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Kevin Jacobson

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I'm a little nervous about giving my atheism speech at school.

My writing teacher has given my class the assignment of writing a persuasive essay. Most people chose quite petty subjects to write on, but I decided to write about something that neither I or anyone else has ever written about. I'm going to give a speech on the the truth of science and atheism.

I believe I have very convincing coherence and evidence in my essay, but I'm extremely nervous on how people are going to handle it. I've already told a few people on what I'm writing on and both of them seemed a little offended and enraged. I'm only an eighth grader and so are my class mates. They might not fully comprehend my essay and just be extremely mad at me. Any suggestions on how to cope with this nervousness?
PS:My teacher already approved of my subject.

Topics: education
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    Oct 14 2012: Dear Kevin,
    I applaud you for presenting a topic that may be controversial. It takes courage to express our true thoughts, feelings, ideas and beliefs in an environment where people may not always agree...kudos to you my friend!

    I've read many of your comments here on TED, and perceive you to be a very intelligent, insightful young person, so I have confidence that you will move through this challenge with ease. There is some good advice on this thread already, and my most important advice, is to believe in yourself and your ability to communicate in a respectful way.

    I would NOT make "convincing" others of anything the main priority. How do you feel when someone is trying to convince you that s/he is right and you are wrong? That is what often causes challenges. As Obey insightfully says..."Be careful claiming absolutes". Present the information as YOUR beliefs, YOUR exploration, YOUR thoughts and feelings about the topic, and of course credit to scientists, etc. for information that supports your essay.

    They may not "fully comprehend" or agree with your essay....you already know that. You are intelligent enough to present the information in a way that may cause them to be more open to your ideas...with excitment. Let go of the need to convince them of anything, and make your presentation SO interesting that they cannot resist being curious! Genuinely connect with the audience and present the information with enthusiasm and confidence.

    If you let go of YOUR need to convince, you may feel less nervous. Very often, it is HOW information is presented and our intent, that makes all the difference. I think/feel that you will do GREAT! Looking forward to hearing more about it:>)
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      Oct 14 2012: My goal truly isn't to convince. My goal is simply to make my fellow classmates look at the world in a different manner than they did before and hopefully get them to challenge that one lazy statement that "god created everything." I really just want my classmates to think.
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        Oct 14 2012: OK...your goal is not to convince. You cannot "make" anyone look at the world differently either. If you want your classmates to think, you need to entice them to think...they have to WANT to think. You may have all the evidence and statistics in the world, and it has no value unless you can get people to listen and be engaged with the topic. Make any sense?

        If you are too insistant, people will either be antagonized, and/or simply shut you and your evidence/statistics out. It is important to present the information in a way that is not too threatening to THEIR beliefs. Draw them into considering YOUR beliefs in a gentle way. People will not accept new information until THEY decide to open the heart and mind to new possibilities....make any sense?

        A first priority is to engage the audience. If you don't have their attention, it doesn't matter what you say:>)
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          Oct 14 2012: I will, of coarse, be gentle in my speech. I may be a little harsh when it comes to this topic on TED, but at school I have to be gentle about this topic since there is a lot on the line. I could anger peoples parents and really get people enraged with me. So, I really have no other option than to be gentle with my speech.
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        Oct 14 2012: Kevin, if you see others as "lazy" because they believe god created everything, then that is the beginning of an antagonistic stance, which will come across in your body language and voice intonation.

        You do not get people to think differently by antagonising them. If you show signs of disrespect for their views, those people will dig their heels even further into their belief, and will not listen to your views.

        Getting people to think beyond their strongly held belief system is a long, gentle process of empathic coaxing, involving entering their world and maybe coming out the other side with changed views - hopefully theirs and possibly even yours.
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    Oct 19 2012: Hello Kevin

    Thank you for posing a brave question.

    i am 44 years old, and i have never given a speech about atheism in front of a crowd. I am very much confident with my worldview and I do not expect it to change much for the rest of my life. And yet, i would probably be a little nervous too if i was in your shoes

    My parents were catholic and they are now devoted christians, one of my brothers even became a pastor and has a huge congregation. Wonderful people, all of them.

    For a while it was not easy to be the black sheep. It felt uncomfortable having to disagree profoundly with people that one loves profoundly too. But things turned out ok. They gave up trying to convince me, and i stopped trying to refute their every claim.

    We humans like belonging in groups. It hurts when we are ostracized, and it is no surprise that we all try to avoid situations that could result in us being ostracized. But understanding why it hurts goes a long way to cope with it when it inevitably happens (it is impossible to always be accepted to 100% of the groups you like or admire, right?)

    It hurts (and some will disagree i am sure) because humans, as a species, survived thanks to sticking together in groups. Most genetic variations that resulted in a brains that dedicated less neurons to this process of bonding with the group would produce individuals with a much lower survival rate

    So you and i have inherited a brain that was sculpted when our ancestors depended heavily on belonging. But nowadays, regardless of that pain in the stomach, our survival is not in danger if we are singled out of a group for some time

    But keep in mind that the main purpose of your speech is to explain a worldview, not to convince everyone to "switch sides". It is perfectly fine if everyone in the classroom remains as convinced of their view as they were before. But to some, your example will give them something to think about, and maybe, just maybe, the seed will land in fertile soil

    cheers
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      Oct 26 2012: Beautifully said Andres. I want to add that I feel some people with religious beliefs are possibly just afraid of death. It is unfathomable to accept that perhaps when we die it is over. To believe that we can be re-united with everyone we have ever loved is quite reassuring.
      In any case, your words were lovely. I am personally hoping Kevin throws out loads of seeds that day that start the important process of germination.
      All the best.
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        Oct 26 2012: Hi Lori,

        Thank you for your comment. If you have not, I think you should read Billions and Billions by Carl Sagan. He gives a beautiful perspective of facing death from a skeptic scientific view

        cheers!
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          Oct 26 2012: Many thanks Andres. I am just heading downtown for a rainy afternoon of coffee shops and bookstores. This will be the first book on my list to find, I actually haven't heard of it before but I am very intrigued. Have a great day, Lori
  • Oct 19 2012: Kevin, Robert offers good suggestions below. Perhaps a good personal guide for each of us could be: "Never try to take anything out of man; always try to add something good for man to attract him to higher and better ways."
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    Oct 21 2012: Are you trying to prove that God does not exist, or are you trying to present an alternative to the God hypothesis?

