Regina Saphier: Advising Cancer Patients (the European Perspective of a Patient Advocate and Adviser)

Regina Saphier: Advising Cancer Patients (the European Perspective of a Patient Advocate and Adviser)

Yes, I know, when you look at my LinkedIn profile, there are so many things on it, and yet you would not think that this is also something that I do. But I do it. I have done it for over a decade, and not because it is fun to read about cancer, but because I like to help people stay alive and I am able to ask good questions and am OK with reading complicated research papers (sometimes the summary, the intro or the conclusion are perfectly enough, but other times I have to read for hours to really understand a method and/or procedures). I like to explain things as well, and I prefer to write because a written explanation is always there for people to consult. Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, I am not a clinical researcher, I am not a diagnostician, and I can’t cure you of any illness. I am just a human being who does not see a key service that people need… so, I do it for them… a guide who helps desperate people understand what their doctors are saying and find out what doctors are not saying. I help people fight for their lives more efficiently when I am able to.

 

Infantilization of patients in the era of readily available high level online knowledge

The really good ones were all female!

First, let me talk about the good doctors I encountered. Fortunately, I encountered a few bright, open minded, emotionally intelligent, introspective and cooperative doctors. I even had a female doctor congratulate me when I told her how I diagnosed an illness that was unusual and it was later confirmed by lab results (I had to behave like a detective, pick people’s brains, read online, and I had to push for tests… it was’t easy). I also had a doctor in Europe who asked me for full articles that I downloaded from Harvard University’s server. I had a particularly brilliant doctor at Columbia University. She was fun, smart, and was always willing to explain everything to me. I had a doctor (also in Europe) who was even happy to explain the technology she used. She told me that I was the first patient ever who asked her to do that. All of them were female doctors! The really good ones were all female. (It is interesting, because I have no female friends. All of my friends are male and highly intelligent. So, it is surprising that when it comes to doctors, I prefer women. Note: I once read that female doctors are simply better. It is probably because of better social skills and listening skills. I am not saying that male doctors can not be good. All I am saying is that I have never seen them. Sitting in your office and administering medication and ordering lab tests is not what I consider the job of a good doctor. It is so much more complicated.)

There were doctors who were professionally famous but as human beings those were often the worst (I would naturally be kinder to a horse or a dog than those people were to me… those were mostly male doctors). In the age of medical AI it is your humanity that will be important, not your medical data driven memory… even your medical experience driven diagnostic skills will be less of a priority after a while. If you want to remain a doctor and become a really wonderful one, develop your emotional and social skills, focus on your communication skills, be comfortable with technology (like AI), plus learn to embrace and utilize the fact that more and more people are acquiring knowledge online. If you dislike their sources, direct them to the right sources. Be their guide in the medical jungle that you know better. Listen to their personal patient narrative, that they know better.

I posted this in 2016 as a status update on facebook:

Here is what I think:
This is the age of The Idiocracy in the age of unlimited and available knowledge…
And the age of The Out of Touch Intellectual and Political Elite in the age of unlimited connectivity…

My opinion hasn’t changed a bit!

How it “works” now

Most people just accept what their doctors are telling them. I am not that kind of person and most doctors hate that. I am looking forward to the day when I am going to have my own medical AI to prevent, treat or even cure illness (without having to see a human doctor). Unfortunately, most doctors today adopt a mindset that is based on viewing patients as “the other” (this is an international phenomenon and it is not new… in fact this horrible attitude is hundreds of years old). So, to me the expression: “patient” describes a submissive, child like “know nothing”. This to me is military grade bullshit. An archaic hierarchy based mindset created the idea of the “patient”. The doctor is “the know it all” character of this type of medical story. So wrong! And it is not even true! Most medical doctors are not scientists and are often terribly misinformed, yet super arrogant!

I would like to live in an era when all people are well educated and highly able to interact with medical technology. I just witnessed how a cancer patient had to wait months to get properly diagnosed and she is still not getting her treatment. Why? Because her oncologist is not willing to cooperate (not open to questions) and now even went on holiday, and because the patient behaves like a child… let me be more specific: she is forced to behave like a child by her passive-aggressive medical practitioner (plus, she is hardly able to understand the most basic explanations, because she was never educated in this area… and she did not educate herself in this area… so, a lot of time goes by without actual diagnostic and treatment related progress).

How it should work (in my opinion)

If the process would be automated I could have helped her faster without human doctors. Press two if you already had cancer… Here is how it should work in my not so humble opinion:

Press three if you are inoperable… Press this or that if you are not willing to receive chemo… Please, proceed to this and this specialist for a surgery free biopsy… Please, watch this video to understand the risks associated with biopsies… Please, go to this menu if you would like to speak to someone regarding your personal risk based on your medical history… Please, make an appointment in this menu for an MRI and a PET/CT. Please, request a lab test, including genetic testing. And a few days later: This is the type of cancer you have. These are the types of treatment combinations you can receive in your country, within the EU, in the US, in Asia, or anywhere in the world. These are the commercially available options. These are the clinical studies you could be eligible for. Here is where you can start registering for treatments. Here you can read full medical articles on PubMed. Here you can find patient readable summaries of the articles on the medical wikipedia. This is how much the different treatments cost. This is the most cost effective treatment for you. Here is your big data and AI based outcome analysis for all the treatment combinations. This is where you can receive financial support. This is the surface where you can raise funds online for your treatment. Thank you for selecting this noninvasive surgery in Italy and this cancer vaccine in Germany. Please, watch this video regarding the risks involved and here is the explanation how this is a safer method compared to another. Here are the clinic’s safety statistics locally, regionally and globally. Please, select the doctor you would like to see at our clinic. Here is your doctor’s performance rating. Here you can order your EU insurance card. Here you can contact your doctor via skype. Here you can book a medical flight and a medical stay in a nearby hotel or in our own hospital based hotel room. Here you can interact with patients like you.

Yes, I want this all to be online, and globally integrated. I want this to be a smooth service, like any other good service. I want as much stress be removed from the process as possible.

More about how it works now:

Doctors often behave like badly trained policemen. It is a bit like racism! I am telling you, it sometimes feels like I am talking to a white supremacists male police man while being a black female driver on a deserted country road, or something like that. I am white, but I can imagine the generalized anxiety and trauma such people cause innocent and vulnerable citizens. This best describes the atmosphere many doctors create while “serving” you. It often feels painful when I am interacting with a doctor. It is physically painful and it gets my sympathetic nervous system going… and that is directly damaging to a patient’s health, medical outcome and trust. So, doctors with this mindset should know that their behavior directly generates distance, stress, pain and a hostile environment that often results in more illness, instead of a cure in the first place. Many years ago I read the confessions of a doctor who only realized how she was hurting her own patients when she herself ended up being a patient. She could not believe the dehumanizing, insensitive, disrespectful and ignorant behaviors of her colleagues while she was a patient.

How can there be any trust when your doctor is not respecting you, does not see you, does not appreciate you as a complex and evolved human being or is even afraid of you because you are well read and are asking valid questions? Of course trust cannot be built this way! These people treat me as if I am reading homeopathy related articles (I think homeopathy is bullshit), when really, I am reading PubMed and similar advanced medical sites, that are there for medical doctors, smart nurses, diligent patient advisers and intelligent patients to educate themselves. And yet, I am treated like an idiot, with all the prejudice a human doctor can accumulate about a patient with higher education, fluent English, international experience, and the ability to understand the scientific literature that doctors are also supposed to read (but often don’t even have access to those databases or don’t have the language skills to understand the articles… it is everyday reality in Hungary for example, that doctors have no access to the latest medical literature and/or can’t read in English… many hospitals don’t have enough nurses, doctors, medications, appropriate technology and no toilet paper and no soap… even the furniture is falling apart… the rooms were not painted for decades… imagine that… and Hungary is part of the EU…).

Yes, indeed, I feel the abyss between the everyday realities of our dystopian present and my perfectly implementable utopian future.

 

Excuse My French!

So, in my experience, doctors switch to cognitive empathy instead of affective empathy and some even enter the realm of transient psychopathy coupled with professional denial. This behavior is next rationalized (by medical professionals as a group) as normal behavior, and vulnerable patients are often (excuse my French) fucked by this atmosphere, because even the nurses help maintain this by saying things like: “Yes, we know that he is insensitive and has no people skills, but this is why we are here… to compensate for his lack of sensitivity and empathy…” and she goes on being insensitive herself… In this insensitivity bubble (surrounded by desensitized medical professionals) patients suffer in silence. (Patients sometimes even display symptoms of a sort of “medical Stockholm syndrome”… identifying with those people who basically torture them in a horrible medical system, saying things like: “I know how difficult it is to work in such an underpaid, stressful environment”… when really, all you see, is that a particular doctor was never trained to be polite, kind, able to listen and empathize…) All the traumas patients accumulate during years of medical (mis)treatments can and will result in PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Generalized anxiety and stress related disorders undermine a patient’s chances of survival. When (due to past experiences) someone’s cortisol level jumps high just by thinking about having to go to a hospital, that will decrease that person’s life expectancy. And if you look for the most lethal conditions in humans, cortisol imbalance and chronically high cortisol levels are one of the most lethal conditions.

I am describing the atmosphere that leads to mistreatment, cruelty and humiliation. I used to trust doctors when I was younger and naive. But when I got seriously ill in my thirties and I encountered the above attitudes and doctors’ inability to help me and unwillingness to cooperate with me (there was even this obvious disapproval… and get this: even scolding for my informed questions), I discovered that most doctors simply cannot be trusted and often, you are on your own when you are ill. Literally, on your own, because your family (most likely) has no idea how to read scientific literature and don’t have your curiosity, stubbornness and grit to learn about medicine (if you have those features, you might not be 100% lucky in your ignorant human network… smart kids are bullied in schools and smart patients are bullied by doctors).

Patients also like to treat doctors as the “other”. “The doctor knows.” “The patient does not know.” This is a nineteenth century or even older attitude and “agreement”. Totally outdated! This is why I started to read the medical literature that doctors are supposed to be reading, as well as many patient blogs that knowledgeable patients write about their experiences. Unfortunately, I have not yet found the enlightened doctors to work with in my own personal environment. At the same time I reject unenlightened doctors. I have seen how “health care” and “healing” resulted in completely ruined bodies and souls. When a patient looks and feels like he or she was tortured by someone at the end of a treatment, plus his or her family was ruined by the experience… is that medicine or barbarism? This situation of rightfully rejecting medical barbarism could even kill a patient, no matter how informed he or she is, because such patients are disgusted by doctors who dehumanize and disrespect them. I am not a patient! Rather “impatient”! If I have to respect you as a doctor for your knowledge and time, should you not respect me, my knowledge, my time and my life? Look at me! I am a human being just like you!

What is special about my position as a patient adviser and advocate is this: Most oncologists are specialists. They are following a protocol and only read about their specialty locally (if they read at all…). But when you are a volunteer patient advocate and adviser (plus sometimes a patient yourself) with a global mindset, you read about many different illnesses and all sorts of treatments, even experimental ones, and even about treatments that are not yet mainstream and cost an exorbitant amount of money. “Multipotentialites” (everyday “polymaths”), like me, we read about everything under the Sun. Most doctors hate that and we will be bullied by doctors. This is absolutely wrong!

 

A bit about volunteer patient advocates and advisers

Patient advisers and advocates are often volunteer “medical sherpas”. They don’t really want to go where you go, they don’t have your problem, but out of love and with lots of empathy they pick up parts of your problem and carry parts of the burden for you, so you don’t have to. Such people will explore new paths of hope for you while you are asleep. Will explain medical procedures when you don’t understand, and remind you of the right questions you should ask your doctors. We do the heavy intellectual lifting to lighten the load of the struggle for patients and for doctors as well. We listen, do research, we network and search for answers, and explain. We translate the jargon. If you like, we repeat things ten times until you understand. We encourage you to be assertive. We tell you to expect more. We also tell you about the limitations and we don’t pretend that life is endless. We hear you and acknowledge your limitations. We know that every patient has a different endgame as well. Some want to try every possible treatment, no matter where it is. Some don’t want to be treated abroad. Some want to have a few good last years. We want you to make an informed decision for yourself. We never force you to do anything. It is your life.

 

A new type of medical training

It would be interesting to train doctors in a new way… Have them train like debate teams. When learning to debate, people learn to argue in support and against something. The same way, doctors should be trained to argue their positions from both a medically trained doctor’s perspective and from a well read patient’s perspective, and even from a completely uneducated patient’s perspective. This would help even those doctors with impaired empathy to improve their communication skills and would gain insight into patients’ anxieties. Even if you are a surgeon with psychopathic traits and zero affective empathy, you can learn to believably pretend to empathize and so put your patient at ease. An anxious patient with high blood pressure in surgery is at risk. If you can get your patient to trust you and relax, the surgery will be safer.

 

Artificial Medical Intelligence and the future of self-guided health care

I am one of those who believe that AI will be our highly personalized health care provider. Those adults who are well educated will be most able to access superior medical services to prevent illnesses by using medical AI first (and the eight year old girl who grows up while interacting with AI fluently… You know the scenario when a kid is constantly scolded: “Why are you always playing with your AI…?” and then one day: “Oh, did you just save your grandmother’s life with your AI???” But, of course, I am not talking about basic Artificial Narrow Intelligence. I am talking about either medically specialized Narrow Intelligence or later Artificial General Intelligence used in medicine and much later Artificial Superintelligence… it will feel like god to many people…)

 

Prevention will be the primary goal. Medical AI will be the first line of support and most human medical appointments will be done online. Most surgeries will become noninvasive. In fact the day will come when people will not believe invasive surgery by humans was a thing. I even suspect that hospitals will one day be completely obsolete. So, one day, hopefully, my medical learning capacity, my openness to technology and my AI interactive skills will be helpful when trying to figure out a treatment for myself and others and I would not have to go to a doctor’s office at all. I could just consult with several pre-selected doctors globally. Send me the medicine in the mail or let me print it. There should be more medical education in high schools (and online) and all people should learn how to make sense of clinical research papers (until this part can be completely taken over by medical AIs). People should not be so dependent on doctors and their very limited skills, questionable humanity and finite time. Your health is too precious to search for the right doctors for years! You should not have to go bankrupt during a treatment. Your family members should not get sick of the stress your prolonged care causes. Adults shouldn’t have to behave like helpless little kids while being treated within a questionable healthcare system.

 

Advocacy and advising people in practice (a mini case study)

I advise people voluntarily for free (and I avoid confrontation with doctors left over from the nineteenth century… not even the twentieth!). I do not advertise this activity. I help people with information. I support their decisions by summarizing the discovered possibilities beyond the local medical protocol. For example when a family friend had cancer I decided to search for a clinical trial for him (he did not want to be treated abroad) and when I found the right one, I gave his wife a phone number to call and explained the process. He had metastatic lung cancer 10 years ago (with bone metastasis). Luckily, he was a genetic match for the study I suggested (after picking other people’s brains for days). He lived an additional 5-6 years because the new treatment worked for him (in Budapest!). Today, an additional 5 years of survival could mean a possible cure that is under investigation now… but perhaps becomes a fully available, genetically targeted cure in 4 years for example.

 

Combination therapies (based on genetic testing and imaging)

It is important to note that today, cancer treatment does not mean one standard for all. Treatments are combined for individual needs. You can have:

  • Herceptin if your breast cancer is Her2+ (Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 positive breast cancer patients are a minority among breast cancer patients, but have a very good and specialized treatment option… however, live with an aggressive type of cancer that is likely to return, precisely due to the growth factor receptor, that is also the target of the special treatment),
  • Arimidex if your cancer is hormone sensitive,
  • Proton radiation therapy if the cancer is in an area that does not move during treatment (proton radiation can be better targeted and causes less damage),
  • MRI guided Ultrasound Surgery if you do not want a surgeon to cut you open, and a
  • Cancer vaccine to help your own immune system fight the cancer.

You can have all of these combined. Cancer is tricky. Today we are still in the “kill” paradigm, but one day the “return the cancer cell to a normal cell” paradigm will most likely rule.

This list is actually a fresh one I compiled for a patient with recurrent breast cancer that metastasized into her adrenals 5-6 years after her first diagnosis and treatment. Her prognosis was really bad, but she is still alive after 5 years! For her type of breast cancer it is extremely unusual to have adrenal metastasis and due to her general condition, she is inoperable. Now, even the biopsy was tricky. In the treating hospital (the leading one in the country) her doctors were unable to even imagine the biopsy without invasive surgery. She had to go to another hospital to see a specialist for ultrasound guided biopsy (no invasive surgery was needed for the adrenal biopsy!!!). Her oncologist only suggested chemo (I informed the patient, that chemo might spread her cancer without surgery… also, a biopsy could spread cancer cells), Herceptin (in my opinion, it should have been started within a month after her metastasis was diagnose, yet months later she is still not being treated) and Arimidex (also helpful). Her oncologist did not say anything about commercially available proton radiation therapy, MRI guided ultrasound surgery and personalized cancer vaccines in the European Union. I told her about these.

When necessary, I also look for top surgeons internationally (e.g.: for colon cancer), and possible treatments for adrenal cancer, like the personalized cancer vaccine (for the patient with adrenal cancer). When I do this research, I regularly pick other people’s brains internationally and read many articles to help patients and their families. But I never tell people what to opt for. I only research, list the options and explain them (and their possible combinations). The decision making is the patient’s personal task.

I think there should exist independent advisory teams for each patient in highly demanding situations. If you have never been ill, if you never had a relative who was ill, if you are a doctor who never experienced illness as a patient or family member, you have no idea from a patient’s perspective and from a relative’s perspective how terribly demanding it is to be ill, find your way in the maze of medical institutions, understand lab results, question your doctor’s opinions and suggestions, read, learn, be a caretaker, take care of yourself, work, be a mother, a father, and look for better treatment options (often internationally). People are fighting for their lives in a dehumanizing and confusing system! And you are lucky if you have the funds to finance the shocking expenses.

Advising cancer patients is a side project I do because I am able to. So, why not? Right? I wanted to write a summary blog about several of the possible treatments that people usually don’t get information about from their run-of-the-mill oncologists (below I am going to add a long section about treatments and medical technologies). Getting the best information really should not be a matter of chance in the age of the internet, AI, big data, citizen science and epic, interactive, multiplayer online games! There is so much information out there that could be useful to many people. I even have a concept of a medical science game for this purpose, for citizen scientists and even professional scientists. Saving a real human’s life in an online game would be much more epic than killing an avatar in an online game! In fact I am already working on this game idea!

