Sliding Scale of Humanities Versus Sciences
Does a work lean more towards the social sciences or natural sciences?
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(permanent link) added: 2011-10-05 07:49:16 sponsor: noblesix (last reply: 2013-06-27 11:24:10)

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Early Development Phase. In academia, there is a strong sense of division between the humanities (sociology, history, anthropology, philosophy) and the natural sciences (biology, physics, chemistry), and anyone who has experience in academic circles is no stranger to the conflicts between these two spheres. The two branches of science have greatly different points of focus as well as different methods of study and research, and these differences can cause friction between academics on either side.

This relationship bleeds through into fiction. When the sciences are invoked in a work, are they drawing from the social sciences or natural sciences? Are both fields represented? Is one depicted as inferior to another?

This scale does not indicate how well a work adheres to the sciences it draws from, but rather where the science involved is coming from. In many cases, particularly at the far ends of the spectrum where sciences become largely theoretical, do not be surprised if the author takes liberties, gets lazy, or just makes shit up. This is also not indicative of whether or not science is viewed as a good or bad thing; the author's opinion of a field does not determine if that field will be called upon in their work.

In general, some works can fall under several categories at once, depending on how they're used.

Please note: this is still just on its first legs, and I'm fleshing it out as I go along. I'm an anthropology student, so I don't claim to have a good fix on the actualities of the natural sciences. This is just what I've noticed from fiction, and if there are scientists and engineers who can explain their fields better than I, go for it.

Type 1: Hard Science, Theory, A.K.A. the Hypothesis
  • The primary types of science invoked in a Type 1 are theoretical fields of the natural sciences. Theoretical sciences frequently deal with phenomena that are difficult, if not impossible, to empirically test in a practical fashion; the objects of study can be incredibly difficult to observe, perhaps. This type of science requires a lot of effort to develop proper experimental procedures as well; in any Type 1 work, expect to see people in lab coats standing around a chalk board covered in equations. Any piece of high science fiction will draw heavily from this field.

Type 2: Hard Science, Practice, A.K.A. the Experiment
  • Type 2 hard sciences involve experimentation and data collection, with a naarrow focus on the lab and the workshop. Common Type 2 sciences, in fiction, include experimental biology and chemistry, and engineering both mechanical and biological. Type 2 sciences can be studied with more practicality than theoretical sciences, but are still limited to rigid experimental conditions. These sciences often involve having specific apparatuses to conduct research. Type 2 hard sciences are probably the most common in any genre, mainly because they will produce tangible results more easily than other types, in the form of information and data or technology.

Type 3: Social Sciences
  • A type 3 science stands at the intersection between natural sciences and humanities. A diverse number of fields occupy this space, including sociology, anthropology, psychology, economics, etc. Like the humanities, the type of results yielded by social sciences are qualitative in nature, but like the hard sciences, are often obtained through careful and methodological research. The subjects under this category are often criticized by members of academia on either side of the spectrum. Many subcategories exist within this typology and can lean towards other types, such as sociobiology, (some fields of) neuroscience, or physical anthropology. Type 3 sciences deal with plenty of theories, but are also able to draw from the methodological techniques of both natural sciences and humanities. Expect Type 3 science to involve statistics and plenty of fieldwork; most of the research conducted within the social sciences demands a presence within the field of study. Sometimes, interactions with the object of study can blur the boundary lines of research, but practitioners of social science are aware of this and study proper research methods and ethics extensively.

Type 4: Humanities, Practice, A.K.A. the Analysis
  • Humanities, also called the "soft" sciences, deal in qualitative research and observation, but lack the ability of experimentation that the hard sciences have. Type 4 fields of study include history, political science, and law. The practices of the humanities revolve around cases rather than experiments, incorporating case studies, interviews, historical documentation, and observation to draw conclusions, and are more flexible than the hard sciences in their ability to contextualize the objects of study. These fields create narratives rather than results, which is something that the hard sciences lack.

Type 5: Humanities, Theory, A.K.A. the Thesis
  • The fields of study included in Type 5, like the Type 4 humanities, are qualitative, but like Type 1, become very difficult to study practically and rely more on interpretation and discourse. Type 5 fields include philosophy, literature, fine arts, and theology. Type 5 subjects epitomize the ideal that there are no incorrect answers, and qualitative results are the product of personal interpretation of the object of study. These fields are not illogical, as some believe; in fact, logical reasoning and interpretation is the main focus of Type 5 discussions. Rhetoric, ethics, and metaphysics are important tools for anyone who engages in a Type 5 discourse, and interpretation is to a humanities practitioner what calculation is to a theoretical sciences practitioner.

No examples listed yet, simply because too many spring to mind right away to sort through.


  • Avatar is Type 2 and 3. Applied technology (the Avatars, mech suits, etc) is the big thing, but the film touches on several social concepts, such as cultural relativity. The film itself is a great meta-example of Type 3, since it is a highly romanticized depiction of the "other," or to use an outdated term, "noble savage."
  • The Last Samurai is a type 3. Like Avatar, it is also romanticizes the "otherly" samurai.

Live Action TV
  • The Big Bang Theory falls directly under Types 1 & 2, since the four main characters are a theoretical physicist, an experimental physicist, an astrophysicist, and an engineer, and their research is often brought up.
    • The show does dip its toes into type 3 with regularity, especially on occasions where Sheldon is unaware of social conventions.
  • Many of the conventions of Star Trek fall under the category of Type 1, as the show(s) frequently deal with theoretical science common to science fiction such as FTL travel.

Video Games
  • The Fallout games deal with Types 4 and 5. Themes common throughout the series such as the nature of humanity, of civilization, and of conflict are posed in philosophical ways. History is very significant in the Fallout 'verse, as both the sins and the promises of the Old World continue to resonate in the postapocalypse.
  • The Assassin's Creed series touches on most all of the five types. The fictional technology used as a framing device for the story is based on certain theoretical ideas about ancestry and DNA. The plot of the game revolves around fictionalized versions of historical events and people, and the significant themes of the games are often either philisophical (for example, the good of the many vs. the good of the few), or social (cultural and social changes, class conflicts, morality as a social construction).
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