Sunday, 13 October 2019

Meditation Retreat At Wollongong's Nan Tien Buddhist Temple - Learnings, Linguistic Insights And Lighter Moments

It wasn't my decision to spend two days at a meditation retreat at Wollongong's Chinese Buddhist temple. You could say I was...Shanghaied. My wife booked my son and me, and off we went.

The Wollongong Nan Tien temple - it wasn't this crowded when we visited

It was a fairly intense set of sessions over the course of two days (from dinner on a Friday to lunch on a Sunday).
This timetable should give you an idea of what the retreat covered.

There were sessions on not just "sitting meditation", but also "walking meditation" and mindfulness exercises such as calligraphy and even doodling. There were also some tai qi sessions.

These were some of my learnings:

The science and the superstition around Buddhism:

I ignored the "woo" around karma, reincarnation and "other realms" that formed the topic of a few sessions. There was a very good talk by Dr. Susan Sumskis of the Nan Tien Institute at the end of the two-day retreat, and that was the high point of the entire program for me.

What Dr Sumskis said made sense. Mindfulness and meditation help to increase the buffer between external events and our own reactions to them, giving us greater flexibility in fashioning our responses. What the Buddhists call the human condition of "suffering" is alleviated by creating new neural pathways to deal with the curveballs life throws at us.

Theological surprises:

I have grown up with the Hindu characterisation of Buddha as the ninth avatar of Vishnu, and as I reflected upon this as an adult, I realised that this was a political reaction of the Hindu establishment to the threat of a then-upstart new religion. The strategy was to position Buddhism as no more than a sect of Hinduism by reducing the status of Buddha from that of a religious founder to a docile avatar within an existing  pantheon. (See my unconventional take on the ten avatars of Vishnu.)

But I didn't expect to see this line in one of the chants I heard:

Read the lines at the bottom. Why is a Buddhist chant referencing Varaha (the 3rd avatar of Vishnu), Narasimha (the 4th avatar), and the god Shiva?

Methinks there's quite a bit more to the Hinduism-Buddhism story than we know. Although Buddhism explicitly rejects many of the ideas in Hinduism, it's not just karma and reincarnation that are retained.

Historical inaccuracies:

One of the sessions was a tour of the temple complex conducted by a person who wasn't part of the monastic order. She provided some interesting history into both the temple and Buddhism itself. However, one of the things she said surprised me and made me research her claim after I got back home.

Notice the backwards-facing Swastika symbol on the chest of the Buddha idol.

As would inevitably happen with a Western group, the Swastika on the Buddha's chest attracted some comment. Most people seemed to get the idea that the Nazis had appropriated an existing symbol and given it its modern unsavoury association, but there was no knowledge that the Swastika was an ancient Indian symbol.

Our guide didn't help matters by claiming that it was called a 'Sauvastika' and that it originated in ancient Greece! My first and rather sarcastic thought was that she was confusing it with Souvlaki. Wisely, I held my tongue and didn't contest her claim outright.

After I got back home, I did some research of my own, and learnt that 'Sauvastika' was an actual word used to refer to the backwards-facing Swastika, but this was a term coined by 19th century Europeans to highlight the distinction, not an original Indian term.

Also surprisingly, it appears that there exists a Greek connection after all. The symbol appears in ancient Greek art, but it was never called the Swastika or Sauvastika. It was called a Tetragammadion, because it looks like four Gamma (Γ) symbols joined together.

The most interesting thing I learnt, though, was that the Swastika appears as a religious symbol in all cultures where a god wields a lightning weapon, because its jagged shape represents bolts of lightning. Indra, Zeus, Jupiter, and Odin - all of them are said to be associated with this symbol. This is yet another piece of evidence to me that "Vedic" civilisation is "Aryan" and came to India with the Steppes Pastoralists.

So the lady wasn't outright wrong, but her information was misleading all the same. The most direct connection from the backwards-facing Swastika on the Buddha's chest is to the Swastika symbol used in ancient India. Yes, it's called the Sauvastika, but that's a 19th century European word. Yes, it was also used in ancient Greece, but that's not where the Buddhist symbol came from.

My philosophical takeaway from this episode is that, until India becomes an important world power, a lot of cultural misconceptions and appropriations will continue.

Musical musings:

The style in which the monastics chanted the hymns sounded familiar. After some reflection, it struck me that they were singing in a scale known as Bhoopali (in Hindustani music) or Mohanam (in Carnatic music). This is a pentatonic scale and most commonly heard in all East Asian music.

