Monday, October 31, 2011

Stumbling over their own rhetoric

I'm really late to this one, but PZ Myers had some posts criticizing Greg Epstein's humanist chaplaincy.  If I read PZ correctly*, he doesn't like using a church-like model for community organization.  If you want to read more, I recommend Crommunist's response (which inspired parts of this post).

*It is entirely possible that I misread him.

I think of this as atheists stumbling over their own rhetoric.  Atheists openly criticize many aspects of religions, and for plenty of valid reasons too.  But atheists, being human, will make mistakes about which aspects of religion cause it to be so bad.

For example: I've heard lots of atheists jokingly say that atheism is great because it frees up your Sundays.  If these are the kind of idle jokes you make, you might have a negative reaction to atheist groups that have weekly meetings, particularly if they're on Sundays.  But is that really what's wrong with Christianity, the mere fact that there is a tradition of Sunday meetings?  Obviously not... But the rhetoric is there, and we're stumbling over it.  And it sure doesn't help that outsiders will stupidly grab onto any similarity between atheists and religious people, as if that were a valid criticism of anything.

This may be a silly example.  Who would let such an little thin get in the way of going to weekly meetings of atheists?  Nobody I know, but then most of my vocal atheist friends I know through organizations that meet weekly.

I believe there is a whole collection of other examples of atheists stumbling over their own rhetoric.

Evangelism.  We agree that evangelism is bad.  What is bad about it?  I consider it bad because it's done in socially awkward situations, and the views espoused are often offensive, wrong, and offensively wrong.  But lots of atheists apparently think that trying to persuade people on religious topics is bad in general, and criticize other atheists as too evangelical.

Spirituality.  Most atheists I know recognize that it is silly to let the lack of a spiritual realm get in the way of expressing awe, wonder, and other profound emotions.  They do, however, see it as a good reason to not use the word "spirituality", since if spirits don't exist, that's not really what it is.  I don't sympathize with the need for awe and wonder, but good for them for not letting any rhetoric prevent them from enjoying themselves!

Ritual.  I quote PZ Myers: "Tapping into our psychology to get us to sit and get sucked into pointless ritual is not how I want to see the atheist movement evolve. I want us to think and act, not reassure ourselves by going through repetitive motions, through superstitious behavior."  But then, I think lots of atheists are fans of Halloween, which is also filled with pointless rituals.  (I don't particularly like Halloween.)  What's that, some people enjoy Halloween?  Who am I to begrudge that?

Priests.  Obviously something has gone wrong with the Catholic priesthood, but what?  Is it because any sort of leader or authority figure is bad?  Is it because celibacy is unnatural?  Surely we can think of a more nuanced reason that doesn't also apply to student group leaders, public intellectuals, or people who personally choose to remain celibate.  How about... upholding a group as morally superior, to the point of concealing any evidence to the contrary?

Church.  I must say that I completely agreed with PZ's title: "Atheist church? NO THANK YOU."  I really hated church because it was boring.  Also, I think church music is terrible.  Yes, gospel music too.  I think it is hypocritical that many atheists will say I'm letting my atheism get in the way of enjoying religious music (even though I also disliked it when I was religious), and simultaneously let their own atheism get in the way of recognizing the value of a church-like community structure.  Are we incapable of seeing that different people have different tastes?

I certainly don't share the taste of atheists who feel the need for a humanist chaplaincy, but I don't see what is so wrong with that.  People can do what they want, or not do what they don't want.  People can also complain about other people's terrible taste.  But let's not get completely carried away there.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An answer to a nosy question

If you're asexual, do you masturbate?

This is, in my experience, the most frequently asked question about asexuality (although usually people use a euphemism).  Here is my straight answer:

Presumably you are not so much interested in my personal life, but interested in whether asexual people in general masturbate.  Unfortunately, answering the question directly would not satisfy your curiosity, because A) you don't know whether I am representative of asexuals, and B) you probably don't have any idea how much non-asexual people masturbate either.

What you really want is some capital-letter SCIENCE!

No, really.  In general, it is very difficult to scientifically quantify asexuality, but it's relatively easy to just make a survey asking how often people masturbate.  Someone must have done it.

