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Thread: The Voynich Manuscript

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    Doc Bunkum's Avatar
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    The Voynich Manuscript

    The Voynich manuscript is an ancient book that has thwarted all attempts at deciphering its contents. And it's not like some idiot just scribbled a bunch of nonsense on paper. It is actually an organized book with a consistent script, discernible organization and detailed illustrations.

    It appears to be a real language--just one that nobody has seen before. And it really does appear to mean something. But nobody knows what.



    There is not even a consensus on who wrote it, or even when it was written or why.

    Expert military code-breakers, cryptographers, mathematicians, linguists, people who get paid to find and decipher patterns, have all been left unable to decipher a single word.



    As you can imagine, proposed solutions have been all over the board, from reasonable to the completely stupid. Some say it's an unbreakable code that requires a key to solve. Some say it's a hoax, and a damned fine. Some say it's glossolalia, which is the fine art of speaking or writing something you don't understand but that is being channeled to you by God or aliens or whatever (note that the word was chosen specifically to make you sound retarded when saying it).

    as discussed in 6 Insane Discoveries That Science Can't Explain

    What's your guess? :confused:
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    Re: The Voynich Manuscript

    Quote Originally Posted by Doc Bunkum View Post
    The Voynich manuscript is an ancient book that has thwarted all attempts at deciphering its contents. And it's not like some idiot just scribbled a bunch of nonsense on paper. It is actually an organized book with a consistent script, discernible organization and detailed illustrations.

    It appears to be a real language--just one that nobody has seen before. And it really does appear to mean something. But nobody knows what.



    There is not even a consensus on who wrote it, or even when it was written or why.

    Expert military code-breakers, cryptographers, mathematicians, linguists, people who get paid to find and decipher patterns, have all been left unable to decipher a single word.



    As you can imagine, proposed solutions have been all over the board, from reasonable to the completely stupid. Some say it's an unbreakable code that requires a key to solve. Some say it's a hoax, and a damned fine. Some say it's glossolalia, which is the fine art of speaking or writing something you don't understand but that is being channeled to you by God or aliens or whatever (note that the word was chosen specifically to make you sound retarded when saying it).

    as discussed in 6 Insane Discoveries That Science Can't Explain

    What's your guess? :confused:
    This is a very interesting subject Doc,first we must reveal a little more about the manuscript itself.

    PART 1.

    The year is 1912. The successful dealer in old books Wilfrid M. Voynich acquires a number of priceless mediaeval manuscripts from an undisclosed location in Europe. Among these is a parchment codex of 234 pages, written in an unknown script.



    The manuscript is profusely illustrated, with drawings, among others, of plants and astronomical patterns. It appears to be a scientific work from the middle ages, but due to its unknown script, the contents are a complete mystery.

    Voynich took the MS to the United States and started a campaign to have its text deciphered. Now, almost 100 years later, the Voynich manuscript still stands as the most elusive enigma in the world of cryptography. Not a single word of this 'Most Mysterious Manuscript', written probably in the first half of the 15th Century, can be understood.

    Attached to the manuscript was a letter in Latin dated 1666 from Johannes Marcus Marci of Kronland, once rector of the Charles University of Prague, to the learned Jesuit Athanasius Kircher in Rome, offering the manuscript for translation and mentioning that it had once been bought by Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia (1552-1612) for 600 gold ducats. The letter further mentioned that it was believed that the author of the MS was Roger Bacon (the Franciscan friar who lived from 1214 to 1294).

    Another early owner of the MS was identified by Voynich when, on the lower margin of the first folio, under special illumination, the erased signature of Jacobus de Tepenec was found. Tepenec was one of Emperor Rudolf's courtiers and the director of his botanical gardens and he must have owned the manuscript between 1608, when he received his title "de Tepenec", and 1622, when he died. The MS has changed hands sevetal times, and apart from some minor gaps in our knowledge its path from the court of Rudolf II to its final resting place, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, can be traced fairly accurately.