Linguistic crossovers:

A number of Sanskrit words are retained in the Chinese hymns, but often converted into Chinese forms.

How many Sanskrit words can you find? "Namo" and "Muni" remain more or less unchanged. "Sakya" becomes "Shi Jia", and "Buddha" becomes "Fo".

Lighter moments:

1. As you can see in the top photo, there are five huge statues of the Buddha in the main shrine of the temple, making it impossible for devotees to circumambulate them, as would be the practice otherwise. One of the priestesses - called "venerables" (which reminded me of Hillary Clinton and her "basket of deplorables") - told us we would have to circumambulate the cushions (pews) instead. It struck me that if we couldn't circumambulate the Sakya prince, we could simply walk around the Kushans.

2. I did a double-take when reading the book of chants. The Chinese character for emptiness ("kōng") looked like a gorilla standing on top of a building! Was it entirely a coincidence that this is King Kong's most remembered scene today?

(If you can't see it straightaway, try this.)

Friday, 13 September 2019

No, The Aryan Invasion Theory Has Not Been Disproved

There has been much rejoicing in Hindu right-wing quarters over some recent news reports on the genetic findings from an ancient burial site in Rakhigarhi, Haryana.

On closer examination, however, the findings from this study do not in any way contradict earlier studies that very clearly support the Aryan Invasion Theory.

The Aryan influence on India was NOT a benign "migration". It was an armed invasion followed by mass rape, which explains the sudden infusion of Central Asian male DNA (but not female DNA) into the Indian gene pool, which persists today in 17.5% of Indian males

Current thinking by geneticists, based on the evidence collected in the last decade, is that the earliest inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent were South Asian Hunter-Gatherers. These people intermixed with Iranian Agriculturalists who migrated eastwards, to form Ancestral South Indians (ASI), who could be loosely called "Dravidians", and who set up the Indus Valley Civilisation. There was an invasion by Steppes Pastoralists (who could be loosely called "Aryans") from Central Asia around 2000 BCE, and the subsequent admixture of these genes with those in the Indus Valley created a group called Ancestral North Indians (ANI). Subsequently, ANI and ASI people intermixed for many centuries, until strict endogamy was enforced 1900 years ago, which entrenched the caste system. Consequently, "upper-caste" and North Indian people have more ANI (and therefore more Steppes Pastoralist/Aryan) DNA, while "lower-caste" and South Indian people have more ASI (and therefore less Aryan) DNA.

[The one surprising finding from Rakhigarhi is that the admixture of genes from Iranian Agriculturalists was much earlier than previously thought. It probably happened in 10,000 BCE rather than during 4700-3000 BCE. However, this has no bearing on the Aryan Invasion, which happened much later.]

1. Much is being made of the finding that the Rakhigarhi specimen did not have any trace of Steppes Pastoralist (Aryan) DNA. Well, duh! The specimen was from the period 2800-2300 BCE, which predates the Aryan invasion by a few centuries. Of course it would not have any Aryan DNA!

2. Much is also made of the fact that the specimen's DNA has a very high correlation with the DNA of modern Indians, so the implication is that there is negligible foreign (Aryan) DNA in Indians, and that modern Indians descended directly from the Indus Valley civilisation with no external influence, with the further, politically significant corollary that "Vedic" culture is therefore indigenous to India.

There are serious flaws in this argument. 

First, it has never been the claim that Aryan DNA was a huge part of Indian DNA anyway. The actual Aryan DNA in modern Indians is relatively small, although not negligible. 17.5% of modern Indian males belong to haplogroup R1a, which signifies an Aryan link.

Second, the Rakhigarhi specimen contributes no evidence to dispute the earlier finding that there was a sudden infusion of patrilineal or Y-DNA (but no corresponding infusion of matrilineal or mitochondrial mt-DNA) from Central Asia around 2000 BCE, when the Indus Valley Civilisation collapsed. This one fact alone strongly suggests that there was an armed invasion of men around that time, followed by mass rape. However unpleasant the scenario is to consider, nothing else explains the sudden and exclusive infusion of male DNA on such a scale at a single point in time, which also coincides in time with the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilisation. If 17.5% of the Indian male population today carries this DNA marker, it must have been a very significant event.

