Braid’s Rejected Essay: Practical Essay on the Curative Agency of Neuro-Hypnotism

Braid’s “Rejected Essay”:

Practical Essay on the Curative Agency of Neuro-Hypnotism (1842)

Braid’s very first writing on hypnotism was an unpublished essay which was rejected by the British Association but read publicly at other meetings, as he explains in the excerpt below.  The Section from his first booklet, subjoined, seems to reproduce part of this essay, probably the first text ever written on hypnotism. – Donald Robertson

[From Neurypnology]

It was my intention to have published my “Practical Essay on the Curative Agency of Neuro-Hypnotism”, exactly as delivered at the conversazione [a medical lecture and discussion] given, to the members of the British Association in Manchester, on the 29th June, 1842.  By so doing, and by appending foot notes, comprising the data on which my views were grounded, it would have conveyed a pretty clear knowledge of the subject, and of the manner in which it had been treated.  It has since been suggested, however, that it might readily be incorporated with the short “Elementary Treatise on Neuro-Hypnology”, which I originally intended to publish, and which I am earnestly solicited to do, by letters from professional gentlemen from all quarters.  I now, therefore, submit my views to the public in the following condensed form.

[From Satanic Agency, etc.]

The various theories at present entertained regarding the phenomena of Mesmerism may be arranged thus:

1. First, those who believe them to be owing entirely to a system of collusion and delusion; and a great majority of society may be ranked under this head.

2. Second, those who believe them to be real phenomena, but produced solely by imagination, sympathy and imitation.

3. Third, the animal magnetists, or those who believe in some magnetic medium set in motion as the exciting cause of the Mesmeric phenomena.

4. Fourth, those who have adopted my views, that the phenomena are solely attributable to a peculiar physiological state of the brain and spinal cord.

In answer to the first, or those who believe the whole to be a system of collusion and delusion – or in plain terms, a piece of deception – the UNIFORM and general success of the results by my method must be sufficient to prove that the Mesmeric phenomena are not “humbug”, [as Braid’s colleague Mr. Wilson had said at the lecture of Lafontaine] but real phenomena.  In answer to the second I have to state that I by no means deny that imagination, sympathy or imitation, are capable of producing the phenomena; that I believe they do so in many cases, especially in cases where the impressibility has been determined by operating as I direct, and may heighten their effects in others; but my experiments clearly prove that they may be induced and are generally induced in the first instance, independently of any such agency.  In answer to the third I have to state that I consider the theory of the animal magnetists as a gratuitous assumption, unsupported by fact and that it is far more reasonable to suppose that an exaltation of function in natural organs of sense is the cause of certain remarkable phenomena and a depression of them the cause of others, than that they arise from a transposition of the senses [i.e., through ESP], or are induced by a silent act of the will of another [i.e. through a kind of telepathic influence].  We know the exercise of the will is not adequate to remove sensibility to pain and hearing in our own bodies; and would it not be passing strange if it could exercise a greater effect on the bodies of others, whilst inoperative in our own?[1]

I shall merely add that my experiments go to prove that it is a law in the animal economy [i.e., a law of human physiology] that by the continued fixation of the mental and visual eye on any object in itself not of an exciting nature, with absolute repose of body and general quietude, they become wearied; and provided the patients rather favour than resist the feeling of stupor which they feel creeping over them during such experiment, a state of somnolency is induced, and that peculiar state of brain, and mobility of the nervous system, which render the patient liable to be directed so as to manifest the Mesmeric phenomena.  I consider it not so much the optic as the motor and sympathetic nerves and the mind through which the impression is made.  Such is the position I assume; and I feel so thoroughly convinced that it is a law of the animal economy that such effects should follow such conditions of mind and body that I fear not to state as my deliberate opinion that this is a fact which cannot be controverted.

I have already explained my theory to a certain extent, namely that the continued effort of the will to rivet the attention to one idea, exhausts the mind; that the continuance of the same impression on the retina exhausts the optic nerve, and that the constant effort of the muscles of the eyes and eyelids, to maintain the fixed stare quickly exhausts their irritability and tone; that the general quiet of body and suppressed respiration which take place during such operation, tend to diminish the force and frequency of the heart’s action; and that the result of the whole is a rapid exhaustion of the sensorium [i.e., sense organs] and the nervous system which is reflected in the heart and lungs; and a feeling of giddiness with light tendency to syncopy [faintness], and a feeling of somnolency [drowsiness] ensue; and thus and then the mind slips out of gear.

I must beg, however, that it be particularly understood that I by no means hold up this agency as a universal remedy.  Whoever talks of a universal remedy, I consider must either be a fool or a knave; for as diseases arise from totally opposite pathological conditions, all rational treatment ought to be varied accordingly.  I must also warn the ignorant against tampering with such a powerful agency.  It is powerful either for good or for evil according as it is managed and judiciously applied.  It is capable of rapidly curing many diseases for which, hitherto, we knew no remedy; but none but a professional man, well versed in anatomy, physiology and pathology is competent to apply it with general advantage to the patient, or credit to himself, or the agency he employs.  My experiments, moreover, open up to us a field of inquiry equally interesting as regards the government of mind as of matter.


[1] [Braid refers to an argument repeated elsewhere, that there are obvious limits to the scope of mere willpower alone within one’s own body, and therefore that it seems a priori unlikely that a person lacking complete conscious control over their own physiology, should be able to influence the bodies of others, at a distance, by sheer willpower alone.]