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The Abbé Faria: A Neglected Figure in the History of Hypnosis

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Abstract

Virtually nothing is known of the Abbé Faria’s life, except that he was born in Goa in either 1755 or 1756, and initiated public demonstrations of animal magnetism in Paris in 1813. He died in 1819, the year that his book On the Cause of Lucid Sleep was published. Most of his observations have subsequently been either ignored, or attributed to a contemporary, Alexandre Bertrand.

Faria’s contributions were based upon a radical innovation in induction procedures. He replaced the elaborate rituals of the magnetic movement with simpler suggestive methods, by requesting the subject to close his eyes and focus his attention on sleep. After a short period he would instruct the subject with one word: “Sleep.” With this procedure, based upon experience with 5,000 people, Faria laid the foundations of trait and skill theories of hypnosis by documenting individual differences in hypnotic response. Further, in contradiction to the magnetists, he believed that hypnotic phenomena depended almost entirely upon inherent abilities of the subject. In particular, he drew close parallels between the behavior of subjects capable of “lucid sleep” (his term for hypnosis) and the abilities of people who sleep walk and sleep talk. In this, he anticipated Braid’s coining of the term hypnosis, from the Greek hypnos (to sleep).

Faria considered several plausible explanations of hypnotic phenomena and rejected them. He discounted the role of imagination (emphasized by the Benjamin Franklin Commission of 1784) by a mistaken analogy to the phenomena of posthypnotic amnesia. He also gave little importance to the role of suggestion, believing that hypnotic phenomena were almost entirely the result of the hypnotized person’s superior powers of concentration. Paradoxically, he was keenly aware of the role of suggestion in clinical settings.

Faria’s contemporary effect was minimal, and the judgement of history has consistently underestimated his contribution. This is so, despite the fact that he anticipated much of what was later to be said by Bertrand, Braid, Liébeault, and Bernheim and laid the groundwork for several modern beliefs about the nature of hypnosis.

Keywords

  • Induction Procedure
  • Magnetic Movement
  • Hypnotic Susceptibility
  • Skill Theory
  • Suggestibility Theory

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© 1978 Plenum Press, New York

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Perry, C. (1978). The Abbé Faria: A Neglected Figure in the History of Hypnosis. In: Frankel, F.H., Zamansky, H.S. (eds) Hypnosis at its Bicentennial. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4613-2859-9_3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4613-2859-9_3

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