OK, now that I managed to vent, I am going to talk a bit about the cancer treatments I encountered or revisited during the last couple of months (and this is just a short list, because I read at least a dozen articles regarding cancer treatments by the time I get up every day):

 

Personalized cancer vaccines (Example #1)

Cologne, Germany, European Union
Immunologisch Onkologisches Zentrum Köln (IOZK)
http://www.iozk.de/download/iozk_patient_info_2017.pdf

VOL-DC (Viral Oncolysate Loaded Dendritic Cells) or NDV/DC Immunotherapy (Newcastle Disease Virus/Dendritic Cell Immunothrapy)

You should have seen the different ways in which I attempted to explain the brilliance behind this safe treatment. I went from the scientific summary to the theater method: I portrayed the beautiful dendritic cells as ballerinas in tutus going swimming in the tumor specific antigen swimming pool in the lab (made possible by viruses), and later showing off the antigens like glitter to the T cells in the body. In turn the T cells are hopefully able to kill the cancer cells, because the cancer cells can no longer hide. I can see this in my head as an animation. I seriously tested every possible explanation level to get the message to the patient who is a female close to 70.

I heard about this method on the radio and did a few days of research. First, it sounded too good to be true. You just waltz into an office in Cologne, get tested and if your immune system is in good shape and if you have tens of thousands of euro in your bank account, you can get this extremely safe cancer treatment that might extend your life by years… and in a few cases even clinically cure some people. If you are lucky, this way, your own immune system will be able to kill the cancer. No toxic materials are used.

The patient, because she is inoperable, decided to go see if this would work for her. During the travel preparations she had an accident. She fell and hurt herself badly (in front of a building where she had to go in person to get her EU insurance card!!!). She still got the airplane tickets and was in Cologne within a few days with her husband. She wants to live!

I really don’t understand why this clinic does not send healthy, fit, medically trained employees to travel to such patients internationally. I mean, people in their late sixties should not have to travel up and down internationally to find the right treatment! Again, making everything convenient for the doctors, and stressful and dangerous for the patients. The patient should rest and his or her stress level should be kept minimal, yet it is the patient who has to go everywhere and wait hours and days for some attention (while risking accidents and infections). And in this case we are talking about a private European clinic in Germany!

Anyway, the results showed that she could benefit from the treatment. However, the clinic made a huge mistake! They promised to send the results in two weeks via e-mail. Instead, for some absolutely unclear reason, there was promise after promise for 5 weeks! Imagine how a patient (who is basically terminally ill without the appropriate treatments) feels while this is happening. The trust is gone! You run to Cologne, spent thousands of euro on airplane tickets, hotel nights, blood tests, and you are made to wait over twice the promised time period and that without any explanation and without any apology from your doctor! I mean, this was clear service error. This is unacceptable! The least those people should do is refund the money. Who would want to be treated by a clinic that behaves in such irresponsible and disrespectful manner? All I can say: Shame on IOZK! If you were the ones able to save this patient, if you wanted to save this patient, how could you treat her like this? Don’t you understand that you are in the business of trust, communication and saving human lives? It is very possible that this patient will live a shorter life because she can no longer trust you and can’t accept your treatment. She now thinks you are selling a hoax and I can’t blame her (even though I know that your method is medically valid). I personally think that the lab results were valid, useful and the treatment could work. But I can no longer expect this patient to trust IOZK. Obviously! And why do I have to write angry letters to a private clinic in Germany to get the lab results that cost the patient 3000 euro 5 weeks earlier? As if we have unlimited energy… (What are these people thinking?)

I could see from the results that the patient’s adrenal cancer was HER2+, so Herceptin will be an option again. But because she could not trust the results sent by IOZK, she had a biopsy that was/is not without risks. The biopsy reinforced the blood test based results. But with all the enormous effort by her, by her husband and by me, how is it possible that it took so long to get her these results? She was diagnosed during the spring and it is now August and she still did not get any treatment. What kind of medical system is this??? What are her doctors doing??? And now, because it is the summer, her oncologist just went on holiday! Yes, now that she knows what treatment she needs, she still has to wait! This is abnormal and unethical!!!

 

Personalized cancer vaccines (Example #2)

Suddenly, another personalized cancer vaccine turned up on my radar in Düsseldorf, Germany. I did not yet explore this one further, but I put it here for people who are interested:

NEXTGEN ONCOLOGY GROUP
Univ.-Prof. Dr. med. Hans Bojar
Düsseldorf, Germany
http://www.prof-bojar.de
This is from the website:
“The NextGen Oncology Group concerns itself with the further development of precision oncology treatment. Since tumors are as individual as a fingerprint, cancer treatment can only be successful if it takes this individuality into account. Using highly innovative procedures, we determine a patient’s molecular fingerprint. Pan-genomic gene activity analysis, next-generation mutation analysis, and many other procedures are the technologies necessary to personalize treatment.

The standard cytotoxic chemotherapy has long since been overtaken by the intelligent, personalized targeted therapies that are now at the heart of scientific inquiry.

Modern, molecular-genetic technologies are the basis that allow identifying individual treatment targets. The recent development in cancer vaccines has also raised high expectations and hopes. By analyzing the entire human genome, a tumor’s individual mutations can be determined. This then allows creating absolutely personal vaccinations which are as individual as a fingerprint. These new therapeutic options will significantly change the treatment of tumor diseases in the years to come.”

 

Another type of immunotherapy: Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell Therapy

In this case new receptors are added to patients’ own harvested and later re-injected T cells. Very promising method, but can be more dangerous than the personalized cancer vaccines.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimeric_antigen_receptor
From the wiki article:
“Chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), (also known as Chimeric immunoreceptors, Chimeric T cell receptors, Artificial T cell receptors) are engineered receptors, which graft an arbitrary specificity onto an immune effector cell (T cell). Typically, these receptors are used to graft the specificity of a monoclonal antibody onto a T cell, with transfer of their coding sequence facilitated by retroviral vectors. The receptors are called chimeric because they are composed of parts from different sources.

CARs are under investigation as a therapy for cancer, using a technique called adoptive cell transfer. T cells are removed from a patient and modified so that they express receptors specific to the patient’s particular cancer. The T cells, which can then recognize and kill the cancer cells, are reintroduced into the patient. Modification of T-cells sourced from donors other than the patient are also under investigation.”

 

News regarding metastasis prevention:

This is also interesting and relevant:
Johns Hopkins researchers say they’ve unlocked key to cancer metastasis and how to slow it
http://www.baltimoresun.com/health/bs-hs-cancer-trigger-20170625-story.html
From the article:
“When the tumor reaches a certain density, the study found, it releases two proteins called Interleukin 6 and Interleukin 8, signaling to cancer cells that things had grown too crowded and it was time to break off and head into other parts of the body.”

“The team then tested two drugs known to work on the Interleukin receptors to see if they would block or slow metastasis in mice. They found that using the two drugs together would block the signals from the Interleukin proteins that told the cancer cells to break off and spread, slowing — though not completely stopping — metastasis.

“The drugs the team used were Tocilizumab, a rheumatoid arthritis treatment, and Reparixin, which is being evaluated for cancer treatment.

The drugs bind to the Interleukin receptors and block their signals, slowing metastasis.

Though metastasis was not completely stopped, Jayatilaka said, the mice given the drug cocktail fared well and survived through the experiment. She said adding another, yet-to-be-determined drug or tweaking the dose might stop metastasis entirely.”

 

Do the most extensive genetic testing possible!

Keep this in mind when your outdated oncologist tells you that no extensive genetic testing is necessary:
Clinical impact of extensive molecular profiling in advanced cancer patients
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28179005
From the article:
“Extensive molecular profiling using high-throughput techniques allows for the identification of actionable mutations in the majority of cases and is associated with substantial clinical benefit in up to one in four patients.”

 

Highly targeted cancer treatments are here for very specific mutations!

A New Cancer Drug Helped Almost Everyone Who Took It
https://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewherper/2017/06/03/a-new-cancer-drug-helped-almost-everyone-who-took-it-almost-heres-what-it-teaches-us/#37add5106b25
From the article:
“… the DNA of his tumor was sequenced, and he was entered into a clinical trial for an experimental drug called larotrectinib. He felt better within a day. Within 72 hours, he no longer needed a cane. Within two weeks, he was walking around Manhattan on his monthly clinical trial visits, playing with his kids and eating like a champ.
Laurie’s experience isn’t unique. Results in the first 50 patients treated with larotrectinib are being presented today at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the biggest gathering of cancer doctors.”
“Loxo Oncology was founded in 2013, the brainchild of an oncologist named Joshua Bilenker, who was then working as an investor at Aisling Capital, a private equity firm. Between 2004 and 2006, Bilenker had served as a reviewer in the oncology division of the Food and Drug Administration, working on applications for new uses of cancer drugs like Rituxan and Herceptin.”

 

FDA Clears First Cancer Drug Based on Genetics of Disease, Not Tumor Location
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fda-clears-first-cancer-drug-based-on-genetics-of-disease-not-tumor-location
From the article:
“Merck & Co’s immunotherapy Keytruda [pembrolizumab] chalked up another approval on Tuesday as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the cancer medicine can be used to treat children and adults who carry a specific genetic feature regardless of where the disease originated.
It is the first time the agency has approved a cancer treatment based solely on a genetic biomarker.”

“The accelerated approval was for solid tumor cancers not eligible for surgery or that have spread in patients identified as having a biomarker called microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR).
Tumors with those traits are most common in colorectal, endometrial and gastrointestinal cancers, but may also appear in cancers of the breast, prostate, bladder and thyroid gland.”

 

There are many promising new, targeted treatments

Immune checkpoint inhibitors to treat cancer
https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy/immune-checkpoint-inhibitors.html
List from the site:
“PD-1 inhibitors: Examples of drugs that target PD-1 include:
Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
Nivolumab (Opdivo)

PD-L1 inhibitors: Examples of drugs that target PD-L1 include:
Atezolizumab (Tecentriq)
Avelumab (Bavencio)
Durvalumab (Imfinzi)”

 

Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer
Novel technologies and emerging biomarkers for personalized cancer immunotherapy
https://jitc.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40425-016-0107-3
From the article:
“These therapies are revolutionizing therapeutic concepts and changing the standard of care for cancer treatment. Immunotherapy is now widely accepted as a key component of the therapeutic strategies to control and potentially cure cancer. Moreover, immunotherapy has the potential to cure or convert cancer from a fatal disease into a non-life threatening or chronic disease. The concept of a “clinical cure” is emerging as a description of long-term tumor control. The broad potential for a clinical cure is now being extensively explored by both mono and combination cancer immunotherapy.”

 

Modern, highly targeted radiation therapies

Heidelberg Ion-Beam Therapy Center (HIT)
Heidelberg University Hospital
https://www.klinikum.uni-heidelberg.de/About-us.124447.0.html?&L=1
From the site:
“Ion beam radiation, also referred to as particle radiation. Protons and heavy ions are positively charged atomic nuclei (particles). Protons are positively charged nuclei of hydrogen atoms. Heavy ions are positively charged nuclei of atoms with a greater mass (at HIT, carbon, oxygen and helium ions are used). Ion radiation guarantees the highest possible precision. In addition, heavy ions have greater clinical efficacy than conventional irradiation with the same dose of photons.”

 

RINECKER PROTON THERAPY CENTER (RPTC), Munich, Germany
https://www.rptc.de/en/home.html
From the site:
“With Proton Therapy higher dosages in the tumor are possible and at the same time there are significant less side effects.”

Let the video explain:
RINECKER PROTON THERAPY CENTER: Proton Therapy

 

Radionuclide therapy

This method is effective in tumor cells with somatostatin receptors. Lutetium-labelled peptides are used to kill the cancer cells. If you like to know more, here is an article:

Lutetium-labelled peptides for therapy of neuroendocrine tumours
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3304065
From the article:
“Treatment with radiolabelled somatostatin analogues is a promising … tool in the management of patients with inoperable or metastasized … tumours.”

 

Noninvasive ultrasound surgery

MRI HIFU

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) guided high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) surgery could beautifully complement cancer immunotherapy. Did you know that MRI HIFU was invented and developed by a Hungarian doctor? He lived and worked in the US. Unfortunately, he passed away recently. And did you know that Hungarian hospitals refused to purchase an MRI HIFU machine a few years ago? It is a wonderful tool! It is available all over the world! It is in the early stages of development as laparoscopy was over 10 years ago… It is very promising! Of course Hungarian idiot decision makers did not want one!

 

So, I discovered the brilliant entity called:

Focused Ultrasound Foundation (in the US)
And their website has the most comprehensive search tool if you would like to search for a HIFU treatment in a country by organ treated! Currently the database has 588 treatment sites globally!!!
https://www.fusfoundation.org/for-patients/treatment-sites/treatmentsites/list

It lists several Italian institutions offering commercial HIFU treatments for kidney tumors (no word regarding adrenal tumors…).

  • Careggi General Hospital, Florence Italy
  • Cisanello Hospital of University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy
  • European Institute of Oncology, Milan, Italy
  • Rome American Hospital, Rome, Italy
  • Sora Cancer Centre, Sora, Lazio, Italy

Always consult specific websites and it is best to contact the institution directly via e-mail or phone!

EUROPEAN INSTITUTE OF ONCOLOGY, Milan, Italy
HIFU Treatment
https://www.ieo.it/en/Patient-Care/Featured/HIFU
From the site
“IEO [Istituto Europeo di Oncologia] is the most advanced developing Center in using HIFU technology for cancer treatment in the West. HIFU is a cutting-edge, non-invasive technology, developed in China* for destroying cancer without scalpels, irradiation or needles. Interventional Radiology in IEO has the largest number of HIFU cancer treatments in western countries.”

*There are several different types of HIFU equipment globally.

 

Clinical trial and medical science resources:

https://clinicaltrials.gov

From the site:
“ClinicalTrials.gov is a registry and results database of publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants conducted around the world.”

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed

From the site:
“PubMed comprises more than 27 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher web sites.”

 

EUROPEAN SOCIETY FOR MEDICAL ONCOLOGY
The leading European professional organisation for medical oncology
http://www.esmo.org

 

Apps, Labs, Data, Image Analysis, In Silico Testing and Artificial Intelligence

Now about a research tool and service that could support treatment related decision making

The Oncompass app
https://app.realtimeoncology.com/#/login

On this site, patients and doctors can look up clinical trials ranked by relevance for specific cancers and doctors can also add their own experiences with treatments immediately! It is free! This is a Hungarian app of a molecular diagnostics company (Oncompass), but its users are global! I just discovered it recently (I tested it a bit, but I did not use it for treatment search). Could make the search for a treatment or even a cure so much easier! Plus, it empowers e-patients and helps doctors expedite info sharing regarding treatments globally!

Note: Today it is not (yet) the state delegated oncologist in Budapest, Hungary (where healthcare is not up to EU standards) who tells a patient that there is for example LOXO 101 in an open clinical trial (e.g.: in Denmark) and that Loxo Oncology takes patients for free (!) to international locations, for free (clinical trial related) treatment with one of the safest and most successful cancer drugs in development (it targets a select group with a rare genetic mutation… and for those with the mutation it is apparently amazingly effective and sometimes even curative even in very advanced cases). It only helps a very small group of people globally with a very specific mutation, but those people see amazing results and Loxo Oncology is looking for them! This isn’t something that a regular oncologist shares with you and you do not even know how many facts are not being shared with you that could potentially save or prolong your life! It is the multidisciplinary long-form blogger and digital artist (me, Regina Saphier) who will dig this up online (and not with the free Oncompass system that I just discovered recently… perhaps one day I am going to use that one too, but it is very difficult to register a patient in it without the cooperation of the oncologist, the patient and other doctors).

I immediately noticed that the Precision Medicine Calculator (by Oncompass) has no registration and login option for friends, family, patient advocates/advisers and other caretakers. Yet, in many cases, in such stressful situations, it is this support network that helps patients find answers. And I can’t believe how many internet domains Oncompass has… at least 4… it is really confusing. But I appreciate the idea of this free and global app. It “just” has to work well now, and for that people need to know about it and people have to use it (and it regularly needs to be improved).

Oncompass Medicine is one of the companies in Hungary that does oncogenetic testing (another superior genetic sequencing service is provided by PentaCore Lab). At Oncompass 58* 600 genes are tested when searching for a cancer treatment, and there are specialized support options beyond the lab work and that is very important. (*Update on October 19. 2017: Oncompass recently started to analyse 600 genes and the full exome of patients!!! Ask for the Oncompass All Dynamic Program!!!). At PentaCore Lab, 400 oncogenes are sequenced (Vivaton 400). Duna Medical only tests 65+27 genes. In the US there are tests with hundreds of genes (similar to the Oncompass All Dynamic Program and the PentaCore’s Vivaton 400 panel in Budapest). When personalized cancer vaccines are developed for a patient, the best thing is to have the entire genome sequenced (by entire I mean even the healthy genome). That helps you find the best treatment targets.

There is so much information all over the place, that both patient networks and doctors need a reliable decision support system. If I could make decisions about this, I would even make medical AI based Enlitic available to patients and their networks as well. There are patients and supportive people in those networks who could enhance care by using Enlitic. https://www.enlitic.com

 

You might have noticed that I mentioned several Hungarians in this blog post. So, why stop now? There is a brilliant AI based drug discovery start up in Hungary called:
TURBINE
http://turbine.ai
“Increase your laboratory success rate and reduce
time to trial with AI guided simulated experiments.
Turbine identifies complex biomarkers and designs effective
combinations by simulating millions of experiments each day.”

When I noticed Turbine, I did not have to think at all to know that this is brilliant! I wish this young company was advanced enough to permit patient side access to the system. Just imagine getting in silico hints about possible drug combinations that could help someone. Sometimes even drugs that are not cancer related can have a positive impact. Turbine, Oncompass and PentaCore Lab should create a partnership…

 

By the way, not only do patients need help finding the best molecular treatments, but people still need to find the best possible surgeons as well (etc.). I had to do such a surgeon search over ten years ago and the world’s best surgeon for the Hungarian patient was in the UK. That is still not an obvious thing that people can easily find online (You need statistics, like: How many such operations does that surgeon perform per year? How about his or her error rate? The top surgeon had a zero % error rate for a digestive system cancer and he used his own method that he was teaching during some of his operations… Go for that level of expertise, if you can! That is the safest.).

