James Braid


James Braid, a prominent Scottish surgeon, is most famous for coining the word “hypnosis” (derived from the Greek word hypnos, meaning sleep). Braid’s work helped advance hypnosis greatly, as Braid was the first man to be recognized for scientific experimentation into the “whys” of mesmerism.

James Braid also developed another eye-fixation type induction technique with the use of a bright light, and discovered how to enhance the trance with much more emphasis on vocal suggestions.

Braid believed that the trance depended on the suggestibility of the subject, which could be influenced greatly by vocal suggestions from the hypnotist. This came to be called the suggestions method.

For these things James Braid is also referred to as the “Father of Hypnosis”, a historic honor also with both Mesmer and Liebault.

James Braid´s hypnotic career began after seeing a “magnetism “demonstration” in November of 1841 and he challenged the mystic claims of Mesmer. Braid branded the show as an insult to scientific intelligence, but felt compelled to see a demonstration at least one more time before dismissing it as fraud.

Fortunately, the second demonstration convinced him that the magnetizer had the subject under complete control and Braid´s curiosity now motivated him to find out how this was done. The downside of this, however, was that Braid assumed that the subject was under the magnetizer´s power – so in spite of his successes, he still followed down one of the same erroneous paths as the earlier pioneers of hypnosis.

After originally dismissing Mesmer´s theories as a stubborn collection of old wives´ tales, James Braid still found himself confronted with a phenomenon without an acceptable explanation of its cause! But he concluded that there must be a physical cause, so he began his research. He theorized that a continued straining of the eyes could, through fatigue, result in a paralysis of the optic nerve centers, causing a condition that would much resemble sleep, thus his great interest in “fixed gaze” or eye-fixation methods.

Braid experimented by having a friend stare continually at a wine bottle, and in less than three minutes had legitimate proof that magnetism had nothing to do with a mesmeristic sleep. Braid’s friend, and later his wife, proved to be excellent subject, and James Braid´s experiments proved to be the indisputable origin of some of the scientific contributions to hypnotism. But Braid wrongly assumed that something physiological took place as a result of the fixed-gaze techniques which created an absence of volition, thus Braid failed to realize that all hypnosis is self hypnosis.

Also, as happens so often with hypnosis, his conservative British colleagues in the medical community gave him virtually no honor for his work, even though there were many accomplishments. Braid submitted reports to the British association and offered to do experiments for a special commission, but the offer was formally refused.

While James Braid found little or no honor in his home country, Braid’s articles stirred considerable interest in France. Yet, Azam Braid’s French disciple who was considered a “quack” in France was laughed at highly in England, and the “best minds” of the day did this to Braid’s pioneers of hypnosis?

The most important thing to remember about Braid´s real contributions to hypnosis is that he was the first to stipulate that hypnotic sleep could be induced by physical agents. It was in 1842 when James Braid gave us the word “hypnotism” which he tried to change later to ”monoideism”, as Braid found that the condition could also exist in a state that does not include sleep.

Even many modern day practitioners attempt to disguise the practice of hypnotism with other names such as “group meditation”, “programmed imagery”, “guided relaxation”, “creative visualization” etc, but the word hypnosis is obviously here to stay.

In 1843 James Braid published the first work on hypnotism to be known as by that name, disclaiming the term ”Braidism”. And then, in 1847 he discovered “waking hypnosis”, accomplishing in just six years more than had been done in over a century by hundreds of other experimenters.

Finally, in 1848, James Braid wandered into phrenology and hypnogenic zones, ending research that would be considered valid by the scientific community. So yet another scientist exploring hypnosis in a scientific way explored unknown realms.

  • - Hypnosis History
  • - Mesmer
  • - James Braid
  • - Jean Charcot
  • - John Elliotson
  • - Emile Coue
  • - Dave Ellman
  • - James Esdaile
  • - Breuer and Freud
  • - Father Gassner
  • - Puysegur
  • - Milton H. Erickson
  • - Ormand McGill
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