    If you present evolution and science as a workable theory, worthy of the successes to which it has already achieved without attacking people's belief in God, I believe that you will have greater respect. It is easier to lead people to your way of thinking rather than trying to lead them away from theirs, even if the end result is the same.
  • Oct 19 2012: I agree with most of the comments I've read below. You will get some people who dislike what you're going to say, I'm agnostic personally and some people get irate about even that. Just make sure that they recognise that you aren't telling them they are wrong or right in their beliefs and that simply that you are expressing your own opinion on the existence of any God(s), as you should be allowed to do. I'm sure that at the worst the theists in your class will just try and change your mind.
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      Oct 26 2012: My mom is very bothered when I say I am an atheist. I think in her mind it sounds a lot like "satanist". She has asked me to please use the word agnostic if it comes up in conversation. Because it is important to her, I do use that word but only in her presence. It took me 32 years to be able to use the word atheist and although sometimes it is hard I do feel it is an important part of my identity and it clearly states what I do not subscribe to. That said, I still can't look my in-laws in the face and use the word atheist. Perhaps it was all those years of brainwashing in the Catholic church! As I only see my in-laws every 2 years this is something that doesn't really affect my life. I try to have my voice heard when necessary but more importantly, I try to stay out of those conversations! My comment here is in response to some people feeling irate (?) with your using the word "agnostic". That may be an interesting Ted question...
      • Oct 26 2012: Some people, both theists and atheists, see it as me using the word to stay out of any debates on the existence of a God rather than that I see good and bad points with both sides of the argument. Also contrary to the fact that me being agnostic means I don't completely disagree with either side some people will still react as if I do and try and convince me of their belief. That's what I mean by some people getting irate.
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    Oct 16 2012: I'm glad my conversation has caused this much of a stir.
  • Oct 15 2012: My two cents is this Kevin, Atheism is also a belief, and therefore cannot be proven. I was once like you and wanted to prove things to people, but with age and a lot of pondering, I've come to accept that any conceptual attack towards any form of belief, both verbal and non-verbal are either malicious or misdirected. In reality, even logic has its fallacy, and at the end of the day, what really matters is the usability of anything, tangible or otherwise.

    I used to think that having knowledge means having the higher ground, but that was a long time ago. Since then I've come to know that that only incites conflict rather than resolution, anger rather than peace. Humility I think is the way, to share knowledge with the offer of possible use rather than judgement. Openmindedness, yes, the ability to try out different perspectives like shoes, not to say that one should not have conviction, but rather respect for individuality with a focus on cooperation and harmony.

    If you are to promote science, talk about its usability. The aim is to inspire. Never talk about presumed truths for that already infers clouded judgement upon your speech. Perhaps be a witness to how science has affected your life, but make sure that you also reflect respect. Talk about commonality rather than divisiveness. I am almost at a lost for words, because atheism like other belief systems have always been a cause for mental distress for me. I know you are young and I too was once young and my flame of passion burnt as well, my last advice for you, give a speech that conveys helpfulness and good tidings.
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      Oct 16 2012: I disagree in part,

      Some approaches and claims Re more reliable than others.

      if the position of conflicting religions comes down to they are useful, that's not a great place go be.


      because there is a lot of negative baggage that comes with religious beliefs.

      I note religions claim to have absolutes truths without the evidence go back these up. So if your holy scriptures say your tribe was given some land by god, or that homosexuals should be killed you can not rationally argue The point. If the pope says no condoms, he speaks for the creator of the universe. Great

      Not believing in gods and associated dogma without compelling evidence seems a much more useful starting point that all the subjective unverifiable or false claims of conflict I g religions.
      • Oct 17 2012: Thanks for that post! Without it, this reply could not have realised.

        I think your disagreement would depend on the limitations of the term "usefulness!" If it means useful to a single person, then perhaps there are more pitfalls to discuss. But if it means usefulness to a group of people, then the number of people it is useful to is in direct reverse-coorelation to its susceptibleness to argumentation. It's all about interpretation really. I wasn't asking our dear Kevin to give a speech that is pro-religion, after all the world of speeches does not fall within the dichotomy of religion vs non-religion. What I was merely suggesting is that any form of engagement between persons should be aimed at usability. Using your example, the pope saying "no condoms!" is probably useful to a lot of people, which is why he has quite a following, for what he is really trying to protect is the sanctity of marriage, aka pre-marital sex, its usability really is that it gives a pre-tense for moral guidelines. The opposite of course is the pro-choice movement. But I don't think that we should be stuck between those two movements. That is why I argue usability, if I were to say something that is greater than both those movements, I would say, "Non-coerced informed free choice is the way to go!" Both the belief in the sanctity of marriage and the choice of birth control are viable choices so long as they are non-coerced informed choices being made. This means that an effort should be made to create an environment for individuals where they can make a choice between the sanctity of marriage or using a condom without the hindrance of coercion and the aim of all the necessary information to make an informed choice. The usability of that statement is higher than the first two don't you think?
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          Oct 18 2012: I thought no contraception also applied to married people. The prohibition about contraception is more about Sex being for procreation not recreation. Every sperm is sacred. Happy to be corrected by catholic experts.

          When someone frames a moral pronouncement in terms of absolutes, coming from god we have problems. What is wrong with using contraception within marriage. If someone is going to have sexnoutside of marriage wouldn't it be better to use condoms. Why not say we think sex should be reserved for marriage, but if you are going to have sex use protection. I would have thought the sanctity of life trumps the sacredness of sperm.

