Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Remembering my Father: Wayne Lee Vick

I miss my father lots. You see, two years ago, on May 27th of 2013, he took his own life in a trifecta suicide (I’ve explained what that means in a previous post on the matter, but I see no reason to repeat it here) and, well, tomorrow is the two year anniversary of his death. He would have been 63 this October.

My father, Wayne Lee Vick, had an estimated I.Q. of 180 (I say estimated because my mother tells me he had taken an I.Q. test in college and that's what she recollects it being although my father never would have mentioned it). He had a MA in business and a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) for the state of Montana. He was committed to the practice of law for over 30 years, until in his last decade when he finally decided not to renew his license to practice law in order to focus on finalizing his business responsibilities managing Northern Telephone cooperative.

My father loved technical things. He loved to build radio controlled cars from scratch. He loved toy rockets and fireworks. He loved videogames and computers and technology. Which is why, in 1996 he had the ambitious idea to plow hundreds of miles of fiber optics through all of north western Montana. A move that caused some friction with his company, a small rural phone provider, that questioned the need for broadband, since wouldn’t dial up suffice? Why spend millions on expensive equipment and digging up half of Montana simply for faster Internet? Back in the mid-90s when my father had proposed such an idea, people thought the idea was absurd on the face of it!

But then broadband happened and the Internet boom and Internet providers popped up everywhere and my father had all the naysayers eating crow—heck, they’re still eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day they continue to sell broadband Internet as a service. 

In 1995 he started a video streaming company called VisionNet. It now mainly is an Internet hosting service and online database, but my father knew that the online streaming of film and television, and things like YouTube and Skype, were the wave of the future. This in 1995 a decade before YouTube was even a blip on anyone’s radar and NETFLIX wasn’t even a concept. 

Just to help put this in perspective, YouTube was launched in 2005, the year I graduated college, and Netflix was a DVD mail service, that began in 1997, wouldn’t offer video streaming until 2007. My dad created a video streaming Internet company in 1995! It boggles the mind.

So to say my dad was somewhat of a visionary, and a brilliant man, who was riding the wave of technology to see where it would go, isn’t much of an overstatement. If anything, it barely does his genius justice. You see, while all the tech-wizards were busy inventing the hardware and software, turning Silicon Valley into an iconic fixture of American innovation and technological prowess, you still needed someone to pave the roads, to chart where the stuff was going to go, and to figure out how to market it to the public and while simultaneously making it affordable. My dad was at the head of his game when it came to the golden age of the Internet.

Before my dad retired, he had completed a decade long plan to get high-speed Internet into the Blackfeet Native American Indian reservation and to the Blackfeet Community College in Browning Montana. I think it was one of his finest moments, because the Blackfeet didn’t make it easy for him. Something about plowing fiber optics through sacred land bothered them—screw getting a decent college education, the future of the tribe be damned, just don’t upturn our soil. After years of paperwork and due process and planning to plow underneath the pre-existing highway my father eventually won out. I will always be proud of him for winning that battle. 

I will always have fond memories of my father. As stubborn as he could be sometimes, and as angry as he’d get whenever his temper blew up, he did a lot more things right than he did wrong. He probably wouldn’t think so, since he was always his own worst critic, and he always considered everything he did a failure, but I think he may have been a little too hard on himself. 

In his last few years his health took a turn for a worse, and he blamed himself horribly for a problematic lawsuit that gave him a lot of grief. Much more than it should have. I suppose he just didn’t like the idea of having a two decade long winning streak at his company only to, in the very last couple of years, fumble the ball, so to speak. The lawsuit tarnished an otherwise perfect record, which is a bummer, for sure, but it wasn’t the end of the world. But for some reason he just couldn’t let it go. He dwelt on it until his very last days, sadly enough. 

What else can I say about the man? 

My father wasn’t sarcastic per se, but he did tell good stories where he always one upped some “punk” or another—just to put them in their place. He didn’t like “punks” – a word he used to describe hotshots and people so full of themselves they’d forget their manners. When some college kids moved in next door to him in the rental house that sat adjacent to his property, their late night partying and racket aggravated him so much that he ended up buying the house from the lady who owned it for twice what it was worth and then serendipitously gave them their thirty-day notice. 

He loved what you’d call “father jokes.” Those horrible puns and bad jokes that only fathers tell and for which there are an endless stream of Internet memes for. He was a pioneer with respect to creating great father jokes. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but there will be times when I hear or see something and a memory is triggered and his greatest hits play over again in my mind. It brings a smile to my face. He had the best father jokes.

Well, every winter my father enjoyed building elaborate snowmen. Well, not snowmen per se, but snow things – everything from giant frogs in top hats to dinosaurs. He’d spend a whole day, from sun up till sun down, just playing in the snow.

He loved to decorate for Christmas. He was big on Christmas stocking-stuffers, because when he was a kid they couldn’t afford big presents and he and his brother and sister made gifts and their mom Viola, grandma Faye to me, baked treats and put them in. Later, when my dad had money, he would often spoil my brother and I on Christmas day. We get LEGOS and Tranformers, Ninja Turtles and G.I. Joes, the latest Nintendo games (each of us received a different one which we were told to share), and a stocking full of goodies. Of course, my dad loved video games as much as we did, so while he was hogging the console we’d go play with our toys. Good times.

