I am a high school student who are curious with psychology. When I read the section on neuron, I find that the Chinese translation below is "神经".

I am very enthusiastic about it because it seems that "神" basically means the god and "经" has the meaning of passing by. The combination, however, seems to be unfathomable because we, human, doesn't have any god in our body. We're just individual.

So I wanna know the etymology and history of the word "神经"?

  • 1
    经 originally means warp in textile or longitude line, basically a vertical line. Correspondingly a horizontal line in such a scenario is called 纬, weft in textile or latitude line. The stem of human nerves is generally vertical, like paths. – ElpieKay Jun 3 '16 at 0:27
up vote 3 down vote accepted

There are multiple definitons for 神. One of them can explain why 神经 means nerves/neurons:

  1. 心思,心力,注意力:劳~。凝~。~魂颠倒。

That is, 神 is used to express "thought", "mental", "attention". Therefore 神经 means "thought/mental/attention pathway", which is a pretty good description of nerves/neurons.

As for why 神 means that as well as things like "god" and "divine", one clue comes from this divining text:


It translates to roughly; "the divinity of heaven resides in the sun, the divinity of man resides in the eye." So you can see how the association between eyes, sight, gaze, attention, thought can be easily made.

People of many cultures have ascribed mystical properties to the eyes and sight. Shakespeare once said, paraphrased, "the eye is the window to the soul." Matthew 6:22 says "the eye is the lamp of the body." (where lamp means light) And what about the all-seeing eye, a representation of God? So the many definitions of 神 provides an interesting view of ancient human philosophy and beliefs.

  • A really detailed and good explanation. Although I'm a native speaker for Chinese, I haven't thought that so profoundly. – Zack Ni Jun 2 '16 at 12:53

Well, each character you mentioned has multiple meanings.

In my opinion:

神 here doens't mean god but means mind/consciousness. 经 means "passing by" as you said but it's a noun here.

So put them together it means the pathway of mind/consciousness, which is nerve.

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