The Awesome Wholeness of Creation

September 30, 2021

In Cosmos and Revelation, I wrote on page 108:

“An astonishing feature of this vast and complex cosmos is its underlying wholeness. What alerts us to this possibility is the absence of solid, measurable building blocks of matter when we look deeper into its structure, say at the quantum level. Here we encounter instead movements, vibrations, and relationships.”

In this post, I amplify this somewhat abstract assertion with an example that came to my attention only very recently, too late for inclusion in the manuscript.

One day in February 1966, the CIA interrogation specialist Cleve Baxter was teaching at the time New York police officers in the use of the polygraph, a.k.a. lie detector. This instrument measures the electric resistance of the human skin. That morning, however, he wired the instrument to an office plant intending to measure the rate at which water flowed from the roots to the leaves. When unsuccessful in getting a response, he decided on a more drastic measure, intending to burn one leaf with a match. To his surprise, in the instant of that decision (no match yet), the polygraph recording pen took an abrupt and prolonged upward move. Baxter himself had not moved or touched the plant. He inferred that what triggered the reaction may have been the mere intention to inflict harm on the plant.

Exploring this possibility, he began to experiment with live shrimp, dropping them one by one into boiling water while the plant remained connected to the instrument with astonishing results. Every time he killed a shrimp, the needle of the polygraph would move violently. To exclude any possibility personal interference, he fully automated the process, yet the polygraph continued to respond in sympathy with the death of every shrimp. He later conducted tests with other plant species and discovered on one occasion that a philodendron had become attached to him. When another experimenter did the killing, the philodendron would react to the stress, but relaxed when Baxter’s voice sounded in an enjoining room.

This “primary perception,” as Baxter called it, has since been confirmed to exist by other laboratories, showing up the most delicate connectedness, the most sensitive sympathy to pain of others (even shrimp) and of their own.

Such observations raise enormous biological and moral questions as we become suddenly and unexpectedly aware how precious all of life is. Ours is, after all, not a mindless universe but an intimately connected cosmos of awesome wholeness.


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