Third, cultural influence can be disproportionate to genetic influence. The British ruled India for about 200 years. Their genetic influence on India was negligible. The population of Anglo-Indians is negligible compared to the overall Indian population. Yet the cultural influence of the British was cataclysmic. From the parliamentary system of democracy, to jurisprudence, to the civil service, to the education system, to the English language, India has been profoundly altered by the experience of colonialism. Why, the very political entity that is the Indian nation-state was the creation of the British. So the argument that the Aryans would have had to have a greater genetic imprint among modern Indians to have influenced Indian culture is baseless. The Aryans were conquerors. They did rape and spread their genes among the indigenous people, but their cultural impact as conquerors would have been far, far greater.

[Besides, if it were to be discovered, for example, that 17.5% of Indian Muslim males had Afghan or Persian DNA, this would be seized upon by the Hindu right wing to argue that all Indian Muslims are "foreigners" and not true Indians.]

Surely the links between Vedic culture and other "Aryan" groups should be obvious to anyone at a glance. Linguists refer to an entire family of languages as "Indo-Aryan" for this reason, with "Dravidian" languages being recognised as distinct. As another example, Hindu, Greek and Norse mythology all feature a pantheon of gods led by a king who wields a thunderbolt weapon (Indra, Zeus, Odin).

It's very obvious to anyone (anyone who considers the evidence dispassionately, that is) that "Vedic" culture came to India from outside, and it was brought by the Steppes Pastoralists (Aryans) who conquered the indigenous people of the Indus Valley and brought their civilisation to an abrupt end. Thereafter, Indian civilisation has been the result of intermixing of Pre-Aryan (Dravidian) and Aryan cultures, with Aryan culture dominating.

In later centuries, the Muslim invaders and then Western colonialists conquered and profoundly influenced India. Modern India, for better or worse, has been shaped by all of these external influences, and it is best to accept this historical fact and move forward, building a modern society based on reason and humanism rather than on narrow chauvinistic identities. There is no sense in trying to uproot "foreign" influences (read Muslim and Western), when "Vedic" culture itself came to India from outside.

In sum, my reading is that the Hindu right wing has been severely embarrassed by genetics findings over the last few years that prove the Aryan Invasion Theory, and they are now clutching at straws.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Thoughts On Culture, Friendship And Hospitality

A female colleague of mine travelled to Melbourne with me on work. I stayed the night at a hotel, while she arranged to stay with a friend. Neither of us had eaten since lunch, but I managed to grab a bite to eat after I checked in at the hotel. I assumed she would have dinner at her friend's place.

When we met for breakfast at my hotel the next morning, she revealed that she hadn't actually eaten anything since lunch the previous day. She had reached her friend's house at 10 PM, and the kids were already in bed. It was a school day the next day, and they weren't to be disturbed, so the friend had asked her not to ring the doorbell but to call her on her mobile when she arrived. Apparently, the two of them had sat up for about an hour talking quietly and catching up over a cup of coffee, and then my colleague went to bed -- without dinner.

I was frankly shocked when I heard this, but didn't say anything to her. It once again brought to my mind the often stark cultural differences between groups of people. My colleague is a white Anglo Australian.

I cannot imagine a situation where I might land up in the house of an Indian friend at night, and be allowed to go to bed without dinner. It's just not done in Indian culture. The first thing I would be asked even before I set down my bags would be, "Have you had dinner?" and if it turned out that I hadn't, I would be stuffed to the gills before I was allowed to go to bed. Even if I answered in the affirmative, I would be urged to have some dessert at least.

I realised then that the commonly-invoked Sanskrit phrase "atithi devo bhava" ("the guest is god") to refer to Indian hospitality, isn't too far from the truth.

It isn't just Indian culture. Chinese and Middle Eastern people are notorious for feeding people too. A common Mandarin greeting, I'm told, is "nǐ chī fàn le ma?" ("Have you eaten (rice)?"). Enquiring about whether the other person has eaten is common among Italians and Greeks too, communities sometimes disparagingly referred to as "wogs" by Anglo people. It's the Anglos who seem to be the exception among civilisations.

To be sure, Anglo culture abounds in social niceties of etiquette, such as respecting queues, being on time, and saying "thank you", "please" and "excuse me", but these are just the trappings of civilisation. When it comes down to it, there is a human core that seems to be missing. I periodically receive rude reminders that Anglo culture is impersonal to the point of being callous.

