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Magnet healing: how pseudo science helped to discover hypnosis

During his lifetime, Franz Mesmer was an extraordinary figure: some considered him a brilliant scientist and discoverer of the so-called” animal magnetism”, others were sure that he was nothing more than a charlatan and illusionist. Mesmer became famous for discovering a new method of treating patients with magnets. Modern scientists tend to believe that, in fact, he discovered the method of hypnosis, anticipating the scientific ideas of Sigmund Freud and Gustav Jung for half a century.
Franz Mesmer came from a poor family with many children, but his parents understood the importance of education and allowed both Franz and his eight siblings to go to universities. Franz spent his student years in Vienna, where he defended his dissertation, studying in detail the influence of planets on the human body. After University, the young scientist successfully married a wealthy widow, Anna-Maria von Posch, and thus secured a comfortable existence, social status and favor from the upper world. Famous writers, poets, and musicians visited the von Posch house.

Mesmer was sure that various changes in human mental States often occur due to the influence of the planets. To cure patients of panic attacks, suffocations, and seizures, he decided to use magnets. Already the first experiments were so successful that not only the scientist himself, but also progressive Europeans of that time believed in the power of magnets. Mesmer’s fame grew, and the first ladies of Vienna came to see him.

Of course, there were also detractors who were waiting for an opportunity to smash all the statements of Franz Mesmer to smithereens. And such an opportunity presented itself. The doctor took up the treatment of a blind Austrian pianist, but the results of therapy with magnets did not bring, vision did not return. This story caused a lot of gossip: first, many called the girl Mesmer’s mistress, and secondly, the therapy sessions were opposed by the pianist’s parents, who received a substantial pension for her maintenance. In any case, the rumor of the failure of Mesmer’s ideas spread all over the upper world, and then a special Commission made a decision on the failure of Mesmer as a doctor, so that Franz had to leave Vienna in a hurry.

His way lay to Paris. Here the rumor of magnetism reached the very Queen-Marie-Antoinette, and she favored the further scientific activities of Mesmer. On the other hand, scientists at the Sorbonne strongly criticized his ideas, arguing that healing is not due to magnets, but only because Mesmer instills certain truths in his patients. Today it is quite possible to assume that the doctor really put his patients into a state of hypnosis, healing those ailments that were associated with nervous tension.
Magnetic sessions of Franz Mesmer.
At the end of his life, Franz Mesmer also left Paris, and traveled to England, Switzerland, and Germany. His fame as a scientist had faded, and group therapy sessions using magnetized water, wires, or trees were no longer exciting. Mesmer died in 1815, and on the basis of his theories later developed ideas about hypnosis of the great psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

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