          Anyway I don't think we want to argue the morality or not of bible based beliefs based on a god that ordered and commited genocide and sends his creations to eternal suffering, and commands adukterers, disrespectful children, people who work on the Sabbath and homosexuals to be killed.

          If you can see a problem with something tied to an iron age moral system, I don't know what to say.

          i can discuss the merits of contraception inside and outside marriage with some, but no point discussing it with a papist. They believe they have the absolute truth. No space for debate, for facts, for consequences. God or his mouthpiece have spoken.

          Same for sexism. No female priests. Same for priests not being able to marry.

          You know some beliefs can be reasonably Proven correct. Engineers have beliefs based on evidence that result in the computers we are typing on.

          I guess my point is you have beliefs based on scripture, revelation, religious authority that are faith based and conflict and held to be absolutely true, not negotiable like the earth is 6000 years old. That slavery is okay if you follow the bibical or koranicguidelines, that you should kill homosexuals, that you should not eat shellfish. Not negotiable. basing your world view on unsubstantiated religious dogma of which all but one must be false. Can't you see the problem with this?
      • Oct 18 2012: Hi Obey, thanks for that reply again. Please visit my Ted conversation http://www.ted.com/conversations/14204/that_any_person_who_chooses_to.html. I think my perspective on religion should be apparent there. All I am trying to say in this thread really is that speakers should focus on the usability of their speech. That is all really.
  • Oct 15 2012: Religion is a subject that inspires passion in people. The concept of atheism is a pretty mature topic for a group of eight graders to fully grasp. Some will no doubt be offended because they see your view as telling them, thier families and others that they are wrong.

    First you are brave for choosing this topic and voicing and unpopular opinion. However, you should feel safe and secure at school. If this paper has the ability to jeopardize this feeling, then your teacher, and your principal, should be aware of its content before you deliver the speech. In an ideal world, such viewpoints would be tolerated, sought after and accepted. The extent to which this is true in the eight grade where you live is a different matter.

    I think your teacher might think about the benefit of you delivering your speech to your peers, versus say just she and the principal or perhaps a group of other teachers. You should absolutely have the chance to speak, but you should rely a bit on the adults in your education system when it comes to whether it is in your best interest to deliver it to the 8th grade at your school. I seem to recall comparative religion being a subject that was in a lot of college curriculums. College is a place where such diversity of opinion is sought after and exulted. Perhaps your teacher could work out a deal with a college or adult level class locally for you to give your speech if she thinks it unwise to deliver it to the 8th grade.

    Very mature and courageous topic for an eighth grader. You might look up in Wiki what the national numbers for "no religion" or atheism are for our country. Seems to me it is between 10-20%. Also, you might be sure to understand the difference between atheism and agnostic.

    Best of luck!
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    Oct 14 2012: It's possible that the offence and rage you perceive from others is to do with a clash of beliefs.

    Therefore your nervousness might be reduced in your speech by exhibiting an understanding of the 'opposition', even though a genuine understanding of it may be difficult.

    I think that an argument that aggressively opposes another makes for stimulating debate - but consensus is unlikely. The distance between the two opposing arguments will remain the same at the end - or even greater.

    If you want people to understand you, understand them first.
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    Oct 14 2012: I'm sure it will all be fine just ask the big man upstairs to give you a good speech.

    For me the trick to public speaking is not to worry about remembering everything you want to say as just about guaranteed you will forget something. Focus instead on connecting with your audience. I have found that humor goes a long.

    Here is a joke that is apt:

    A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew. She would occasionally walk around to see each child's artwork. As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was.
    The girl replied, "I'm drawing God."
    The teacher paused and said, "But no one knows what God looks like."
    Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing, the little girl replied, "They will in a minute."
  • Oct 21 2012: Hi Kevin
    I am an atheist high school student and I have been an atheist for a long time now. I feel REALLY identified with what you are saying! I understand how hard it is to tell that to some small minded young teenagers who just repeat whatever their parents say. Believe me I have been in that position before. My advise: just do it. There will be lots of people who will disagree but you just will not care. You should be proud that you have done some good logic and overcame your environment's paradigms and have gone further than the vast majority of your classmates.

    Just don't be rude and respect what others have to say so they will respect what you have to say too.
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    Oct 15 2012: That's a big subject for one so young. In my humble opinion, I would wait until I'm in college.
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    Oct 14 2012: Kevin, if you really want to make an impression on others, conquer their hearts and souls then try to agrue in favor of God's existence.

    Such speech could be equally fascinating but apart from this, it would be much more inspiring and optimistic than the otherwise gloomy world you want to present to the people when saying that everything is just science, atoms and we are all but a ball of meat.

    Ultimately, God may or may not exist, but you will never lift the spirit of people with atheism. Keep that in mind!
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      Oct 14 2012: Hi js there is much awe and wonder in the natural world for me.

      I prefer basing my life on what is most likely to be true. There is an honesty facing up to the fact this is probably the only life we have, it makes this life even more precious.
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        Oct 14 2012: Obey you are right but thinking about the truth... all the horrors that happen in this world (war, atrocities, genocides, eating human flesh) are no doubt true. Would watching such undeniable truth inspire awe and wonder in you?

        I am not saying we should turn a blind eye to all the bad stuff, but let's maybe leave it to our armies while we still believe in Santa.

        Atheism is simply rude. Let's be delicate, let's be humans.
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          Oct 16 2012: Why is being sceptical about gods, astrology, demons and associated dogma and lore wHen there is no evidence to support them inherintelligence

          Not believingIin gods and goddesses without evidence is less rude than telling everyone they are going to hell, or that you have the truth about the nature of the universe Without evidence or that your buddy is the creator of the universe more insulting to our intelligence.

          No one is forcing Theism on anyone here. Just presenting a position that people can consider and accept or reject or look into further.

          I have no issue with people having the right to faith based beliefs but they should notbe immune from critique.

          I agree there is a time and a place. my wife has supernatural beliefs, but we agree not to debate. But if religious based morality Or Beliefs are out there in the battle of ideas they Are open for debate.

