Dr James Braid was born in Scotland in 1795. He attended university in Edinburgh from 1812-1814 from where he gained a diploma from the Royal College of Surgeons. He began practising in 1816 and eventually moved his practice to Manchester in 1828. He first became interested in hypnosis or "Mesmerism" as it was then thought of, in 1841 when he witnessed first hand demonstrations given by a Swiss student of Franz Anton Mesmer.
Braid, although fascinated, didn't hold much truck with the theory behind Mesmerism or animal magnetism. He felt instinctively that the mesmeric trance into which subjects were placed came about simply because of their visual fixation on the object that the mesmerist had used to help induce their trance, and not to the physical force or "fluid" which Mesmer had thought to be responsible.
Dr Braid went on to try out his own induction procedure on a number of volunteers including his wife, and more or less immediately realized that he was on to something.
He theorized that prolonged visual fixation on an object, i.e. a watch swinging on a chain, brought about a state of fatigue in certain brain areas and that it was this which caused his subjects to enter into a trance state which he referred to as "nervous sleep", similar to but not the same as normal sleep.
He went on to formulate that certain nervous disorders could be treated while in a state of nervous sleep, and referred to this as neurohypnotism, presumably adapted from the Greek word "hypnos", a reference to the God of sleep and dreams. This term was later contracted to "hypnotism".
He also went to discover that sustained concentration on or attention to the hypnotist's voice could also contribute towards the induction into a hypnotized state.
Over time Braid's concepts and experiments with hypnosis were modified and refined. He never completely gave up on the concept of nervous sleep but did come to lay increasing emphasis on the role of psychological factors. In this connection he stressed the importance of mental concentration in the induction of hypnosis and of the subject's restriction of consciousness while under hypnosis, with the subject's attention having been completely absorbed by the words and actions of the hypnotist to the exclusion of all other outside influences. Braid termed this state as "monoideism".
Braid made use of hypnosis in his medical practice and was an early pioneer in the use of hypnosis as a replacement for anaesthetic in some situations involving routine surgery. He died in 1860, after which time interest in hypnosis lapsed until being dramatically revived again in the 1880's, probably at least partly due to Braid's writings being translated into French and German.
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