My dad loved to eat watermelon. My grandma Betty (my mom’s mom) always had one waiting for him if she knew he was coming over. She always told me he was like a son to her, and she always felt that way about him even after my parents divorced (when I was five).

If you ever saw my dad eat a french-fry you would be hard pressed to ever forget it. Nobody I’ve ever seen eats fries the way my father did. He’d spread ketchup from a single pack directly onto a single fry, eating them one at a time, only to repeat the process until all the fries were gone. It was the most tedious way to eat French fries I’ve ever seen, but he wouldn’t do it any other way. He had his quirks.

My dad love salty junk food. He loved everything from pretzels to potato chips, to sunflowers seeds and beef jerky, and fried chicken. He liked orange or kiwi-lime slushes (slushies / smoothies, etc.) and blueberry muffins, which he’d often bake for my brother and I when we’d visit. Oh, and he was a Coke man. Coca Cola classic was his drink of choice, and it’s mine too. 

To this day I am still addicted to all of these things because of my father. Although I’ve had to cut back in recent years, for health reasons—but every time I see pretzels in the store or drink a Coke, I think about how much my father loved these things.

My dad, he rarely drank alcohol. Almost never comes pretty close to describing it. I think I saw him drink a couple of glasses of wine around the holiday season each year and he had a beer with my uncle once or twice, again just on the holidays. In my entire life I never saw him get drunk. Not even once. Yeah, he wasn’t a big social drinker, and to be honest he wasn’t all that sociable either, which is probably why he never had a use for it. 

I don’t drink alcohol all that much either, frankly because neither of my parents ever did and I never found it was something I was dying to try. In high school some of my friends got arrested for stealing beer from the local supermarket, and I was like really? Really guys? I never really developed a taste for it. It’s just sort of “meh” to me, and I didn’t ever truly get drunk until I came to Japan where social drinking is practically forced on you. But like my father before me, I drink very rarely. Maybe during the holidays, if even that.

You wanna know something else? My father was good with wood. He built a rocking horse for my daughter, Solara (which she named Spicy), and it’s one of the most impressive pieces of wood sculpting I’ve ever seen.

Later in life, my father got into CGI modeling quite seriously. He ran the MAYA software on two custom BOXX machines, and he has made numerous 3-D images for art magazines and art competitions. He even made a small animated featurette that won the Renderosity magazine video for first place one year (I can’t remember which year exactly, but I am inclined to say 2003). It involved penguins sliding down a snowy mountain on their bellies while dodging trees and reindeer and things.

I kept a print of his first ever 3D art of a girl reading a book in an armchair by candlelight with a mouse looking over her shoulder. It’s framed and on my wall in my house.

My father only met his granddaughter once. Solara remembers his face from pictures but she doesn’t remember spending time with him. She was only 2 years old at the time, so her memories weren’t permanent set in yet. The next time we’d travel to his house it would be for his funeral. I think it’s sad. I would have liked him to get to know her better, but at least he got to meet her, hold her, and read books to her at least once. I would have liked him to meet his grandson, Kai, who he never even got to learn about.

Such is life though. Extremely unfair, and occasionally, it takes your loved ones from you. But we deal the best we can, we cope in our own way, and writing about my father as not to let the memories fade—and to honor him—is my own way of coping.

I love you dad. Miss you every day, and I’ll “like you and love you lots” forever.


Your son...

Tristan Vick

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Discussing Ignosticism: Does Ignosticism Refute God?


A reader raised a valid concern regarding ignosticm. He stated:

"It's worth noting that ignosticism doesn't support atheism; at least under certain definitions. By asserting atheism you assume a definition of god that you reject. At which point the ignostic answer is to ask "what's the atheistic definition of god?" How can you reject such an entity if you have yet to define it?"

This is correct. Ignosticism doesn't actually disprove the possibility of God being extant, or the existence of any gods or goddesses, for that matter. I actually talk about this some more in my book on Ignosticism, by the same title.

At best ignosticism shows that most, if not all, definitions of God are invalid due to the problem of coherency (or lack thereof, in this case) and comprehensibility (or, again, lack thereof).

Just a quick remind of how I am using the terms comprehensibility and coherency.

Coherency here concerns itself with whether or not an argument, theory, policy, or in this case, description is logical and consistent. Most theological descriptions of God are not.

Meanwhile, comprehensibility has to do with whether or not we can discern and understand God well enough to supply a valid description. Although, it appears this is impossible. Hence, these are the two areas where ignosticism objects to descriptions and definitions of God being taken at face value.

It's true that ignosticism doesn't disprove the existence of God. But it's not meant to. It's only meant to challenge the logical consistency of definitions regarding God and show that minus this, our ability to comprehend God would seem impossible, thus rather futile.