          Atheists have to deal with theist beliefs and associated behaviours in society
          I cant think of a reason why theist beliefs should be off limits even if it is rude. Civil rights for women and minorities are probably rude too.

          Others can believe in Santa, or Yahweh, or Zeus if they want. But perhaps we all benefit from being more informed on alternative views. Perhaps we would all be better off if morals were based on reason not iron age or medieval belief systems or what the pope says.

          People are welcome to the consolations of conflicting and probably false beliefs if they so choose but they don't get to live in their own bubble. They can ignore but should not have the right to silence those who peacefully disagree.
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    Gail . 50+

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    Oct 14 2012: Did you know that of those aged 18-24, less than 1% have a biblical-based worldview. You are young and still under your parents' wings, as are your classmates, so some believe in God because they are required to in the name of survival. They won't in just a few years.

    The polls were conducted by evangelical christian groups that were concerned with declining church membership. They concluded that the church-age is nearly over. (Referencing Revelation).

    My only suggestion is one that others here have said. Watch your tone so that you do not sound derisive. I doubt that most will care one way or the other. Wisconsin is well-known for it's kindness.

    I disagree with those who said that the teacher should not have approved the subject, but they are Christians and I am not.
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    Oct 14 2012: Good on you kevin for picking a profound topic.

    My main suggestion is consider the consequences and pick your battles

    This topic may be interesting, lead to some open and honest debate and respect for your position, or it could go tribal and make the rest of high school hellish. Only you can gauge the likely response.

    Secondly, suggest the tone in your debate be carefully considered. What would be the outcomes going full frontal compared to say filtering some respect for people whop have subjective faith based beliefs.

    Maybe build in some common ground, e.g. regards of having evidence based world view or a faith based view we all can share awe at the universe. You might point out at the start that you support freedom of religion. You respect peoples rights to have faith based beliefs and hope that this discussion is seen as part of an open respectful debate.

    You might point out that science can not tell us whether there are gods or goddesses because there is no evidence to verify their existence or deny a supposed spiritual realm. That there are many things we don't know the answers to. However

    Also, the topic "truth about science and atheism"- saying you have the truth is pretty full frontal. No issue pointing out evidence based science and a general skeptical view versus all the conflicting subjective religious and spiritual beliefs when you don't rely on evidence.

    Also you can follow science as our best approximation of reality and believe in gods, just not some of the claims in dogma. While I guess more scientists are agnostic or atheist than the general population, a scientific perspective does not mean an end to religious beliefs and communities.

    There is a time and place for full frontal. However I am weary of being seen as condescending or full on undermining my workmates or friends beliefs. If we discuss these sorts of topics I try to balance respect for the person and while putting forward a coherent position.

    Good luck. Win the war not battle
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    Oct 13 2012: Kevin, I am familiar with the area you live as I sent my kids to camp there a few years. I would suggest that you run it by your teacher first. Get his/her feedback and see if you are on the right track. I agree with Mr. Smith about Carl Sagan. He was a great scientist and has a way to make it understandable.

    Persuasion speeches are great. I just think of them as commercials. You want the audience to buy your product not get mad at you.

    Besides, I know you'll do great.
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      Oct 13 2012: Thanks. My teacher already approved of it. I just don't know how my fellow classmates will react.
    • Oct 13 2012: How close is Wisconsin to Swat Valley/Kansas-level fundamentalism anyway?
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        Oct 14 2012: I wouldn't call it fundamentalist. Just good, hard-working people. Kevin still has high school to go through. If the teacher is good with it, I think the students will find it interesting. Maybe some will be relieved to know that other people think like they do and start talking about beliefs.
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      Oct 14 2012: Linda, about your latest reply, it is entirely possible to replace religion with science. Why would you waste time and energy believing in something that cannot be proven when you can easily look at science and say "hey, all of those teachings are facts."
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        Oct 14 2012: Because it is part of my heritage and it makes me feel good. It makes me happy to belong to a group of people who are connected to a higher power than this life that is so hard. That gives me hope. People who believe as I do.

        (Not me personally but that is how it works.) You see, it serves a different purpose in their lives. And they connect to it differently. Knowledge occurs in a different part of them. They understand science and proof but their proof is inside of them and logic and reason cannot replace what theism gives them.

        I hope this makes sense.
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          Oct 14 2012: I makes clear sense. I understand that religion gives people a special type of hope. For me, I feel nice knowing that in the flesh scientists of all types can explain my questions and really let me understand the world around me. The fact that I can know such amazing and meaningful facts just because of my fellow human beings and not some special deity really makes me happy. Being a strong follower of science is about a lot more than believing and hoping, its about knowing and understanding the world around in a way that a religious book could never offer.
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        Oct 14 2012: Excellent Kevin! You are so ready for this speech:) You're gonna do great. No need to be nervous.

        When you can understand both decisions, you have what you need to persuade.
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    Oct 13 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D05ej8u-gU

    Watch this, recite it a few times, and realise that no matter what people think of your speech, the world's greatest minds are 100% behind you
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      Oct 13 2012: Thanks for sharing the video. Your words are also very inspiring. I actually already wrote a Neil DeGrasse Tyson quote in my essay. It goes something like this.
      "As humans, we are all connected to each other genetically, we are all connected to the earth chemically and we are all connected to the rest of the universe atomically. To me, that carries a lot more meaning than believing some deity created us thousands of years ago."
  • Oct 27 2012: Thanks Same.
    Re. who told us that. You are right. Despite my religious foundation. I think that science should not be denied, meteors, planets comets, asteroids, dwarf planets, are there. But what we know about this things only based on what we can see from here. Faith on whatever we believe, works good for each individual, such as atheism works for the ones who are atheists. And you are right, hypocrisy is part of human interaction, some politicians, some religious leaders and some enterprise managers are precise examples of this particular conduct. No one yet has told exactly what happened, how we got here, and where we are going. Our planet is a spaceship, and we are the passengers, from my optics is good to live in harmony with the people that surrounds you. No matter if they believe in a God or in a Mother ship, or whatever. Harmony with the other passengers of the spaceship called earth is what really matters.
  • Oct 27 2012: Wow from speech of life to fear of death, interesting formations...

