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April 9, 2017

8:16 PM

A dead galaxy forces us to rethink our ideas about the universe

Francisco Miraval

The issue is simple: a galaxy known as ZF-COSMOS-20115 existed and died at a time when supposedly those events didn’t happen yet, so now we need to rethink what we know about not only the evolution of galaxies, but also about the universe itself.

In other words, one more time we find something (in this case, a red, dead galaxy) which reminds us how little we know about almost everything.

According to a press release published by Swinburne Technological University in Australia, galaxy ZF-COSMOS-20115 died only 1,7 billion years after the formation of the universe and existed for only 100 million years, unthinkable in that timeframe for an object five times bigger than the Milky Way.

That means that none of the current theories about the formation of galaxies in the early universe can explain how a galaxy can born and died during the early universe.

For that reason, according to the press release by Swinburne Technological University, scientists can only speculate. If other scientists eventually confirm that ZF-COSMOS-20115 is indeed a dead galaxy, then scientists will be forced to “completely rethink” what we know about galaxies.

As we know, there was a time when people thought the earth was flat and at the center of the universe, and the universe was small and static. In fact, until almost the 1950s, the Milky Way was thought to contain the whole universe. For that reason, it is not surprising that a new discovery suggests we are wrong yet again. We are victims of the illusion of knowledge.

“We all suffer, to a greater or lesser extent, from an illusion of understanding, an illusion that we

understand how things work when in fact our understanding is meager,” said Professor Philip Fernbach (University of Colorado in Boulder) and his colleague, Steve Sloman (Brown University) in his new book The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone. (Emphasis in the original.)

According to Fernbach and Sloman, because we live at the time of the Information Age, we are barely aware about what we really know and understand. In fact, “We live with the belief that we

understand more than we do,” they say.

Therefore, we are ignorant of our own ignorance. However, “In a world where information can be shared at the speed of light, ignorance has its costs.” The cost we pay for our own ignorance can be summarized, according to Fernbach and Sloman in just one word: disaster.

At the same time, when we acknowledge our own ignorance, when we know we know nothing, as Socrates famously said, we are motivated to keep asking and searching. For that reason, in 2018, the researchers at the Swinburne Technological University, will begin an analysis of sub-millimetric waves to better understand ZF-COSMOS-20115.

Yet, for us, perhaps it will be better to keep living with the illusion of knowledge because, as Fernbach and Sloman said, beyond all intellectual analyses, the illusion of knowledge seems to help us “to navigate the complexities of living in collective groups.” 

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