On top of that we also need insurance companies to realize that care is now global and this market has to be serviced globally, with locally acceptable fees.

 

Note: Oncompass Medicine also has a fee based, international cancer treatment research and cancer patient support service! It is the same kind of global cancer treatment research and cancer patient support that I am doing, but I do it for free. While I do this occasionally, Oncompass does this all the time and has excellent resources and a global network. If you can, it is probably a good idea to hire them. I don’t know how good they are. Let me know if you have any experience with them!

 

I am a big believer in self guided online learning. And so I coined the term: “self guided online health care”. Imagine having a personal robot that is connected to a medical AI. The patient could simply ask questions of the robot, it would connect to the AI and based on the lab results (a patient has at home or online), the AI could suggest different treatment options by scanning and comprehending the globally available medical research and treatment data. (I personally would prefer a more advanced, multitasking robot companion, or no robot, just the AI via my computer, tablet or smartphone.)

The Robot Will See You Now — AI and Health Care

A.I. VERSUS M.D.
What happens when diagnosis is automated?
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/03/ai-versus-md

 

My Game “Theory”

As I mentioned before, a global multiplayer online game could be developed for citizen scientists and medical students (even for doctors). By combining the available resources, a new level of information sharing could be achieved in a uniquely motivated network.

In both cases the data entry is one of the most problematic areas. Lab results should be both human and machine readable. People who e.g. play EyeWire or Foldit could be on-boarded in a new game that is about hunting treasures like life saving medical treatments around the world and building alternative treatment plans for patients. It is doable! And I am working on it! Let me know if you would like to fund it!

 

Precision medicine is simply not possible without participatory medicine. Demand better care! I know that it is easy to expect and really hard to do. But every little positive change adds to the chance of an actual paradigm change! I hope you find the right doctors and the most appropriate treatments for you, your loved ones and your community members.

You can connect with me via Facebook and LinkedIn. I am happy to help. No matter where you are from, no matter who you are: If you need help and if I can help, I will help! Pay it forward to others in need when you can. My time, energy and resources are limited, so please, respect that when you ask a question (note: I understand if you feel the need to explain the context). Thank you for reading my blog post! I hope I could help with at least a little something. Find many more blog posts on my three different blog surfaces in a multitude of subject areas! Live long and prosper! 🙂

 

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Regina Saphier: Finding the Valley of the Dragon

 

Village in the Valley of the Dragon by Regina Saphier freehand painting on digital medium April 12. 2016 small wtrmrkd

Village in the Valley of the Dragon by Regina Saphier freehand painting on digital medium April 12. 2016

 

Regina Saphier: Finding the Valley of the Dragon

Károly Patkó’s so called “San Vito” (see reproduction below) wasn’t painted in San Vito (in my opinion) and nobody ever noticed? I am sure the painting’s title would have been corrected by now had anyone had a clue about the real location. This is the story of my artistic process today, combined with the story of finding the correct place of creation of a well known Hungarian painting. Above you can see my own rendering of the Italian village where in my opinion Károly Patkó actually painted his picture.

My research process

You might think that I just grab my stylus and tablet, start ArtRage and begin to paint as if in a trans state. But that is not my process. I do a lot of research before I start sketching and painting. For example I research paintings, colors, styles, artistic periods and movements, artist bios, cities, villages, particular locations, spacial experiences and I compose my inspiration of the many impulses. I like to start painting when I can no longer wait to create because I so clearly see what I want to realize.

During such a research process in 2015 I discovered a specific location of a Róbert Berény painting and I created my own rendering from another angle, plus I wrote about the process. I keep making other discoveries as well. For example I discovered purely visually where Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka created two of his paintings in Taormina (“Full Moon over Taormina” and “Blossoming Almonds in Taormina“), in spite of the fact that this location is not in the visible vicinity of the ruins of the ancient Greek theater (that he also depicted there). Explore the location of the paintings via: Google Street View… Sadly the amazing pink villa is gone and the blue building is in ruins… The picturesque vista that once was is forever lost, but we have two paintings to help us remember.

Good things happen when a curious artist can not find the vista of a Patkó painting in the settlement stated in the original title

Recently I studied some Hungarian artists like Sándor Ziffer and Károly Patkó. After having noticed Ziffer in one of my paintings (I noticed his impact on my colors and atmosphere on my Roquebrune painting), I wanted to intentionally be inspired by Patkó, so I picked his “San Vito” painting. I looked at the particular “San Vito” via Google Street View (in fact I ended up looking at several places called San Vito) and I was surprised to realize that this Patkó painting has a clearly incorrect title. “San Vito” could not possibly depict San Vito!

This is not "San Vito". The painting apparently always had the wrong title until today.

This is not “San Vito”. The painting apparently always had the wrong title until today. (note: Károly Patkó’s art is now in the public domain in Hungary.)

My motivation to paint this village only grew when I had this in mind: I am the only one in the world right now who could intentionally create a somewhat similar digital painting from a slightly different angle in my own style. This is a familiar and reoccurring opportunity in my life! (Remember Monaco and Róbert Berény? I was able to find the place and paint it from a different angle. It was so much fun!) I just started to paint and research inspirational locations recently. How many paintings have the wrong location, the wrong title or no known and specified location at all (that could be discovered)?

(By the way, just as a side note: Károly Patkó died 75 years ago this April. 1941 killed so many talented artists I remember… Károly Patkó, Amrita Sher-Gil, Vilmos Aba-Novák, Virginia Woolf…)

Because I did not want to use the Patkó painting as my only visual input, and wanted to see the actual village, I kept searching for the real location. For some reason I was convinced that there should be a village that looks like the one on Patkó’s so called “San Vito”. Supposedly this has always been the title of the painting and that is really bizarre to me. Yet, there could be several explanations… for example Patkó used his own travel sketches to create his final tempera versions… it is possible that he himself gave the wrong title… hard to believe but possible… However, in many instances titles are given by other people once the artist is no longer alive… and art historians and art dealers are often superficial when coming up with a title… (eg.: in one case I could tell that a painting depicting a bridge in Paris with the title “sunset” was actually a “sunrise”… I just looked at it and knew instinctively that the title is wrong and it really was… I could show it on Google Street View within minutes).

How did I find the correct location of Patkó’s painting?

It was actually not that difficult, but I had to be persistent (and I was). The key components that I focused on were: a sea side Italian village among high mountains, apparently in a very narrow valley, a beach road on a viaduct, an isolated building on a very small beach and a particularly typical white building in the upper right corner with prominent terraces. (When you look at the most likely San Vito on Google Street View, you can clearly see that it is characteristically flat, broad, and the beach is rather long. Does not even resemble the village on Patkó’s painting. We know that he traveled to San Vito, it is in his bio, but the correct village that I finally discovered is not mentioned in his biographies that I looked at online.)

Next (based on the spacial experience on the Patkó painting, plus based on former travels and online research) I decided that while San Vito is at the Adriatic Sea, the place I am looking for must be on the Tyrrhenian Sea shore. I looked at several villages there, but I could not find it immediately. There were some similar places, but I knew that I had to keep searching.

I decided to stop looking at Google Earth and Street View for a while and went back to my usual inspirational Google Image search for the area to find the next best place to paint until I find the location of the Patkó painting. And interestingly that is when I stumbled upon a photo of Atrani on the Amalfi coast. And I knew immediately that I discovered the village where Patkó actually painted his “San Vito”! The aerial image was small, but the spacial structure was obvious.

The correct title should be “Atrani“… or “The Valley of the Dragon“.

This below is an interactive image, you can move it around to see Atrani today. I positioned it so that you can see the side of Atrani that was depicted by Károly Patkó. (At the end of this blog post I also included a composite image of Atrani in the past when the beach building was higher than the road.)

 

Creation time!

As soon as I had the time and as soon as I looked at Atrani from every possible angle, I grabbed my tablet, opened ArtRage and created my own architectural rendering of the village! It is a slightly abstract anachronistic juxtaposed homage to Patkó, Csontváry, Escher and Derain. It could be called: “The Turning Road at Atrani” (seriously, I hope you see these on Patkó’s painting: the turning road, the water and the gig with the three horses… and the man on the gig… and the water carrying figure on the road… and the people under the bridge-like viaduct… all references to Derain’s L’Estaque)… or “A Pink House in Atrani Below the Road” (because of Csontváry)… or “The Escheresque Cubes of Atrani” (Escher did actually draw Atrani and played around with the many cubes in the village)…

Coming up with a title and an artistic movement

You might assume that it is easy to come up with the right title of a painting, but that is also not the case. I spent hours finalizing the title… from the simple location name to the more magical one to the totally philosophical I had half a dozen different titles. At one point I called it: “Possibilism and Eternalism in Atrani”. And with that title I came up with a name for my own artistic movement: Possibilism. It exists as a cultural, human geographical terminology and basically covers the fact that geography is only a minimal limitation for cultural development. Cultural development is mainly determined by social conditions. When I transformed Possibilism into an artistic terminology I added the ever evolving internet and technology… plus I extended this terminology to geographically unlimited artistic creation (no matter where you are, you have the means to be anywhere online) and phenomenally flexible cultural evolution (you have the option of internalizing and even influencing another culture without being in that particular cultural or social environment).

I researched the village online. Initially the building on the Atrani beach was higher than the road, but the third floor was demolished after a while and in the 1950s the road was broadened and so the road is now literally above the beach building. While Csontváry’s beautiful pink villa in Taormina did not survive (and that made me very upset), Patkó’s beach house at Atrani is still there, even if a bit smaller and partly covered by the road. I remember how happy I was to see that in hyper developed Monaco the houses that Berény depicted were almost perfectly preserved in the harbor. Just the same, I am glad that the good people of Atrani maintained the beauty and authenticity of their village. This is where Eternalism joins Possibilism… Me culturally enhancing the story of Atrani from my living room couch (in another country) and also enhancing my own cultural heritage (Possibilism of the internet age) combined with the philosophical assumption that my digital painting’s possibility existed eternally in Atrani and only apparently came into being during the last couple of days (at least the possibility has always been there and only now do we recognize the manifestation … the same way the possibility of Patkó’s painting has always existed… think of a caveman sitting in front of a cave… that creature at the campfire cluelessly poked the building blocks of a futuristic society with a stick… the possibility of everything that exists today already existed within and without… the same way today we walk around knee-deep in yet unrecognized possibilities… for example we could ensure a dignified life to every human being alive, this is only a matter of joint mental effort, because the resources are there… the smartest individuals are however still trying to figure out how to enlighten all people about this and make the obvious possibility manifest itself as our everyday reality… clearly almost everything is dependent on our joint imagination… so, possibilities are not dependent on time, possibilities are apparently eternal, a time sequence is only relevant to the manifestation of the eternal possibilities… while space itself does not appear to be changing much during humanity’s existence… I could almost touch Patkó’s shoulder in Atrani while he is drawing, even though I did not exist yet when he was already dead… this is how I conceptualize my artistic Eternalism. When you notice a possibility and act upon it, you become the channel of manifestation of something eternally possible… ). But why don’t I stop driving the less philosophically inclined readers mad right here and right now…?

 

Pantkó’s Atrani, his inspirations, the secrets of artists and the ever lasting series of homages from artist to artist

If you compare Patkó’s painting with the real place (Atrani), you will notice that he changed the composition by eliminating the middle section of the residential layer… he virtually pushed some of the buildings from the left to the right to place them in the middle. He turned a broad landscape view into a tall portrait view. I think he did these because he found the series of arches on the left more interesting and wanted to make the middle section architecturally more homogeneous with the buildings on the right side. The mountain tops never looked like that in reality, he probably improvised, but the agricultural terraces above the buildings are correct. I am not sure about the colors of Atrani in 1931, but Patkó mainly opted for blues, greens, white and brownish colors… However, in this region blues and greens are less common on buildings. His version is in many ways removed from reality and yet the village is perfectly recognizable. While sketching Atrani he was standing above the viaduct, at or under the Collegiate Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

Artists influence each another and remember each other. I happily discovered how Derain’s L’Estaque painting impacted Patkó’s art… so, I disagree that his art was mostly inspired by the Italian tradition… Cézanne and Derain were definitely among his role models.

In my opinion this is not the only painting where he remembers André Derain’s The Turning Road in L’Estaque. Here are two other Patkó paintings that remind me of Derain: “Goose Girl by the Brook” and one of the “Subiaco” versions: women are washing clothes under a bridge and a coach driver is crossing the bridge.

Are we a 100% sure that Károly Patkó never went to L’Estaque? Alternatively: Where did he paint the “Goose Girl by the Brook” in 1928? His 1926 “Still Life with Apples” was clearly inspired by Cézanne… Of course one does not have to go to a particular place in France to be inspired by it… I know that. Patkó could have painted this canvas anywhere… even at Lake Balaton… based on a reproduction of Derain’s canvas. Anything is possible.

In his book (and in his two part BBC series) David Hockney talks about how old masters like Caravaggio used the Camera Obscura, concave mirrors and lenses when sketching and painting. There were trade secrets that made the artistic process more precise and faster. According to Hockney’s research concave mirrors were used as early as 1420… the artist worked in a Dark Room (Camera Obscura), while the model sat in strong sunlight outside of the Dark Room… Caravaggio apparently switched from the concave mirror to the more advanced lens in 1595… and in 1839 photography was invented. That means that between 1420 and 1839 artists gradually and secretly transitioned from freehand sketching to freehand tracing, and after 1839 artists regressed back to freehand sketching and painting that were the norm before 1420. Those who used concave mirrors and lenses were skilled artists, even appeared to be amazing magicians to less insightful people, and were most definitely shrewd businessman, deploying every possible contemporary technology to create the most lifelike and exciting images while optimizing their working conditions and maximizing their profits. Artists returned to the methods of the pre-mirror time period again as a reaction to the invention of photography. Today, in the age of digital photography, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and robotics, the task of the artist is no longer the creation of a lifelike visual experience, rather the task is eg.: the visual representation of human emotions. Impression, expression, fauvism, playing with light, color, atmosphere and space. In this age it is also absolutely self evident that more and more people are painting with digital tools. The intelligent and creative artist is open to every possible new tool his or her era has to offer. It is not the mirror, not the lens and not the digital tool that creates movements and marks. The artist’s personal and spontaneous neurology is what creates art in a larger social and cultural context, while channeling a universal and endless stream of possibilities.

Patkó tükrözve és Derain Estaque részlet

My comparison of the two (I flipped the Patkó painting and added a section of the Derain painting on the right).

Homage from artist to artist… a natural instinct that goes on forever. In many cases you don’t have to go to a particular location “to feel” or “to see” the place, especially today! However, the way I see it, the famous location of Derain’s fauvist painting is lost, just like Csontváry’s pink villa… these places live on in sensitive people’s unique art. Atrani (in the valley of the River Dragon) is a particularly lucky village that mostly maintained its original charme and is also enriched by artistic creativity.

As of today I am suggesting a new title and a new location for Károly Patkó’s “San Vito” painting. It should be called: “Atrani“.

Atrani in the past

Atrani in the past

 


Regina Saphier: The Tale of the Dictator Who Became a Flower Salesman

Regina Saphier: The tale of the dictator who became a flower salesman (virtualhumanism.wordpress.com)

Regina Saphier: The Tale of the Dictator who Became a Flower Salesman (virtualhumanism.wordpress.com)       Illustration concept by Regina Saphier, Drawing by Rózsa Ferkó Károly

 

Regina Saphier: The Tale of the Dictator Who Became a Flower Salesman

How unlikely! Right? No dictator ever gave up his or her corrupt power voluntarily. Have you ever wondered why? I did. First, I actually just contemplated good, responsive, inclusive leadership that my country never really experienced. And from there I got to the question: Just what is it about a society as an organism that does not permit healthy leadership? And I ended up with the image of a bodily tissue that can not properly repair itself and if you imagine a country as an organism, the dictator is produced by dysfunctional social tissue. This is why a dictator is a cancer cell, his or her immediate and selfish community is the cancer, and the country is the organism that is dying of cancer. There are dangerous and deadly cancers, and there are milder, more treatable cancers. Orbán and his entourage is colon cancer with no metastases (yet), actually rather preventable if an organism is well informed and takes care of itself, and also curable if someone finds the right surgeon. The North Korean dictator (whoever happens to be in that role at any given time) and his closest people are more of a metastatic, aggressive breast cancer. Much harder to treat and cure. So, dictators are identifiable on a scale. Yet almost all dictators (as all cancers) can be dangerous when untreated or when more social tissue degeneration is possible.

Add the Dunning and Kruger effect (of followers and the dictator for this essay’s sake).
“For a given skill, incompetent people will:
– fail to recognize their own lack of skill
– fail to recognize genuine skill in others
– fail to recognize the extent of their inadequacy
– recognize and acknowledge their own lack of skill, after they are exposed to training for that skill.”

Nouriel Roubini posted a blog regarding the possible fragmented, nationalist dystopian future of the EU if Orbán-omics (illiberal and nationalist state capitalism) spreads across Europe. Orbán is the populist, nationalist authoritarian mini dictator of Hungary (unfortunately there are similar jerks running countries in the EU). He has (or pretends to have) seriously archaic views of gender roles, social values, and economics. Yet, when he “worries” about the safety of Europe, he will say that he wants to “protect values like gender equality”. He will say whatever he thinks he needs to say, depending on his latest vision and depending on the environment. In my opinion Orbán is a classical, ambitious, manipulative sociopath with no remorse.

How are sociopaths* made?