If such a being as God exists at all, all ignosticism can hope to show is that nobody is capable of adequately defining it (God), in which case it might as well be irrelevant, since it cannot be talked about in any relevant manner that would be meaningful to us. In order to talk about something meaningfully it has to be both coherent and comprehensible first.

What I show in the book is that ignosticism is, at the least, compatible with all atheistic assumptions (hint: there's only one assumption here -- that there is no God).

I would offer a small correction where our reader suggests that there are atheistic definitions of God: this is wrong. In actuality, there is no atheistic definition of God. Atheism simply rejects the *theistic claim, the one that says there exists a God (this being the alternative hypothesis) because, upon closer inspection, this claim cannot seem to be established let alone validated as it fails to nullify the null hypothesis (the null hypothesis in this case being the natural world as we observe it, minus any supernatural propositions).

Assuming there is a God that can be described adequately enough to nullify the null hypothesis is the theist's position, and multiplies assumptions about reality beyond the necessity of the atheist who already agrees with naturalism's view of reality.

Now, one might wonder why naturalism is the null hypothesis? Well, because this is the starting point. This is where we posit the question of whether or not there is more to the world than we observe. In other words, you begin at zero then count up to one. You don't begin at one, or two, or three, or a dozen and then assume zero isn't a valid starting point. Zero assumptions is the null hypothesis, and making zero assumptions about reality, that's where we start.

Atheists merely take the view that, when it comes to describing something like God, the null hypothesis must be defeated by an alternative hypothesis before any assumption can be taken seriously. Ignosticism confirms this assumption by demonstrating that all descriptions of God fail to nullify the null hypothesis and establish a valid alternative hypothesis, e.g. the existence of a discernible, comprehensible, God.

As such, based on this logical progression, I thus contend that ignosticism is an additional justification for the reasonableness of atheism.

Unsatisfied with my answer, our reader comes back to his original point.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but 'atheism' is the rejection of the claim a god exists. As such, in order to properly reject such a claim, you must first have a proper definition. Otherwise you can't be certain of what you are rejecting. That is, if you happened to define 'god' as the sun, atheists would (by definition) reject the existence of the sun.

If this is not the case, then the atheistic position has it's own definition of a god, which is then rejects. Otherwise 'atheism' itself is undefined and illogical to accept.

The only way out of this is to say that atheism rejects the term god itself, rather than any possible thing it represents. Which to me seems a bit silly."

At this point I tried to explain things another way. 

Atheism takes no stance on how the God proposition is presented, except to say that as it is commonly presented there is no evidence to prove such a proposition, and lacking such a demonstration the proposition is prima facie false.

In other words, the validity of atheism is not dependent on the underlying semantics of how the theist chooses to represent, and ultimately, define their version of God.

Does that make sense?

So, the positive claim being made here is the theist's claim. Mainly, that God is extant. And thus God being an object that exists, they claim to be able to derive a description of this being.

The atheist position is merely a response to this claim being presented, regardless of how the theist chooses to define their terms.

The atheist, for the sake of argument, can accept the theists proposition and take it at face value, whether or not they are ultimately true. For example, the atheist could say, sure, you believe that the Sun is god, but then, all you have is a definition with no real world value. No meaning. In order for that statement to be meaningful, we'd have access to some evidence that demonstrates the claim is true, otherwise it's a baseless assertion.

Once supplied the definitions of the theists God, the atheist can make logical deductions to determine whether or not such a description is logically sound, whether or not it is evidenced, etc. until they have scrutinized it thoroughly enough to evaluate the proposition.

So, you see, the atheist can accept terms or reject terms because it's less about singling out any given definition of God than it is singling out whether or not any of these definitions can be justified and, ultimately, can be verified.

As such, having evaluated the proposition and the terms supplied by the theist, the atheist says the theist has yet to meet the burden of proof, and therefore no real demonstration has been provided, thus the theist's claims about God are baseless. 

This being the case, it doesn't appear their is any evidence to propose such a God in the first place, hence it would seem the theist position is wrong, therefore God does not exist.

Back tracking for a moment, once a definition has been supplied by the theist, this is where the ignostic becomes concerned. The ignostic points out that the description of God isn't actually describing anything, and this is a problem. The ignostic observes that for a description to be valid, it would have to be both logically consistent and comprehensible.

Now, in theology, there are, of course, logical descriptions of God. But this doesn't in itself justify the definition of God as true to the conditions of which it was constructed. That is, the next step in ignosticism asks whether the description provided is true because it accurately describes the thing itself (the referent, or in this case God) or whether it's true because it meets all the requisites of a logical conceptualization.

I personally hold that most logical descriptions of God fit into the latter category, thus nothing has actually been proved other than the fact that genuinely smart theists are capable of constructing logically consistent definitions.

But God has not been made comprehensible, just coherent. For God to become entirely comprehensible to us we would need to understand the thing we were examining. 

Not having anything to examine, theologians often will say God is incomprehensible, beyond our understanding, a safeguard themselves from criticism so they won't need to meet the burden of proof, but can still use their logically consistent definitions as apologetic tools to prop up their proposition with the illusion of, at least, appearing true--even as that has not been demonstrated.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist