According to Wikipedia (Michelson-Morley) physics theories of the 19th century "assumed that just as surface water waves must have an intervening this case water), and audible sound requires a medium to transmit its wave motions (such as air or water), so light must also require a medium (the 'luminiferous aether')." If aether existed, it was argued by Michelson and Morley, then it should exert a measurable if small effect. These two researchers attempted to measure the effect of aether in the now famous Michelson-Morley Experiment in the early 1920s. Repeated attempts to detect aether continue to be unsuccessful down to 10 to the minus 17 level.

At the same time Michelson and Morley were disproving the existence of aether, the Indian scientist Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose reported he had found that every plant and every part of a plant appeared capable of responding to stimulation in a way similar to animal muscle, despite having no identifiable nervous system. In the 1960's American investigator, Cleve Backster, took Bose' claims a step further, suggesting that that plants can communicate directly with other lifeforms via a form of "primary perception." Aside from the horror of knowing that plants, when eaten or even being considered for eating, might respond negatively to this, the very existence of primary perception across space would seem to require the resurrection of the repeatedly disproved aether theory.

In 1980, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Backster in his San Diego laboratory and discussing with him both his theory and observing some of his more recent experiments. One in particular interested me:  Not just plants, but "live" (verses "dead" or sterilized) yogurt also seemed to harbor this property. True, most supportive experimental results on plants and yogurt were below statistical reliability, but the demonstration of this effect proved quite interesting. At the time, the yogurt demonstrations made me wonder if it might not be microbes that were linked aetherially somehow, acting as transducers changing the primary perceptions into plant cell surface ion changes not that different from action potentials in more organized and specialized animal neurons. Just a thought, but an interesting one, given the recent revival of interest in the existence of a unified, shared consciousness of all living things. Maybe those hideous little microbes that sometimes cause disease and debilitation, when benign, do more than just produce vitamin B12 (plants, animals and fungi can't synthesize vitamin B12 - only bacteria living in dirt or the animal gut).

Whatever the case, it is somehow comforting to think that plants are busy doing more than just attending to themselves, providing food for animals (only plants can utilize sunlight to produce "food" for both animals and humans), and vitamins for humans. Maybe my houseplants actually empathize with me and my crazy whims.

Special thanks to my pet basil plant for inspiring and then helping me write this. If this all sounds a bit crazy, please blame the plant.