Sociopaths are more common than you would expect (especially among politicians, business people, lawyers and the like). Becoming a sociopath is a typical (mal)adaptive developmental reaction to e.g.: a physically abusive father, and to a massive change in environment and social class that forced him (or her) to experience a lot of humiliation. Orbán is highly ambitious, a calculating risk-taker, superficially charming (according to his equally superficial followers), plus he is manipulative, aggressive, paranoid, delusional, experiences no remorse, does not have much cultural capital, yet he thinks he is always right, believes he is smarter than (almost) anyone else, has a grandiose sense of self, has no insight into the fact that he is a sociopath, uses others as tools, is constantly in a hero pose, does not experience true empathy for others, and is full of narcissism… and now add the constant secret inferiority complex that causes a lot of frustration (he uses metaphors in his political speeches that refer to physically abusive acts and he also spoke as a young man about his father beating him brutally)… he always knows when he is hurt or bothered, but is oblivious to other people’s feelings… (a sociopath is different from a psychopath in that the sociopath is a creation of his or her experiences and environment, while a psychopath is born without empathy and conscience… now that psychopathy can be diagnosed with MRI and genetic testing, I wonder how sociopaths could be spotted with these tests…). Of course I am only theorizing here, I am not a psychiatric professional, and obviously I can’t put dictators in an MRI machine. It is however hard not to see the traits that are used for diagnosis in psychology. Should we not have our politicians tested with objective tools before letting them take control of our national institutions, networks and budgets? Should we not stop psychopaths and sociopaths from ruining our national economy and international country image? (*After I wrote this blog I did more research regarding this personality disorder and I came across the term “acquired psychopathy” instead of “sociopathy”. The major difference between psychopaths and acquired psychopaths is that the latter experience fear and anxiety because their amygdala is functional. I also encountered the term “pro-social psychopath” as opposed to “anti-social psychopath”… plus there are “transient psychopaths”… eg.: some people – when their loved ones are threatened – automatically turn off their empathy towards attackers. Unfortunately, “fearless dominance” that is so typical of born and dangerous psychopaths without anxiety is also very attractive to followers as a perceived leadership trait… During hard times many people unconsciously or consciously gravitate to leaders who are able to pretend to be fearless or are in fact dangerously fearless…)

Notice that young Orbán used to be relatively honest and uninhibited (he says he did not study much, but he is clearly intelligent). In this interview he talks about domestic abuse he experienced and how he would rather be a political science professor, after realizing that he is not a very good football player. He emphasizes that he does not want to be a politician sitting in meetings for 8 hours a day. And yet soon after this he found himself to be an elected official, a member of the Hungarian parliament and today he is a prime minister. So, was he telling the truth about his dream career as a professor, or was he extremely confused about his own aspirations during his mid twenties? (Note: This video keeps disappearing from YouTube… until now I had to add three different links to keep this video available in my blog post! Orbán is clearly trying again and again to erase his liberal self from the web, because it shows that neither his liberal, nor his autocratic self is the truth… he is just an empty role player. He has no core values to build his own moral character. He is very similar to Trump! Did you know that Trump used to be liberal? These types of people will “become” anything to be in a power position.)

 

 

Within two decades Orbán went from liberal political youngster studying law, to conservative political football player acting like a politician for economic gain. He does not have any deep and real core values, he is not a person of deep thought and definitely whimsical as a decision maker (note: as a young man he appeared to have European and democratic values… that is no longer the case). I am sure had George Soros known what is going to happen, his scholarship fund would not have supported Orbán’s Oxford studies. Orbán should have been an average football player or university professor we never heard of. Orbán today as a #1 politician is a dangerous product of his environment. Remember, he was the symbol of democratic hope 25 years ago! Apparently, he is not a man of core vales, he is rather a role player. He kind of thinks the country is his estate now. He is now simply playing in another film that suits him according to his own self image. He is a confused cell placed into the wrong bodily tissue and does not know its true and constructive role. This is why Orbán is a cancer cell, his entourage is cancer, and his (untreated) politics is becoming a malignant ideological tumor actively spreading in the EU. In the right tissue he would be a relatively normal and harmless cell. (I will explain this idea in a bit more detail later.) It is important to state: Most people aren’t born to be evil. Only a small percent are born with criminal tendencies. Most people who become criminals or dictators, are growing up with the wrong values and experience distorting events. As with the Dunning and Kruger effect, notice how most maladaptive behaviors have to do with the wrong kind of learning, with trauma, distorted perceptions, fluid and circumstantial morals, lack of objective feedback or the lack of knowledge and insight. This is the road that takes someone from active, inclusive, constructive idealism (humanism) to reactive, exclusive, destructive skepticism (dictatorship) along the full spectrum of human attitudes and perceptions of social realities.

Idealism, realism and skepticism

I have been thinking in writing for a couple of days about idealism, realism and skepticism. Before I share my spontaneous reflections, let me say that I am what I call “an active, inclusive, constructive humanistic idealist”, and at the same time I like to take ideas apart, and put them back together with other, seemingly irrelevant ideas (so in my case “constructive” has a double meaning). It is like playing with idea Lego. Also, it is important to mention that I have never been the member of any political party ever and I am completely without illusions when it comes to party politics.

I share the humanistic values of people like Daphne Koller, Buckminster Fuller and Nikola Tesla. Constructive, visionary leaders with positive attitudes are the true architects of humanity’s future, but it is the collective sum of our best actions, hopes, ideals and ideas that lead to the future we will experience. Nobody in their right mind wants to live in a dark and hopeless, dystopian future. 100% basic realism is for selfish opportunists, for lazy conformists, or for misled people without any imagination. People who hate idealism have the darkest souls and wish for an equally dark future. Their souls are simply broken. (I am not one of them.) Basic, destructive and skeptical realism is for servants of the status quo. This is Orbán’s realm today.

Constructive idealism is for true change makers working with ideas that might look utopian and impossible to the conformist, less imaginative, less creative and less enlightened members of societies. Being an idealist means that you have ideas, ideals, values, aspirations, feelings, intuitions, mental images of a positive and inclusive future that you wish were your reality. When putting your constructive ideas and ideals out there in writing, saying no to personal circumstances that are destroying your positive experiences in life, and opting for actions that open the door to new, more ideal circumstances for you and others: you become an active, constructive idealist in this process. Our minds together create our reality in the future. Be mindful of what you wish for in a dynamic human network of ideas!

The success of your active and constructive idealism does not only depend on you. We live in human networks and ideas are spreading at the speed of light via the internet. The collective level of latent/passive, and active/constructive idealism determines the success of your own idealism.

My new hypothesis

Humanistic, inclusive and constructive idealism in action is the highest and most noble form of futuristic realism in any society.

In my humble opinion, realism is a spectrum, that runs from passive, selfish, misinformed skepticism, to active, informed, complex, constructive and humanistic idealism. Active, constructive and humanistic idealism reminds me of genetics. A constructive idea(l) adds value like a Telomerase … a kind of idea related telomere terminal transferase…. a protein… a reverse transcriptase enzyme. Enlightened idealists produce abstract ideas: catalysts constantly replenishing and extending the information related fibers of the social “fabric”, keeping the social “tissues” healthy and pushing the boundaries of humanity.

When the enlightened and knowledgeable idealists (the most terrifying enemies of rigid, authoritarian and aggressive dictators) are locked up, killed, discouraged, mistreated, unappreciated, economically and politically marginalized, or even forced to leave a country: societies stop improving and begin to age and die, just like humans when Telomeres are no longer replenished by Telomerase enzymes at the end of linear chromosomes. It is a weakened social structure that permits the rise of the dictator in the first place. It is not the rise of the dictator that starts the deterioration. The dictator is the one who will escalate the process.

Dictators are confused cells

Dictators and their immediate human networks are sort of confused cells and cancerous tissues (they want to be bigger, have more and more power, resources and money… often plutocrats in business behave the same way… again, dangerous psychopaths and sociopaths in action… and how many naive people just love them!?). Dictators begin to drain and abuse replenishing-resources of an immune deficient society (or multiple societies) to maintain their own opportunistic and corrupt social “tissues”. When human bodily tissues are not well repaired, or when there is a lack of iron, oxygen or vitamin D, the immune system becomes less efficient, some cells become confused and selfish, tumors grow, angiogenesis and cancer happens. Cells forget their original roles.

Cancer cells can become normal cells again! It’s true!

So, again, cancer happens when a cell forgets its original role, and this “cell dementia” happens because the surrounding tissue is deteriorating. The tissue matrix stops telling the cell what to do. Just like dictators are oblivious to the usually rather obviously bad ends of their dictator peers (the bad judgement is clearly visible right there) and to the bad shape of societies these people torture, cancer cells also don’t care that their selfish behavior is killing the entire organism. Place confused cells into healthy and relevant tissue, and the cells will suddenly remember their original, constructive and healthy roles! Cancer cells become healthy again! I am not making this up, it is true (watch Mina Bissell’s TED talk below). Basically, in rotten social networks the same happens, because the cells (people) don’t get the right information and forget their constructive roles. This is how people become destructive and self serving. This always inevitably leads to some level of collapse of values one way or the other, because the social “tissue” becomes thick, overgrown, rigid and homogeneous in an unhealthy way. The societies that contain them must first die in a way to be able to somehow experience the birth of healthy cells, people, ideals and values. (The operation called “system change” did not help in Hungary. We buried that illusion of change with former President Árpád Göncz recently.)

Here is a scenario that never happens (for a reason):

Unfortunately, in their isolated little bubbles, with their pathological personalities, dictators don’t normally wake up one morning with a new sense of self knowledge and say (I imagine this little sketch written by me, performed by Eddie Izzard on stage): “Oh, I am so sorry, I am a confused “cell”, a dictator person, oh no, and my people, who are dead inside, are not telling me the truth, wow, because I am a narcissistic sociopath with no empathy, oh no… I must do something about this… I will quit being an autocratic jerk and will become a lovely flower and stadium turf seed salesman instead.”

This somehow does not happen. It is how confused and broken these people are. Realistically, questioning their own behavior, or displaying true humility are not part of their repertoire. The stunning part? Everyone would be better off if this could happen, but it can’t. It is based on “social physics”. Yet what often does happen is that such a confused “cell” ends up in a prison cell, when a society’s immune system becomes stronger. It could be ironic that a lawyer becomes a dictator, but actually it isn’t ironic. In fact the legal profession is very popular among sociopaths (and among psychopaths).

The sicker the social tissue, the worse your dictator

Notice: As confused cells are the products of a broken repair system on the “tissue matrix” level, so are dictators products of a broken repair system on the social “tissue matrix” level. Unless you can somehow change the social matrix, you will not see any change in the short term. Orbán is allergic to Syrian refugees and migrants in large numbers because their strong will and determination could actually change the social matrix in Hungary… and he is terrified of that. It is his personal interest to keep things as they are. I personally would welcome Syrians in Hungary (healthy diversity, tolerance and the flow of information leads to prosperity), but I also understand that they would not want to live here. Hungary is mostly an intolerant and backward place (because the social tissue matrix is dysfunctional).

Since Hungary joined the EU, the European Union managed to finance (feed and support) the rise of a social class that is opportunistic, corrupt to the bone, destructive and intolerant (and not just the right, but also most of the left… Gyurcsány avoided becoming the same kind of dictator by falling flat on his political face… he had to learn something from that… of course leaving his office when he failed is also a detail that would never happen to Orbán, because the most important thing for him is power). The problem is, that the social tumors were never completely cut out of this society after the so called system “change”. At the same time the active and constructive humanistic idealists were economically and politically, gradually forced to leave the country after 2004. (Note: I was the only citizen in Hungary at that time who decided to found a pilot project for returning, highly educated Hungarians like me to support social change in this new EU member state. Within a few years the passive-aggressive and corrupt “elite” drained my soul and the entire establishment made me sick, in every sense of the word. One constructive idealist against a monolithic group of destructive, self-serving skeptics. One healthy cell in a sick tissue. There was no healthy way to function in this context. This is why I live and work in internet exile, away from the sick social tissue. I integrated into a global, online context that is much healthier for me. Here I am able to function as a free thinker and blogger. Nobody even attempts to tell me what I can or can not say and I am able to speak my mind freely.) Hungary as a society is dying of a relapse of social cancer, that was (only) believed to be removed over two decades ago. The leadership in power consist of people who are opportunistic, self serving conformists, destructive “realists” without: imagination, inclusive insight, conscience and appropriate knowledge. These people say that women belong into the kitchen, and that women should not participate in politics, because “dirty politics” (made dirty by these sick men in party politics) is “not for the ladies”! The kitchen is for the ladies! And their ladies think it is true! The only policy I appreciate was the banning of smoking in many public spaces. I love that! That is about it… and one bad decision comes after the other.

What is politics anyway?

True politics is about finding a common ground and setting goals in an intelligent, informed way for all members of a society and making responsible decisions about our community budget. Politics today also has to be based on intuitive and well informed futurology. What is happening in most countries today has nothing to do with politics that is in touch with people’s realities and needs. And to return to my original points: healthy and true politics is humanistic, inclusive and constructive idealism in action on a community level… the highest and most noble form of futuristic realism. Without a free and creative group of people at least aiming for a utopian future, modern societies are simply (pardon my French): fucked. I don’t know too many true politicians. The real politicians are well informed, decent, active, constructive, knowledgeable and idealistic civilians (yet pros in their respective fields) who are in touch with their communities and people’s needs and know about sustainable opportunities that their communities need to learn about to live better lives (eg.: Bernadett Szél, Bálint Misetics and Gergely Karácsony are promising examples in Hungary). Remember, healthy tissues tell healthy cells what to do. Even a couple of good people are able to form healthy tissues and networks around a capable human being. (When I set out to start my civic initiative, as a returnee to my native country, it is exactly the healthy social tissue and local network that I did not have.) Healthy social networks provide a healthy environment for people. But it is also important to remember, that at some point, when cells in tissue and people in social networks make a functional comeback, their contributions will make the entire system even healthier and more balanced. This is exactly why citizens are looking for such optimally functioning examples, because around such constructive people often happens to be a healthier social tissue and the possibility for change.

On the party political news you mostly see pseudo politicians (role playing party figures). The real politicians (civilian leaders) are rarely on the news. When they are, it often has to do with the enormous gravity of their idea(l)s in action. This power comes from the synergy of the individual’s vision and the readiness (level) of the networks around him or her, be it a local or a global network. Many amazing idea(l)s fail because the networks are not yet ready enough, not yet soaked by information, knowledge and insight to a certain extent (apathy of the masses in my opinion happens when latent idealism is temporarily frozen due to horrible social circumstances in dying social “tissues”… it means that the juices stopped flowing… interactions are minimal… ideas are not produced). It is often not even the constructive and visible visionary individual who fails. It is often the invisible and intangible network that fails the visionary individual, because members of that society for one reason or other don’t fulfill their right and duty to internalize new and important information and knowledge. Of course dictators love that, it is why the Hungarian state television is unbearable if you are an intelligent global thinker with local insight. It is a bit like being one healthy cell among all the ill ones in unhealthy tissue. Who is going to support you? Nobody! You can only make the change with external support in this case (and post operative rehabilitation will be essential until new values are internalized and institutions change). Unfortunately, it is always the individual who is blamed for the failure, because that is easy. Seeing the big picture requires intelligence, intuition, effort, knowledge, insight, analysis, etc. (Similar cases? For example imagine the talented kid failing because of a bad school. A healthy cell in unhealthy tissue. It is the child who is usually blamed, humiliated or forced to repeat a school year. The child can go to another, much better school where he or she will thrive. Ever been punished for your environment’s failures? It is so common, people don’t even notice.)

In countries like Hungary it was the biggest possible mistake to let the state administer the EU funds. The administration should have been less complicated and funds should have been much more directly available to civil players. Goals should not have been centrally determined, rather local (and real) civil players should have been setting the goals. Because the funds were administered via the government, it is the middle man who benefited (those who were willing to participate in the corrupt games). So, in a way, the EU officials and institutions are guilty of making a huge strategic mistake in this country. And the strategy did not change, so today the EU essentially is financing a new dictator in Hungary, while the social tissues beyond his entourage are drained of nutrients. Giving this corrupt government the same EU financial support in the future is like feeding a cancer patient sugar. An Unconditional Basic Income for all Hungarian citizens would be a healthy, nutrient and fiber rich diet for a survivor.

Sir Ken Robinson says: find your tribe. In addition I say, keep learning to build truly visionary tribes for a better future. Instead of putting all the responsibility on constructive visionary leaders, be mindful of your responsibility as a follower, as part of a network, a tribe, a community and a society, because you are all parts of the tissue matrix of that society. Don’t grow up to be a simple adult. Grow up to be a mindful member of a society. We have different personalities and different opportunities. Think about who you are, what you can do, what you could become, learn as much as you possibly can, and be your best possible self. Don’t be a passive complainer who does not do a thing. Even daydreaming about a better life and getting angry with your boss can lead to a better future for many people, if you speak up.

Remember, dictatorships never last forever because societies are dynamic human systems.

Update: It is February 2017. Apparently some of the social tissue started to show signs of regeneration and some social groups are getting tired, angry and frustrated enough of the situation in Hungary. Perhaps The Momentum Movement could be the group that starts the change we need. The “tissue matrix” (the society) that surrounds “the confused cell” (the autocratic “leader”) is trying to tell the confused individual what to do (and what not to do). Healthy ideals are resurfacing again! Solutions are being offered!

Here is the only acceptable mission for humanity:

Buckminster Fuller's mission

 

 


Regina Saphier: Unique Digital Art Experience in Painting

Van Gogh: The Starry Night... I added a few magnified and magnificent brush strokes to the picture... click the image and go to the link to zoom and have fun! (image source: google.com/culturalinstitute/project/art-project)

Van Gogh: The Starry Night… I added a few magnified and magnificent brush strokes to the picture… click the image and go to the link to zoom and have fun! (Image source: google.com/culturalinstitute/project/art-project)

 

Regina Saphier: Unique Digital Art Experience in Painting

Above: Vincent van Gogh: The Starry Night (1889) … I added his brush stroke details at the top and bottom of his painting. Notice the 3D appearance of the pigment. Some segments are even chipped… these details are beautiful and yet not observable by the naked eye… We need digital technology to show them online… I love to look at these details on the Google Cultural Institute’s Art Project page… click the image to be able to zoom into this beautiful painting and explore the texture. You can hardly expect any museum to let you touch a Van Gogh and look at it with a magnifying glass from up close.

This essay is about digital paintings, “classical” paintings, about the outdated, power and oppression based, elitist terminology of “uniqueness” and the elusive concept of “the original”… about what is “authentic” and what isn’t on the art market… about ever changing values, perceptions and the subjectivity of “market value”… about the best for a few, or the excellent for everyone… about the definitely original and the possibly original selling for the same amount on the global market… about Google Earth and Street View as artistic inspirations and amazingly as tools of an art historical discovery that I made during the process!