    The MS became famous when, in the 1920's, William Romaine Newbold proposed a spectacular decipherment with which he meant to prove that it was indeed written by Roger Bacon, and that Bacon had not only dreamt of, but actually built microscopes and telescopes. When this 'solution' of the MS was disproven by John M. Manly in 1931, the MS gradually became a pariah in world of mediaeval studies. In the 1940's and 1960's the eminent cryptanalyst William F. Friedman made several valiant attempts at deciphering the MS, aided by groups of experts, but also he did not find any solution.

    In 1961 the book was acquired by H. P. Kraus (a New York book antiquarian) for the sum of $24,500. He later valued at $160,000, but unable to find a buyer he donated it to Yale University. Though officially registered as MS 408, it is still best known as the Voynich Manuscript.

    Innumerable people have tried to decipher the text, and many have claimed that they have found the solution, but none of these has been convincing. Today, it is still unclear whether the MS really has a meaningful text. It is equally unclear whether, if the text is meaningful, it relates to the illustrations or not.

    For a long time there has been a suspicion that the MS could be a modern forgery, perhaps even from the hand of Voynich, but recently its parchment has been scientifically dated using radiocarbon analysis, showing that the parchment dates from the first decades of the 15th century.

    Neither the author nor the place of origin of the MS could be established until now, so the mystery remains. It has, however, been confirmed that this is a real mystery, not a modern forgery...

    TO BE CONTINUED,like all the best stories---!Part 2 coming soon.
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    Re: The Voynich Manuscript

    PART 2.

    The Voynich MS is a "codex" of relatively small size, measuring 23.5 x 16.2 cm. It originally consisted of at least 116 parchment folios, of which 104 still remain. Unusually, some folios are two or three times the normal size and are folded to fit in the book. There is one large double foldout folio of six times the normal size. The MS is written in an elegant, but otherwise unknown script and almost all pages of the MS contain illustrations. The book is about 5 cm thick and has a blank limp vellum cover that does not contain any indication of age, authorship or origin.

    Both the illustrations and the script of the manuscript are unique. While the script cannot be read, the illustrations are the only clue about the nature of the book. According to these illustrations, the manuscript appears to be a scientific book, mostly an illustrated herbal with some additional sections.

    Herbal
    What is commonly called the herbal section fills about half the volume. It consists of page-filling drawings of single plants with short paragraphs of text written beside them. Occasionally, two plants are shown on a single page.

    This layout is similar to that of some historical illustrated herbal manuscripts. While a few of the drawings do resemble existing plants, most of the drawings appear to be fantastic compositions.

    Astronomical
    Following is a section with astronomical and so-called cosmological drawings.

    The astronomical pages feature drawings of circular design, with images of the sun, the moon and arrangements of stars. Cosmological drawings have a similar layout but include other more abstract features such as rosettas, tubes and pipes. A section of the astronomical pages (which is usually called the astrological section) has illustrations of the zodiac, surrounded by circles of mostly nude female figures holding stars.

    The next apparent section of the manuscript has been called biological as it contains some odd, perhaps anatomical, drawings including pipes and tubes resembling blood vessels, together with human figures, mostly nude females, similar to the ones in the astrological section. There have been suggestions that the illustrations represent medicinal baths.

    Following, there are a few more herbal pages and a different section which has been called pharmaceutical, as it includes pictures of labelled containers and many small parts of plants, mainly roots and leaves.

    Recipes
    Finally, the manuscript closes with what has been called the recipes section.

    It contains many (324) short paragraphs, each with a star in the margin (on average 15 per page). There have also been suggestions that this section represents some sort of calendar or almanac.

    The images on this page show the style of the illustrations and the script used in the Voynich MS. Some characters resemble those from the roman alphabet (a, o, c, n, m), some are like numbers (2, 4, 8, 9) and others are similar to symbols used as Latin abbreviations or in alchemy in the Middle Ages. In addition there are a few instances of extraneous writing (different from the main body of the manuscript), not using the "Voynich script" and perhaps added later, such as the names of the months in the astrological section (in a Romance language notdefintely identified ) and some incomprehensible lines on the last folio.
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    Re: The Voynich Manuscript

    When Wilfrid Voynich first saw the manuscript, he immediately considered the 13th Century Franciscan friar Roger Bacon as its possible author. He then embarked on a thorough study of the MS's history, in the hope of being able to prove this. While that would make the Voynich MS an incredibly important and valuable document in the history of science, a fact to which an antiquarian book dealer would not have been insensitive, it is apparent from the way in which he perfomed his search that he seems to have genuinely believed that Bacon was the writer of the Voynich MS.

