Early Chinese Perspectives of the Mind: An Evolutionary Account of the 神 Shén in Chinese Medical Psychology

The Journal of Chinese Medicine
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Chinese Medicine, 2015, (109), pp. 37 - 43 (7)
Issue Date:
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This paper explores early Chinese psychological thought and proposes the ‘three aspects’ model of the ‘spirit–mind’ (神, shén). The first of the three aspects, the ‘root (of the) shén’ (本神, běn shén), represents the accumulation of experiences from our ancestors that have been acquired through the course of human evolution. At conception the ‘original shén’ (元神, yuán shén) arises to instigate life, and carries inherited attributes and potentials that are drawn from the root shén. The inherited life information of the root and original shén provides the basis for the ‘acquired shén’ (识神, shí shén), which in turn is moulded by the person’s life experiences and environment. The model describes the idea of stages and levels of human mentality that encompass the inherited and acquired influences and abilities of the human mind, and suggest an evolutionary perspective of human life. Key features of the inherited and acquired shén share some broad similarities with Western psychology’s notions of the conscious and unconscious mind, and the ‘three aspects’ model with even more recent developments in the psychological sciences.
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