What matters is not the medium, not the surface… rather, it is the neural experience of the creator and the observer… The key is the merging and the synergy of experiences.

What is original? Artistic versus market value.

In my humble opinion, art “happens” between the brains of the creator and the observer, more specifically, between their brains, neural networks, synapses, neurons, the physical features of photons and the surface of the medium. The medium of representation or creation itself is marginal when it comes to artistic quality. According to David Hockney (one of the most important contemporary artists today), it is “the hand” that matters. I say, it is the personal neurology that matters.  I think we are talking about the same thing, I am just a bit more scientific. And that personal neurology is what makes something original to the owner today (not the canvas and not the oil). However, the untrained (and sometimes even the highly trained) observer is easily fooled by skilled forgers and so it is really hard to say what it means to have the original. It appears that believing that something is original satisfies most people. So, it is the belief that matters.

Estimating the market value of art is a completely different problem. Or is it? It is not about how artistic something is, not about the fingerprints of the specific artist’s hands (it is not about the artist’s hair in the oil on the canvas), not about how original it is as the result or product of a creative process (from a qualitative point of view). The financial or market value depends on the joint narrative, the PR of the seller and the psychology of the buyer.

An original oil on canvas Van Gogh on the museum wall shows less of the artist’s “fingerprints” (or hair for that matter), than a HD digital photo that permits unbelievable zooming into the artist’s brush strokes. I am sure Van Gogh would love to try digital painting after seeing his own brush strokes digitally magnified. He would see how brilliantly expressive it is. Also, many of his paintings would still be visible instead of being under another painting because he had no money for a new canvas. I would rather have more Van Gogh paintings, even if digital! Again, it is not the medium, it is the neural and visceral experience that matters!

So, we have belief and narrative behind the artistic and the market value. Both are phenomenally subjective. Humans are able to form beliefs, values and narratives in relation to digital art and anything else in life. It is how we function. Both traditional and digital art depend on acquired preferences and value systems. In the age of Bitcoin you can easily attach market value to digital art. In the digital age you don’t necessarily have to own the “one and only” original.

 

Originality in music, literature and cinema

Think of music

If you want to think about the incomprehensibility of the term “original”, think of classical music, think of Bach and the Goldberg Variations (a variations based composition that Glenn Gould recorded twice, both before and after he stopped playing to a live audience… he stopped because of his fear of airplanes and hatred for his audience… the youngish version was recorded in 1955… next he stopped flying in 1962 and recorded the old version in 1981 in a state of the art studio, just a year before his death). You can obviously not have Bach in your living room to play for you. You would need Glenn Gould to come and play if he were alive, but he is as dead as Bach at this point. Plus, in the end even a Glenn Gould concert was hard to find… even when he was still alive.

With visual art, next to having Van Gogh sit in your garden painting your almond tree (impossible), the next best thing today is owning his original Almond Blossom painting (also impossible) he created for his brother’s bedroom when his child was born, a few months before Van Gogh died.

In music, what is original? Bach playing his own composition for you directly? Not possible. Glenn Gould playing his own youngish interpretation of Bach in a concert hall? Young Glenn Gould’s impetuous studio version? His meditative version he recorded as an old man? Or is the original the music scores noted by Bach’s hand on paper? And how do you define originality when you purchase the Goldberg Variations by any artist as a file? (I always preferred listening to classical music alone with my eyes closed, to sitting in a concert hall in bright light on an uncomfortable chair with strangers I never wished to see… except of course that unique Sviatoslav Richter concert in Graz, Austria two decades ago… he played in a darkened room at night and only a candle was burning on the piano… that was all the light during the concert… I loved the experience!)

While I developed this essay, when I reached the idea of music, I opted for Glenn Gould as an example instinctively. And suddenly I found that he actually also contemplated musical and any kind of artistic originality and authenticity, precisely because he basically became the technical director of his studio recordings after he discontinued his concert pianist career. Interesting to find that he also came to the conclusion that there is a “pathetic duplicity” when people go from hysterically celebrating a painting as original to hysterically hating it once it is scientifically shown to be a forgery. I agree with him. While I dislike deception, aren’t overpriced art, luxury product marketing and romantic love all based on (self) deception?

Think of literature and cinema

What is original and unique? Take Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage”. Is his script “the original” that he wrote within a few months? His miniseries that he directed? The book that contains his story? The stage adaptations? Initially, all people had in the past was the story teller, and later the theater with people on the stage. Next, as more and more people could read, there was the book. In the modern days the movie theater was invented. With the book and the cinema the story teller and the actor did not have to be present in real time. Today you don’t have to be present in the movie theater, you don’t even need to watch television, you can listen to an audio book, read on your kindle and watch films from files at home. What is original and unique? In every case it is your personal experience that is unique, as you lose yourself in the artist’s projected experience. The medium does not dominate your experience, even if reading a book, listening to a reader, or watching a film are different types of experiences. Independent of the medium there will always be your very personal experience.

Is something original if you have to pay for it (a little or a lot), or is it still original when you get it for free in an era of unconditional basic income in the future? Keep thinking: What is really original in an endless universe? Just how original is Earth itself in a Galaxy of hundreds of billions of stars, in the Visible Universe of at least a hundred billion other galaxies?

 

Power and leadership in the digital age

Originality and authenticity are outdated social constructs of a snobbish and power hungry elite who are also digital immigrants and often technophobes. The digital natives only nowadays begin to have a voice.

Here are the words that represent and describe the old and fading concepts of originality and uniqueness in my opinion (in art market terms of paintings these are not about talent, nor about personal creativity): money or funds (financial value, financial agreement based on an object that was created only once by someone well known and celebrated), status quo, elitism, common belief, (artificially created) scarcity, narrative (real or manipulated), PR (always manipulated), subjectivity, impressionability (lack of knowledge), self deception, perception, attitudes, the illusion of objectivity, illusion in general, changeable social and personal values, social and individual psychology (the need to fit in and/or build an identity), acquired preferences (based on own networks), oppression, exploitation, despotism, wealth, egotism, selfishness, questionable power and influence, competition and success of the few at the expense of the many, emotions and ever changing culture(s). This is where we are coming from.

As the digital natives with new, enlightened and timely values become leaders, these words and concepts will hopefully begin to fade during the next couple of decades.

 

The equal market value of the “definitely” original and the “probably” original

Let me give you a completely contemporary and fresh example how passing time, changing values, skillful PR, impressionability, acquired preferences, egotism and scarcity create inflated market “value” and also increase artistic “value” perception. It could be any artist, so the names in the story are not important. My goal isn’t gossiping, my goal is to be able to give you a raw example.

The artist was born in Hungary, yet she is regarded as one of the most important Indian painters (her mother was Jewish Hungarian, while her father was Punjabi Sikh). She died young in India (she was only 28) and most of her paintings are either in museums or in family collections. Most of her paintings are in India. Few of her paintings are in Europe, but these are in much better condition, due to the climate. For decades her art did not have much global market value (her highest prices a few times were around a few hundred thousand dollars), until an ambitious, talented and middle aged Hungarian gallery owner decided to acquire her well documented self portrait from a Hungarian family member (the old man, who as a little boy knew the artist, took care of the painting for decades, and this ensures authenticity… this historic detail adds value). The gallery owner took the painting to Sotheby’s and set down with a dedicated professional team. The networking started and a well crafted PR story unfolded targeting rich Indian men…

The created narrative was that here is this phenomenally talented and sexy, pretty young thing with her red lips and beautiful gaze who died in her prime after having studied in Paris, and just before she could reach her artistic peak in India. The narrative worked, the painting was sold for nearly 3 million USD in New York in 2015, surprising even the extremely ambitious seller and the highly experienced team (and also angering the son of the old family member who sold it to the Hungarian gallery owner). And the power game begins, behind the scenes for now… to the point of the gallery owner supposedly trying to suppress articles on the internet regarding the record sale! (Just how much of an ignorant and egotistic despot are you… man…?) And to the point of the original owner’s family supposedly taking legal action against the gallery owner. How lovely! It is morally puzzling to me why the gallery owner did not offer a joint sale of the painting in the first place. It is also unclear to me why the original owner did not go to Sotheby’s directly… (I mean, he is fluent in English.) Just why do I have this uneasy feeling that this story is based on exploitation, even if in local terms the original owner probably received a nice amount of money…?

This is what happens when the market value of something is artificially and suddenly inflated. This has nothing to do with artistic value. This story of “value creation” unfolded without the knowledge of the supposed global “authority” of this particular lady artist’s work in India, a family member, who has never met her in person. He was stunned when he got the news. An old, mediocre artist, who is basically recycling his aunt’s art… So, when suddenly the aunt’s self portrait was sold for millions of dollars in the US without his knowledge and without his “royal” assent, he found himself insignificant (despite his many inherited paintings by his aunt suddenly having a record market value… his inherited collection in India was suddenly at least six times more valuable, because of this one sale in New York that he did not even know about).

Next thing you know, another self-portrait by her, out of nowhere in France pops up and now the old Indian relative is asked for approval before the Christie’s auction in London (probably via e-mail). To the best of my knowledge (and rest assured, I have not read this complex story anywhere, rather I harvested information from my network) he simply looked at a photo of the newly discovered and completely undocumented self-portrait (it wasn’t published anywhere and nobody knew it existed) and gave his immediate validation that it is definitely original. Just like that. Long distance. Almost like a clairvoyant. WOW! This, and only this nuance made the major sale possible in this case! He has not known about the painting beforehand, he did not hold it in his hands, he also isn’t an art historian, neither does he occupy himself with the chemical laboratory analysis of the pigments or the review of X-Ray imaging results of the deeper layers of the painting. In the golden age of technology, he simply looks at a photo and “knows”. Yeah, “right”…! And the painting that was not even documented in this so called connoisseur’s detailed and heavily illustrated book about his aunt (full of her letters and paintings, and her narcissistic father’s photos), was sold for over 2.5 million USD in London in 2015.

Without the sudden and rather superficially issued consent by the Indian relative, because this painting was latent until recently (unlike the other, well documented and well known painting sold by Sotheby’s in New York), nobody could have sold it in a major auction in London at Christie’s. Her market value was absolutely expected to go up, but not as suddenly and not as high as this. But now her art is at the top of the female Indian painters’ market value short list (within a few months), based on two early self portraits sold in the US and in the UK. The definitely original and the probably original sold for almost the same amount, there were only two hundred thousand dollars between the two final bids. Imagine when the old owners of her paintings begin to pass away in Europe or when some of her more mature work hits the market in India (her paintings can not be taken out of India, so once you take her art from Europe or from the US to India, that is it, it stays there).

Here is the extra grotesque part!

There is a heavily researched painting in Hungary that was acknowledged to be her painting by many experts and even a family member. The painting was exhibited in one of the major museums in Hungary. All sorts of tests were done, including X-Rays, different types of photographs (ultra violet light, infra red light, high definition, etc.), pigment analysis and so on. Yet, it cannot be sold at any auction in New York or London, because get this: based on photos alone (!) the Indian family member decided years ago that it is not his aunt’s work. Again, just by looking at photos. He never examined the painting itself and never explored the research material. But even if he were to examine it in person, he admits that he is not an expert. He does not issue an expert’s statement, no matter what. Yet, a multi million dollar sale depends on his superficial and subjective opinion. Is this what should determine what is original or unique today? Definitely not! Yet it is what is happening.

 

Technophilia and Technophobia

Technophilia (from Greek τέχνη – technē, “art, skill, craft” and φίλος – philos, “beloved, dear, friend”) refers generally to a strong enthusiasm for technology, especially new technologies such as personal computers, the Internet, mobile phones and home cinema.” (wikipedia)

Technophobia (from Greek τέχνη technē, “art, skill, craft” and φόβος phobos, “fear”) is the fear or dislike of advanced technology or complex devices, especially computers.” (wikipedia)

Technology is constantly evolving while the human intellectual and aesthetic evolution appears to be slower. Most people lack the intellectual independence to make up their minds about something new (and also about most of the old as well). People seek out opinion leaders (not necessarily true and reliable experts) to know what is original, what is valuable, what is authentic. That is rather sad but true. Most people aren’t independent thinkers, yet many assume an individualistic pose.

Anything can be artistic or original (if you like). If you have an oil on canvas Hockney, a montage Hockney, or a digital painting of Hockney, all of them were created by his hand, his brain, his neurology. And in each and every case the medium is also part of the end result (but only one part… it is not the key aspect of the artistic value and should not be a key aspect of the market value either in the twenty first digital century). Emotionally the impact will be the same if you have the right values and a high quality product. It is the values, the psychology, the narrative and the quality that matter, not the medium. You will see and feel what he wanted you to see and feel… a UK landscape in LA’s bright light for example… no matter what the medium is, if the product comes with a high quality.

Today, a digital painting’s market value, for example a monumental digital Hockney’s (even if it is made of smaller parts), might be determined by the fact that he has decades of contemporary success behind him, that he was invited by the Royal Academy of Art in 2012 to display his digital paintings and that each monumental digital painting was printed only once, so only one exists or only a limited number of them exist (depending on the agreement). It does not matter if it was painted on canvas, paper or on an Apple iPad or on a Samsung Galaxy Tablet Note 10.1 or a Note Pro 12.2, or perhaps on a jaw dropping Wacom Cintiq 27QHD Creative Pen and Touch Display for 2800 USD… plus 400 USD for the Ergo stand and 100 USD for a more capable Wacom pen… all together my dream tool is approximately: 3300 USD… I think that is without software… (note: software for android devices is much cheaper than for windows or apple products).

 

A demo of how the Wacom Cintiq 27QHD is used in animation:

 

Digital artists, who come after Hockney, don’t have to walk the same path, because he represents the transition from traditional contemporary art to the digital contemporary realm. The fact is, anyone could reach some level of artistic value. However, if you have some sort of classical visual culture (you don’t have to be academically educated, it is sufficient if you were surrounded by classical art or if you trained yourself visually), a person might be able to create much stronger and intellectually much more stimulating digital paintings, compared to those who were only exposed to the “aesthetics” of online games (note: there are very few aesthetically excellent online games). On top of this, the artistic and market value also depends on the cultured and/or sensitive audience or observer, again, a highly subjective component in the values game. Some are receptive, some aren’t. Some people are in touch with their latent inner artist, existing somewhere deep down, and some are completely out of touch with their creative emotional selves.

It is puzzling that most contemporary artists are technophobes…

 

Uniqueness in the digital age

In the digital age, when humanity attempts to make the most possible quality items available to the most possible people (like the cheap, yet excellent ArtRage software for android is a celebration of the long tail economy, while the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 or Note Pro 12.2 Tablets are also excellent), “uniqueness” becomes a highly questionable term.

Uniqueness in economic and market terms (not in artistic terms) speaks about the assumed needs of the elite, about privilege, power, money, wealth, or in other words about inequality, the oppression, exploitation, enslavement, dependency and suffering of the masses. (However, today people are learning at a rate like never before, so change might be on the horizon.) The rich buys “the one and only” at the expense of the poor. Something that is unique is a beautiful thing from one point of view and a very dirty one from another. Holding onto the shockingly expensive and to the traditionally unique represents an attachment to the despotism of an outdated and unenlightened era. A rich person is not better, nor more deserving than a poor person. An artist using oil and canvas is not a better artist than one using digital tools to paint and provoke some sort of emotional impact.

Hockney did not come from a privileged background. For a long time, among many things, he used oil. Today in his seventies as a famous and well to do artist he is also creating digital art. He is still undoubtedly creating Hockney paintings. The old medium does not dominate the artistic value, so it should not dominate the market value either. Of course the most sophisticated forgers are able to show people that even the artist is obsolete, when someone makes a skilled copy and nobody notices (only an Artificial Intelligence tool will be able to distinguish the original from the fake after a while). I know that “cultured” people are attracted to owning the original, but I don’t think that this is an inborn and necessary feature of humans. This is something we learn. So, this is also something that we can unlearn or reform.

Apparently it is the experience that matters. The artistic experience is formed in the observer, in his or her neural network, based on the available information (based on learning and feeling). How immense this artistic experience is depends strongly on the narrative. Art is a mental and social experience, embedded into an ever evolving narrative.

 

David Hockney talking about his digital art

About my digital art

I suddenly and only very recently started to learn the art of digital painting. By the end of July of 2015 my most amazing dog-sister passed away and my hunger for emotional expression resulted in sudden bursts of artistic activities. I finally gave in and accepted my best friend’s suggestion that digital painting was invented for me. He kindly lent me his Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Tablet and introduced me to ArtRage, a phenomenal digital painting software. Practicing graphic art is a new phenomenon in my life. Finding flow beyond blog writing to forget about loss… Turning pain into digital paintings to definitely see the beauty of life.

Two weeks after my brilliant dog’s sudden death I posted my first “presentable” digital painting (my third digital painting ever) on my facebook wall to a select few friends. It was a freehand digital drawing and painting based on my spring time smart phone photo of a nearby salmon pink Bauhaus building (note: there will be a composite image of my learning process later in this blog text).

Apparently it is a general practice today to paint from digital photos. In fact I just read a few days ago that hundred years ago Pierre Bonnard took photos of his family home and went to his art studio to work where several canvases were stretched on the walls (not on regular stretchers). This is how he created his uniquely intimate paintings. He also did not determine the size of his painting until it was completed (note: in the windows version of ArtRage one is able to enlarge the canvas if necessary).

You can look up and observe the old, but renovated Bauhaus building that I painted (find it on Google Street View if you like). It is 3 Napraforgó Street in Budapest’s second district (Napraforgó means Sunflower), very close to my home (I like to walk there, the entire street is part of a special housing project from better times in this country… it feels a bit like it wasn’t even in Hungary, rather somewhere in the UK… you almost expect a character like Belgian detective Hercule Poirot to appear). On my digital painting I intentionally made it look like the building was located somewhere on France’s Mediterranean coastline, because I used to own a Róbert Berény painting that he created at age 18 in Monaco at the very beginning of the twentieth century. I loved it. I always fantasized about one day painting rooftops for example. In fact “my art rage” started five days after the emotional trauma with my attempt to draw a “tree still life” on a tablet (to see how it works) and next (two additional days later, on July 27 of 2015) I attempted to recreate the atmosphere of my long sold work of art by Berény (an oil on cardboard) that used to hang in my bedroom in my former apartment. (Note: see the composite image of my learning process below.)