I'll save you time.  A survey was hidden in this paper by Prause and Graham.
(From Table 2) Frequency of masturbation:
asexuals: 3.7 +/- 2
non-asexuals: 4.5 +/- 1.9
The scale is from 1 (never masturbated) to 7 (4 times/week or more)
The followup question that everyone asks is...

But how can that be?

Forget how things can be the way they are.  They just are.  We've shown it empirically with SCIENCE!

But presumably you meant to ask, how is this consistent with the definition of asexuality?  An asexual plus sexuality equals not-an-asexual, am I right?

No, that's the wrong definition of asexuality.  Asexuality does not mean a lack of sexuality, it means a lack of sexual attraction (or sexual interest or sexual desire--the definitions vary).  In other words, there are multiple dimensions of sexuality, and asexuality just refers to one of those dimensions.  One of the reasons asexuality is so hard to study is because suddenly it becomes necessary to disentangle all these different dimensions that people usually assume go together.  Masturbation and sexual attraction are two of the easiest dimensions to disentangle; even a survey can do it.

Other frequent questions: Do asexuals think of it as a sexual activity?  What do asexuals masturbate to?

Unfortunately I don't think this is in the scientific literature (you may scan it for yourself).  Based on the accounts I've seen, nearly all answers are possible.  Asexuals may think of it as sexual, or not.  They may masturbate to objects, concepts, people, or nothing in particular.  If that seems strange... I am not really sure what is meant by a non-strange sexuality.  Anyways, it is hard to tell whether this is statistically different or similar to non-asexual masturbation habits.

Another frequent question: Is it strange or creepy of me to ask about this?

Not strange, no.  It is creepy though.  It was probably also creepy of me to answer.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The ant and the universe

Because light in our universe has had a finite amount of time to travel, we can only see a finite part of our universe.  We call this the observable universe.  But did you know that, even though the age of the universe is 13.7 billion years, we can actually see further than 13.7 billion light-years?

According to Hubble's Law, distant galaxies are receding from us at a speed proportional to their distance.  In fact, beyond 13.8 billion light years away, objects are receding from us faster than light.  Did you know that the furthest objects we see are actually receding faster than light?

Believe it or not, these facts are easy to understand with only elementary knowledge of cosmology.

There is a classic puzzle involving an ant on a rubber band.  The ant tries to run from one end of the rubber band to the other, but every second we stretch the rubber band longer.  Will the ant ever reach the other side, or will it just get further and further from its destination as the rubber band stretches?

An ant comes across a rubber band... (Ant image from here)

The ant on the rubber band is a lot like the path of light through the expanding universe.  The ant crawls at a constant speed, but only relative to the rubber band.  As the rubber band stretches, the ant may become further from its destination.  Similarly, light travels at a constant speed.  But as space itself expands, light from far away galaxies may actually become further from us over time.

(Note that the far away galaxies aren't breaking any speed limit even if they recede faster than light.  They are receding because the space between us is expanding.  The relativistic speed limit only applies to the relative velocities of two objects at nearly the same location.  Analogously, we can say that even if we stretch the rubber band really fast, this doesn't mean the ant is breaking its own crawling-speed limit.  It just means the rubber band is stretching.)

So, will the ant make it or not?  It depends how quickly we stretch the rubber band.  If we were feeling devious, we could stretch the rubber band at exactly the right rate so that the ant is running in place, never getting any closer to its destination.  But let's consider a stretching rate which is a little more like our universe.  Suppose that the ant crawls one inch per second, and each second we stretch the total rubber band's length by one foot.

At first, the ant will gain an inch, and lose a foot.  But after the ant covers some distance, I waste a lot of effort stretching the part of the rubber band that is already behind the ant.  So eventually, the ant may catch up!  Indeed, we can show that it will catch up, if we consider the total fraction of rubber band that the ant covers each second.  In the first second, the ant covers 1/12 of the rubber band.  In the second second, it covers 1/12 * 1/2 of the rubber band (since now the rubber band has been stretched to twice its previous length.)  The next second, the ant covers 1/12 * 1/3.  And so forth.  We get a sequence like this:

The series in parentheses is known as the harmonic series.  The harmonic series can arbitrarily big, just by adding more terms (but it takes an exponentially large number of terms).  If we were to graph the ant's trajectory, it would look like this:

Note: I calculated this assuming continuous stretching, not by discrete stretching.  This is more true to cosmology.

