Although we now know that his notion of “animal magnetism”, transferred from healer to patient through a mysterious etheric fluid, is hopelessly wrong, it was firmly based on scientific ideas current at the time, in particular Isaac Newton’s theories of gravitation.
This trend continued into the 20th Century, although in some ways, hypnosis became imprisoned by its own respectability, as it became mired in endless academic debate about “state” or “non-state”.
This conundrum – does hypnosis have a real, physical basis, or not? Important shifts were happening elsewhere, however. First of all, the centre of hypnotic gravity moved from Europe to America, where all the most significant breakthroughs of the 20th century took place.
This was largely due to the work of therapists such as Milton H. More importantly, perhaps, hypnosis became increasingly practical, and regarded as a useful tool for easing psychological distress and bringing about profound change in a variety of situations. Advances in neurological science and brain imaging, together with the work of British psychologists Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell who linked hypnosis to the Rapid Eye Movement (REM), have also helped to resolve the “state/non-state” debate, bringing hypnosis and hypnotic trance firmly into the realm of everyday experience.
At the same time, the nature of “ordinary” consciousness is better understood as a series of trance states that we go into and out of all the time.
Secondly, hypnosis became a popular phenomenon, something that was increasingly available to the layman, outside of the laboratory or clinic.