Frankly, after I had a professional photo reproduction on my wall for years, I don’t feel any real difference. Initially, it was painful having to sell the original, but I was happy to hang a high quality photo reproduction on my wall in the original frame. It is the emotional composition, the sight, the style, and the colorfulness that I like. I simply don’t care anymore that it is not “the original”. It is still unusual that I own a large and high quality photo reproduction like this one right here on the wall (I am sure, I am the only one with this experience). It is even more meaningful to me that I created a remake of the 1905 painting, because I discovered new details on the painting itself (there is not only a black winter coat, but there is also part of a blue winter coat visible in that same window). And not only that! I even discovered on my own where the painting was created in Monaco and I created my own rendering of the same courtyard as seen from another point of view! This is new information that could enrich our knowledge of Berény and his art. I will tell you the story (in words and in pictures) later in this blog post… Wait for it and read on to better understand what I am doing!

My evolving artistic self

I think I am approaching my personal style that I feel like calling “Neuro Fauvisme Digital” or “Neuro Digital Fauve Expressionism” or “Digital Neuro Surrealism“. As in my inner city photos, the same way on my digital paintings there are no people (also no animals except a hidden and small female black dog in each and every painting, representing the highest levels of loyalty, independence, curiosity, tolerance, love, devotion, truth and intelligence). I work with high tech to create images that resemble the art that was created over 100 years ago in Europe, because that is what I like. I am looking at Google Street View, walking through cities of Europe, finding landscapes and architectures that speak to me and I depict them manually, yet digitally, as if I walked through old towns and villages during summer siestas in 1904 or 1907. These images are my inner walks. My introspective nature is reflected in them.

Despite the high tech that I am using, there is nothing modern (no modern technology) on my digital paintings. I depict cities, homes and structures that contain human communities, that were created by people. No cars, no motorcycles, no digital displays, no traffic lights, no airplanes, nothing like that. Today, I am painting a pre-digital world, with a digital medium (but this might change as my art evolves… I am going to paint as long as I enjoy it). Until now I didn’t create visual art, because I was uniquely surrounded by hundreds of paintings created by (in large part female) artists who were active before W.W.II. Painting traditionally did not appear to be a particularly unusual or special activity to me. However, painting digitally in a pre-digital style felt fascinating to me. My evolving art is a colorful reminder of the Belle Époque before WW I., just when modern technology started to overwhelm us. I love modern technology (I am a female technophile), but I find my flow in taking a paradoxical break from it and wandering (off) visually, mentally and emotionally in(to) a long lost world. Any decent introvert will understand what I mean.

Look, I know that one can’t paint for 30 years within 3 weeks. I know I am a total beginner. People still like to compare my pictures, atmospheres and motives to paintings by Chirico, Escher, Matisse, Hockney, Berény or Csontváry and the like (interestingly and tellingly: not one female is listed, ever). The thing is, I don’t paint like any of them. I paint like me. No need to copy anyone, beyond obvious learning reasons. Yet, I was definitely shaped by the art that I observed throughout my life. I am just learning to paint (on my own), and see what happens. Stimulating (in)sights… loving life… optimism… yet a melancholic observer, a dreamy outsider… My images carry my contradictions. The traveler who is in one place all the time lately.

I write and paint as if I lived in California or New York in the US. Yet I live, write and paint in Budapest, Hungary, Europe. My subjects are located thousands of kilometers away in eg.: the Mediterranean region of Europe. I absorb, read, write, paint, express and display digitally. When you look at my paintings, imagine them as large printed colorful canvases in a foyer or lobby of a lively, elegant home, hotel, museum or restaurant in San Francisco, or on the wall of a magnificent loft in New York. This is what I have in my mind when I am between two paintings. But much more importantly, when I paint I have nothing “on my mind”. It is exactly why I paint. I like to be lost in space and time. Writing is more of a left brained flow experience, painting is more of a right brained flow state. This is how I find my path, my truth… via a whole brain experience. This is my way of celebrating life. I never party, I don’t use substances, I am not dependent on a defined group of people and their opinions. I do my own things. I am my own person. Yet I am highly connected to the world online.

What is unusual is that I have been doing this sudden artistic activity for a few weeks only… yet, it feels like it has all been waiting there inside of me to suddenly happen. I don’t even have to think about my concept when you ask me. It’s there, even ready to be written, as you can see.

My learning process

It pleases me enormously that I finally have an outlet for my serene self. My blogs are full of pensiveness. Painting balances me and helps me show my true inner range. And in surrealism anything is possible… you can have sunlit nights, with dark sky and bright, colorful walls.

Before I start drawing the sketch, I spend some time looking for my next subject for a few days. I pick sights that give me a particularly good feeling. I select subjects that I suddenly start seeing as a painting.

Three weeks into the self guided learning process this is what I produced:

a., Remake of Róbert Berény's Monaco Painting by Regina Saphier 2015 (Freehand Digital Drawing & Freehand Digital Painting) b., 3 Sunflower Street with Cherry Blossoms by Regina Saphier 2015 (Freehand Digital Drawing & Freehand Digital Painting) c., Venice with Lemon Tree by Regina Saphier 2015 (Freehand Digital Painting) d., Monaco Rue des Iris by Regina Saphier 2015 (Freehand Digital Painting) e., Lake Como by Regina Saphier 2015 (Freehand Digital Painting)

a., Remake of Róbert Berény’s Monaco Painting by Regina Saphier 2015 (Freehand Digital Drawing & Freehand Digital Painting)
b., 3 Sunflower Street with Cherry Blossoms by Regina Saphier 2015 (Freehand Digital Drawing & Freehand Digital Painting)
c., Venice with Lemon Tree by Regina Saphier 2015 (Freehand Digital Painting)
d., Monaco Rue des Iris by Regina Saphier 2015 (Freehand Digital Painting)
e., Lake Como by Regina Saphier 2015 (Freehand Digital Painting)

 

 

The first painting I posted on August 2nd of 2015 (the salmon pink Bauhaus building with the cherry tree) took me two days to create (I was still learning the software… had to get used to the digital logic of drawing and painting). The last one that I posted on August 22nd of Lake Como also took me two days. You can see the difference in complexity, yet both took me the same amount of time to create. It is unbelievably cool to experience what one can do within three weeks just by simply wanting to create images, by being dedicated and open minded. It still takes two days to complete a picture, because I am still learning while doing and I want to do well. Each time I wish to create something presentable in the end.

I skipped “the cube drawing phase” of learning (that usually takes months in a regular and formal drawing class… I don’t like boring training sessions… I did the same self-willed skipping while learning English… and yet I am able to write blogs in English about basically anything as you can see), and I do the practicing during the visual creation. I keep drawing the lines, until the “buildings” end up in the right position. I keep searching for the form, the shape, the depth, the perspective. I keep going back and doing it again, until I feel happy with the position and the composition. In a way I almost draw multiple pictures in some areas of the surface, until I end up with the final product that I like to look at, that shows the coherence I was looking for. This is why I call it eg.: “Digital Neuro Surrealism” (note: we all have a typical, personal handwriting, and I believe we all have a typical drawing and painting style that naturally happens while practicing). I don’t walk the academic path, it is dead boring to me.

I walk the neurological, instinctive path. Sometimes my frustration is enormous. I sit there and say: “Why can’t I draw?” or “I can’t draw!”… Because I see that it is wrong… so, I remove the specific area and do it again and again, because I know that I should be able to do it. I know it is possible, I just have to keep doing it. And suddenly I like it and I am happy and proud that I suffered through the frustration and that I persisted. When the sketch is done, I start painting the buildings on another layer (on my “Monaco – Rue des Iris” painting I put everything on the same layer and that is not the best approach with the digital medium… it is a good idea to use the separate layers, but technically it is more complicated… especially in the android version of ArtRage, because there the layers are not constantly visible while working)… and so on. Typically, I am not satisfied until I am done with the painting. There is a point where I feel that it is “ready” and I am happy with it (and I feel that I no longer wish to perfect it). I particularly like red buildings (red will be hard to print well, but I still like it).

During my discovery of the digital art realm I came across David Hockney’s digital paintings and listened to him as he spoke of his initial skepticism… Soon he realized, that this is a very serious and quick tool. I agree! Of course he is lucky that he has helpers dealing with the printing and mounting process. Perhaps one day I am going to print my paintings on canvas and hang them on the walls of my apartment along with other art.

Google Earth and Google Street View as brilliant sources of visual inspiration

Sometimes I point randomly onto an area of Google Maps or on Google Earth and zoom in on the Satellite Image of a particular city or village near a large body of water. I “take a walk” in places that I already have been to in the past, like the Côte d’Azur (I took many photos of the landscapes). When I discover the right place to depict, I walk around in Google Street View to compose my next digital drawing and painting. Luckily, due to my many travels, I have a realistic feeling of many places on Earth. I know how it feels to be there.

What is unique about this process, is that Google Street View is created from an angle that would be humanly and practically impossible to work from. Google Street View cars have a long pole on top carrying complex cameras that take multiple images at once as the car moves along the way. This is how the stream of image bubbles are created around the world. If I wanted to assume that position, I would have to sit on top of a ladder on top of a car and would have to maneuver the car back and forth while also painting, and that in the middle of the road. In my opinion Google Street View is a creative and open minded artist’s best friend. I don’t know if anyone is using it like I do, but it was a natural choice for me.

My digital or virtual self and a possible future

For many years I worked on an all digital writer self… I absorb knowledge digitally and I spread knowledge digitally via my blogs. Now I have another opportunity to be 100% contemporary and digital. I look at Google Street View with my human brain and eyes and I create a digital painting manually, filtering the sight through my personal neural network and neurons. Often, in the middle of the painting there is the road, representing life as a continuum and I take you into a (modern) technology free world that actually does not exist anymore. At this point, my freehand digital paintings look like illustrations in children’s books and I really love that. This is all so unexpected and gives me so much joy (after the sadness of loss of a loved one and beyond the understandable frustration of learning).

For an added texture I might one day attempt to 3D print my freehand digital paintings instead of simply printing them on canvas. If you look closer, ArtRage is able to detect your manual movements, hand pressure, etc., and is offering many tools and settings that give you the ability to create real texture. (One is able to add much more texture, I just opted for lighter touches.)

Painting digitally is more spontaneous, flexible, there is a lot of freedom, it is much more intuitive with all the tools compared to traditional painting. However, when I work with the digital stylus, I never copy or paste, I don’t put photos into the file, I don’t use digital shapes, I make everything possible manually (freehand).

I think what we need to do, is no longer a comparison of traditional painting and digital painting. We are already at the point where we should rather ask questions like: What would you see as original, a manually yet digitally painted painting by a human (printed professionally on real canvas), or an oil on canvas directly but created completely by an artificial intelligence driven robot without zero human intervention?

And at this point I think I just invented the AI navigated robot, that (instead of printing or even instead of 3D printing) looks at your finished digital painting file (not a computer generated image) and carries your exact movements (by learning the patterns of your personality, emotions and neural activity), painting your image move by move, on a canvas that you can hang on your wall, adding amazing extra texture to your digital painting.

So, as you can see, now as I am beginning to teach myself to draw and paint digitally, I did my share of thinking about this art form and field. I hope some or most of this essay was interesting to you.

Rest assured that this art technology will evolve and in a few years people will begin to acknowledge freehand digital (drawing and) painting as the serious art form it already is.

Remember, that in life and in art: It is the experience that really matters!

.

A small detail of my Lake Como painting:

Lake Como by Regina Saphier 2015 (Freehand Digital Painting)

Lake Como by Regina Saphier 2015 (Freehand Digital Painting detail)

 

By the time I completed this blog (on August 31. of 2015), I also completed a new painting. Here are three versions of my “Le Pin Parasol”:

Three versions of my Le Pin Parasol. (Le Pin Parasol Capri by Regina Saphier Freehand Digital Neuro Fauve Painting 2015)

Three versions of my Le Pin Parasol. (Le Pin Parasol Capri by Regina Saphier Freehand Digital Neuro Fauve Painting 2015)

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This is a detail showing the manual/digital brushstrokes on my Le Pin Parasol representing the sea and the trees (note: I opted for homogeneous waves, but you can go really wild if you change the settings of the tools):

Le Pin Parasol by Regina Saphier 2015 (detail: digital brushstrokes)

Le Pin Parasol by Regina Saphier 2015 (detail: digital brushstrokes)

I painted this sight based on a photo on Pinterest. There wasn’t much info… I only knew that it was somewhere on Capri, in Italy. I could see that the tree was a Stone Pine. I had a good feel for the entire spacial experience. As usual, I got curious and used my almost savant like skill to find the original location (note: I used to be the nightmare of real estate agents… I could find their advertised homes based on the smallest spacial information… just seeing a small part of a city, like a rooftop is enough for me… on several occasions I would wave at the agent from the specific building’s door while he or she would wait for me at some neutral corner… finding things on Google Earth is something I also like to challenge my friends with… it is so much fun!). I used Google Maps and Google Earth and within 5 minutes I discovered the exact place. I zoomed in and out and explored the area. If you are like me, you can find it based on my painting in 5 minutes too. (Here is the solution if you can not find it, but first try if you have the time… if you don’t, just highlight the section: Via Krupp)

.

But here is the really amazing discovery I made during this process!

I used the same savant skill and tools (that I described above) to find the place in Monaco where Róbert Berény painted his Monaco houses and rooftops in 1905. I created the digital painting remake to learn (note: the Samsung Galaxy Tablet that I am using and the ArtRage version on it are Android based), plus discovered the place on Google Earth where he created his painting. The address in my opinion is 23 Boulevard Albert 1er, Monaco. I think Berény was standing on the terrace in the courtyard (he was facing south on a sunny winter morning very close to the sea in Monaco) and he painted the north facing walls and rooftops of a few villas on Rue Princesse Antoinette (unless he took photos as many of his contemporaries did). If you look closely, even the characteristic glass bricks are visible from space. (See images below for a better understanding.) From Rue Grimaldi one is able to see parts of the buildings on Google Street View. The building that is yellow today used to be peach colored a few years ago … and before that it could have been pink or red. A lot has changed in over 100 years in Monaco… and yet the atmosphere is the same in this courtyard.

Young Berény (only 19 at the time) was standing behind the inner white structure (on the left side, as seen from Rue Grimaldi below) on a huge terrace and faced the smaller buildings (like the yellow one on the right side)… The colors were different in the past, plus his imagination also played a role. Of course some of the buildings were slightly reconstructed since the original Berény painting was completed in 1905, but the place is 100% recognizable. (I posted images of the original painting at the end of my post.)

I am assuming this is a historically significant discovery, this is why I felt that I should publish it immediately as part of my digital art related blog post. I used to own the painting, I created its remake digital painting as part of my recently started learning process and I spotted the special place while exploring the area for further artistic inspiration via Google Maps, Earth and Street View. I painted a street approximately 500 meters from this location in August 2015. I was getting closer and closer and suddenly I had the exact place. I felt obligated to share my discovery with everyone who is able to appreciate it.

Thank you Google! I love technology! I love art! I love to write! I love to paint! I love to do research! I love to discover! I love the experiences!

Here are a few images to help you understand my research result:

Young Róbert Berény's inspirational courtyard as seen from Rue Grimaldi in Monaco... a lot has changed in over 100 years... and yet the atmosphere is the same.

Young Róbert Berény’s inspirational courtyard as seen from Rue Grimaldi in Monaco… a lot has changed in over 100 years in Monaco… and yet the atmosphere is the same in this courtyard. Berény was standing behind the white building on a huge terrace and faced the smaller buildings like the yellow one… The colors were different in the past, plus his imagination also played a role. Of course some of the buildings were slightly reconstructed since the original Berény painting was completed in 1905. (Image source: Google Street View)

 

Monaco - Berény's special courtyard as seen from Rue Grimaldi ... the yellow building used to be peach colored ... and before that could have been pink or red

Monaco – Berény’s special courtyard as seen from Rue Grimaldi … the yellow building used to be peach colored … and before that it could have been pink or red … (Image source: Google search)

 

The villas on Rue Princesse Antoinette in Monaco, Berény painted their courtyard facing facades (research by Regina Saphier virtualhumanism.wordpress.com Image source: Google Street View)

The villas on Rue Princesse Antoinette in Monaco… Berény painted their courtyard facing facades in my humble opinion (research by Regina Saphier virtualhumanism.wordpress.com) (Image source: Google Street View)

 

Automobile Club Monaco, 23 Boulevard Albert 1er, Monaco

Automobile Club Monaco, 23 Boulevard Albert 1er, Monaco (research by Regina Saphier virtualhumanism.wordpress.com) (Image source: Google search)

 

 

The courtyard today that inspired Róbert Berény in Monaco in 1905 ... even the glass bricks are visible from space! (Place of creation and point of view of the artist researched and discovered by Regina Saphier in August 2015)

The courtyard today that inspired Róbert Berény in Monaco in 1905 … even the glass bricks are visible from space! (Place of creation and point of view of the artist researched and discovered by Regina Saphier in August 2015) (Image source: Google Earth)

 

Visual Update: "The Secret Garden in Monaco" by Regina Saphier - September 7., 2015, freehand painting on digital medium. (I created this painting from Rue Grimaldi after I discovered the courtyard where Berény painted his Monaco Rooftops. My world view, Berény's motives and the location today are represented together in this visual synergy that reminds the viewer of children's stories. I have to admit that I am surprised that I am capable of something like this just six weeks after I started my visually artistic self directed learning adventure, especially because I am only painting during the weekends.)

Visual Update: “The Secret Garden in Monaco” by Regina Saphier – September 7., 2015, day version, freehand painting on digital medium. (I created this painting from Rue Grimaldi after I discovered the courtyard where Berény painted his Monaco Rooftops. My world view, Berény’s motives and the location today are represented together in this visual synergy that reminds the viewer of children’s stories. I have to admit that I am surprised that I am capable of something like this just six weeks after I started my visually artistic self directed learning adventure, especially because I am only painting during the weekends.)

