Nov 132017

On this date in 1841 Scottish surgeon James Braid first saw a demonstration of “animal magnetism,” which led him to study the subject and came up with his own, rather different version which he eventually called hypnotism. The concept of “animal magnetism” had been developed by Franz Mesmer (1734–1815) who believed that there is a magnetic force or “fluid” within the universe that influences the health of the human body. In consequence he experimented with magnets in order to promote healing. By around 1774, he had concluded that the same effect could be created by passing the hands in front of the subject’s body, later referring to this action as making “Mesmeric passes.” He used the word “mesmerize,” formed from his last name, to distinguish practitioners of mesmerism from the various “fluid” and “magnetic” theories included within the label “magnetism” at the time.

In 1784, at the request of Louis XVI of France, a Board of Inquiry started to investigate whether animal magnetism existed. Among the board members were Antoine Lavoisier, Benjamin Franklin, and Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who, despite giving his name to a method of execution that he did not invent, was an expert on the management of pain. They investigated the practices of a disaffected student of Mesmer, Charles d’Eslon (1750–1786), and though they concluded that Mesmer’s results were valid, their placebo-controlled experiments using d’Eslon’s methods convinced them that the positive effects of mesmerism were most likely due to belief and imagination rather than to an invisible energy (“animal magnetism”) transmitted from the body of the mesmerist. In writing the majority opinion, Franklin said: “This fellow Mesmer is not flowing anything from his hands that I can see. Therefore, this mesmerism must be a fraud.” Mesmer left Paris and went back to Vienna to practice mesmerism there.


Following the French committee’s findings, Dugald Stewart, an influential academic philosopher of the Scottish School of Common Sense, encouraged physicians in his Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1818) to salvage elements of Mesmerism by replacing the supernatural theory of “animal magnetism” with a new interpretation based upon “common sense” laws of physiology and psychology. Braid quotes the following passage from Stewart:

It appears to me, that the general conclusions established by Mesmer’s practice, with respect to the physical effects of the principle of imagination (more particularly in cases where they co-operated together), are incomparably more curious than if he had actually demonstrated the existence of his boasted science [“animal magnetism”]: nor can I see any good reason why a physician, who admits the efficacy of the moral [i.e., psychological] agents employed by Mesmer, should, in the exercise of his profession, scruple to copy whatever processes are necessary for subjecting them to his command, any more than that he should hesitate about employing a new physical agent, such as electricity or galvanism.

In Braid’s day, the Scottish School of Common Sense provided the dominant theories of academic psychology, and Braid refers to other philosophers within this tradition throughout his writings. Braid therefore revised the theory and practice of Mesmerism and developed his own method of hypnotism as a more rational and common sense alternative.

It may here be requisite for me to explain, that by the term Hypnotism, or Nervous Sleep, which frequently occurs in the following pages, I mean a peculiar condition of the nervous system, into which it may be thrown by artificial contrivance, and which differs, in several respects, from common sleep or the waking condition. I do not allege that this condition is induced through the transmission of a magnetic or occult influence from my body into that of my patients; nor do I profess, by my processes, to produce the higher [i.e., supernatural] phenomena of the Mesmerists. My pretensions are of a much more humble character, and are all consistent with generally admitted principles in physiological and psychological science. Hypnotism might therefore not inaptly be designated, Rational Mesmerism, in contra-distinction to the Transcendental Mesmerism of the Mesmerists.

Despite briefly toying with the name “rational Mesmerism”, Braid ultimately chose to emphasize the unique aspects of his approach, carrying out informal experiments throughout his career in order to refute practices that invoked supernatural forces and demonstrating instead the role of ordinary physiological and psychological processes, such as suggestion, and focused attention on producing the observed effects.

Braid worked very closely with his friend and ally the eminent physiologist William Benjamin Carpenter, an early neuro-psychologist who introduced the “ideo-motor reflex” theory of suggestion. Carpenter had observed instances of expectation and imagination apparently influencing involuntary muscle movement. A classic example of the ideo-motor principle in action is the so-called “Chevreul pendulum” (named after Michel Eugène Chevreul). Chevreul claimed that divinatory pendulae (or divining rods and the like) were made to swing by unconscious muscle movements brought about by focused concentration alone.


Braid soon assimilated Carpenter’s observations into his own theory, realizing that the effect of focusing attention was to enhance the ideo-motor reflex response. Braid extended Carpenter’s theory to encompass the influence of the mind upon the body more generally, beyond the muscular system, and therefore referred to the “ideo-dynamic” response and coined the term “psycho-physiology” to refer to the study of general mind/body interaction.

In his later works, Braid reserved the term “hypnotism” for cases in which subjects entered a state of altered consciousness resembling sleep. For other cases, he spoke of a “mono-ideodynamic” principle to emphasize that the eye-fixation induction technique worked by narrowing the subject’s attention to a single idea or train of thought (“monoideism”), which amplified the effect of the consequent “dominant idea” upon the subject’s body by means of the ideo-dynamic principle.

For several decades Braid’s work became more influential abroad than in his own country, except for a handful of followers, most notably Dr. John Milne Bramwell. The eminent neurologist Dr. George Miller Beard took Braid’s theories to the United States. Meanwhile, his works were translated into German by William Thierry Preyer, professor of physiology at Jena University. The psychiatrist Albert Moll subsequently continued German research, publishing Hypnotism in 1889. France became the focal point for the study of Braid’s ideas after the eminent neurologist Dr. Étienne Eugène Azam translated Braid’s last manuscript (On Hypnotism, 1860) into French and presented Braid’s research to the French Academy of Sciences. At the request of Azam, Paul Broca, and others at the French Academy of Science, which had investigated Mesmerism in 1784, examined Braid’s writings shortly after his death in 1860.

