When I had recovered from the flu and was ready to begin working in Backster's lab, the concepts of feedback and subliminal information processes were rattling around in my head.
A synthesis of them had not yet been reached, of course. But when Backster and I began undertaking new experiments, I found myself trying to observe what was going on regarding subliminal perceptions and feedback.
Which is to say, I began INTROSPECTING into the phenomena of my own mental awarenesses and processes. Introspecting is, in all cases, a type of meditation -- a focusing on internal activity whether of body or mind.
With the new experiments set up, we tackled influencing metals and chemicals at a distance.
I now have to start going a little technical because some scientists might chance to read this book -- and, in any event, there is now no other way to proceed.
Graphite is a soft, black, lustrous carbon that conducts electricity and is used in lead pencils, crucibles, electrolytic anodes, and as a lubricant and a moderator in atomic-energy installations.
A small piece of graphite can be hooked into a Wheatstone bridge of two resistors. The bridge then conveys the electric potential shifts of the graphite into some kind of recorder, while the recorder then outputs the shifts on chart paper with a fluctuating inked pen.
The electric potential shifts drive the pen this way and that, and a path is traced onto the paper.
In its normal state, graphite has a small, continuous range of natural electric potential shifts, usually shown on the chart recorder as a slightly wobbled line without much deviation. This is called the "base line."
When something extraordinary influences the graphite, its electric potential shifts increase, and the line on the paper starts wobbling or jerking this way or that.
This is a simple and straightforward arrangement. And if the influencing is successful, parapsychologists refer to it as psychokinesis (PK) -- or "mind over matter."
Backster had hooked a piece of graphite into a Wheatstone bridge and chart recorder and had let it run continuously while I was recovering from the flu. The continuously recorded base line had showed no significant deviations for several days. Other "subjects" had tried to influence the electric potential shifts, and some had managed something along these lines.
Sitting across the room from the graphite ensconced between the two Wheatstone resistors, I tried to influence it -- to little avail.
Then, as I wrote in an earlier book to be cited ahead, "I felt I could sense what might be molecular motion within the graphite, or at least the ever-so-slight electrostatic aura that emanated for electromagnetic motion of frequencies. I wondered if this could possibly be disrupted by psychic overlap of intent of 'hot' or 'cold'."
I have no idea of why I thought of hot or cold.
So I tried that. Nothing happened. Why not, I asked myself?
Then, by ways completely inexplicable, I realized that my intent aimed at the graphite was off by at least an inch, but anyway was spraying wide like a hose nozzle fully open.
I narrowed the intent to a "beam," moved it directly onto the graphite -- and the chart gave a simultaneous feedback jog. I did this again and again.
I repeated the focusing beam again and again the chart recorder jogged again and again -- with negative potential shifts to the cold "probes," positive ones to the hot "probes." (I possess several of the chart records, and were it possible to do so these would now be presented as visual illustrations.)
Without thinking much about it, Backster and I began referring to these "beams" as "probes." And to my knowledge, this was the first time that the term "psychic probes" came into use.
We quickly abandoned the term "psychokinesis" (mind OVER matter) when Backster asked me to describe my feelings and perceptions.
These, I described, consisted of an awareness of interacting WITH the graphite, not impacting upon it. The very great difference between interacting and impacting will become more clear in chapters ahead.
Thereafter we did a great number of experiments in which Backster told me when to interact with the target and when not to, when to think hot or think cold. These failed some of the time as all experiments do.
But over time, the "directed hits" became more frequent -- because, in my opinion, I could watch the pen on the chart recorder do its gyrations and accept this as direct and instantaneous feedback. This permitted me to begin honing my interacting. Something in me was LEARNING.
I believed then, and still do, that something in my subconscious faculties was achieving the learning. And, as I will show at some distance ahead, it does not matter how you appeal to conscious, intellectual activity. If the subconscious faculties do not awaken, then little of the superpowers of the human bio-mind will be available to you -- except on a spontaneous and unpredictable basis.
The uninitiated will completely miss the significance of all this. So it needs to be sorted out here.
Psychic phenomena have a long history of being notoriously spontaneous -- which means they happen when they do and don't happen when they don't. This, in turn, means the phenomena are unpredictable and dis-continuous.