    The Marci letter indicates that the MS was bought by the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia (who ruled until 1611), for the sum of 600 ducats. The source for this information is Dr. Raphael Missowski, who was teacher of the young Ferdinand III and later royal procuror at the court. He died in 1644, so this piece of oral information was 22 years old when Marci wrote his letter. Dr.Raphael also reports that he thought that the VMs was written by Roger Bacon, i.e. in the 13th Century.

    There exists, however, no specific confirmation of the identity of the 'bearer' of the MS. Voynich indicated that according to him the most likely candidate was John Dee, but he had set out to prove that the MS originated with Roger Bacon, so he had been specifically looking for such a link. Since the Bacon origin is no longer considered likely, the connection with Dee (and his associate Kelly) have very little ground. Rudolf II of Habsburg ruled from 1576 to 1611 and there is no indication at which point in this 35-year span the sale took place.

    Many solutions to the Voynich MS have been suggested in the past, and they all come with a proposed time and place of origin. Since none of these solutions has been generally accepted, the associated hypotheses of the origin cannot be confirmed. Additionally, analyses of the illustrations, the script and the text statistics have led to suggestions for the origin of the Voynich MS. In the following, they are summarised together.

    •Roger Bacon, as suggested by Voynich and Newbold. No longer believed.
    •A Cathar cult of Isis followers, as part of a proposed solution by Levitov. His thesis is unbelievable both historically and linguistically.
    •A copy of letters between Ukrainian rebels in a proto-slavic language, as suggested by John Stojko. This proposal has not convinced anyone.
    •Anthony Askham, the lesser known brother of Roger, as suggested by L.C. Strong. The name of Askham derives from an incredible proposed decryption of the MS and cannot therefore be believed.
    •A hoax by John Dee and/or Edward Kelly as suggested by many and most strongly supported by Brumbaugh and currently Rugg. This is essentially out of the question as it concerns Dee. As for Kelly, there is also nothing to support This.
    •An early form of a synthetic language, as suggested by Friedman and Tiltman. This cannot be disproved, but the time frame is a problem.
    •An early attempt to convert a syllabic, tonal language (such as Chinese) to an alphabetic script. This theory is based on certain peculiar text statistics and is by no means disproved, but there is difficulty with the fact that the entire MS has a Western European look. A specific connection (e.g. encoding) with any specific oriental language has also not yet been proposed.
    •A modern fake by Wilfrid Voynich. Disproved by the recent discovery of earlier references to the Voynich MS.
    •The Dürer expert E.Panofsky studied the MS in the 1930's and concluded that the MS dates from about 1470 or at the latest the early years of the 16th Century. He places the origin of the MS in Germany.
    •In the 1990's, the expert in Medieval herbals S.Toresella suggests around 1460 as the time of origin of the MS, and is convinced that it originates from Italy, comparing the script to the Italian humanist script.
    While the reader is of course allowed to make up his own mind about the various proposals listed above, the general feeling is that a date of origin between 1450 and the early years of the 16th Century, and a place of origin in Italy or Central Europe are most likely to be correct. There is a long list of visitors to Rudolf's court who could have potentially brought the MS to Prague. Finding the right one could help in further narrowing down the origin of the Voynich MS.
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    Re: The Voynich Manuscript

    The Voynich MS enters recorded history when it surfaces at the court of emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia (1552-1612). The Marci letter quotes that he supposedly bought it for 600 gold ducats. The MS was certainly owned by Jacobus de Tepenec, a trustee of Rudolf who was his private physician for some time and the director of his botanical gardens. He must have owned it some time between 1608 (when he received the title "de Tepenec") and 1622, when he died. It is usually assumed that he somehow obtained the MS from Rudolf, before or after his death, but it is not impossible that Jacobus was, in fact, the mysterious seller of the MS to Rudolf.

