Of life and love

The meaning of life finally revealed (or not)

I've recently thought a lot about the concept of unconditional love and love in general. As I grew up in what could be described as an almost loveless environment, also quite void of positive emotions, I guess the way I feel love is a reflection of where I actually learned from about love. This text is a result of being in some deep state of mind where overanalysis and ingenuity both reside. Take it with a pinch of pepper and an open mind - the point is just to unload somewhere a processed stream of consciousness so that my mind has more resources to think about all kinds of cool stuff for a change.

I'm no Tarzan but I think I learned love from dogs. They seem to be masters of unconditional love and the epitome of partnership. Judging by the amount of wet eyes in the comment sections of cute animal videos, most people feel animals should automatically be treated as well as possible, and usually the animals respond to that with what could be described as love. It seems to be something inherent to most carbon-based life. I believe that on some subconscious level, we all just want to get along. Why it's sometimes so hard between some organisms is a difficult question.

It took me a long, long time to recognize the feeling called love. As a teenager I felt some hints of it the first time, but growing up lonely in the modern Finnish society certainly did its thing. For those who don't know, Finland is a cold place not only because of the cold climate, but I think also because of the structure of the society and modern isms, which I believe have resulted in a huge proportion of the population feeling lonely, and birthrates similar to pre-industrial times. It wasn't until already in my adulthood and after having a serious burnout crisis that I finally think I get it.

Reasons to love

Last year I found myself in a situation where I was demanded an answer to the question: why do I love someone. I guess it was about that someone trying to figure themself out and needing some external assurance. I think it's a trick question: you're trying to quantize and rationalize something qualitative and quite irrational. There's also this to consider: if you give a reason, any reason, to a question like that, doesn't that kind of make it conditional love?

I guess like most people, I have a basic need to love. I realize a lot of depressing feelings I've had, especially in the past, have stemmed from not being able to share love to the extend I'd have wanted to. It also works the other way around: I want to feel accepted the way I am. I feel like I've had a logical and quite consistent character development arc ever since I was little - I never really had those rebel years when people try to be something else, only to eventually accept themselves the way they are. That's what most people want I guess, judging by the amount of articles about it all the time everywhere. Conditional love is not kind of sufficient in that case. In practice, the conditions may be such that they simply match the people in question, so effectively everything works out nicely, even if under the surface there'd be a lot of conditions for the love - we just might not realize their existence.


We, as humans, are living creatures and constantly changing. I'm talking on a molecular level. We age. We change in our personality and physicality in an infinitesimal way all the time. The brain is a complex system, and our life experiences shape how we feel about things. So if you love somebody because they are this or that, it's really not a well-defined thing. What is the granularity and the metrics when describing a person? Someone who is considered an extrovert by some might feel like a closed-minded introvert to others. Also, people might "grow apart", but still love each other. I think this kind of hints there being something else behind love besides just the person's qualities, which are hard to define anyway. The way I see it is there are two factors involved when forming a couple: love, and whether the other person is compatible with you. The compatibility thing might be whatever: maybe someone wants an artistic type, another needs a very extroverted significant other, you name it. If one says they love another because they are thorough, it only means one feels the other is like that. Compared to some extreme pedant, the other might actually feel relatively carefree.

So asking someone why do they love you is a wrong question to ask. Compare this to a situation where a child asks from their parents why do the parents love them. There is no answer, parents just either love their children or not. If the answer is "because you're my child", we're talking about a role relationship here. What if the child isn't a biological one? Where do you draw the line? And, extrapolating from that, shouldn't it be possible to feel unconditional love towards your spouse - or in fact, anyone, or anything even?

I think I've felt unconditional love, which at some level left its mark deep inside me - I've had several reasons not to love, but, since I wasn't loving because of any particular reason, it didn't matter. For me, love is more about trust, patience, sacrifice - abstract things like that. And taking care when the other needs help, of course. In the 90s there was this band called Boyzone who sang "love me for a reason, let the reason be love". I heard that song again on the radio some time ago. It did sound quite cheesy, but it also made me feel like it might not fly at all nowadays, when people seem to have who knows what kind of conditions for their love. I guess the majority of heartbreak in this world could be avoided if only people were honest and knew themselves. But it's hard being honest to yourself, especially if you've lived a life of lies. The fake reality created by everyone posing in social media isn't exactly helping, either.