    For Kevin I suggest this, use the opening line with wording to match your request for the audience...let me offer you a suggestion (good on you Andres)

    I am about to give a speech on a controversial topic. I have not chosen this topic to anger or change anyone in anyway but to simply educate on social affairs. Please at all times, keep in mind that the main purpose of my speech is to explain a "worldview", not to convince everyone to "switch sides". It is perfectly fine if everyone in the classroom remains as convinced of their view as they were before. I also believe that sole purpose is why our teacher ok'd the speech. So before I start I just wish to ask that everyone knows and agrees that this is not a statement of belief as it information regarding another's thoughts...

    But before you do I would like to offer a seed for you...what if we did not come from this earth, what if Atheism was right that religion was wrong but wrong on how it all began. What if out of desperation, they led themselves to believe we were monkeys. Personally, no one is going to make a monkey out of me because of a cult. I along with others believe that whole concept to be an insult to the ape family.

    And if you have thought about this then you are aware that Atheism works in the same way as a religion. To the extent of hypocrisy. Both groups use a faith based support to end their stories. Religion with an invisible deity and Atheism with the educated guess that we must be a relative of the ape since there is no direct link to the one that exists now...so believe what you will...or let me offer you a history lesson based on what we know...existence, earth, meteor, dust cloud covers the earth, man appears carrying the knowledge it descended from the dirt...my question, "who told us that"
  • Oct 27 2012: Ok bro.... I am not an atheist so i may not be the right person to say what i am going to say. But here it goes.
    Whatever is it you believe in or not, its part of you, it is what defines you as who you are. You feel good about yourself and you will share your ideas with your classmates. The issue with this matters goes around respect. I respect the belief of others, no matter if they are muslims, atheists, buddhists, or if they believe in aliens and mother ships. If i can exchange a sincere handshake with anyone that believes in different things then that person is welcome. I know what it is to think different in an environment where everyone else thinks the same way. Life faces you with a set of doors, and you are about to open an interesting one, good luck with that speech.
    • Oct 27 2012: Roberto allow me to introduce myself, I just read your reply and thought I would cut and paste this thought for you...you are aware that Atheism works in the same way as a religion. To the extent of hypocrisy. Both groups use a faith based support to end their stories. Religion with an invisible deity and Atheism with the educated guess that we must be a relative of the ape since there is no direct link to the one that exists now...so believe what you will...or let me offer you a history lesson based on what we know...existence, earth, meteor, dust cloud covers the earth, man appears carrying the knowledge it descended from the dirt...my question, "who told us that"
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    Oct 26 2012: So Kevin
    How'd it go?
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    Oct 26 2012: What a courageous boy you are and you may be surprised how many of your classmates will respect your intelligence. Just as you won't go up there and judge their beliefs, they will have no right to judge your facts. As 8th graders, many of them have spent these first 13 years being indoctrinated into a belief system that they perhaps have never questioned. As they reach this wonderful age where they can start asking questions and making their own decisions, perhaps your words will have more influence and power than you realize. Again, just be respectful and speak with confidence. I know in America you are taking more of a risk with this than if you were in (more secular) Canada. That is also why I think you are something special. I would love to be able to see how this unfolds.
    You can always assure your classmates that although you don't have a "God" to tell you how to be a good person, you ARE a good person. (I tell my in-laws that they don't need to worry for my soul. If there is a god and heaven then surely s/he will see that I have led an honest life with high morals and integrity and let me into "heaven").
    You will do great! You have nothing to fear. Good luck to you (and please tell your teacher I think s/he is an excellent educator accepting this type of important discussion in the classroom).
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    Oct 21 2012: i want our o.p. to jump in and report!
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    Oct 15 2012: when this event will take place?
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      Oct 16 2012: I'm just giving a school speech. Nothing big.The assignment is due at the end of the week and we will be giving our speeches early next week. I sure hope I change a few minds.
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        Oct 16 2012: no you hope you will not be thrown tomatoes at :)
        let us know how it went. advice for any possible aftermath: your position should be that you respect their choice to be religious, though you disagree with it. so you expect them to do likewise, and respect your choice of being not religious, though they disagree with it.
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          Oct 19 2012: Yeah, I'm going to have to add a lot of comments in the essay that I didn't even write just to not have tomatoes thrown at me. It'll help with morale.
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          Oct 19 2012: Kevin,
          Hopefully, this discussion has given you some idea of what people may think about your topic, how they may question you, or express their own concerns? Remember, knowledge is power. The more information you have, the better prepared you can be to deal with whatever arises. I'm looking forward to hearing about the outcome as well....keep us informed? You will do GREAT!
      • Oct 17 2012: "... I sure hope to change a few minds."

        I think it will be a difficult task to talk about atheism and hold the attention of the class. Generally persuasion isn't so much an issue of enlightenment as it is a personal talk that registers with the audience. You can explain how YOU came feel or think as you do about a view considered by many objectionable. You can explain how and or why this position is right for you. You might want to acknowledge atheism is a controversial subject since few are atheist. I would bet that would make the talk of less commotion and perhaps the class more attentive to your comments. I like what Mr. Pinter noted above.

        The best reaction you may have a right to expect is, " Wow, I don't agree with him, but that was interesting."

        Good luck. Regardless of what happens, don't be discouraged. Many things in life that are challenging can be a learning experience.
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    Oct 15 2012: Great.....understand your reason of feeling nervous......just stay open and cool to handle any question / opposition.....
    Religious belief can't be answered logically or with evidence , keeping that in mind will also be helpful that'e what I feel.
  • Oct 14 2012: Kevin I was recently chastised by my professor for a journal I wrote on the topic of drug treatments and religion. Just know that people will be offended and that is OK. This country was founded on freedom of speech never let anyone silence you. With that said i would like to echo what Mr. Macdougall said and tell you that arguing from a condescending stance will do nothing but enrage people and distract them from the truth of your argument. It also reinforces predetermined ideas about the proverbial, elitist, snobby atheist.

