Pärttyli Rinne: My work is both internally rewarding and economically fragile

Philosopher-researcher and scriptwriter-author Pärttyli Rinne has been studying love for 15 years. In the ‘Walk in my shoes’ interview, he talks about benevolence, gratitude, and institutional love, as well as fragility, which manifests itself as economic insecurity.
Pärttyli Rinne, photo by Nora Rinne
Photos: Nora Rinne

Can you tell a story about how you began to explore love? 

I studied for my first master's degree at the Theatre Academy. I graduated as a dramaturg and playwright in 2007. Towards the end of my studies, my spouse and I fell in love, and I was wondering about what to do with my life. I had a strong experience that the most important things in life are related to love in one way or another. I decided to focus on trying to understand the phenomenon of love. I started to study theoretical philosophy, and during my master's studies I started to focus on the question of love.

Compared to previous centuries, the study of love was in decline in the 20th century. Emotions were considered to be shallow and vague, and love was not taken seriously. During my master's studies, some people at university implied to me that my topic of research was somehow ridiculous or non-serious.

I did my PhD on Immanuel Kant's conception of love for the University of St Andrews. For many years, I explored the history of philosophy from the perspective of love. At the same time, I financed my studies by making art, for example by writing drama for YLE. I’ve also published a novel and a collection of essays on the origins of love. My latest published artwork is a radio feature on the topic of meditation on Yle Areena. In addition to research, I have a second career in scriptwriting.

How did you end up at Aalto?

I've held short-term research positions in Kaliningrad in Russia, at the University of Helsinki and Columbia University New York. I was introduced to Mikko Sams, Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Neuroscience, in 2019. I've always been interested in expanding my horizons, and I was hugely excited by the possibility of combining love and neuroscience in the same study. Among other things, we have measured body experiences and brain activity related to different types of love.

Pärttyli Rinne, photo by Nora Rinne.

You associate love with benevolence and micro-moments. Can you tell us more about this?

I’ve been studying love professionally for more or less 15 years. Benevolence towards others - or in self-love towards oneself - is a key determinant of love. If there is no benevolence, it is not necessarily love. Benevolence is about giving attention, caring and a certain warmth.

Recent theorising by the American psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, for example, extends the concept of love from the closest relationships to the stranger. This could be, for example, any kind of smiling with strangers that involves relating to someone else for a moment. A micro-moment of love is one where facial expressions or hand gestures are shared. It is important to me as a philosopher that love can be a defining factor of all one’s being, a kind of emotional tendency. It is possible to relate to all beings and the whole environment through a loving feeling.

A key motivation for my work is the idea that love is a universal opening of warmth rather than being confined to a relationship or nuclear family.

What is it like to walk in your shoes?

My life is filled with a sense of meaning and gratitude related to work - and at the same time, there are many funding applications to write. It's a joyful and wonderful, but financially fragile and uncertain path. That's why it's important to be able to get excited about a wide range of things. I get to be writing grant applications all the time and have 4-8 projects going on at any one time. You never know what you're going to get funded for. Short-term positions and periods of unemployment are a burden. A permanent position would be relaxing, but on the other hand I wouldn't want to give up multidisciplinarity. It feels valuable.

In the brain research projects, I have to take into account the schedules of 4-6 people, and everyone always has other things going on. At the intersection of science, art and academic philosophy, there is difficulty in getting funding, which is often short-term and project-specific. Academics without a permanent post experience uncertainty and stress, mainly related to financial fragility. It is not just my experience.

But my work is also internally rewarding, which makes it nice to do.

Is love fragile then?

I’m reminded of the metaphor that the roots of love are deep in the ground, but the flowers are fragile. So, love can be fragile at a particular moment. But love is also the fundamental life force that pushes, gives birth, drives beings forward and pulls them together in the evolutionary history of the universe. Love gives birth to the new, is in a sense the fundamental source of joy and delight. In that sense, love is not fragile, but strong.

Pärttyli Rinne, photo by Nora Rinne.

Benevolence towards others is a key determinant of love. Benevolence is about giving attention, caring and a certain warmth.

Pärttyli Rinne

What kind of love is there in your work community?

There is friendly and positive interaction, smiling and laughing together. I think a lot about the fact that the feelings of gratitude and love are really close together. But it's also a connection that I don't fully understand.

For example, my neuroscientist colleagues are so smart, fast, and skilled that I get huge feelings of gratitude for being able to work with them.

Why are emotions essential in the workplace?

Emotions are essential to human existence and drive our behaviour. They affect not only our own well-being and our own relationship with the world, but also other people around us. More generally, love and emotions guide how we orient ourselves to the world and how we shape and construct the reality around us. 

Emotions, such as love, can be a great source of well-being and a source of a more positive social reality. On the other hand, they can also be a source of destruction. For example, anger can be linked to violent behaviour. It is therefore worthwhile to try to understand emotions better.

How can love be strengthened in the workplace?

I have been practising breathing and imagery exercises of loving kindness for a few years. It is also called meditation, based on Buddhist moral psychology. I have experienced it as a kind of revolution in my own life and in my social interactions.

Mindfulness training creates a conscious relationship with your breath and your body. This can be combined with positive imagery, such as a being that is easy to love. It could be your partner, your child, or a friend. Then you can try to extend that same feeling of love to your work team. The exercise can be continued and made more difficult by extending it to someone with whom there has been a quarrel or conflict, for example. And the same warm feeling of love and benevolence can be applied to everything, to the whole spectrum of existence.

When I’m aware of the social interaction, I listen to others, I’m genuinely interested and try to understand what others are saying and what they are interested in. Striving for friendly interaction is thinking about how we can be nice to each other. If you can do that, good things often happen, and the world becomes a better place.

Positive social touch is also an option when it is respectful, appropriate and mutually acceptable. Hugging is a wonderful expression of love and a source of well-being. Physical intimacy can also be cultivated in the workplace, as long as it feels natural to the parties involved. A quick hug when greeting someone, for example, can create a sense of well-being and embody love.

Do you sense love at Aalto?

I don't think there is a single definition of love. But love, for example, enables and creates new connections. Some other universities have had a more closed or fearful atmosphere, but I haven’t sensed the same fear of novelty or otherness at Aalto. I feel that at Aalto, there is currently an openness to interdisciplinarity and to the intersection of science and art, which means that there can be institutional benevolent love at Aalto.

Interview and text: Tiina Aulanko-Jokirinne

Where do we feel love?

New research sheds light on where and how we feel different kinds of love

Read more about the research
The types of love form a gradient in intensity and in how widely they're felt throughough the body. Image: Philosophical Psychology,

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