The Age of Science

Anton Mesmer (1734-1815)

In 1766 Austrian physician Antonio Mesmer evolved the technique of “Mesmerism,” he created a sensation in Paris in 1778, but was denounced as a charlatan in 1785. This was the first description of hypnotism as a form of anaesthesia. He claimed that he and others possessed "magnetism animal”

This is usually translated as animal magnetism, although animal is related to the Latin animus, meaning breath or life force. (Today, the term
"animal magnetism" means sex appeal.)

Mesmer claimed, Mesmerism could affect the flow of the universal fluid pervading all things and this, in turn, could heal the sick and cure the blind.232


Mesmer's theory was discredited, but his practices lived on.
A major transition occurred when one of Mesmer's followers, the Marquis de Puysegur, magnetised Victor Race, a young shepherd on his estate. Instead of undergoing a magnetic crisis, Victor fell into a somnambulistic (sleep like) state in which he was responsive to instructions, and from which he awoke with an amnesia for what he had done. Later in the 19th century, John Elliotson and James Esdaile, among others, reported the successful use of mesmeric somnambulism as an anaesthetic for surgery (although ether and chloroform soon proved to be more reliably effective). It was not a new idea to hypnotise people to take away pain or anxiety, the term comes from the Greek God Hypnos the god of sleep (who was incidentally the father of Morpheus the god of dreams.) We get the drug name Morphine from his name.


James Braid, another British physician, speculated that somnambulism was caused by the paralysis of nerve centres induced by fixation of the eyes on an object.


In order to eliminate the taint of mesmerism, Braid renamed the state "neuro-hypnotism" (nervous sleep); a term later shortened to hypnosis.

Later, he concluded that hypnosis was due to the subject's concentration on a single thought (monoideism) rather than physiological fatigue.



It was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise.”

George Orwell Big Brother




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The History of Surgery and Anaesthesia was created as a free resource to educate Students or indeed anyone wishing to understand the beginings of surgery and Anaesthesia.

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