Azam’s enthusiasm for hypnotism influenced Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault, a country doctor. Hippolyte Bernheim discovered Liébeault’s enormously popular group hypnotherapy clinic and subsequently became an influential hypnotist. The study of hypnotism subsequently revolved around the fierce debate between Bernheim and Jean-Martin Charcot, the two most influential figures in late 19th-century hypnotism. Charcot operated a clinic at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, while Bernheim had a clinic in Nancy (known as the “Nancy School”). Charcot, who was influenced more by the Mesmerists, argued that hypnotism was an abnormal state of nervous functioning found only in certain hysterical women. He claimed that it manifested in a series of physical reactions that could be divided into distinct stages. Bernheim argued that anyone could be hypnotized, that it was an extension of normal psychological functioning, and that its effects were due to suggestion. After decades of debate, Bernheim’s view dominated. Charcot’s theory is now just a historical curiosity.

Pierre Janet (1859–1947) reported studies on a hypnotic subject in 1882. Charcot subsequently appointed him director of the psychological laboratory at the Salpêtrière in 1889, after Janet had completed his Ph.D., which dealt with psychological automatism. In 1898, Janet was appointed psychology lecturer at the Sorbonne, and in 1902 he became chair of experimental and comparative psychology at the Collège de France. Janet reconciled elements of his views with those of Bernheim and his followers, developing his own sophisticated hypnotic psychotherapy based upon the concept of psychological dissociation, which, at the turn of the century, rivaled Freud’s attempt to provide a more comprehensive theory of psychotherapy.


Freud studied hypnotism at the Paris School under Charcot and briefly visited the Nancy School. At first, Freud was an enthusiastic proponent of hypnotherapy. At first he hypnotized patients and used various techniques to help them concentrate while attempting to recover (supposedly) repressed memories. Subsequently he began to emphasize both hypnotic regression and ab reaction (catharsis) as therapeutic methods. He wrote a favorable encyclopedia article on hypnotism, translated one of Bernheim’s works into German, and published an influential series of case studies with his colleague Joseph Breuer entitled Studies on Hysteria (1895). This became the founding text of the subsequent tradition known as “hypno-analysis” or “regression hypnotherapy”.

However, Freud gradually abandoned hypnotism in favor of psychoanalysis, emphasizing free association and interpretation of the unconscious. Struggling with the great expense of time that psychoanalysis required, Freud later suggested that it might be combined with hypnotic suggestion to hasten the outcome of treatment, but that this would probably weaken the outcome. He wrote, “It is very probable, too, that the application of our therapy to numbers will compel us to alloy the pure gold of analysis plentifully with the copper of direct [hypnotic] suggestion.” Only a handful of Freud’s followers were sufficiently qualified in hypnosis to attempt the synthesis of conventional psychoanalysis with hypnosis. Their work had a limited influence on the hypno-therapeutic approaches now known variously as “hypnotic regression,” “hypnotic progression,” and “hypnoanalysis.”

There is a strange relationship between hypnosis, primarily self-hypnosis, and cooking that I am dimly aware of from the internet.

Knowing what and how to cook your nutritious foods is just as important as the foods themselves. This site, for example, offers help in all manner of mental health issues from phobias to addictions as well as a variety of lifestyle disorders.   Apparently hypnosis can also help if you struggle with cooking for the following reasons:

There are tons of ways to cook and some ways are healthier than others. We will go over barbecue, sauté, grilling, steaming, baking, and everything in between. We have recommendations that are simple and delicious. Ditch that micro-wave, we can show you how to cook meals with limited time. Even though we won’t be in your kitchen we will have support material to guide you through.

Many individuals get off work late and don’t feel like they have enough energy to cook a meal. Some people just don’t have enough time and others, plain and simple, can’t cook. To that first group, energy perpetuates. Try it my way for a week and see if you are still too tired to make a meal. All of that fast food and those frozen processed microwavable dinners are not giving you the nutrients you need and by replacing them with a healthier choice you will see a change. To that second group, I am a time bandit! If you can’t find it I will steal it for you. I used to get home at 11:00 at night and still cook my meals, if there’s a will there’s a way. To that last group, I was once in your shoes and I learned just like anything else this takes effort. I will have some step by step information to assist your new endeavors, never give up.

I am neither a clinical psychologist nor a professional hypnotist, so I cannot speak to the effectiveness of this treatment for the “maladies” described. Lack of energy, time, or knowledge are not problems I have when it comes to cooking, and my amateur opinion is that hypnosis is not going to be much help in this regard – but what do I know? Hypnosis versus a good cooking class as effective ways to learn how to cook? Not a tough choice in my opinion, although I do understand that some people think cooking is more complex than it is. To be fair, some things that seem pretty simple, such as French-fried potatoes or omelets, are not as easy as they seem. If you are a novice, leave them to experienced cooks. But there’s a mountain of great dishes that are very simple and are not just a few boiled things on a plate. Here’s a decent video on a good dish – 5 ingredient lemon chicken with asparagus. A little commentary is in order, though. First, a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, is the best cooking utensil; otherwise non-stick, using a little butter in the pan, more for flavor and color than to avoid sticking. Second, use medium-high heat throughout. Third, make sure the chicken is thoroughly browned on both sides, and let it rest after cooking. It’s important that it’s not raw in the middle, but also that it’s not overcooked and dry. If it’s brown on both sides and has had a chance to rest it should be cooked through. You can check by cutting into one of the breasts.