    The next known owner of the MS is the little-known alchemist Georgius Barschius who graduated from the Jesuit University (Clementinum) in 1603. He met Marci before 1622, the year of Jacobus' death, but it is not clear how or when he obtained the Voynich MS. Barschius wrote to Athanasius Kircher twice, asking for his help in translating this MS. The second letter from 1639 (where he signs his name as Baresch) has been preserved. No answer from Kircher has survived.

    Barschius died before 1662 and left his alchemical collections and library, including the Voynich MS, to his intimate friend Marci. The latter had become a famous physician and professor of the Prague University, and in 1662 also rector of the University. Marci met Kircher at the turn of the year 1638 and became one of Kircher's close correspondents for 28 years. According to his last letter to Kircher, accompanying the Voynich MS in 1666, he intended to send him the MS as soon as he got it, but in reality he did this just before signing his last will, about half a year before his death.

    There is no evidence about what the famous Jesuit philosopher Athanasius Kircher did with, or thought about the MS. He does not mention it anywhere in his vast literary output. Perhaps he just filed it with the rest of his correspondence. Yet the MS is not listed in any catalogue of his museum and library. It is clear that the MS did belong to Kircher's institute, the Roman Jesuit university: the Collegium Romanum, since it was later found among its collections. Its path between 1666 and 1912 can be partly reconstructed.

    The library of the Collegium Romanum was at risk of being confiscated by Vittorio Emanuele's soldiers in 1870. The Jesuit order had been abolished by the pope. It was decided that the Jesuits would be allowed to keep their private possessions, so the most valuable items in the library were listed as belonging to the 'private library' of the general of the society: P.Beckx S.J (1795-1887, general of the society of Jesus from 1853 to 1883). They henceforth disappeared from sight. Among the many valuable books, this collection included the Voynich MS and the bound correspondence of Athanasius Kircher. It was apparently brought to the Villa Mondragone in Frascati, near Rome, where it was kept for more than a century.


    In 1912, when the Villa was in dire need of money for restaurations, W.Voynich managed to buy about 30 MSs from the Jesuits under condition of absolute secrecy, to which Voynich held unto his death. In the same year, the pope bought about 300 of these MSs and donated them to the Vaticna library. The Voynich MS was among he books bought by Voynich.

    For 18 years Voynich tried to interest people for his MS and to find a buyer for it. He also studied the MS history and incited Newbold to publishing his theory about the Baconian origin of the MS. He died in 1931 and his widow, Ethel Lilian Voynich owned it for another 30 years, until she also died and the book, inherited by Ms. Nill was finally bought by H. P. Kraus (a New York book antiquarian) in 1961 for the sum of $24,500 and later valued at $160,000. Unable to find a buyer, he donated it to Yale University in 1969, where it remains to date at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library with catalogue number MS 408.
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    Re: The Voynich Manuscript

    When the manuscript was first shown to expert cryptologists, they thought that solving it would be easy as the text was composed of "words", some of which were more frequent and occurred in certain combinations. This soon turned out to be a mistake; the text could not easily be converted into Latin, English, German or a host of other languages which might possible be at the base of this document.

    A first "solution" was announced in 1919, by William Romaine Newbold, who caused a sensation by claiming that the manuscript did indeed contain the work of Roger Bacon and that Bacon had known the use of the compound telescope and microscope, seeing the spiral structure of the Andromeda galaxy only visible with modern telescopes and cell structures unknown in the 13th Century. This solution was finally disproved by Manly in 1931.

    The attempts to crack the code, however, were not over. In 1931, Mrs. Voynich took a photostatic copy of the manuscript to Catholic University in Washington where Fr. Theodore Petersen reproduced it photographically and started a complete hand transcription of the manuscript, with a card index to the words, and lists of concordances. The transcription alone was reported to have taken him 4 years. Unfortunately, it is not known what conclusion, if any, he reached.

    In 1944, Hugh O'Neill, a renowned botanist at the Catholic University, identified various plants depicted in the manuscript as New-World species, in particular an American sunflower and a red pepper. This meant that the dating of the manuscript should be placed after 1493, when Columbus brought the first sunflower seeds to Europe. However, the identification is not certain: the red pepper is coloured green and the sunflower identification is equally contested.

