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Edinburgh University
Edinburgh University

James Braid lived from 1795 to 25 March 1860. He was a Scottish neurosurgeon who is regarded by many as the "Father of Hypnosis", having been the first to coin the term and investigate the phenomenon scientifically. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

Braid was born in Fife and went on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He practised as a doctor in Scotland for some time before moving to Manchester, where he spent the rest of his life.

On 13 November 1841 Braid attended a demonstration in Manchester of what at the time was called "Mesmerism" by the Swiss mesmerist, Charles Lafontaine. Braid's suspicions that mesmerism was a sham were reinforced. As he wrote later: "I saw nothing to diminish, but rather to confirm, my previous prejudices." However, he attended another of Lafontaine's demonstrations on 19 November and became convinced that one of the subjects of the mesmerism was genuinely unable to open his eyes.

Braid later reported: "I considered that to be a real phenomenon, and was anxious to discover the physiological cause of it. Next night, I watched this case when again operated on, with intense interest, and before the termination of the experiment, felt assured I had discovered its cause, but considered it prudent not to announce my opinion publicly, until I had had an opportunity of testing its accuracy, by experiments and observation in private."

Braid began experiments on those around him to establish whether he could induce the sleep-like state he had witnessed at Lafontaine's demonstrations. He quickly found he could, and concluded that the established view at the time, based on the theories of Franz Mesmer (after whom "mesmerism" had been named), that this was something to do with "animal magentism", was wrong. Instead, in 1843 Braid published his only book on the subject "Neurypnology: or the Rationale of Nervous Sleep." Believing that the phenomenon was a form of sleep, Braid named it hypnotism, after Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep and ruler of dreams.

By 1847 Braid had established that hypnotism was not after all a form of sleep, and tried to rename it as "monoideism". But by then the term hypnotism had achieved a wide circulation in many languages and stuck, despite the fact that the origin of the term was no longer relevant. Braid died of a heart attack on 25 March 1860.

Braid's work is reflected in the widespread use of hypnotism today: and, indeed, the word "Braidism" is occasionally used as a synonym for hypnotism. In 1997 Braid’s part in developing hypnosis for therapeutic purposes was marked by the formation of the James Braid Society, a social and discussion group for hypnotherapists, based in London.

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