The scientific demand required that an "effect" be demonstrated as continuous and predictable in order to achieve the status as a real and acceptable effect.
Psychical and parapsychological researchers could produce short-term, spontaneous effects which randomly appeared and disappeared.
But their experience of long-term, sustained effects within proper scientific safeguards was exceedingly rare. In other words, predictable and reproducible effects was almost nil.
The average reading public didn't understand this -- didn't really understand that what was MISSING from parapsychology research was the REPEATABLE effect -- i.e., the REPEATABLE EXPERIMENT.
So great was this prevailing situation as of September 1971, that most parapsychologists had given up all hope of a reproducible experiment involving a test subject.
Now, however, in the case of the graphite experiments, Backster could ASK that the effect be produced, again, again, and again.
And the more times this happened, the more there came into existence the illusive experiment which was reproducible on the demand not of the test-subject, but on the demand of the experimenter.
At that point, I, myself, didn't really realize what had happened. But parapsychologists and some scientists soon did.
Firecrackers began going off in the gossip lines I've referred to earlier, first largely firecrackers of disbelief.
But, as our experiments continued, during October 1971, Backster wrote and circulated a small report entitled PSYCHOKINETIC EFFECTS ON SMALL SAMPLES OF GRAPHITE which I helped in constructing.
With this, the proverbial excreta began hitting the slowly revolving fans of parapsychology.
And soon, although I again didn't at realize it at the time, "the repeatable experiment" was to become my hallmark.
And it was this, and absolutely nothing else, which was to catapult me into increasing attention -- the REPEATABLE EXPERIMENT.
Please to bear this in mind as you read ahead.
In the laboratory sense, it really doesn't matter if someone is psychic.
All that really matters is that the experiment be REPRODUCIBLE -- for this implies CONTROL -- and control implies PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS.
Things that cannot be brought under control can't really be used for anything, can they?
And in this case, the repeatable experiment directed and controlled not by the subject (not by me), but by the person of the experimenter and under his or her control.
As a sort of silly metaphor here, I became a machine with off and on switches -- and it was the experimenter (Backster) which turned them off or on.
A few weeks now passed, during which we experimented with zapping different kinds of metals, chemical and gasses trapped inside vials.
At some point, I don't remember when exactly, Backster mentioned something along the following lines:
"Boy, are the guys down at the CIA going to be interested in you."
This came out of left field. "Why should they be?" I asked in astonishment.
"They've always been interested in this stuff, and they're trying to replicate my plant work. I know because they've told me. I've taught a lot of them how to improve their polygraph techniques.
"But they don't understand the plant learning thing, or at least won't accept it. And so they think the reactions they get are just random noises in their equipment."
I just laughed about the CIA ever being interested in my humble self. I thought it ridiculous and all so unlikely as to be nil. And even so, I thought that Backster would get tired of the experiments, and that would be that for me.
By the way, as I've been editing this chapter a very good article about Cleve Backster has appeared. See FATE Magazine, May 1996: "THE MAN WHO TALKED TO PLANTS," by David Fickett.
But now came the NEXT developmental circumstance, one which was to redirect my life forevermore.
The circumstance manifested via an invitation to participate in experiments with the noted researcher, Dr. Gertrude Schmeidler of City College in New York -- and then an invitation from Dr. Karlis Osis, then Director of Research at the American Society for Psychical Research in New York -- that cesspool of Buell Mullen's crowd.
No one giggled at Dr. Schmeidler, of course, who also was then vice-president of the giggle Society. But the ASPR was generally considered obsolete, backward and incompetent by most Buell Mullen's circle, and even in Zelda's circle.
Meanwhile, more infrared filming was occasionally done in Zelda's bedroom. In one instance, I tried to cause psychic energy to emanate from my hands, slowly moving them up and down in the blacked-out room.
When the film was developed, this time even I no longer doubted that something had happened. And a very eerie kind of thing began settling into my life. A feeling that, somehow, I was being sucked into something not really of my choosing.
But even so, and with all that was going on, I could hardly realize, as no one did at the time, that I was but about six months away from controversial exposure in, of all places, the national media.