Being a living being

Some time ago I met this person who wanted to know how it feels like to love your own child. I guess it was about seeking the feeling of unconditional love, but also of some kind of biological bond. Maybe these are some of the things that define us as humans. So maybe the person was keen to find out about these because of the inherent curiosity to find the meaning of life - or, what it means to be a human. As the saying goes, the meaning of life is to give life a meaning. Some explain this via taking responsibility. Then you can have a meaningful life, and thus find the meaning of life and get rid of bitterness and resentment.

Expanding on the aforementioned cute animal videos to having watched some dog rescue videos, I think seeking these feelings and experiences isn't only about what it means to be a human, but also a living being. At least, a being with certain amount of cognitive capability. Whatever this thing called unconditional love is, I think it's something required to fulfil your human potential and go beyond that. Most people know what a boost being in love can give.


A couple of years ago I was on a vacation and got some viral infections. It ended pretty badly, I passed out in an airplane just before takeoff and threw up explosively, probably traumatizing a dozen passengers while doing so - sorry about that, fellow passengers of flight VJ606! I ended up in a hospital, where I was given six liters of saline to hydrate me. It was quite a serious situation, but I felt absolutely no fear at all - my love was with me, I trusted her and others completely, and I knew I was being taken care of.

While I was writing this article, I had a bad Campylobacter jejuni infection, alone in my flat. It was interesting how for the few days I couldn't think about anything else except survival and whether to call the paramedics or not - I was actually afraid of dying. Luckily a sweet friend of mine did stop by to check that I was going to survive. After I got better, my mind was filled with all kinds of thoughts rushing in, lost love as the very first one. The depths of the mind during a crisis tell you a story about your priorities in life, I guess. Anyway, this time with no love around the situation and feelings were indeed quite different.

A while ago I happened to watch the pilot episode of the original Miami Vice television series. There's a legendary scene where Sonny and Rico are preparing to raid a meeting with a drug lord, with Phil Collins' In the air tonight playing in the background. In the scene, on the way to a possible gun battle, Sonny stops over a phone booth to call his ex-wife and ask her if what they once had was in fact real. The wife doesn't hesitate to say it truly was. Sonny continues to face the drug lord with no fear. I believe this is a similar thing that happened to me with the hospitalization case: Sonny got this boost from what was once true love, and he is actually ready to die if things lead to that. He has experienced the deepest feelings of being alive, and is so pumped up he is afraid of nothing anymore. Someone has uploaded the video to YouTube but apparently it cannot be embedded, so here's the link: Miami Vice - In The Air Tonight Scene [HD]

Even if I momentarily felt that way in the hospital, eventually for me things didn't quite go like in Miami Vice. And now I feel like if I'd kick the bucket I wouldn't jump off the planet with a peaceful mind, as I would still be wondering about that part of the mystery of life. Every now and then I stumble upon an animation or a video depicting a life-long love story making me feel like I'm burning inside and have a lump in my throat. I've always been into transhumanism and transcendence and highbrowish stuff like that, but still the everyday sight of an elderly couple holding hands hits a special spot in me and almost brings a joyful tear to my eye. Even if everything is temporary, from one's perspective, memories are forever, and I can only imagine what memories such couples have of each other. Being honest in life also makes these memories such that you can go all Sonny and reinforce what you have, and share it with each other.

In the superficial world apparently full of lost souls, I've read from numerous sources that which also I feel like stating: if the memories are of love, they probably won't be forgotten; you just keep living with them. Hopefully everybody gets to feel like they've lived a complete life by rejoicing in memories and being able to share them. But to create the memories worth remembering, it is important to live a life of truth, and hence to know yourself. Otherwise you'll probably end up creating heartbreak and ostensible memories on your search for the answers to the mysteries of life. So, knowledge is not only power, but a requirement to a fulfilling life, I think: know what you want, and know yourself. Only that way you can get rid of your insecurities and stop demanding perfection - both things that stand in the way of love and happiness, and thus what you might be after. Both are also things that easily lead to useless stress, and nobody wants that. Love can help in fixing yourself, but you can't fix someone else by just loving them, so sometimes love just isn't enough. But if it's sometimes too hard to figure out what you want, I kind of like Frank Drebin's take on this: "I just wanna love, Ed". Keep it simple, stupid.

In any case, to answer the age-old question: is it better to have loved and lost, or not to have loved at all, I would definitely say the former. At least then you're one step closer to solving the mysteries of life. Besides, if you have nothing to lose, you probably don't have anything to begin with anyway, so everything is a plus, I guess - even if your life's dreams seem more and more unrealistic as days go by.

The technological side

What this rambling about love does in a tech blog is a good question. I do sometimes write non-tech related stuff also, but having said everything I did above, there is actually one thing tying the whole thing to technology. It's about digitalization on a greater extend.

I am not sure at all that I'm doing God's work by being in the frontline of digitalization. I am a smartly lazy guy, and I'm all in for getting rid of repetitive, non-creative work. Digitalization has the potential to truly change the world for the better in those regards, but has it really done so? The time we save by not spending it on paperwork and pointless human interaction is not always replaced by free time, more meaningful human interaction or creative activities, but more of the same old busywork, now condensed into a different form via digitalization.

As a caricaturized example, imagine a person applying for a permit to build an expansion to their house. They fill in a form. They also have to fill in a lot of detailed information, quite a lot probably totally unnecessary. Maybe they have to apply for some other permits in a similar way. The whole process might be a quick one, or it might be intolerably cumbersome with all the details. The person handling the application might have an easier task as the structured information can be automatically analyzed to some extend. However, as long as there still are humans involved in the process, there's still a lot of information to handle. Also, instead of this case being a human-to-human interaction, it turns into a human-computer-human interaction, and the person at the receiving end might end up getting five applications in the same time they previously got only one. So was the busywork actually made any smaller? The throughput might be bigger, but so might be the information load to the brain, and hence the stress of the work. And, we lost the human interaction.

As I mentioned in the beginning, Finland is going through weird times where it seems to be very difficult to meet new people. For example, Tinder is full of women advertising their Instagram accounts, basically offering a one-way shouting channel to the world. On a side note: I don't know about men's profiles, but I don't know anyone who uses Instagram. Anyway, the point is, even on a platform meant for meeting people, some users are just about output, not input. I do know and have historically known a lot of depressed people, looking for a partner. As digitalization makes the human contact less and less prominent, the steps one has to take to actually meet another person feel bigger and bigger. And I'm not only talking about forming couples, but friends and acquaintances in general.

So I have this port theory that the more dehumanization there is, the less human love there is, the more depressed people are, and the more lost or disconnected people feel. I also claim this is seen in the statistics in Finland. Sometimes at a store I like taking the old-fashioned checkout queue instead of the self-service one, even if I'd have to wait for a minute. Saying hello to someone face to face makes your day just that much better. I don't think Thiele, Weiss and Armstrong envisioned a Wonderful World where half the people are afraid to even greet each other. I also think it'd be easier for introverts in a more relaxed environment, even if you didn't want to greet out loud.

Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19

I started to work on this text at the turn of the year, writing it every now and then. Basically I had written 80% of it before the new coronavirus was a thing outside Wuhan. That includes the previous section. Now that the social isolation has actually become reality with the majority of people, maybe it gives us some taste of how it feels to be alone, without human contact in general. This is exactly what I was thinking about. I wouldn't want to live in a world where this is the norm, but Finland has at times felt like this even without any virus quarantines. I truly hope the Finnish Digital and Population Data Services Agency would realize this and maybe do a bit of research how life looks like nowadays.

I wish everyone the best during this coronavirus pandemic and hope it doesn't drive people any further apart from each other in the future, when things have hopefully turned for the better.

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Creative Commons License  This article by Olli Helin is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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