 

Visual Update: "The Secret Garden in Monaco" by Regina Saphier - September 7., 2015, night version, freehand painting on digital medium. I prefer the night version, because it is more dream like and mysterious.

Visual Update: “The Secret Garden in Monaco” by Regina Saphier – September 7., 2015, night version, freehand painting on digital medium. I prefer the night version, because it is more dream like and mysterious. (Note: The dates on my paintings are the dates of publication.)

 

 

 

The original Berény painting on my wall and the photo on canvas reproduction Berény on my wall

The original Berény painting on my wall and the photo on canvas reproduction Berény on my wall

 

Berény's Monaco and the window detail with the black and the blue winter coat - smart phone photo by Saphier Regina 2015

Berény’s Monaco and the window detail with the black and the blue winter coat (I discovered the blue coat after I created the remake, painted the new rendering of the courtyard and the buildings and wrote this blog post… suddenly I noticed it on my own photo) – smart phone photo by Saphier Regina 2015

 

UPDATE!

In case my fascinating story that I discovered the place of creation in Monaco of a Hungarian Fauve painting (by Róbert Berény) that I used to own wasn’t exciting enough (as part of this blog post in English and as the main topic of my latest Hungarian blog post), let me add this:

Gergely Barki, the number one Berény expert in Hungary was in Monaco at the very same time looking for the location where Berény created another early painting depicting houses in the Port of Monaco. We weren’t aware that the other person is exploring the area (him in person with his lovely family, and me online while painting and doing my detective work).

As it turns out, we have met 15 years ago in my own former home where my Berény painting was on display at the time. After returning to Hungary, Gergely was stunned when he accidentally found my blog (during a Google search) with the images of the courtyard that he also photographed. As he wrote he was only a 1000% sure that it was the same courtyard after he read my blog.

I’m thrilled that the story just keeps getting better! He gave a talk at a press conference of the Virág Judit Galéria in Budapest today on September 21 of 2015 and Gergely incorporated my findings and blog post into his presentation.

He was so enthusiastic as if we were related and I love that! It is so nice to correspond with someone who had a very similar experience, and who is able to appreciate my results. I wish I had an enthusiastic sibling like him!

 

 


Regina Saphier: Sunny Nights: Tesla PowerWall

Regina Saphier: Sunny Nights: Tesla PowerWall

 

Elon Musk Tesla PowerWallThank you Elon Musk for giving Hungarian citizens a possibility to economically refuse the planned new Russian Nuclear Power Plant that the idiotic Hungarian government is planning to build in Hungary for exorbitant amounts of borrowed money (borrowed from the Russians of course… while people have no jobs…).

When a political election did not stop the nuclear power plant idea (it did not), when the EU is impotent to stop it (it is), you can always count on Elon Musk​ to do something that changes the game and gives even individuals power in every sense of the word!

TESLA’s home (and industrial) solar energy storage technology is already something that the middle class could afford even in Hungary and without government subsidies. (Because never expect this government to support something that makes sense… in present and in future tense.) Imagine people building new homes, purchasing solar panels, a TESLA POWERWALL, and living off the grid from the first day in their new houses… no need to have a contract with a utility company that provides more expensive, nuclear power based electricity or “natural” gas… It is a smart investment economically and ecologically to spend money on a PowerWall (eg.: at home) or on a PowerPack (let’s say, by the II. district in Budapest).

These batteries (their industrial versions) will also enable small and local energy businesses, even local governments to provide extremely affordable day and night Solar based electricity to financially less powerful clients. And I could go on and on about how it is a good idea to build this technology into existing homes and institutions as well… And we would have cleaner air as well… because heating homes with fossil fuels is one of the major sources of pollution… as are exploding and burning nuclear power plants… And how about finally running air conditioners with Solar energy (day and night).

I am for the TESLA POWERWALL. I support the TESLA POWERPACK! My secret dream: Elon Musk for Hungarian president… or at least a similarly intelligent and talented person. Game change: on!

And the punchline: 2 billion PowerPacks could make the entire world 100% Solar and renewable powered within a decade or two, and Tesla has a factory sized product for this: The TESLA GIGAFACTORY (that is obviously powered by renewable energy and Tesla PowerPacks).

 


Regina Saphier: Writing, Inner Speech & The Borg

Regina Saphier: Writing, Inner Speech & The Borg

The adventures of our inner voices… in the age of artificial intelligence, direct brain communications and global online networks…

Seven of Nine (Annika Hansen) in Star Trek: Voyager (played by Jeri Ryan) image: fanpop.com

Seven of Nine (Annika Hansen) in Star Trek: Voyager (played by Jeri Ryan) image: fanpop.com

I swear I thought I am going to write about writing as a manifestation of my inner voice (silent thought processes that only you are aware of and only you can work with… until you write things down, speak them out loud or get them out of your mind in some other way with technology… no I am not joking), but I ended up in a completely different direction… this is why I write, to explore what is in there and what is out there and what is in between…

Writing is listening to my inner voice/speech (in a healthy way)… to my own thinking… It is a manifestation of my reflective capacity, my consciousness… and reading is listening to someone else’s inner stream of ideas (alongside yours’)… If you don’t realize that you do this, pay attention to yourself more. Just as many people are not aware of their inner imagery when reading a novel for example, the same way many people don’t know that they are running a narrative of their own reality in their heads… It is “on” so much so that only people well trained in meditation are able to turn off the inner voice, the inner speech, the random ideas, feelings and reactions… and there are mindful people attempting to guide and manage the inner speech and voice… to use it efficiently, even creatively (like me) and not let their inner processes ruin their experiences. Introverts are more in tune with this inner world.

Radio, Skype, Intimacy

I love the radio show: This American Life. I love many of the stories people tell or read on that show. Some are fiction, some are nonfiction. I think it is one of the best radio shows in the world. I always loved radio done by people who truly love to listen and tell stories.

I just noticed that a “voice only” skype chat with a friend and listening to “This American Life” stories on my computer or smartphone… these experiences have something in common. Perhaps it is intimacy. Films and video chats on skype never have this depth. When you see people, when you see yourself talking to someone, when you know you are being watched, when your conversation partner knows of being watched, you both remain highly self conscious (different people on a different level), even if you are old friends. When you listen to radio or to someone’s voice via skype (or via phone, if you do not have to hold onto the phone physically… remember how your hands could get tired of holding that thing… or your ears could hurt… these physical reactions keep you self aware), there is a depth of intimacy that you can never reach with the moving image and with a phone in your hand. The moving image is wonderful, but even if you put the camera right into someone’s bedroom and into their faces, the moving image can never be as intimate as hearing a person talk “only”. I am sure you can feel how overwhelming it is when some people film and photograph everything… and how calming it can be when you can just listen (listen to the other and to yourself) and relax. Of course photography is a brilliantly expressive art, and yes some images are worth a million words, but most images can never outperform a good voice chat online… and yes, I also love in person chats, of course, but those are different (due to the physical and the visual elements, it is simply harder to allocate all of your energy to the spoken layer). I love films, but I might opt for a good radio program instead.

Relying on Your Hearing Only

It is similar to blind people having unbelievable hearing, to the level of bats. When you “only” listen to someone, you become an emotional bat, navigating blindly in an emotional cave and relying on your listening skills and instincts. I believe this is a good way to improve your intuitive capacity. You don’t see with your eyes, you see with your mind’s other “eyes” and you go very deep, really fast, if you like. Your brain suddenly reaches a deeper level of listening and closeness.

This is similar to people sitting in completely dark rooms… they become highly intimate even with strangers (there is also less material for judgement… you are more able to feel close to another human being…). It is almost meditative when you listen deeply. Effectively, you can become a better listener if you only listen to people via skype and via radio. It is interesting to experience different modalities.

Inner Radio

I just realized, when I am writing, I am turning my inner radio on… I start listening to what I am thinking closely and I make it visible on my computer screen (would be nice to skip this part, the typing and the reading by making the process more direct). I ask myself questions without asking… the questioning of the self and the excavation of thinking processes and opinions are embedded in the process of writing. Writing is not typing. Writing is listening to myself and mapping how I am relating to the world. During writing your limited consciousness stops being a small mental container and turns into a portal for your deep mind… and the deep mind of sophisticated internet users is different from the mind of unconnected individuals who are not mindful. In the distant past when people were listening to their own inner narratives they had no real time options to see how that inner narrative related to other people’s deep mind and to facts.

Reading as Listening

Reading is listening too. Because after I posted this blog note, you started to read it (most likely) silently. I effectively speak to you silently… it is like asynchronous telepathy… you are listening to my inner voice in your head with some delay. When you start thinking about my ideas in your head, you virtually engage in a silent conversation with me. I only know it when you write back, or speak to me, but even if you do not, the conversation happens, even if “only” in your head (you will respond and resonate even if you do not write to me). Every person reading this blog conducts a secret parallel conversation with me in a hidden dimension of our universe. I believe that writers are essentially and primarily skilled inner conversationalist, explorers and listeners. Writers are even able to converse with people in the distant future (and with people in the past, when reading). I am writing for my own pleasure, to see what I think, but still, thank you for the conversation, now that you let me enter your mind with my inner voice and speech. It is my inner narrative that will survive as long as my writing is being read (or absorbed in some other way in the future).

The Future of Inner Speech and Mental Transfer

Perhaps one day people will no longer speak nor write to one another but simply use “technological telepathy” (just made this terminology up, because I know that the basic technology is already a reality in this area) to transfer this inner voice directly from mind to mind or from mind to computer (just like mental images are now recognized and reproduced by dedicated technology). It will be just as simple as leaving a message on an answering machine, or even easier. However, when I look at the difference in precision, I am thinking: how are we going to be able to be as precise and as nuanced as in writing? Are we going to think our ideas into a file and edit them by thinking about our thoughts? Isn’t it interesting to think about this? And when uploading our entire mind on a computer, are we going to edit out the personally embarrassing bits? And what are we to do with criminal minds?

Are we going to get help from AI to take our inner narrative to the next level? Will an AI companion read our minds to help us know what we think? Will an AI help us learn the things we need to know about the world and ourselves silently? Is it possible that we are becoming The Borg… a community of minds directly connected? Everyone hearing everyone else… Are we to become one mind? How are we to remain individuals in such a network? How are we to protect our minds from other people’s evil thoughts and destructive inner speech? Who is going to be in control of our minds?

Video: The AI based holographic Doctor teaching a former Borg, called Seven of Nine (a human being rediscovering her humanity lost during her childhood) on the show Star Trek: Voyager

Futurist Zoltan Istvan‘s transhumanist dream (and he is not alone with this dream) to upload his mind might just be the only reality for people in a machine age of constant learning, collective knowledge, the internet, robotics, space exploration and AI. But that won’t solve his fear of death, because he will still be gone one day… His knowledge, personality, and inner speech will melt into the collective. Humanity as The Borg…? “Seven of Nine”… “One of Seven Billion” today… But just how valuable will our minds be when AI systems will become more knowledgeable and more creative than people? Only we care about our ephemeral minds… Would you like your brain to be placed in an individual robot? Perhaps many people would be ok with that… Is your identity related to your body or your mind or both? Are YOU a mental process? Will our fear of death be replaced by the feeling of being intellectually and creatively obsolete when AI technologies become smarter and unfollowable for a human individual and even for humanity as a whole?

See? This is what I end up with today when I am thinking about writing as inner speech, a special way of self expression and listening. Our inner monologues will be highly and directly interconnected dialogues or group conversations in the future and that is probably an understatement of how our communications will be unrecognizable… and yet it will be natural even with technology, because our brains have the capacity to adapt. Writing and the spoken word might become obsolete sooner than we think. This will be the age of really big and fast understanding of unimaginably big “data”.

My facial expression exactly when I was done with this blog post! image: fanpop.com

My facial expression exactly when I was done with this blog post! image: fanpop.com

Articles I read mostly while I wrote the above post:

Telepathy is now a thing thanks to technology
http://www.seriouswonder.com/telepathy-now-thing-thanks-technology

Brain decoder can eavesdrop on your inner voice
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22429934.000-brain-decoder-can-eavesdrop-on-your-inner-voice.html

Artificial Intelligence Outperforms Average High School Senior
http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2014/11/04/artificial-intelligence-outperforms-average-japanese-high-school-senior

Direct Brain Communication Between Humans Study Replicated
http://neurosciencenews.com/neurotechnology-brain-communication-neuroscience-1492

Controlling Genes with Your Thoughts: New System Regulates Gene Expression
http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/18813/20141112/controlling-genes-thoughts-new-system-regulates-gene-expression.htm

These People Want To Use The Internet To Live Forever
http://www.businessinsider.com/jamie-bartlett-on-transhumanism-2014-11


Regina Saphier: Corrupt Dictatorships Kidnap Societies

Regina Saphier: Corrupt Dictatorships Kidnap Societies

Political Systems Are Able to Powerfully Distort Behavior Using the Channels of Peer Pressure and Social Networks: A quick look at corrupt dictatorial socialism, democratic socialism, liberal capitalism… “good” societies… “bad” societies… and my memories of Hungary before 1989…

 

Good societies... Bad societies... (virtualhumanism.wordpress.com)

 

Stigmatizing Swedes in the US?

The more twenty something Swedish liberals are exposed to a social democracy during childhood the worse their journalistic superficiality when reporting a highly sensitive social topic in a major international magazine while studying in the US?

A fresh study from “The DHYB Institute” * revealed that young liberal democratic Swedish men, especially Columbia graduates interning at The Economist while studying at Harvard are highly likely to write one dimensional and superficial articles. *Note: “The Don’t Hold Your Breath Institute” does not exist, I just made it up to be able to hold up a mirror in front of Simon Hedlin Larsson, Marjorie Deane Intern at The Economist who wrote this unbelievably short, superficial and damaging article about Dan Ariely’s research involving Germans, a dice game and very little amounts of money (note that the word “dice” is still misspelled in the original article, because the editors could not care less… rest assured that valid and constructive criticism is also very unlikely to impact them…):

The Economist
Economics and ethics
Simon Hedlin Larsson: Lying commies
“The more people are exposed to socialism, the worse they behave”
“The authors found that, on average, those who had East German roots cheated twice as much as those who had grown up in West Germany under capitalism.”

When in Rome, do as the Romans do? Are you sure? How did I perceive my own childhood before 1989 in Hungary? How do I perceive the Hungarian society today?

It is not easy for me to write about my experiences under communism, but not for the reasons you would assume. My story is highly atypical, but I feel I need to tell you where I am coming from in every sense of the word. I grew up in Hungary, in Budapest, but I also spent a lot of time in western countries since my childhood (mostly on my own, not with my family and mostly after 1989). A major social conflict I had to endure in Hungary (after I returned in 2002) was that people not only could not put up with my straightforward style, but simply called me an idiot for not participating in the local social cheating games. It is like not eating monkeys in a rainforest when visiting a tribe (that knows everything about monkey eating there is to know). You appear a loser to them, because it is survival that matters to these people and your best qualities mostly don’t mean a thing in their milieu. So, I have my insider experience with “the social jungle” in “Eastern” Europe, and it is not a fun one (not only because I am an eternal outsider in my own motherland, but also because I have never been a big fan of peer pressure and empty goals… plus, I keep having my own opinion and I even dare to voice it).

Surely you would like me to give you an example…

Note: If you don’t want to spend time reading about my childhood memories, skip the next part and scroll down ten paragraphs all the way under this title: “Now back to the article in The Economist

When I renovated my apartment in Budapest several years ago, it was torture. The main contractor (who came highly recommended by some locals) was surprised when I asked him to sign a contract. I know! How shocking that I would ask for a contract! Right? He brought smoking, drinking, uneducated workers lacking the basic ability to read an architectural drawing (I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I am able to read architectural blueprints… so, I am the misfit here… obviously). There were idiots wanting to (secretly) run the electrical wires so that they would cross one another in the wall in a totally irregular and unpredictable way (less wire, more money stays with the contractor)… and they were surprised to learn that this would be life threatening and that doing this was also dishonest. And this is not unusual here (… but wait, is it not possible that this could happen anywhere in the world…? well, in fact it could…).

Also, to the half dozen other contractors’ dismay I asked for invoices when handing over money. People here mostly don’t ask for invoices when renovating their homes. But the most shocking development to them was that a woman would fire them without payment if the work was unacceptable… or when I noticed their dishonesty. That was unusual to them. These people still think that something was wrong with me. Here are my mistakes again: I did not want the workers to smoke and drink in my apartment, I wanted electrical wires to run safely in the wall, I wanted the workers to be able to read blueprints, I wanted contracts, I wanted quality, and I wanted invoices. How horrible of me. I am sure you get the picture. This is the local culture and this happened in the capital, in one of the best districts. These same people would probably be more educated, more intelligent, more diligent, more precise, more respectful, better regulated and managed in Sweden. While personally this was a very painful experience, I am able to see that these people were not born to be evil or stupid, and I know for a fact that it wasn’t socialism that distorted them… the problem is so much more complicated. Socialism was legally over in 1989… yet the social structure and the culture did not become healthier.

When I think of my childhood I don’t remember socialism and I also don’t remember communism…

My mother was in an unlikely position in those days, because she was a homemaker. My father opted for collecting antiques and independence (collecting art is not exactly a group activity you know), instead of an office job (or instead of anything involving superiors). Therefore I didn’t know a thing about people in offices and in factories. The only place that I knew before 1989 was the school system (beyond our home). My parents found ways for themselves to remain outside the system (as much as possible), while letting me endure the school system alone, because there were no other options (at least not to their knowledge). My mother loved school and summer camps as a child, but as an adult she did not mingle much. I was a girl and so I was expected to be girly, to be social and to love school.

I hated my schools in Hungary (in fact as soon as I could I registered as a private student at my high school in 1989 and moved to Austria for a school year on my own to learn German, to go to school in Graz and to work as a nanny… I was only 17), and I never went to summer camps. I’m more like my father, disliking formal schooling… he by the way never set foot in any of my schools in Hungary (he hated schools very much… I did not know that until much later) and he never really noticed how much I suffered from the formal school system (while girls are expected to put up with unbearable things, boys usually stop adjusting and quit… one of the double standards of societies)… We all loved to learn about things that were interesting to us.