So that's how the ant traverses the rubber band even though the rubber band was stretching faster than the ant could crawl.  Similarly, light can reach us from far away galaxies even if they're receding faster than light.

How far did the ant travel?  The ant is traveling an inch per second, and traveled for over 160,000 seconds.  Therefore, it traveled over 160,000 inches.  But there's another distance we can ask about: How far away is the point on the rubber band from which the ant started?  Because the opposite end of the rubber band moves at a foot per second, it must be over 160,000 feet away.

With light we can ask the same questions.  According to NASA, the furthest galaxy we know of is 13.2 billion light years away, by which they really mean that the light has traveled 13.2 billion light years to get to us.  But how far away is that galaxy now?  It is probably much further than 13.7 billion light years away, because it is receding from us very quickly.

But there are additional complications when we apply this to the universe.  As it turns out, the universe does not expand at a uniform rate, like our rubber band.  The two additional complications are matter and dark energy.  This will be explained in the next part.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Old news: Today is the end

Here's an old story from May 24th:
Harold Camping, who announced the Rapture would occur Saturday [May 21], has had another revelation: The world will now end on October 21.
Harold Camping claims the world will end by earthquake.  I'm not sure what exact hour.  Actually here we had a couple of quakes yesterday!

I'd be sort of interested if the same prediction was made by the quake quack.  That would be like alignment of the planets, but instead of planets, different spheres of woo.  Alas!  A glance suggests that there is no such alignment.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The ant and the rubber band

In a draft I'm writing, I'm including a classic puzzle as a demonstrative example.  But I should let my readers have a try first!

There is an ant on a rubber band.  The ant is crawling from one end of the rubber band towards the other at 1 inch per second.  The rubber band is one foot long, but getting longer.  After each second, the rubber band's length grows by one foot.

Question: Will the ant ever reach the other side of the rubber band?

(It's an infinitely stretchy rubber band, and the ant lives infinitely long.  Since I am a physicist, I will not worry about whether the rubber band is stretching instantaneously every second or stretching continuously.  Just assume whichever you prefer.)

You have less than a week to solve this one.  Bonus points if you can predict what my draft is about.

(solution contained here)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Woohoo, 4th bloggiversary!

This year, I remembered my mother's birthday, but not my blog's (which was on October 5th).  Ah well, my blog probably doesn't care as much as my mother would.

So, another year, another set of highlights:

Dreaming boltzmann brains
Electricity, magnetism, space, and time
One: the universe's favorite digit

The interminable tone debate
Religion-shaped hole: spirituality

Critical thinking!
Nature/Nurture and causality
Astrology: a different nonsense than you thought
Opinions are relative 

A brief history of antisexuality
Erasure: What's the harm?
On asexual relationships

Fractal maze
The tiger and the lake

Actual and potential infinities (a new series spanning math, physics, and the cosmological argument)
(Also see last bloggiversary's link roundup) 

Looking back, I think the hardest posts to pick are the physics ones.  I really like most of my physics posts, and many of my thoughts on critical thinking seem too rambly and poorly formed in retrospect.  It probably has to do with the fact that physics posts require more effort, giving me more time to think about the way they're framed.  But another possible explanation is that physics is easy, critical thinking is hard.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A lot of Brillouin Zones

In condensed matter physics we deal a lot with crystals, which is a repeating structure of atoms.  Every crystal is associated with a lattice,* which is an infinitely repeating set of points.

For example, if the points shown above were to repeat infinitely over the plane, they would make a lattice.

A useful concept is the first Brillouin Zone, which is the set of all points which are closer to the center point of the lattice than to any other point of the lattice.  In the above example, the first Brillouin Zone would simply be a square around the center.

Interestingly (but less usefully) there is also a definition for the Nth Brillouin Zone.  The Nth Brillouin Zone is the set of all points such that the center point of the lattice is the Nth closest point in the lattice.  I thought it might be pretty to draw the first few Brillouin Zones, and then I went totally overboard.

The first 27 Brillouin Zones.  The first Brillouin Zone is the red square in the center, and successive Brillouin Zones are each in a different color, moving outwards.  Click to enlarge.

