Scottish surgeon James Braid witnessed a demonstration of animal magnetism which led him to his study of what we call hypnotism today in 1841. Now WE know em


James Braid was born June 19, 1795 in Kinross, Scotland.

In 1812, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh where he met and married Margaret Mason on November 17, 1813.

At Edinburgh, James was influenced by Doctor Thomas Brown, the chair of Moral Philosophy.

He then apprenticed with surgeon Charles Anderson and his son also named Charles Anderson at Leith.

In 1815, James obtained his Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of the City of Edinburgh, which entitled him to refer to himself as a member of the college (rather than a fellow).

In 1816, he was appointed surgeon to Lord Hopetoun’s mines at Leadhills, Lanarkshire.

Then in 1825, James Braid set up his private practice at Dumfries.

One of his early patients, Alexander Petty, was a salesman for the tailor firm of Scarr, Petty and Swain located in Manchester, England.

Alexander suggested that James relocate his practice.

Indeed, in 1828 James Braid moved his practice to Manchester.

James Braid went on to become a highly skilled and very successful surgeon.


James Braid first observed animal magnetism when he attended a public performance by the traveling Swiss magnetic demonstrator Charles Lafontaine at the Manchester Athenæum, on Saturday, November 13, 1841.

In particular, James was amongst the doctors who were invited onto the stage by Charles Lafontaine.

James examined first hand the physical condition of Lafontaine’s magnetised subjects (especially their eyes and their eyelids) and concluded that they were, indeed, in quite a different physical state.


James’ interest was peaked, attending two more of Lafontaine’s demonstrations; and, by the third demonstration (on Saturday November 20, 1841), James became convinced of the veracity of some of Lafontaine’s effects and phenomena.

In particular, whilst James was convinced that a transformation from, so to speak, condition1 to condition2, and back to condition1 had really taken place, he was convinced that no magnetic agency of any sort (as Lafontaine claimed) was responsible for these veridical events.

James also rejected outright the assertion that the transformation in question had “proceeded from, or [had been] excited into action by another [person]”.

James Braid then performed his experimentum crucis based on the principle of Occam’s Razor (that ‘entities ought not to be multiplied beyond necessity’), and recognizing that he could diminish, rather than multiply entities, James made an extraordinary decision to perform a role-reversal and treat the operator-subject interaction as subject-internal, operator-guided procedure.

Rather than, as Lafontaine had supposed, an operator-centered, subject-external procedure, James emphatically proved his point by self-experimentation with his “upwards and inwards squint”.

The exceptional success of James’ use of ‘self-‘ or ‘auto-hypnotism’ (rather than ‘hetero-hypnotism’), entirely by himself, on himself, and within his own home, clearly demonstrated that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the ‘gaze’, ‘charisma’, or ‘magnetism’ of the operator.

All that was needed is a subject’s ‘fixity of vision’ on an ‘object of concentration’ at such a height and such a distance from the bridge of their nose that the desired ‘upwards and inwards squint’ was achieved.

And, at the same time, by using himself as a subject, James Braid also conclusively proved that none of Lafontaine’s phenomena were due to magnetic agency.

James went on to conduct a number of experiments with self-hypnotization upon himself, and, by now had become convinced that he had discovered the natural psycho-physiological mechanism underlying these quite genuine effects.

James then performed his first act of hetero-hypnotization at his own residence, before several witnesses, including Captain Thomas Brown on Monday November 22, 1841 – his first hypnotic subject was Mr. J. A. Walker.


The following Saturday, (November 27, 1841) James delivered his first public lecture at the Manchester Athenæum, in which, amongst other things, he was able to demonstrate that he could replicate the effects produced by Lafontaine, without the need for any sort of physical contact between the operator and the subject.

James Braid’s Legacy

“Modern Hypnotism owes it name and its appearance in the realm of science to the investigations made by Braid.

He is its true creator; he made it what it is; and above all, he gave emphasis to the experimental truth by means of which he proved that, when hypnotic phenomena are called into play, they are wholly independent of any supposed influence of the hypnotist upon the hypnotised, and that the hypnotised person simply reacts upon himself by reason of latent capacities in him which are artificially developed.

Braid demonstrated that … hypnotism, acting upon a human subject as upon a fallow field, merely set in motion a string of silent

faculties which only needed its assistance to reach their development.”

Jules Bernard Luys (1828–1897).

James Braid also became a significant innovator in the treatment of club-foot.

He maintained an active interest in hypnotism:

“I consider the hypnotic mode of treating certain disorders is a most important ascertained fact, and a real solid addition to practical therapeutics, for there is a variety of cases in which it is really most successful, and to which it is most particularly adapted; and those are the very cases in which ordinary medical means are least successful, or altogether unavailing. Still, I repudiate the notion of holding up hypnotism as a panacaea or universal remedy. As formerly remarked, I use hypnotism ALONE only in a certain class of cases, to which I consider it peculiarly adapted – and I use it in conjunction with medical treatment, in some other cases; but, in the great majority of cases, I do not use hypnotism at all, but depend entirely upon the efficacy of medical, moral, dietetic, and hygienic treatment, prescribing active medicines in such doses as are calculated to produce obvious effects” — James Braid


James Braid died on March 25, 1860, in Manchester, after just a few hours of illness. According to some contemporary accounts he died from “apoplexy”, and according to others he died from “heart disease”. He was survived by his wife Margaret, his son James (a general practitioner, rather than a surgeon), and a daughter.

Today, James Braid is regarded as the first genuine “hypnotherapist” and the “Father of Modern Hypnotism”.

Now WE know em



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