    Best of luck to you and know that this won't be the only time you will be challenged in school about this.
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    Oct 14 2012: Kevin,

    I've followed this topic since it started, refraining from comment until now. There has been very good advice, from both "sides", already. Keep in mind the type of advice you get will depend on the individual's already-formed beliefs...do THEY think science or religion is right? That said....

    I feel I have to point out one major discrepancy in your topic narrative. You stated, "...but I decided to write about something that neither I or anyone else has ever written about. I'm going to give a speech on the the truth of science and atheism." Where on Earth did you draw that conclusion from? Do you honestly believe NO ONE else has ever written or given a speech about the conflicts between science and religion? You are entering one of the major "conflicts" that exist in the history of Mankind, and it has been conducted in both written and spoken words uncountable times in the past.

    I want to address one other thing for you to consider. The TITLE of your topic is, "I'm a little NERVOUS....". Well, you should be. Reason? Because history shows that BOTH sides can get MORE than just "...extremely mad at (you)". Some people on BOTH sides of the issue will ACT OUT on their beliefs, including taking violent actions against the opposition. So yes...you SHOULD be nervous about it, if nothing more than considering your own personal safety.

    You have to decide whether the risks of giving your speech are worth the possible consequences you may suffer from it. Regardless of how "right" you (or anyone) may think or feel about your (their) position, you will not convince everyone else to join your side. And some of those you can't convince may be physically dangerous to you.

    How "desperate" are you to try to convince everybody else of your position? Are the risks associated with it worth it to you at your age and life position at this time? I applaud your motivation to try to "change the world", but just be very cautious about how you go about it.
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      Oct 14 2012: Rick,
      Kevin was talking about what the other kids were doing, and what was done in his school or class....that is the impression I got when he wrote it's never been done before. He's bright enough to know this has been addressed before, but perhaps not in his school. As I recall, Kevin has been in several conversations here on TED regarding this topic.
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        Oct 14 2012: True. Though I haven't been on TED very much lately. At least not since the end of summer vacation. School keeps me pretty occupied.
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          Oct 15 2012: OK, that's what I was hoping you meant about the never being done before.

          I will offer one other piece of advice. As you are probably already aware (since your teacher gave you a "persuade" type of speech assignment), there are 4 basic types of speeches and reasons to give them: to inform, to instruct, to entertain, and to persuade.

          The definition of persuade is:

          1.Cause (someone) to do something through reasoning or argument.
          2.Cause (someone) to believe something, esp. after a sustained effort; convince.

          Please note that a persuasive speech is NOT designed to "teach" (instruct) TRUTH about anything.

          Your topic indicates that you are going to try to "persuade" other people to "believe" more in Aetheistic views than Theist views. And you state you are going to use "science facts" to try to "prove" aetheism is the "true" view of things.

          Can't be done. Science has not proven the non-existance of a Deity anymore than religion has proved the existance of one.

          If you present your "persuasion" speech as an "I'm right and everybody else is wrong" presentation, you are wrong to begin with. Don't try to cram those scientific "facts" down their throats, because those "facts" have done NOTHING to prove the non-existance of a deity.

          And because of that, look at the two definitions of "persuade" again.

          Definition #1 would cause anyone USING reasoning to reason that science has not proven the non-existance of a deity. So there is no "truth" to any claim you might make that science proved the non-existance of one.

          Definition #2 means that if you manage to make someone BELIEVE that science has proven the non-existance of a deity, then you have made them believe something that has NOT been proven by science at all.

          Just remember, you are trying to PERSUADE, not teach "Truth". Your topic states, "I'm going to give a speech on the TRUTH of science and atheism."

          No you aren't. There is no "truth" concerning atheism. Science does not disprove a deity's existance.
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          Oct 15 2012: (Added to above reply)

          You can use you scientific facts to disprove ONLY some of the reasons used by theists to try to prove the existance of their deity. For instance, science proved that the Earth was not the center of the universe with everything else revolving around it. But THAT still does not disprove the existance of a deity itself.

          So use your "science facts" carefully. But understand, even if you combine ALL your science facts, they still do not disprove a deity exists. They may disprove reasons historically given by theists to support a deity's existance, but that is all they will "prove" as far as "truth" is concerned.
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    Oct 14 2012: hi kevin
    i read many ideas of people here.i would like to say that always be confident what are you performing or at your acts.we as a human beings can do every impossible work in world but we should have confidence.and always keep it in your mind during selecting topic for speech that you should chose those topics which are internationally famous and always convey your message during speech at international level not only to the people sitting infront of you .if you take topic of women rights so talk about rights for women of all world.....like this if you talk about the pollution so give your clues related pollution at world level....not of your city or country .and you should have proper facts and figures for every thing.
    best of luck kevin
  • Oct 14 2012: "Any suggestions on how to cope with this nervousness?"
    My suggestions would depend on the person I'm giving these suggestions to, but I'll try to make them generic now.