I'm a great believer in cultural cross-pollination. I think Western civilisation, especially the Anglosphere, has taught the rest of the world a great many things. The notions of democracy, individual freedom, human rights, the separation of church and state, the primacy of reason, etc., have been invaluable contributions that have civilised the world. It would be great if some civilising influences flowed the other way too.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

5 Things I Liked About Captain Marvel (And 2 I Didn't)

[Warning: Plot Spoilers below]

I grew up as more of a DC Comics fan than a Marvel one. However, I find that Marvel movies in general are of uniformly high quality, and better on average than their counterparts from the DC Universe. My recent favourites have been Black Panther and Ant Man and the Wasp.

This review is of the latest Marvel movie that I saw and liked - Captain Marvel.

Brie Larson in the title role of Captain Marvel (Click to expand)

I was initially nonplussed by the name "Captain Marvel", because I had never heard of this superhero before. I guess my confusion was justified, because the name has been handed from DC to Marvel, and applied to various people, from Shazam, through a male version, to the final one in the form of Carol Danvers. This page attempts to clear up the confusion.

Just who is Captain Marvel?

I'm not going to post a blow-by-blow review of the movie's plot points, whether it's the "war" between the Kree and the Skrull, the various worlds where the action takes place, such as the Kree homeworld of Hala and Planet C-53 (Earth), or even the main character's journey of self-discovery.

You can see the movie yourself to discover and enjoy these, and there's plenty to enjoy. This post is about what I liked and disliked about it.

What I liked about this movie were the messages it contained:

1. Don't make snap judgements based on appearance

It's easy to take sides with "people like us", and to demonise people "different from us". But good and evil aren't that easy to tell apart. 

The Kree - "Noble warrior heroes"

The Skrull - "Shape-shifting aliens"

When the real truth is revealed to the protagonist, it's an important lesson to the audience as well:
Don't be taken in by appearances. Examine your own prejudices.

2. Don't blindly believe justifications for war or the narratives in support of it

This point is related to the previous one. There is a well-known meme that captures how the same situation can be spun in different directions to weave completely opposite narratives. "We" are the noble ones, and the "other" is evil. It's perfectly obvious why "we" must fight and destroy "them".

How media can spin an event to push a desired narrative

One of the heroes of this story is the Kree renegade Mar-Vell, played by Annette Bening. She sees the injustice of the war she has been told to participate in, and she revolts.

Mar-Vell/Dr Lawson wants to end the war, not to win it

There's a lot of war mythology being spun in our own world as we speak, complete with evil enemies and our own noble soldiers. It's considered disloyal to even question these narratives, but question them we must.

We are all the same. Our emotions are no more authentic than those of other people. Never demonise others to the point that you cannot feel their pain. That's when you become a monster yourself.

Mar-Vell and Captain Marvel discover the truth for themselves, and strike a blow for justice within the Marvel Universe. (Meanwhile on Planet C-53, Julian Assange remains a fugitive and a virtual prisoner.)

3. In a diverse world, everyone deserves representation

I guess it's a disconcerting time for those who want to see the superhero universe continue to be dominated by white men. Half the world's population is female, and more than half is non-white. Movie studios can't afford to ignore potential new markets, and so the superhero universe has to evolve to accommodate characters with whom other people can identify.

It's the trend that made Black Panther and Wonder Woman such superhits. And that dynamic continues to work with Captain Marvel too.

Can't think of a stronger role model for young girls than a female fighter pilot

Repeat, for young girls of other ethnic groups

Whether by colour or gender, the lead characters are all non-traditional

It stands to reason. Walk down a city street in any major metropolis, and you see all kinds of people, of every race and gender. Why should superhero movies not exhibit the same diversity?

4. Superheroes are defined by their heart, and true strength is about getting up after being knocked down

It seems a little counter-intuitive to say that what makes a superhero are not superpowers, but that is actually true. A superhero movie that relies only on special effects will fail to move its viewers. To connect with the audience, the superhero has to be strongly human. Superman connects emotionally with his millions of fans, not because of his powers, but because he cannot stop helping people.

The secret to a superhero's popularity is their secret identity. That's who they really are. The mask and costume are colourful, but they hide rather than reveal.

Carol Danvers the human being is very likeable. She's a genuinely nice person who is fair, loyal and brave, and she has a sense of humour. That's the hook on which the character of her superhero persona hangs, not the photon blasts or the ability to fly.

Niceness is an underrated superpower

Is she infallible? On the contrary, she falls down whenever she attempts something, at every stage of her life. But then...

She keeps getting back up

To my mind, this was the most powerful message of the movie:

Life will keep knocking you down. Keep getting up.

