Parapsychology, Spirituality, and the Battle Against Scientific Materialism — Part 5

This follows on from an introduction, where I outlined the reasons why I think an acceptance of parapsychology is so important in modern times, part 1 where I described my personal experiences of ESP, part 2 where I gave a history of parapsychology research since the 1880s, part 3 where I discussed the question of why we as adults do not experience ESP more frequently, and part 4 where I discussed the possibility of ESP in animals.

Turning now to trees and the plant world, various modern studies have indicated that trees communicate with, and care for, each other, sometimes warning each other of danger. One prominent author in this field is Peter Wohlleben. He says: “A tree’s most important means of staying connected to other trees is a ‘wood wide web’ of soil fungi that connects vegetation in an intimate network that allows the sharing of an enormous amount of information and goods”. “In the symbiotic community of the forest, not only trees but also shrubs and grasses — and possibly all plant species — exchange information”.

Plants lack the nervous system of animals, but this seems to make no difference: there are “investigations that indicate that plants have feelings, emotions, memory, and a fascinating psychic power”.

Some of the best known experiments with plants and parapsychology were conducted back in the 1960s by Cleve Backster. For example, a plant seemed to react dramatically on a polygraph to his thought of burning it. He then did similar experiments with leaves, fruits, vegetables, and scrapings taken from the human body, concluding that “perception seems to be taking place at a cellular level”. “Plants can respond immediately to the thoughts of both animals and men and that this response is not related to distance”.

Here is one such example. Dr. Robert N. Miller invited a couple Olga and Ambrose Worrall to pray for a rye plant. They did this over six hundred miles from his laboratory. At the precise time they prayed, his equipment “recorded unusually rapid growth in the seedling” which “had grown 840 percent more than normal”.

In another famous experiment by Backster, a plant seemed to react dramatically to the death of a nearby brine shrimp, which might therefore have been emitting some kind of death signal. Hans Eysenck and Carl Sergeant, without mentioning Backster by name, say: “It has now been shown, quite conclusively, that the measuring techniques used in this work are faulty. Careful research in a number of laboratories has shown that when artefacts in the measuring equipment are eliminated by controlling such factors as draughts, temperature changes, vibration, and so on, no trace of evidence of psi in plants can be found”. It would be interesting to know therefore what you make of an experience of mine.

This took place when I was alone with the leader of the parapsychology course I had attended (see part 1, link above). He was a very psychic person. Following the original course, I had been invited to do follow-up work on dream telepathy. He lived in a flat on the top floor, the 30th, of a block of flats. We were sitting on the floor in his lounge, he against one wall and me directly facing him. He had some plants on the floor. At one moment as we were talking we both became aware in our peripheral vision that a spider plant near the window, about 9–10 feet away from us, had shaken quite noticeably. He then said that he had just had the thought that the plant needed trimming, and that he needed to cut it back. He then spoke out loud to the plant, reassuring it that it would be ok.

Even though I cannot definitively prove that there were no draughts, temperature changes, nor vibrations, I can categorically say that these were extremely unlikely, and not detected by the two of us, in the circumstances. The windows were firmly closed, the temperature was constant, and there were no vibrations of any kind. The ambiance in the room was decidedly still. He could of course have been lying, but I don’t think so. There was definitely no reason, however, for the plant to shake in the way that it did.

Some researchers in this field claim that plants tune into their owners. This seems to me to be a good possible example of that.

Continuing on the theme of plants. I have always been fascinated by Jeremy Narby’s book The Cosmic Serpent, especially the opening chapters. The basic claim is that the psychedelic substance ayahuasca allows communication with plants: “You can see images and learn things”, says someone he met during his research. Narby later says that people in the Amazonian forest “insisted that their extensive botanical knowledge came from plant-induced hallucinations”.

It is worth exploring that last point at some length. Narby says that “the botanical knowledge of indigenous Amazonians has long astonished scientists. The chemical composition of ayahuasca is a case in point. Amazonian shamans have been preparing ayahuasca for millennia. The brew is a necessary combination of two plants, which must be boiled together for hours. The first contains a hallucinogenic substance, dimethyltryptamine… but this hallucinogen has no effect when swallowed, because a stomach enzyme called monoamine oxidase blocks it. The second plant, however, contains several substances that inactivate this precise stomach enzyme, allowing the hallucinogen to reach the brain. The sophistication of the recipe has prompted Richard Evans Schultes, the most renowned ethnobotanist of the twentieth century to comment: ‘One wonders how peoples in primitive societies, with no knowledge of chemistry or physiology, ever hit upon a solution to the activation of an alkaloid by a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. Pure experimentation? Perhaps not. The examples are too numerous and may become even more numerous with future research’.