    Other people involved in the study of the manuscript were prominent cryptologists such as W. Friedman and J. Tiltman, who independently arrived at the hypothesis that the manuscript was written in an artificial, constructed language. This was based on the structure of the "words" as described elsewhere. Such artificial languages were devised at least a century after the probable date of the Voynich manuscript. Only the 'Lingua Ignota' of Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1179) predates the Voynich manuscript by several centuries, but this language does not exhibit the structure observed by Friedman and Tiltman, and it provides only nouns and a few adjectives.

    Later acclaimed solutions see in the manuscript a simple substitution cipher which can only decode isolated words (Feely, 1943), the first use of a more or less sophisticated cipher (Strong, 1945; Brumbaugh, 1977), a text in a vowel-less Ukrainian (Stojko, 1978) or the only surviving document of the Cathar movement (Levitov, 1987). No acceptable plaintext has ever been produced though.

    Some interesting new insights into the manuscript were provided in the 70's by Prescott Currier, presenting some of his results at an informal Voynich manuscript symposium at the National Security Agency in Washington. Basing his findings on the statistical properties of the text, he suggested that the manuscript is written in two distinct "languages" which he simply called A and B. Each bifolio was written in one of the two, and bifolios in the same "language" were generally grouped together. Only in the herbal section there is a mixture of A and B folios. Based on the characteristics of the writing, he showed that the manuscript seems to have been written in two distinct "hands", and he even suggested there could be as much as five or even eight different hands. A significant feature is that the hand and language used on each folio are fully correlated. Currier's conclusion was that at least two people were involved in writing the Voynich manuscript, (which he considered a point against the "hoax theory" summarised below), although alternatively, the manuscript could have been written by one person, in two distinct periods.

    Due to the lack of success in the decipherment, a number of people have proposed that the manuscript is a "hoax". The manuscript could either be a 16th century forgery, to be sold for a hefty sum to emperor Rudolf II, who was interested in rare and unusual items (Brumbaugh, 1977, deriving from earlier unpublished theories), or a more recent one by W. Voynich himself (Barlow, 1986). The latter is effectively excluded both by expert dating of the manuscript, and by the evidence of its existence prior to 1887.

    One problem with the earlier hoax theory is that, as will be shown, certain word statistics (Zipf's laws) found in the manuscript are characteristic of natural languages. In other words, it is unlikely that any forgery from 16th century would "by chance" produce a text that follows Zipf's laws (first postulated in 1935).

    Since 1990, a multidisciplinary group of varying size, generally between 100 and 200 individuals, dispersed all around the globe and connected through the Internet, has maintained an electronic mail forum on the decipherment of the Voynich manuscript. This has led to a lively exchange of ideas and the definition of two main goals: a machine readable transcription of the manuscript text and the study of the text through numerical experiments.

    In parallel, two new hypotheses about the Voynich MS were proposed. One Russian researcher suggested that the text of the Voynich MS is in Manchurian. Early 2004, the English psychologist Gordon Rugg suggested that the text has been generated mechanically using a Cardan grille, and that the text is meaningless. Despite his incomplete findings, this has received a lot of attention in the popular press, where his hypothesis is incorrectly presented as 'proven'.

    In 2005, two Germans proposed a mystical interpretation of the Voynich MS, where every letter in the manuscript is to be translated to a word or 'principle' (for lack of a better term). This translation is presented 'as is', without justification or explanation and is therefore completely unverifiable.
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    Re: The Voynich Manuscript

    My question,for those of you who have ploughed through all that information is,could the Voynich manuscript be about The Doctrine of the Convergent Timeline Paradox?
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    Re: The Voynich Manuscript

    Thanks for all the information, "Earl".

    That's a lot more information than I ever read about.

    Very mysterious indeed!

    As for the The Doctrine of the Convergent Timeline Paradox, I'm not even going there!
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    Re: The Voynich Manuscript

    Wow what an interesting subject...I dont think the MS is really of much significance in any real way ....excepting as much as any older document would be.
    However the research that has gone into it and the theories are really interesting!

    Isnt it always the way...
    In the absence of fact; the vacuum seems inevitably to be filled with rubbish until one day someone actually stumbles upon a logical and probable filling!
    Nature abhors a vacuum

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