A Moment of Science

The History Of “Mesmerize” And “Hypnotism”

Have you ever been mesmerized? If so, you know that the term "mesmerize" means to be captivated in a trance-like state. But do you know its history?

A picture of the Indiana Ocean, in many shades of blue.

Photo: alles-schlumpf (Flickr)

In his dissertation, Mesmer proposed the existence of an invisible body fluid that reacts to the gravitational force of our solar system.

The origin of the term “mesmerize” dates back to Franz Anton Mesmer, an 18th century physician in Vienna who founded a therapeutic movement called mesmerism.

In his dissertation Mesmer proposed the existence of an invisible fluid in the body that reacts to the gravitational force of the planets. Human health, said Mesmer, is affected by the interaction between this invisible fluid and the planets. He called his theory “animal gravitation.”

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Magnetism And Invisible Fluid

A few years later Mesmer shifted his attention from gravity to magnetism. Animal gravitation became animal magnetism. The body’s invisible fluid, Mesmer now claimed, obeyed the laws of magnetism, and could be manipulated by any magnetized object.

Stemming from this theory, Mesmer based his medical practice on the notion that disease resulted when the flow of the invisible fluid through the body became blocked. To unclog the fluid Mesmer devised treatments that involved putting his patients in trance-like states.

‘Fraud’ And The Fade Of Mesmerist Movement

Despite a lucrative practice and apparent success at curing certain nervous disorders, Mesmer was accused of fraud and forced to leave Vienna in 1778. He reestablished his practice in Paris, but soon came under suspicion there as well.

Officially labeled a fraud by a scientific commission including American inventor Benjamin Franklin, Mesmer lost his practice and the mesmerist movement faded away.

Although mesmerism is now classified alongside other pseudo-sciences such as alchemy and phrenology, its use of trance states eventually gave rise to the modern use of hypnotism.

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