- A dictionary of medical eponyms

James Braid

Born 1795
Died 1860-03-25

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Scottish surgeon, born 1795, Rylawhouse, Fifeshire, Scotland; died March 25, 1860, Manchester.

Biography of James Braid

James Braid studied in Edinburgh and concerned himself extensively with surgery and wrote on orthopaedic surgery, the treatment of club foot, squint, and other surgical topics, on which he published in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, volume 56.

Braid initially was a physician to the mines of Leads-Hill in Lanarkshire, Scotland. In 1841, when well established in a surgical practice at Manchester, he developed a keen interest in mesmerism, as hypnotisism was then called. This interest was aroused in November 1841, when he watched a demonstration by Lafontaine (1803-1892). Braid began to experiment for himself, and was soon demonstrating and lecturing and encouraging open discussion and criticism. Durand de Gros, who concerned himself extensively with the phenomenon, coined the term «braidism».

Proceeding with experiments, he disavowed the popular notion that the ability to induce hypnosis is connected with the magical passage of a fluid or other influence from the operator to the patient. Rather, he adopted a physiological view that hypnosis is a kind of sleep, induced by fatigue resulting from the intense concentration necessary for staring fixedly at a bright, inanimate object.

His primary technique was to get the subject to focus on a small bright object held very close – 20 cm to 40 cm away from the eyes – in a position which strained the eyes and eyelids. This would generally lead to a spontaneous closing of the eyes, with a vibration of the eyelids. Moving two fingers of the right hand towards the eyes could encourage this response.

Braid was mainly interested in the therapeutic possibilities of hypnosis and reported successful treatment of diseased states such as paralysis, rheumatism, and aphasia. He hoped that hypnosis could be used to cure various seemingly incurable «nervous» diseases and also to alleviate the pain and anxiety of patients in surgery.

The first exhibition of the kind I ever had an opportunity of attending, was one of M. Lafontaine's conversazione, on the 13th November 1841. That night I saw nothing to diminish, but rather to confirm, my previous prejudices. At the next conversazione, six nights afterwards, one fact, the inability of a patient to open his eyelids, arrested my attention. 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.
Neurypnology, Part I.

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