“So here are people without electron microscopes who choose, among some 80,000 Amazonian plant species, the leaves of a bush containing a hallucinogenic brain hormone, which they combine with a vine containing substances that inactivate an enzyme of the digestive tract, which would otherwise block the hallucinogenic effect. And they do this to modify their consciousness.

“It is as if they knew about the molecular properties of plants and the art of combining them, and when one asks them how they know these things, they say their knowledge comes directly from hallucinogenic plants”.

What does that mean exactly? How does this knowledge come? Narby goes on to mention an author of a study of shamanism and ayahuasca who says that ayahuasca is considered to be “a doctor, It possesses a strong spirit and it is considered an intelligent being with which it is possible to establish rapport, and from which it is possible to acquire knowledge and power”.

Narby has long discussions with a local expert who says: “When an ayahuasquero drinks his plant brew, the spirits present themselves to him and explain everything”. What does he mean by ‘spirits’? Are we talking about quasi-human disembodied spirits giving advice? Or is it rather the spirits of the plants themselves? The suggestion is that it is the latter for, according to Narby, his expert goes on to mention “invisible beings called maninkari, who are found in animals, plants, mountains, streams, lakes, and certain crystals, and who are sources of knowledge”. These sound something like the elemental beings familiar to esotericists . They say that these maninkari “taught them how to spin and weave cotton, and how to make clothes”.

About two years ago I was fortunate to attend a talk, where one of the speakers was ecologist Gordon White, who believes that insects and plants communicate with each other. He pointed out that humans are apparently unique, in that we are the only species which uses language to communicate. All other creatures seem to use non-verbal, we assume, methods. He said that he communicates with plants in order to assist him in his work.

The words ‘magic’ and ‘spirit world’ cropped up frequently in this talk, along with ‘communing with spirits’. I had never previously had the opportunity to speak directly to anyone who claimed to communicate with plants, so wanted to know more about the nature of this communication. I managed to engage him in a post-talk conversation, and he told me that it was non-verbal, more in the nature of imagery and intuitions, although very real.

I was also keen to ask him whether he thought he was communicating with individual plants, which would suggest that they had some awareness of their separate identity, or whether there was some hidden supervising intelligence, a group mind which was coordinating things behind the scenes. He replied the former, that he believed that he was actually communicating with individual plants.

At that talk I was introduced for the first time to the name of Monica Gagliano and her book Thus Spoke the Plant: a Remarkable Journey of Groundbreaking Scientific Discoveries and Personal Encounters with Plants. She is described on the Amazon website as “a pioneer in the cutting-edge science of plant intelligence, cognition, and communication”.

At the beginning of the book, she tells this extraordinary story. She was working as an ecologist in Australia. On three consecutive nights she had striking dreams about the same hut. On the third morning she woke up “knowing that somewhere that hut, that man, and those strange songs were waiting for me. This is how Socoba, a tropical tree also known as Bellaco-caspi, quite literally, called me to the outskirts of Pucallpa”, which is in Peru.

She sets off for that destination, and there she meets in the flesh the man who had appeared to her in her dreams. He tells her that the Socoba tree “had informed him how she (the tree) had come to my dreams to call me to this place to work with her”. The tree had healing powers for humans, which it wanted to communicate with Gagliano. She was obviously a chosen one.

pixabay KELLEPICS / 1016 images

She says that “plants seem to know us well and what we need”, and then asks the obvious question: “How does an Amazonian tree like Socoba know about the functioning of the human body and the healing of its dysfunctions?” She wonders, why we invest in scientific research when “one can learn about the therapeutic properties of plants straight from the (vegetal) horse’s mouth?

On that theme, in a book whose subtitle is Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer says that “in some Native languages the term for plants translates to ‘those who take care of us’ ”.

In the next article in the series I’ll discuss unconscious telepathy and synchronicity.


I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my profile.



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Graham Pemberton

Graham Pemberton

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships.