“Finland is a superpower in expeditions”

Geographer Markku Löytönen has written non-fiction books on the history of Finnish exploration. His time travels stretch from 16th-century maritime circumnavigations to 21st-century journeys into outer space.

Finnish expeditions go way back in time. Three centuries ago, Finnish researchers took part in, for example, voyages to distant colonies.

When different cultures came into contact, the meetings resembled collisions. The Japanese, for instance, wondered at the Europeans’ uncivilised manner of eating with prongs and knives instead of chopsticks.

“In proportion to its population and wealth, Finland is a real expedition superpower,” says Markku Löytönen, a geographer at the University of Helsinki.

“We have even left the Earth by sending machines to explore places where humans cannot go. Finland has sent many devices into outer space, and some are out there now.”

In one department, however, Löytönen believes Finland outmatches all other countries.

“The Finnish equal educational system is beyond comparison,” he says, adding that, in light of this, “the globe is full of people whose world view does not accommodate tolerance: I believe the spread of education, although slow, is the only way to promote tolerance towards others.”

Broadening our world views

It was not until industrialisation that we invented the concept of leisure time, which has encouraged people to travel more. Earlier, our world views were restricted to our own milieus. If you couldn’t travel in person, you came up with other means to get away.

“Fictional reality-based travel literature has been popular for decades – and there’s no end in sight to it,” says Löytönen. “Since the 1970s, travel literature has been the most popular genre after religious themes. As a genre, modern sci-fi descends from real exploration.”

Explorations have brought knowledge from distant countries to home soil. They also make our view of the world more realistic, since our notions of other regions need not rely on our imaginations alone.

In March and April 2015, researchers and other experts will take us on journeys into different world views. Read more about the New World View science programme and join the conversation (#maailmankuva).

New World View 16 March – 12 April 2015

Think Corner