5. Play to your strengths, and don't accept arbitrary limits laid down by others

Early on in the movie, there is a training scene where the protagonist's supposed mentor is trying to teach her how to fight and win. He criticises her emotionality, even her sense of humour. He tries to get her to distance herself from everything she is.

It isn't mentoring when someone tells you not to be your best self; it's a form of gaslighting designed to keep you weak. Fortunately, Captain Marvel gains the confidence to use her powers whenever she wants to, not when she is permitted to.

Mind games. Don't fall for them

Those photon blasts are pretty cool

This too struck me as a very important lesson for children:

Understand your strengths and exploit them. Recognise when other people try to limit your potential.

Having said all that, there were a couple of things I didn't like about this movie:

1. An "overpowered" superhero

Towards the end of the movie, Captain Marvel develops so many more powers that she begins to run the danger of being "overpowered". This is a criticism that used to be levelled at the Superman of the comics, at a certain stage in that character's development. If a hero becomes so powerful that nothing is a challenge anymore, their stories fail to be interesting.

What is it that Superman cannot do?

Superheroes need to have some limits to their powers. They need to struggle a bit, both to keep them human, and for their stories to be interesting.

2. An overemphasis on superpowers

This is related to the previous point, and counteracts the fourth positive I listed earlier. Superheroes are defined not by their superpowers but by who they are. They also inspire by their courage and humanity. If they can do virtually anything, then not only do their stories become less interesting, they also become less inspiring. One can aspire to be brave and kind like a superhero, but there is no point in aspiring to achieve the feats that he or she achieves through their powers. Beyond a point, one is no longer inspired; one gives up. 

An interesting allegory I read in school was about the "four weapons" that society uses to resist social reformers. The first three are apathy, derision and violence (assassination). But the fourth is the subtlest and most effective. It's homage. When people place moral leaders on too high a pedestal, they're implicitly saying, "This person is too great for me to emulate. I'm excused if I remain my flawed self and fail to improve."

Captain Marvel needs to become a little less powerful, not more, if she is to remain an effective role model.

Forget it. This is beyond me.

Other tidbits

There are echoes of "Star Trek - The Motion Picture" when the Kree version of the protagonist gets the name "Vers". That's because only the latter part of her name tag "Carol Danvers" remains after a crash. It's redolent of the Star Trek scene when "Veejur" is revealed to be "Voyager VI", with many letters obliterated by meteorites (V***ger **).

In conclusion

All in all, Captain Marvel is a great movie. It's very watchable, and its protagonist one of the most likeable in recent times.

Overall rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Friday, 15 February 2019

On Being A Bigot Myself

[Mahatma Gandhi wrote a book called 'The Story of My Experiments with Truth'. This is a tiny chapter that I could call 'The Story of My Experiments with Hatred and Bigotry'.]

I have always prided myself on my social liberalism. I believe myself to have no prejudices regarding race, nationality, gender, age, or sexual orientation. Even on the subject of religion, while I may look down disdainfully at religious people, considering them to be gullible believers in fairytales, I do not hate them. Contempt and disdain are much milder than hatred.

But something happened last week that shook me out of my smugness. I realised that I could feel hatred.

Mind you, I don't claim to be devoid of hatred. When I come across a jerk, I often do hate them for their behaviour. But that is purely at an individual level. I believe I am evolved enough in my thinking not to hate a group of people by association.

Until last week.

I was returning from a trip abroad, and was taking the airport shuttle home.

There were two other passengers in the shuttle with me. One of them was an Indian doctor who had been living in Australia for the last 30 years. The other was an American woman who was visiting her daughter in Sydney.

It was still very early in the morning, and I hadn't slept well on the flight, so I closed my eyes and tried to get some more sleep. But I couldn't sleep because my two co-passengers kept talking throughout the trip. I didn't really mind as long as I didn't have to participate. I listened idly to their conversation.

It turned out that the American woman's daughter was studying, not at a regular University, but at the Hillsong College. I smiled sardonically to myself. A churchie! And not just any random churchie, but a cult follower. The Hillsong Church is a notorious cult just a notch below the Church of Scientology on the charlatan scale.

Mind you, that factoid didn't make me hate her. It just triggered a slight sardonic curl of my lip.

She spoke about the time her daughter attended a camp organised by the Hillsong Church. The good doctor naively asked if the church had paid for the camp. I grinned to myself. The Hillsong Church never pays for anything. You pay the Hillsong Church. That's how the model works.

Then the topic turned to health, weight-watching and dieting. I refrained from pitching in about the 5:2 diet that I follow. I just listened with interest.

