The Branches of Science:



Science is the study of the world and how it works. The types of questions that a scientist may study can range from “How is the leg of a fly connected to its body” to “How did the universe begin” or even “Why do people choose the marriage partners they do”. No one scientist can study every aspect of this world we live in.


As with many complex things, the questions that scientists study are often grouped into related categories. These groupings allow scientists to focus on a set of similar topics and interact with others who are interested in the same questions. The groupings also make science much easier to comprehend for students. Students can learn the basic principles involved in one aspect of the world without being overwhelmed with the entire scientific body of knowledge.


There are many possible ways to organize science into basic groupings. If you look in textbooks and on the internet, you will find several different organizational schemes. Each of the methods of grouping science has its benefits and weaknesses and no single method stands out as the “correct” method. Here we describe one method that includes a very broad view of science including some fields that are not typically discussed in the organizational schemes.


In this organizational scheme, all of science is divided into three major branches. Each major branch can be separated into sub-branches and each sub-branch contains many specific fields of study. The figure below shows the overall layout of the major and sub-branches.


Formal Science is the branch of science dealing with abstract concepts. It includes the sub-branches of logic and mathematics. For most scientists, these branches serve as tools to better understand their own fields of study. For example, a physicist may use algebra and geometry to help them understand the path of an arrow through the air. Much of the mathematics and logic that we commonly use have been understood for centuries. We must remember, however, that at some point in history someone had to discover that the sum of the angles in a triangle equals 180 degrees. Mathematicians are still working to understand the complex relationships involved in large numbers, the geometry of curved surfaces, and prime numbers. The new discoveries are being used as tools for things like encryption for computer security.


Natural Science is the major branch most commonly recognized as “science”. It is the branch of science dealing with the natural world. The sub-branches in natural science include the physical sciences and the biological sciences. The physical sciences sub-branch deals with the physical universe of matter, space, time, and energy. Within the physical sciences are fields of study such as physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, as well as many others. The biological science sub-branch (sometimes called life science) deals with living organisms. Within the biological sciences are fields of study such as biology, zoology, genetics, botany, as well as many others.


Humanistic Science is the major branch dealing with the interaction between people and the world. It is sometimes also referred to as Cultural Science. The sub-branches in the humanistic sciences include behavioral science and social science. Behavioral science includes the field of psychology. Social science includes sociology, political science, and economics.  Many of the fields of study within the humanistic sciences involve interactions between the behavioral and social sciences.  Like all sciences, the fields of study that qualify for behavioral and social science must apply the general scientific method. Although the official definition deals with people, the humanistic sciences are also being applied to other animals such as chimpanzees and dolphins.