Fields of Knowledge


This zoomable map of the fields of human knowledge shows the breadth and depth of what we know

Click on any of the broad fields of human knowledge to zoom in on fields within that field, keep clicking to zoom in on ever narrower fields, then click the zoom out one level button to zoom back out one level, or the zoom out to top level button to zoom straight back out to the top level. You can also use your browser's back buttons to retrace your steps through the fields of knowledge.

I've often wondered whether it might be possible to lay out the entirety of human knowledge on a zoomable map. The basic classification of fields adopted above shows not only the enormity of the task, but also the arbitrariness of any simple arrangement of what we know.

Systems of classification have always fascinated me and appalled me in equal measure. By classifying a discipline under the sciences or the humanities, we constrain it; by insisting that all our knowledge be in one field or another, we forbid ourselves to explore the fertile realms in between.

This particular classification is based on Wikipedia's List of academic disciplines and sub-disciplines. Moreover, the size of a field on the map is related to the length of the Wikipedia article related to that field (click the Wikipedia button to show the Wikipedia article for the field shown).

Of course, Wikipedia article length is an unreliable proxy for importance, and the strange preoccupations of Wikipedia contributors are sometimes in evidence (are the sciences really so much more important than the humanities? is sex education really more important than elementary education and higher education?) And the classification itself, in particular the inclusion of some esoteric fields and the exclusion of others, is, like everything else on Wikipedia, debatable and furiously debated.

Still, for all its arbitrariness, this map hints tantalisingly at the breadth and depth of what we know.


anon ⋅ 20 June 2015

Very interesting! I was doing something similar in a less programmatic manner... prefer this though.

It would be interesting to take what is presented as sub-disciplines and compare that to other data sources (mathematics journals, etc.) to see how often they appear in there to try and remedy the unreliability issues Wikipedia poses. Anything to come up with a less arbitrary branching of the sub-disciplines, as the major branches seem fairly well established.

Nice work!

Explorer of the Cosmos ⋅ 7 May 2022

I've also tried for many years to think of a good and useful classification scheme. The least-worst one I've come across is the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC):

Mark Jeffery ⋅ 7 May 2022

Thanks, Explorer of the Cosmos, that's useful. I've been wanting to work on improvements to this visualization for some time. When I do, maybe I should use the Universal Decimal Classification.

Parker ⋅ 15 June 2023

Been looking for something like this. Thanks!

Hester (Brunhilda) Venter ⋅ 7 July 2023

Cleverly put together! I love the visualization of information and the drill down.

Sharol F. Addison ⋅ 15 November 2023

This is excellent, and very informative!

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First published 29 March 2014

other pages on things made thinkable

How far can you travel for $10?   At what age do we do our greatest work?   Nuclides
How far can you travel for $10?   At what age do we do our greatest work?   Nuclides
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