And that's when it happened.
"What's your weight?" asked the American woman.
"84 kilograms," replied the doctor.
"Kilograms? What's that? I only know pounds," she responded.

In that moment, I felt a surge of anger that snapped my eyes open. I didn't say a word out loud, but my mind was shrieking hysterically.

What the #@^%@&! is wrong with you Americans??

I was surprised at my own sudden, involuntary anger. In that moment, I hated Americans. Hated them for not following the metric system, and not even knowing what it was.
Kilograms? What's that? I only know pounds.


Meanwhile, back on the shuttle, the conversation was proceeding entirely calmly and normally.

"Oh, one kilogram is 2.2 pounds. So 84 kilograms is a little under 200 pounds," explained the doctor patiently, and the woman went, "Oh, all right."

It was no biggie, really. If you don't understand what a kilogram is, someone can readily convert the number into pounds for you, and then you understand. That's all there is to it.

But that, as Obama would have it, was a teachable moment for me.

The American woman was different from me in a number of ways, but none of those differences caused me to hate her. She belonged to a different race and gender, and followed a (different) religion. But the fact that she followed a different system of measurement was what caused me to blow my top. Worse, she displayed complete and unforgivable ignorance about the One True System of Measurement that all True Human Beings should unquestioningly follow. That was blasphemy.

So you see, we are all bigots under a very thin veneer of beatific tolerance. It's just that we have different buttons that have to be pushed for that bigotry to break through the surface.

Epilogue: After a few minutes, I recovered from my flush of anger. The driver turned around at one point to mention in an incredulous tone that the temperature in Sydney had touched 41 degrees the previous week.

"Fahrenheit?" asked the poor American woman, struggling to comprehend why that would be considered terrible.

"No, Celsius," said the doctor, without even a hint of a smile.

I chuckled to myself and was satisfied that my liberal and tolerant self had returned.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

The Leisure Society Will Be Built, Not By Labour And Capital, Not From Atoms And Bits, But With Energy And Intelligence

According to Marx, civilisation has been built by Labour using the tools supplied by Capital (with the proceeds going disproportionately to Capital).

Labour and Capital, the "factors of production", have long been a useful way to think about the world.

After the Digital Age began, Nicholas Negroponte observed that everything of value in the modern world was made up of either Atoms or Bits.

Indeed, at that point, "software", the intangible combination of logic and data, had become as important as physical objects (hardware).

Labour and Capital. Atoms and Bits. With each of these simple and elegant intellectual models, we were able to make sense of our world anew. 

And now, I believe that a useful way to look at the coming Leisure Society is to think of it in terms of two new and different entities - Energy and Intelligence.

Abundant and free energy is only a few years away

Robots and AI will soon replace humans at virtually every blue-collar and white-collar job

To produce anything in this world, we require a combination of Energy and Intelligence. Every process is driven by Energy and guided by Intelligence. Even matter - raw material - can be expressed as a combination of Energy and Intelligence. It takes energy to extract matter from the earth, energy to transform it into more useful forms, energy to transport it to where it is required. And it takes Intelligence to guide each of those processes. If Energy and Intelligence were free, raw material would be free too. In other words, we can discount matter in our analysis. it's only Energy and Intelligence that we need to think about.

We are approaching three "singularities" in our lifetimes, and I wrote about these earlier. The two basic ones are particularly important. The Energy Singularity (my term) will occur when the marginal cost of energy production falls to zero. The Technology Singularity (a term coined by Ray Kurzweil) will occur when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence. More importantly, the Technology Singularity will practically occur when artificial intelligence can be distributed and applied at a fraction of the cost of hiring human intelligence for the same task, a cost which will continue to plummet even as its quality improves.

I believe that we are putting in place the building blocks of the coming Leisure Society. We think we're saving the planet by replacing polluting fuels by renewables. We're actually doing much more than that. By harnessing "renewables", we're reducing the marginal cost of energy production to virtually zero. In other words, we're bringing the Energy Singularity closer. In about 15 years, I predict that the world will be producing 100% of its energy requirements from renewables, and when the setup costs of that energy infrastructure are finally amortised, energy will begin to be free.

The cost of Intelligence is falling too. Soon, both disembodied AI in our networks and embodied AI in devices and robots will be available to us virtually free of charge.

When virtually free robots and AI begin to run our farms and factories, using virtually free power and virtually free raw materials, and intelligent transport infrastructure is able to deliver goods to us virtually free of charge, we will have arrived at the Leisure Society.