The Brillouin Zones have the interesting property that each one has equal area.  And for any given Brillouin Zone, you can translate the different pieces by integer distances and form a square out of them.

I think one thing that attracted me to condensed matter physics is that there's all this geometry in it... and it's actually useful for describing reality.  Not this Nth Brillouin Zone stuff though, that's useless.  Hardly anyone thinks about the second Brillouin Zone, much less the third or twenty-seventh.

You can get Brillouin Zones of different shapes if you have different kinds of lattices!  And you can even have 3D lattices, producing 3D Brillouin Zones.  Note that even though real crystals exist in 3-dimensional space, they can be layered in 2D structures and thus be associated with 2D lattices.  For example, the 2D lattice I showed is the correct lattice to use for the cuprate superconductors that I study.

*The locations of the atomic nuclei in a crystal often make a lattice, but for complicated reasons, this is not the one I'm talking about.  Every crystal is also associated with a completely different "reciprocal lattice", which is the one relevant to Brillouin Zones.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Arguments: offline or online?

I saw a talk by JT Eberhard, and he said that whenever someone invites him to discuss the fate of his immortal soul over a cup of coffee, he agrees on the condition that the discussion can be put online.  This put on my mind the question of whether it is best to argue in public or private.  "Maybe I should blog about that," I said to my notepad.  And then Greta Christina blogged about it instead.
In a private debate, you only have a chance at persuading one person. In a public one, you have a chance at persuading dozens, or hundreds, or thousands, depending on how big a forum you have.
People may be ashamed to express stupid ideas in public — but once they’ve done so, they’re likely to get even more entrenched in them. Once we’ve made an assertion in public, it’s harder to walk it back. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
Noooooo!  Now that everyone on the atheowebs is talking about it, how can I possibly hope to contribute anything worthwhile?  It is the curse of blogs everywhere.

I don't like the way the choices are presented:  Either have a private argument over coffee, or have a public argument over coffee.  I simply don't have arguments over coffee.  I don't like one-on-one arguments, or coffee.  And opportunities for arguments over coffee never appear.  In my circumstances, this is the more realistic set of choices:
  1. Talk about atheism without any provocation.
  2. Talk about atheism with the slightest provocation.
  3. Talk about atheism online.
  4. A combination of some, all, or none of the above.
When I talk online, the fact that it's public is not the biggest difference.   The biggest difference is that I produce my own opportunities instead of waiting for them.  The second biggest difference is that it's in writing, not spoken word (where I am far less articulate).  The third biggest difference is that, since my preferred medium is blogging, I decide the focus, and argue with no one in particular.

Is arguing publicly more effective?  Among my choices, in my circumstances, it is definitely the most effective at, well, everything.  It's more satisfying to you, more satisfying to me, more likely to persuade people, and has a more positive effect on my relationships. But it's so tangled up in other inseparable issues, it's hard to say that it has much to do with the public/private aspect.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Show discordant evidence

I saw Richard Muller give a talk about climate change.  Perhaps you've heard of him.  He's that physicist that got funding from oil companies to do an independent reanalysis of Earth surface temperature data.  And then when Republicans chose him as a witness for a congressional hearing, he surprised them by testifying that his results, even after correcting for biases, confirmed previous analysis.

Muller's thesis was that you should have been skeptical of climate change before, but you should not be now (now that Muller published his research, har har).  I'm not really sure what this has to do with synchrotron light sources, which is what the conference was about, but it was a good talk.

Anyway, if you remember Richard Muller from the news, you may also remember when the e-mails of a bunch of climate scientists got leaked.  Much was made of a particular e-mail that spoke of a "trick" used to "hide the decline".  The "trick" of course simply refers to a trick of the trade.  The decline refers to tree ring data.  It's well-known in the scientific literature that tree ring data diverges from more reliable temperature measurements after 1960, for reasons unknown.  Thus, the trick is to ignore tree ring data after 1960 and show more reliable estimates in its place.

Muller made a point which I feel I missed at the time.  The correct thing to do is show data, even when it is discordant with your conclusions.  And then you should be able to convince your audience anyways.

It's not uncommon for some particular bit of data to contradict one's conclusions.  That doesn't necessarily mean your conclusions are incorrect or unpersuasive, it just means that not every single piece of data supports it.  There are lots of reasons why data can be wrong.  So show the data and explain why you think it's wrong.