    1. Do not memorize the entire speech. Some people can pull it off. I don't know about you, but I would completely fail at this. If I were to forget one or two key steps in a complicated argument, I'm likely to make a mess of things. I prefer to keep things flexible, and even interactive.
    2. Use slides if you can. It will help focus the attention of the audience, and also make sure you're not missing important issues that you wanted to touch upon. Some friends of mine prefer to draw/write things instead, as they are speaking. This never worked for me. If you can't use slides, take short notes for yourself.
    3. Ask yourself about your own fears. What exactly is causing your nervousness? Do you think you are comfortable enough with the actual content of the talk? If it's the content, you must work on it on your own. If it is the fact that you will be speaking to a large audience, keep in mind that you haven't spoken to a large audience many times before. (Or have you?) If you make a few mistakes here and there, well, you'll learn from it for your next talk.
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      Oct 15 2012: About "evidence".
      I know it's commonly used and, among a scientific-minded community, there is no confusion about what it means. But when you're doing a presentation about science and religion, it's not the best word to describe the scientific method. For instance, one could be tricked to believe that science supports evolution because of the large quantity of fossils that's been dug up, where in fact evolution is supported because it is the best hypothesis to explain life.
      • Oct 16 2012: Evolution is not a hypothesis, it is an observation. No one denies that. Not even the not-so-well-read creationists. What creationists seem to deny is the formation of complex organs by just natural selection. Even not-so-well-read creationists understand why drug resistance happens in viruses and bacteria. They happily accept what they call "microevolution". They just have trouble with "macroevolution".

        Re. fossils: fossils are one of the few things observed that first supported the theory of evolution.

        Am I right, creationists and IDers?

        In any case, I don't see a problem with stating that evidence is one of the key factors in the scientific method.
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          Oct 17 2012: Again, it is very unscientific to believe that there can be any observation without theory. Precisely, this is religious.
          I can explain myself a little bit more, if you like, but we'd need to embark on a lengthy discussion.
          I don't mind....
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          Oct 17 2012: Let's start with this : why do you trust adults more than small children at observing stuff?
          Because adults have a better ability to guess than kids, right? Because they've been around longer and have sharpened their judgement (their theories) about the outside world, right?
          You do agree, don't you, that what we experience when we point our eyeballs at something is not reality?
      • Oct 17 2012: Sure! Please explain.
      • Oct 17 2012: Depends on what you mean by "children" (how young?). The younger they are, the more likely they are to omit things. http://memlab0.eng.yale.edu/PDFs/1984_Johnson_Foley_JSocIssues.pdf

        Nothing to do with guess... but I suppose guessing may be involved in a situation too complex for the child to understand.

        "You do agree, don't you, that what we experience when we point our eyeballs at something is not reality?"
        Depends on what exactly you mean. I have no history of schizophrenia, If I see a car rushing towards me, I'll bet my life that it is there. If I have built a voltmeter, and calibrated it. I will trust the readings I see on it. Though I am not at all colorblind, I don't trust myself too much with nuances of colors, or in poor light, even with making rough estimates with any confidence.
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          Oct 17 2012: What you say is true, but it's an aproximation.
          Do you really see a car rushing towards you? No, you "feel" electrical impulses in your brain caused by sunlight being bounced off the car into your eyeballs. If you'd worn a mask on your eyes for your entire life, and someone suddenly took it off for you on front of the rushing car, you would get the signals, but you would not know what to make of them.
          The way you observe a car is that you guess at what the signals might mean. This is your only window to reality : electrical signals in your brains. And from these signals, you work out a model that's useful for you about the reality that's out there. For one thing, reality is not in 3D. But this is how your model is useful to you, so you wind up with a 3D image-illusion of a car. The decision to say that you're facing a rushing car is just a theory, based on other cars you've learned your brain to observe, and on theories about moving objects.
          This is extremely obvious to us. People don't realize that most of what they see is a mental construct, pure imagination, that complements the faint signals and the interpretation we make of them. When you look at your wife, you only get a few electrical patterns that you recognize, and from them, you give her two feet, two eyes, and a personnality. None of this you actually see...
          See what I mean?
      • Oct 17 2012: 'you "feel" electrical impulses in your brain caused by sunlight being bounced off the car into your eyeballs.'
        But that is what is called "seeing". The same goes for any other sensation. The fact that they are electrical impulses is completely beside the point.
        "If you'd worn a mask on your eyes for your entire life, ... you would not know what to make of them. "
        Agreed. Human senses need training to develop, and constant use to remain functional. Retraining vision with a mirror or a prism for just a few days is enough to drastically change how we interpret the electrical signals that we get.

        "The way you observe a car is that you guess at what the signals might mean."
        Guess? No. We learn what these signals mean. It is by reinforcement learning.

        "... you work out a model that's useful for you about the reality that's out there."
        Agreed.

        "reality is not in 3D"
        We organisms, whose dimensions are measured to be a few centimeters, live in a domain of 3 spacial dimensions. This remains so, even if the as-yet unproven dimensions of string theory are generously assumed to be true.

        Each eye can be said to be able to see in 2D, ignoring the depth perception we get from focusing our lenses. Put two forward-facing eyes together, each looking at the same object at the same time, and we have a limited 3D vision. Limited in the sense that we can't look at occluded objects.

        "The decision to say that you're facing a rushing car is just a theory"
        This does not match any usage of the word "theory" that I have come across.

        "most of what they see is a mental construct, pure imagination..."
        Frogs eyes do a lot of this processing in hardware, within the eye (http://neurocomputing.org/frogeye.aspx). Mice have eyes that can caution the animal before its brain has time to comprehend what it sees (http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/5886/mouse-eyes-use-%E2%80%98alarm-neurons%E2%80%99). If it turns out that we do ALL the processing in the brain, would you call our vision 'imaginary'?
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          Oct 18 2012: I agree that it wasn't clear why I went on about the electrical impulses. Let me explain my point a little bit better with another example :
          When someone is talking to me, I cannot hear meaning, nor can I hear sentences or words. I can only hear sound (in the sence that sound alone is what gets transformed into electrical impulses). Then I work out these signals like someone decyphering a hieroglyph. I start with the context : what language is it? who's talking to me, with what kind of attitude? etc... Then I have a rough idea and begin with step two : I match signals with sound patterns, to see if I can guess the words he's using. Later, when I have the full sentence, I can go back and correct words that were misinterpreted (ex : moan - morning).
          Back to our rushing car. You cannot observe that car because information about it is not carried by either photons or the electrical signals they get transformed into. You already have your own theory about what pointing your eyes at a rushing car is supposed to feel like, and you go with that. (Theories are not exclusively learned. They are genetic as well. You don't start with nothing, you're born with a basic software and immediately expect to find a two-eyed face, for instance.)

