulata, which, though two inches long, is made up of only a single cell. If this monocellular plant exhibits the “Backster Effect,” Byrd will then surgically remove its nucleus. If it then fails to respond, Byrd hopes this will offer proof that the genetic material in the nuclei of plant cells is chiefly responsible for plant response.
A revolutionary new lie-detector device known as a Psychological Stress Evaluator has also been made available to Byrd, along with lab space and facilities, by Allan Bell, inventor of the device, who is president of Dektor Counter Intelligence Systems, a firm he recently formed with two other ex-intelligence officers. The device, tested by monitoring twenty-five segments of the television program To Tell the Truth, is said to have picked the persons who were telling the truth with 94.7 percent accuracy. The theory behind the device is that the human voice normally operates in both audible frequencies and inaudible frequency modulations, except when a person is under stress. According to the inventors of the device, when the inaudible FM vibrations disappear from the voice under stress, the ear does not note the difference, but the machine can trace the fluctuations on a chart. Byrd is now working on a means of adapting the device for employment in conjunction with plants.
In Japan a soft-spoken doctor of philosophy and successful electronics engineer from Kamakura, a charmingly gardened retreat not far from Yokohama harbor, has developed a similar lie detector into a device with the most fabulous results yet achieved in the plant kingdom. A regular consultant on lie detection for the Japanese police, Dr. Ken Hashimoto read about Backster’s laboratory experiments and decided to wire one of the family cactuses to an ordinary polygraph by means of acupuncture needles.
His intent was more revolutionary than Backster’s, Sauvin’s or Byrd’s. He hoped to enter into actual conversation with a plant; to do so he counted on an improvement he had made in the Japanese procedure for lie detection. To simplify and make less expensive the process of police interrogation, Dr. Hashimoto developed a system, similar to Dektor’s, whereby nothing more than a cassette tape is needed to record the reactions of a suspect. Electronically transposing the modulations of the suspect’s voice, Hashimoto was able to produce on a paper a running graph reliable enough to pass muster in a Japanese law court.
It now dawned on Hashimoto that by reversing the system he might be able to transform the tracings from a graph into modulated sounds, giving voice to a plant. His first experiments with a cactus similar to the giant saguaro of California and the Arizona desert, but much smaller, were a failure. Loath to conclude that either Backster’s reports or his own equipment was defective, Hashimoto decided that it might be he who was having trouble communicating with the plant, despite the fact that he is one of Japan’s leading researchers into psychic phenomena.
His wife, on the other hand, who loves plants and is renowned for her “green thumb,” soon got sensational results. As Mrs. Hashimoto assured the plant that she loved it, there was an instant response from the cactus. Transformed and amplified by Dr. Hashimoto’s electronic equipment, the sound produced by the plant was like the high-pitched hum of very-high-voltage wires heard from a distance, except that it was more like a song, the rhythm and tone being varied and pleasant, at times even warm and almost jolly.
John Francis Dougherty, a young American from Marina Del Rey, California, who witnessed one of these conversations, says it sounded as if Mrs. Hashimoto, speaking in modulated Japanese, was being answered by the plant in modulated “cactese.” Dougherty further reports that the Hashimotos became so intimate with their plant that they were soon able to teach it to count and add up to twenty. In answer to a query as to how much two and two make, the plant would respond with sounds which, when transcribed back into inked tracings, produced four distinct and conjoined peaks.
Dr. Hashimoto, who got his doctorate from Tokyo University, and is chief of the Hashimoto Electronics Research Center, as well as managing director and chief of research for the Fuji Electronic Industries—which produce the huge animated electrical signs that illumine Tokyo—has since demonstrated the adding capacities of his cactus to audiences all over Japan.
Asked to explain the phenomenon of his talking and adding cactus, Dr. Hashimoto, who is also, surprisingly, one of Japan’s best-selling authors—his Introduction to ESP is in its sixtieth printing and his Mystery of the Fourth Dimensional World is in its eightieth—answered that there are many phenomena that cannot be explained by the theories of present-day physics. He believes there is a world beyond the present three-dimensional world defined by physics, that this three-dimensional world is merely a shadow of a fourth-dimensional, nonmaterial world. He further believes that this fourth-dimensional world controls the three-dimensional material world through what he calls “mind concentration” or what others call psychokinesis, or mind-over-matter.
The possibilities of such mind control being used for either good or evil on this planet is the problem now facing these researchers. Since Sauvin’s ordination as a minister at the Psychic Science Temple of Metaphysics, he has become a strong pacifist, abhorrent of the use of thought-controlled weapons against animals and plants as well as humans. Though he has taken out business certificates on such devices—which put him on record as the inventor—he is loath to disclose his most sensitive invention, code-named Device 13, for fear that it could quickly be developed by the Department of Defense into a foolproof thought-controlled guided missile. The temple’s spiritual leader, the Reverend R. William Daut, is a trumpet medium, one who communicates with those who have departed by going into trance and having a trumpet levitate in a semidarkened room; through it the voices of the departed speak. Made of three pieces of aluminum in the shape of a cheerleader’s megaphone, the trumpet has no electronic or other gimmicks. The voices simply seem to materialize out of thin air, at times recognizable as individuals known to the listeners and at others as guiding spirits; often included are such extraneous sound effects as the distant barking of dogs.
Sauvin says the purpose of the exercise is to convey enlightenment, to give profound and beautiful inspirational messages on wisdom, love, and the continuity of life. True religion, says Dr. Daut, is universal intelligence. “There is no death. There are no dead. Reformation is never denied us, here or hereafter.”
The trumpet system, says Sauvin, is no more unusual than that of the Oracle at Delphi or of the talking statues of the initiate priests of ancient Egypt; the doctrines, familiar since the erection of temples, include: the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, immortality of the soul, communication between departed human spirits and living mortals, personal responsibility with compensation and retribution, a path of eternal progress open to every soul by the path of eternal good, nature’s laws, both spiritual and physical, and now communion with plants.
If communication of nonverbal messages turns out, as the evidence hints, to transcend limitations of time and space, and to take place via some spectrum of energies which is unrelated to what humans call “electromagnetic,” the idea of a dialogue with unseen intelligences active in planes beyond that of man’s self-limitations, such as was practiced by mystics of the caliber of Jakob Boehme, may no longer seem far-fetched. If we find the means to receive such messages we may reopen the doors to the cosmos.