But I can also think of a few situations where it would be appropriate to hide the data.  For example, if it's a well-known effect with a standard procedure for correction.  Relating to my own research, no one would complain if I neglected to mention the data I took from obviously dirty superconductor samples.

I'm not sure whether, in this specific case, it was okay to hide the discordant data.  The divergence of tree ring data is known in the literature, and the researchers openly state that they correct it.

Eh, I guess I don't care either way.  I'm more interested in the general principle, that it is good to show discordant evidence.  Even moving away from science, when I relate anecdotes, I like to note the limitations of my experiences as evidence.  Of course, I hope to convince despite limitations, but if I fail, that's that.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tower of Hanoi variant

The Tower of Hanoi is a classic puzzle that looks like this:

Image borrowed from Wikipedia

The idea is to get all the disks from the left rod onto the right rod.  This might seem easy (just dump them out and put them back on the other one), but there are a few rules you have to follow.  First, you can only move one disk at a time, and only from one rod onto another.  Second, no larger disk is allowed to be on top of a smaller disk.

The solution to the Towers of Hanoi is not too difficult, though the number of moves required increases exponentially as the number of disks.

Let's play a variant of the Towers of Hanoi.  Instead of three rods, there are five.  And there's an additional rule: a disk can only lay on top of another disk only if the one below is exactly one size bigger.

My question is: What's the tallest tower that you can move from one rod to another?

Afterwards, you can try the same variation with six rods.

(This is an original puzzle, inspired by too many games of Freecell, which obeys the same rules.  However, I would be surprised if I'm the only one who has ever thought of this variant.)

See the solution

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sex-negativity and asexuality

When I talk about reactions to asexuality, I mostly discuss reactions from sex-positive and non-religious people.  This emphasis is decided by what's most relevant to me in my own life.  My social circles mainly consist of queers, physicists, and skeptics, none of which are particularly sex-negative or religious.

But a fuller understanding demands that I also speak of the reactions from sex-negative and religious people.*  Do they love asexuals?  Do they think asexuals are aberrations to be discouraged?  Do they shrug their shoulders and move on?  Do they shrug their shoulders and stab asexuals in the back when it comes to substantive issues?  If only I had the relevant experience to say!

*In American culture, religion tends to be associated with sex-negativity, but of course this isn't true in general.  All my comments have limited applicability.

Nonetheless, I will blather on as if I really did know what I was talking about.  I will give two examples.  These are not representative examples, but the worst examples I have ever seen on the internet.  (I wouldn't be surprised if the only hits these websites get anymore are from angry asexuals.)  These examples do not tell you what will go wrong, but what could go wrong.

Here's the first one:
Question: What do you call a person who is asexual? Answer: Not a person. Asexual people do not exist. Sexuality is a gift from God and thus a fundamental part of our human identity. Those who repress their sexuality are not living as God created them to be: fully alive and well. As such, they're most likely unhappy.
--"Eight Myths about Religious Life", on the Catholic Religious Vocation Network
The authors of this article are responding to myths about people in religious orders.  One of those myths is that these people are asexual.  Of course, the authors don't know that there is actually a group of people who identify as asexual, they just see "asexual" as an insult.  Therefore, this is not an intentional attack on asexuals.  It's unintentional.  It's still an attack though.  (It's not as if good intentions magically reverse reality.)

You can see in there several myths about asexuality right off the bat.  "Asexual" is an insult, the ultimate way to dehumanize someone.  Asexuals must be repressing themselves.  They must be unhappy.  And you can see that these myths spring directly from their view of sexuality as a gift from God.

It's definitely possible to reconcile asexuality with the view of God-given sexuality.  But if you believed in God-given sexuality, asexuality is certainly not what you'd initially expect!  You wouldn't have guessed that God gave one of his greatest gifts to only some people.  You wouldn't have guessed that these people can come to value different things and be just as happy.

Sometimes atheists get asked, disingenuously, how they can believe in love when it's just a bunch of bouncing chemicals.  But I actually think this is one of the greatest things about the naturalistic worldview.  Love is just a chemical pattern, which doesn't mean it can't be great.  But its greatness is not a fundamental fact of reality, it is derivative, contingent.  So if you have some people who don't fall in love, or other people who don't care for sex, that can be great for them too.