          "We learn what these signals mean"
          Impossible. What, with all the noise from all the stuff you pick up when your eyes are open! It's not like a language that certain signals get translated into. Too fuzzy to learn, but you can still make up theories about signal patterns. It's quite a different thing.

          About 3D perception... You know as well as I do that space-time physics is an aproximation, don't you? You know that when you zoom in on stuff, space-time no longer applies, right? I'm not a defender of string theory, but everyone knows that you can't use classical physics to describe reality anymore. Not with what we've learned from studying particles for half a century.

          1/2
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          Oct 18 2012: "This does not fit with any usage of the word "theory" that I have come across."
          You're right. The way I used it sucked (I used it as a "decision"). Let me rephrase...

          The picture of you standing on front of a rushing car is a theory. (A model about reality that comes from loads of guesswork and constant criticism and error correction)

          "If it turns out that we do ALL the processing in the brain, would you call our vision 'imaginary'?"
          Of course I would. Never mind where the processing is going on, in the eyes, in the feet, in the brain. EVERYTHING we experience is imaginary. Pain is imaginary, hot and cold is imaginary. the feeling that you can touch an object is imaginary, ... But unless you're on drugs, it's imaginary in a useful way, that is : in a way that feeds itself in a constructive manner from outside input to make up stories that can be checked for errors.

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      • Oct 18 2012: "You know as well as I do that space-time physics is an aproximation, don't you?"
        No, I don't. :-) But' like I said, even if I were to accept extra dimensions, you and I would still be living in a 3D space.

        "...with all the noise from all the stuff you pick up when your eyes are open..."
        We learn to interpret each set of signals in a different way. Would you not agree that an ammeter can measure current? Would you not agree that modern cameras can recognize faces? They do it poorly, to be sure, but given a few pictures with and without faces, don't you agree that they can recognize face/no-face at a rate better than tossing a coin? Would you not say that we do it far more accurately than the best camera? If the best camera gets a false positive or a false negative once every 20 pictures, on average, what would be your estimate of false positives or false negatives when an average person is shown the same images? If an ammeter can measure current, and if a thermostat is capable of measuring and acting on temperature, are what they are doing imaginary?

        As for "just a theory", what if four people are sitting in a car and one of them is driving it from Paris to Berlin? They reach Berlin, finish their business and drive back. Is the car still imaginary?

        "it's imaginary in a useful way, that is : in a way that feeds itself in a constructive manner from outside input to make up stories that can be checked for errors. "
        I no longer know what you mean by "imaginary".
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          Oct 19 2012: This causes some head, beard and eyebrow scratching. But here I go.

          A quick response to the 3D space : We are indeed living in a 3D world, but it's an illusion. Kind of the illusion that the sun is orbitting the earth, or that the ground beneath our feet is static. When you're playing basketball, the 3d worldview works. But it soon shows its limits when you're working with subatomic particles. For instance, it would be impossible for an atom to exist if we lived in a world explained by classical physics... the electron and the proton would be drawn to each other and collide instantly. Just an example.

          So yeah, the way a voltmeter works is that it is "taught" to respond to a specific kind of signal. But just as I said, you can't dream of finding such pure signals in the way we look at things. (I'm sticking to the sense of vision, for the clarity of my argument). AND...
          This is why you need some kind of computer in cameras with face recognition. This is where the guesswork comes into play.
          Can you rephrase the question about the imaginary activity of the ammeter? I takes a lot of mental effort to think about the questions you raise in me : I must be somewhat exhausted because this one seems like a Lewis Caroll sentence... I can tell it's a great question though.

          The car going from Paris to Berlin is probably real, but I don't think it looks anything like what we picture. At best it's a way of seeing things. Two cities, four people and a piece of machinery to carry them around. One could focus instead on the atoms, and there would no longer be a distinction between car, people and city ; only atom to atom interaction.
          What I'm saying is that when you speak of a car, you're taking for granted that I have a theory about what a car might be. Same thing with people and cities. This theory is completely imaginary, a pure construct.
          Some of our elementary theories are so obvious that we can be fooled to believe we can observe reality directly. ("I see it, so it's there!")
      • Oct 20 2012: Re. "the electron and the proton would be drawn to each other and collide instantly" http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/9415/why-do-electrons-occupy-the-space-around-nuclei-and-not-collide-with-them covers why. The explanation does not need or have more than 3 dimensions.

        My point about the ammeter: When ammeters can be said to have an accurate measurement of reality (current, in this case), and thermostats can be said to have a measurement of reality (temperature), why do you say we do not have an accurate measurement of reality too? To be clear, our margins of error are better in some aspects, and worse in others. We detect objects better than instruments, but we measure exact quantities less accurately than specialized instruments.

        In fact, I don't get this concept of "imaginary" at all.
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          Oct 20 2012: Well there are different theories describing quantum mechanics... I should've chosen a less ambiguous example. For now, please agree with me that Einstein's worldview (space-time) is not enough to explain what goes on at a subatomic level. And perhaps we shall discuss mutliverse and string theory some other time.

          The ammeter doesn't measure reality. It reacts to it, just as everything real does. Our brains are also reacting to reality. But the measurement, like the observation, is something else. You need to know what you're looking at, you need a theory about current if you're going to measure current. A smiling face is an instrument : with knowledge about the superbowl, you could make measurements about the score using facial expressions only.
      • Oct 21 2012: Re. 3D. I cannnot accept anything on faith. Especially matters of science. Especially when I know so much about the field.

        Re. ammeter: if anything reacts in a consistent way, it can be used to measure whatever it is reacting to.
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          Oct 21 2012: Don't accept anything on faith. I thought we shared the same basic understanding of modern physics. We don't, and I'd like to read your view someday.

          yes the ammeter can be used to measure... by people will theories. Phenomena have nothing to say about reality without theories.
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    Oct 14 2012: just give it ,as long as you think you can burden all kinds of outcomes .