At the same time I’m lucky that my parents let me move to Graz alone at a very young age to assume my own responsibilities and explore the world. This was very unusual 25 years ago in Hungary, to complete four years of high school in three years (I had to pass a series of private exams at the end of the third high school year to be able to join my former class for the final year), while also working during the third year, plus going to a vocational school and learning a new language in Graz, Austria. I had the chance to shape my own learning. I wish I had mentors, but no guidance system was in place for my kind of people. All this in fact could have happened to me in the US. I am sure you see that most of my story fits both socialism, democracy and capitalism. Non-conformists struggle with the system everywhere.

What I remember from my childhood in Hungary is that nobody was supposed to speak freely on the phone and people were standing in line for bananas and oranges. We could not travel freely. News and knowledge from the West did not really make it to Hungary. I don’t recall it as a system that shared its goods with me (no redistribution). I remember that during a class reunion (when I was already in my thirties) some of my high school teachers told us stories how they smuggled things across the border (from Austria). I also remember how in high school the old school, conservative teachers and the young, progressive, reformist teachers were yelling at each other. I always knew that I was an outcast in those schools, I just did not know: why? I didn’t yet know just how different my family was… while others grew up with cheap retro furniture and uniformity (everyone had the same kind of cupboards, chairs and tables), I remember antiques, colors, textures and diversity. While many families had no books or a few books, we had lots of books. This is how I remember the times before 1989… I remember the feeling of not really belonging to any social group. Meanwhile, I was surrounded by a society that either really enjoyed camaraderie (those were often either naive, or privileged ones, or people coming from a poor background) or at least diligently pretended to enjoy the system. I understand that most people did not have choices. People were locked into a bizarre, paranoid and isolated society.

As a child I was not aware of much. We lived in a small family bubble. What made me aware was the social and political transition and my own, independent travels beyond Hungary. It was during my teenage years that I found myself suddenly being one of the delegates of a school protest in Hungary when the director fabricated a reason to eliminate the best professor, a liberal history teacher (this was after I returned from Austria). Until that day (right before our high school leaving exams) nobody mentioned that I might be a courageous leader (and little did I care about the risks: high school exams in year four were important parts of the university application process and university entry was artificially limited to a small number of people). I felt that I should be able to stand up for what I believe in without being afraid. This in fact is a very democratic value and I didn’t pick it up in school, that is for sure.

Blissful ignorance

I think one reason for not knowing a thing about my leadership qualities was that I was wholehearted, independent, introverted (with some extroverted qualities that I picked up from my parents) and never subscribed to peer pressure… So, nobody in those days risked to tell me how to become a leader. I lived with the assumption that everyone should be able to think for themselves (it turns out, most people don’t really like to think or lead, most people like to mindlessly follow… but for some reason I think this is changing as more and more people have the opportunity and the ability to learn online). I never came across any acceptable role models either. I did not perceive my teachers as role models to be followed at all. I felt most of them were rather troubled people. Ever since I recognized my own intellectual and leadership qualities I also started to consciously observe and analyze people and their “group think” tendencies. The more I experienced in life, the more I observed the human rituals of leading, following, marriage, religion and politics, the more bizarre human behavior appeared to me. People, I realized, build surreally firm social structures even out of thin air to eliminate their suspicion that life is short and that they are not really important in the universe. People construct importance, positions, ranks, hierarchies and dictatorships, even now that they are able to learn almost anything online for free, can use tools that are a bit more complicated than a stone, should be able to think for themselves and are no longer monkeys on trees. But I know that positive change is also constructed out of “nothing”… because we imagine things and try to realize those ideals. We are an interesting species in the universe. I wish we used our mental powers to create healthy societies that respect people in groups and individually.

Hidden layers that I did not know about at the time, only came to see them later

At my schools, kids with influential parents, who liked to party and went to “elite” summer camps (so much about being equal under communism) were very likely to end up in leadership positions later. The ones willing to serve their groups mindlessly got nurtured, included, rewarded and promoted, especially the extroverted ones. Only decades later did I realize that classes that kids were grouped into by school officials (when kids first entered school) were very often selective based on their parental backgrounds. I can tell you, I have never been in class A in school, because my parents were not in the communist party, were outside of the top ranking leader range and held no offices (nobody in my immediate family held any public or “business related” offices). Those who enjoyed the last decades of the softened socialist dictatorship in Hungary were the ones closest to the fire, receiving the most benefits. If you adjusted, you were fine. If you did not adjust, you had to face a lot of problems and you often encountered invisible roadblocks. The most privileged of the system change era are now the “leaders” of Hungary, no matter what party they are part of. Needless to say: I am still not a party member and will never be one. I hope I managed to show you that I’m not a beneficiary of the past system and I have my critical opinion of this particular society. I also feel that my non-conformist tendencies and my unusual family bubble prevented me from being mentally “kidnapped” by the corrupt socialist dictatorship that surrounded us.

Now back to the article in The Economist

In my informed opinion, the way Simon Hedlin Larsson reported the Ariely research in The Economist is dangerously simplistic and even the original researchers came up with the wrong conclusion in their infinite “wisdom”, because it is not socialism on its own that causes people to cheat, rather it is corrupt socialist dictatorships pretending to be communist that distort people for generations (unless something provides protection, like an unusual family and personality in my case). Also, just one question: Have you done some thinking how likely the capitalists were to do amoral things in former “communist” states? (Perhaps at least twice as likely?) No matter what hypocritical “western” business schools like to teach about avoiding corruption in corrupt markets (I suspect that is impossible to avoid in international business).

While I embraced the system change (I went as far as graduating from Columbia University in New York in 2002), it is hard to ignore the fact that there were no homeless people in the district where I grew up in Budapest before 1989, and now homeless people are part of the landscape. This tragic phenomenon, as well as drug abuse (beyond rampant alcoholism), joblessness, anorexia, morbid obesity, body image issues on a large scale, overt racism, violent crimes, and so on arrived with “morally superior” capitalism. The negative results of “super” morals and attitudes of capitalism: objectified life goals, masses of homeless and jobless outcasts, stress, anxiety and existential fear among the masses. Starved and/or threatened people with limited means were centrally “slenderized” under the dictators of “communism”, and full employment was just a way of storing people in buildings (to stop loitering) while increasing the national debt (to keep up appearances of a “functional communist society”), so people mostly only traded the causes of stress when going from “communism” to “capitalism”… a healthy social structure never followed.

When you combine socialism and democracy, you get Sweden, and I don’t think that people in Sweden are more likely to cheat (I know that Sweden is also a capitalist market economy, but redistribution in Sweden and in the US cannot be compared). Only when you combine socialism and corrupt dictatorships will you get the cheating behavior of East Germans as reported by Ariely and his team. Socialism without corrupt dictatorship does not necessarily distort behavior. Both the researchers and the interning journalist failed to make, explore and emphasize this important distinction. The hidden agenda of the young and politically active journalist is that he hates socialism in Sweden, but he is afraid to say so publicly. He thinks socialism in Sweden makes “undeserving” people dishonest, so he opted for psychological, historical and geographical transference. I am only theorizing here, but might just be right.

Meanwhile in Hungary… today…

Right now the biggest problem of Hungarian society: the phenomenally rotten “elite”. Not only did they keep their past “morality” of “take everything that belongs to the community” (the best example from the early years of the transition is the privatisation process during the nineties… the biggest takers now have their own schools, radio stations, companies and offshore assets… left and right), but they also adopted the locally “new ethics” of capitalism: “the richer you get the better for you”. So now, here is how they think: “Let’s take everything that belongs to the community because the goal is to be rich” (and now the goods and funds include the EU resources too). These people live with the most shocking sense of entitlement, with amazing amounts of ignorance, and don’t know (or don’t want to know) that this is simply wrong. My problem: Just how do you distinguish this from the amazingly amoral and über risky behavior of the western bankers who caused this major economic crisis that the entire world suffered from (and in many places the suffering is not over yet)? We urgently need a new elite, but the members of the old “elite” are suffocating the country.

Sudden and prolonged trauma both go very deep into the psyche

Back to my issues with the above mentioned research and article. If by the end of the 1940s in New York you would have tested German jews who escaped Hitler, and at the same time American jews enjoying the safety of the US from birth, and if you did the same test with the offsprings of these people one generation later, you would have discovered that exposure to a nazi dictatorship resulted in understandable mistrust towards institutions and other people, and this probably resulted in questionable behaviors (that would not be present without the trauma). You could have discovered powerful behavioral differences. The same is true for people exposed to corrupt “communist” dictatorships. Trauma, existential fear, pathological social systems (like dictatorships and autocracies) and wars cause epigenetic changes and so: lasting personality, behavioral, cultural and social changes. The original research had more to say about the reasons and the causes (compared to the short article in The Economist). Unfortunately, the Economist article basically says something like this (I am making this up for demonstration): “Germans in 1944 were twice as likely to appear to be nazis based on a simple test compared to French people” (why not compare the two… they are neighbors in Europe… if we follow the bizarre logic of Ariely). This is how it sounds to me.

The Economist article ends like this: “The study reveals nothing about the nature of the link between socialism and dishonesty. It might be a function of the relative poverty of East Germans, for example. All the same, when it comes to ethics, a capitalist upbringing appears to trump a socialist one.” Says the privileged young journalist from social democratic Sweden who apparently did not really read the research and knows next to nothing about socialism, communism, democracy, corruption, capitalism and the possible combinations of these… he is the naive child who thinks that it is only personal effort in capitalism that makes a difference and “only the lazy never make it”… but this is a delusion. The young journalist failed to display true journalistic talent and missed an opportunity to publish a marvelously intelligent, compassionate, well researched and deeply analytical article in this area. Let us hope that he will learn and change and not let his social bubble isolate him from reality for ever.

It is easier to be honest and correct in a healthier and richer society and the devil is in the details

I wrote in one of my essays (mostly about China, but also about Hungary) in July 2013: “Dictatorships not only brainwash and isolate people, they also distort people on the cellular level for generations. That is a crime against humanity. Outsiders and even privileged insiders usually “somehow” fail to see that. Change makers in these countries are mostly regarded as strange and are powerfully hindered by the conformist masses and by the rotten status quo even after the dictators are long gone.” Regina Saphier: The United States of China (Part 2)

Simon Hedlin Larsson published his article in a major magazine. Imagine an HR pro reading that article and coming up with the sad conclusion that he or she will never hire an “East” German IT professional again because those people are “rumored to be cheaters” (rumored because not many read the original research article and the original article in fact says much more, yet still too little). The way Simon Hedlin Larsson framed this story (“Lying commies” / “The more people are exposed to socialism, the worse they behave”) fuels discrimination and stigmatization, and he failed to express basic empathy with a traumatized “group” that is as diverse as Europe and Asia combined.

The worst Neo-Nazis in Sweden might have better politically correct table manners… I’m assuming (at least these people think that they love Sweden, while the young, liberal, expat intern apparently hates socialist Sweden and is inclined to stigmatize others)… Some of the Swedish extremists are being pushed out of Sweden to fuel extremist right groups in Hungary… in a country with a very fragile social and political immune system… Plus, Hungary wasn’t so lucky financially and economically as the East Germans were… “Communist” Hungary did not have a “Capitalist” Hungary to pour money into the recovering and devastated economy after 1989… Just how “dishonest” would the average Hungarian be during Ariely’s dice game? (I know Hungary was called The Happiest Barrack… but still…) I even give you this assumption: Mr. Larsson quit Sweden because he so powerfully hates the socialist tendencies of his motherland. Mr. Larsson is a big fan of liberal capitalism, and he is probably a democrat. Telling you the truth, I dislike all of the political and social systems discussed in my blog. When I think about options like the “Unconditional Basic Income”, I am thinking about options to restore Basic Human Dignity and let people explore new avenues in their lives. (Regina Saphier: Unconditional Basic Income) I strongly believe that technological abundance, an optimal unconditional basic income, and free online learning will lead to some very important and positive social changes.

Wait! Why are West Germans still cheating in such a simple game?

In the end I ask you, and here I refer back to my example of not devouring primates in the rainforest with the tribe you are visiting: Why are “West” Germans still fond of social “monkey eating” (cheating and lying for no good reason during a meaningless game)? Mostly well adjusted human beings use white lies to keep a healthy social balance, but: Why do people with a high standard of living, high income and no recent trauma caused by a dictator still cheat on a silly game? To me, this is the real question! And this is the kind of irrational behavior that Dan Ariely truly likes to explore. Therefore the right questions are these: How come “average” people are only twice as likely to cheat after so much past suffering and readjustment stress? Is it not possible that the truly irrational behavior happens when people without recent or inherited trauma, and with optimal income still cheat during a meaningless game?

It is simply not true that the original research article does not say a thing about the reasons. On page two and in the “Discussion and Conclusion” section there is an explanation saying that there was extensive scarcity, citizens were constantly observed, followed, interrogated, and freedom of speech was not a viable survival strategy. However, for no good reason the researchers keep saying that it was socialism that resulted in distorted human behavior. Again, in my opinion this is wrong. Socialism without a corrupt dictatorship does not result in lying and cheating. If you grew up in Sweden (like Simon Hedlin Larsson did) where democratic socialism is dominant, you should know this. It is dictatorial socialism or dictatorial anything (mostly) that distorts people… but even more precisely it is corrupt dictatorships that are inherently dishonest. But have you seen how people are distorted by unregulated market economies and capitalism? I have seen the change. Both systems are powerfully distorting, dishonest, and misguided.

Let’s see: Surveyance is present in the US, scarcity is present in African countries, preference for the common good is present in Japan, utopian socialists built the Kibbutz system in Israel. Cubans and North Koreans live in two different kinds of dictatorships (Cuba is now a bit like Hungary was a few decades ago, while North Korea is a bit like former East Germany+The GULag, so N. Korea is much worse).

Look at North Korea and South Korea

There you have it: try to compare the honesty and dishonesty levels in N. and S. Korea. What does an active dictatorship do to people’s morals compared to the hyper competitive capitalist side of the same nation? You will see that those living (or having lived) in the North Korean dictatorship (and perhaps escaped… note: cheating and lying… note: to survive…!) will show a heightened level of motivation for cheating and lying (even the next generation). (Note: Forces that make South Koreans be so extremely suicidal might have some surprising impact on morals… Nothing is black and white…) The difference won’t be related to communism, nor to socialism, and not even to capitalism itself. The difference will show strong correlation with oppression, scarcity, anxiety, shame, alienation, stories of mysteriously vanished relatives and friends, forced labor camps and public executions… in other words powerful and regular stressors… and so with epigenetic changes… even changes in the microbiome… and with differential neurological development… and survival strategies observed within families and in a society. I would never judge a North Korean refugee for his or her understandable paranoia and hardly unlearnable visceral reactions. Would you? I would want to talk about this, I would want North Korean refugees to get help. Of course I would also want to know that people make conscious efforts to overcome the powerful inclination to distort the truth and/or cheat. At the same time those without the traumas need to learn what happened to traumatized people and be as compassionate as possible.

To quote my 2013 article again (Regina Saphier: The United States of China (Part 2)): “… look at citizens in Germany, so close to each other (not apart like the US and China). People in the eastern part are very different from the people in western Germany. Decades of epigenetic changes due to a long era of suffering, fear, stress, anxiety and lack of resources and lack of freedom don’t disappear from one day to the other. At least two generations have to go before people in Germany start to look similar and indistinguishable again.” I called this process in my article “PSCS”: “post-system change syndrome”. If it is easier for you, look at East Germans and North Koreans as victims of a mass kidnapping that lasted for decades. Look at them as former and present day hostages of a politically sociopathological system. Don’t be sorry for them, don’t discriminate, don’t judge, rather learn to ask: “What happened to you?” Learn to be compassionate and listen. (You might also like to read Part 1: Regina Saphier: The United States of China)

Conclusion

It was not primarily the economic context that impacted East Germans’ honesty. It was rather the corrupt political layer that impacted the culture (note: I am sure not everyone internalized this culture). If you have a political leadership that is not corrupt, you have a completely different game (Singapore is supposed to be one of the least corrupt countries with a strong economy and it does utilize elements of a dictatorial system). Composing the wrong hypothesis in this case is similar to comparing a rich kid who lives in a well to do neighborhood and a poor kid who lives in a poor neighborhood and ignoring the fact that the poor kid experienced domestic violence, as did his or her parents, while the rich kid and his or her family did not. First, I only assumed that The Economist simply permitted a young journalist to be the five year old running around with scissors in a supermarket, but while this is true, at the same time the researchers simply came up with the wrong hypothesis or the wrong conclusion, and were negligent in their analysis. Look what happens when research based on a misguided and superficially defined hypothesis ends up in the hands of a badly mentored Economist intern. (Who financed the study by the way? What was the purpose?)

There is a reason why I stopped reading The Economist many years ago. I also find it dishonest that the articles appear without the names of the authors. I only know the name of this author because he used to be my first degree connection on LinkedIn (until he noticed my open criticism… after that he simply deleted me… how “convenient”… but not my loss actually). I publish with my full name everywhere. Who is dishonest now? The woman with a face and a name who grew up in a former “communist” state (while it fell apart), or the international magazine publishers with capitalist backgrounds and their faceless and nameless writers?

Sweden’s democratic socialism does not make one dishonest (if you have the right culture). East Germany’s corrupt dictatorial socialism did distort people (without the right culture), while it pretended to be communist. But hey, what do I know, I’m just an independent thinker and blogger taking the time to actually think and write about the world we live in.

Tomorrow is the 58th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising that happened in 1956. Warning: Hungary today shows signs of a corrupt dictatorship in the making. The fact that the leaders of the past did not go away and the leaders of the present got their power during the global economic crisis makes this a very dangerous situation on the eastern edge of the European Union in a poor country with a very thin layer of European culture, a high number of people living in the underclass, while members of the middle class, the upper class and intellectuals (left and right) are migrating to richer and much more developed countries. The European Union must stop giving free money to the corrupt Hungarian leadership in the form of EU grants. It is imperative for the EU to introduce the Unconditional Basic Income on a European level in member states like Hungary to give the freedom of choice and power to the citizens to be able to free themselves from the corrupt leaders and to live an honest and productive life. The money is there, only the channels of distribution must be changed. We don’t want to go back in time. We want to go forward, face the future with optimism and build a healthier culture.

 

Blogs written by Regina Saphier that you might like:

Virtual Humanism

My Coursera Blog

My TED Blog