The other example is from Celibrate, a website that "provide[s] support, encouragement, advice, information and acceptance for everyone living without sex".  By itself that's fine enough.  Since asexuality is one reason people might be celibate, they have a nice section on asexuality.  And then there's this paragraph at the end:
Misleading websites have appeared that suggest asexuality has much in common with homosexuality, some going so far as to say that one can be homo-asexual. However, a person identifying as such is more likely to be a homosexual practicing celibacy. Of course, asexuals often have an aesthetic attraction to either one sex or the other, but this is not the same as a sexual attraction. Generally speaking, in terms of sex drive and desire, the homosexual and the asexual could not be further apart.
--From Celibrate: Celebrating Celibacy
This reminds me of a dream I had.*  I was watching TV (who does that anymore?) and there was a newsperson giving a public service announcement, something about cigarettes and cancer.  And then the newsperson inexplicably stops as if something more important just came up.  He turns his head, looks at me--not any else--and says, "Fuck you."

*This is fictional.

Yeah, so the quote is pretty homophobic.  It seems out of place in an introduction to asexuality.  No parallel comments are implied about hetero-asexuals.  And you can tell that they're using the stupid version of the sexual spectrum.  (I'm pretty sure I stole this idea from Kaz at some point.)

asexual -------------- straight -------------- gay
robots? ----------- normal folks ----------- OMG buttsex

And that's why their response to asexual plus gay is "Does Not Compute".

Homophobia really is a serious barrier to accepting asexuality.  I can't talk to people about asexuality when they don't even accept the more basic concept of homosexuality.  Like, if someone still thinks being gay is a choice, or that homosexuality is wrong because men and women are complementary, or that gay stereotypes are accurate, what am I supposed to say to that?  How am I supposed to talk about attraction vs behavior vs identity in any sophisticated way?  How am I supposed to talk about societal expectations, gender roles, or asexual stereotypes?

And if they don't like the significant fraction of asexuals who are gay/lesbian, who knows what other subgroups they'd toss out.  Bi asexuals.  Asexuals with gender issues.  Asexuals who talk about sex, or make sex jokes.  Asexuals with a sexual history, or present sexual activity.  Asexuals who look at porn.  Kinky asexuals.  These groups are not just necessary for the people within them, but also for the community's spirit of self-exploration.  It's hard to explore when large swaths are declared off-limits for no good reason.

The worst part about it is that it makes me paranoid.  Even if a sex-negative person gives a positive or neutral response to asexuality, I tend to distrust them.  Do they yet know what the asexual community is like?  And when they find out, will they still be friendly?

Finally, I'd like to say that sex-positive people have got it all wrong about sex-negative people.  Sex-positive people are like:

But so-called sex-negative people can be sort of the same way.  Remember, "sex-negative" is only a term given them by their opponents.  Sometimes, sex-negativity is really all about how unquestionably great sex is, as long as you are having sex the right way at the right time.

And other times, sex-negative people are not so bad.  Darn it, why people gotta be so varied?  They're preventing me from overgeneralizing.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Happiness as knowledge

Since my blog seems to be dwelling on the deepest and/or silliest questions of philosophy lately, I thought I'd finally pass on an article I bookmarked some time ago: "The Spoils of Happiness".

The article poses a hypothetical dilemma:
Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Super-duper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life experiences? [...] Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think that it’s all actually happening [...] Would you plug in?. (Anarchy, State, and Utopia, p. 3)
Some people would gladly plug in the machine; others would not.  For those in the latter group, why not?  Don't we aim to be happy?

The writer's answer is that happiness is like knowledge.  That is, it is possible to think that you're happy and be wrong about it.  For example, if you think you have great friends, but they actually hate you (or if they're actually a set of fine silverware and china), you might think you're happy but you're not.

One thing I don't particularly like about this idea is that the way he defines "happiness" does not really match the way it is usually used.  Happiness is usually thought of as an experience, not as a relationship between experience and external facts.  But the writer refers to this concept as "pleasure" instead.  Happiness is to knowledge as pleasure is to belief.  The idea is that we prefer happiness over pleasure, just as we prefer knowledge over belief.

I don't have anything else to add, I just thought it was interesting.