“God may have separated the heavens from the earth. He did not separate astronomy from marine biology. ” (Jonathan Levy) To what extent are the classifications separating Areas of Knowledge justified? The International Baccalaureate subject areas are divided into natural sciences, human sciences, history, mathematics, ethics and the arts. Both astronomy and marine biology fall under the natural sciences. Jonathan Levy would therefore have little argument with these classifications. However, to what extent can we justify these divisions?
Although the areas are separated into distinct subject matters, they often overlap in their content and the way we approach our learning. However, while these areas of knowledge share many ways of knowing, it is necessary to separate them for practical purposes. Moreover, in our own learning we recognise their differences. Of all the areas of knowledge, mathematics and natural sciences are the most that are based on reasoning as a way of knowing. Science is reliable, precise, objective, testable, and self-correcting1. Natural science uses a consistent scientific method that tries to reach objectivity and precision.
One branch of mathematics is a relatively simple and precise field: logic through the use of numbers, where it is utilitarian and deals with the problems of the physical world2. Mathematics also tries to be objective, and often there is only one unique answer to a problem. The use of ‘the scientific method’ in natural science relies on evidence being tested and retested, in order to form a guided principle or theory. Hence, to some extent, these two areas can be distinguished from others. However, not all mathematics is utilitarian. Some mathematicians study mathematics for mathematics’ sake3.
For them, mathematics is creative, using mathematical symbols instead of strokes on a canvas or words for their way of expression. In this way, mathematics is similar to areas of knowledge that share creativity, such as the arts. Also, while the development of a hypothesis may be logical, the initial inspiration relies on emotion and intuition. For example, in order for Newton to think of his law of gravitation, he needed a catalyst to instigate his train of thought. In that case, his emotional reaction to an apple falling from a tree led to his theorem, while millions before him saw only the apple and not the concept of gravity.
His intuition, a form of emotion, was very important, as it first prompted him to pursue the ideas that made him famous. A physicist Douglas C. Giancoli states, “Science is a creative activity that in many respects resembles other creative activities of the human mind”4. Therefore, we must consider all ways of knowing apart from the obvious form of logic. The most striking evidence that mathematics and natural sciences share such common associations is in, for example, the scientific field of physics. By simple definition, physics is the practical application of mathematics in the real world.
Thus, it is clear that these two areas of knowledge are not clearly separated but are interdependent. However, we realise that our physics lessons are different to our maths lessons because of the content, and the practical way in which we learn. History and the human sciences, also called the social sciences, are other examples of areas of knowledge that share common links. The social sciences concentrate on the study of human behaviour, human society and social relationships. History is documented human sciences of the past. Similarities posses these areas of knowledge, and consequently separating these can be difficult.
History can be thought of as the gathering of facts from the past, but the way we view these facts can be perceived differently, according to our ethical beliefs. For instance, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan can be viewed differently depending on one’s values. Does the killing of 240 000 Japanese5 outweigh the advantage of bringing World War Two to a halt? While history may rely on research and empirical evidence, we are also forced to make decisions about what is right and wrong. This makes it almost impossible to separate ethical knowledge from the human sciences.