Monday, February 21, 2011

Interesting things - 1.

There is a site that lists interesting and often amusing things. It's a little on the, well, a lot on the sweary side in many cases. In fact, it reaches the level that used to be called 'profane' in more religious days.

Nonetheless, the information it carries is interesting and it does a good job of pulling togetther collections of related items. Sometimes strongly related and sometimes tenuously, but always there's a link.

One of the collections is 'Six insane discoveries that science can't explain'. Well, let's have a go. They list the things in reverse order so we start with number six.

6. The Voynich manuscript.

Only one copy of this exists and you'll need to get special permission to view it. It's unlikely you'll be allowed to touch it, an attendant with white cotton gloves will turn the pages for you, and as for slapping it on a photocopier, forget it. There is a book about this book, called (predictably) 'The Voynich Manuscript', by Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill, 2004, Orion books, London. I have a copy of that book.

So can science explain the Voynich manuscript? Looking at the images in that book and reading the arguments put forward, I would say yes. Science can't translate it, but we can take a good stab at explaining it. There are images of castles and of people dressed in mediaeval style. There are images of crowns, one at least very similar in design to the English royal crown. It is not a mysterious grimoire from the dawn of time, its origin might go as far back as Roger Bacon (mid to late 1200s) but is more likely the creation of Dr. John Dee with the help of Edward Kelley in the 1580s.

Why can't we translate it? First, it's not written in any known (modern or extinct) alphabet. It does not decode into any known language. It might be gibberish or it might be an entirely invented language, much like the modern attempt at Esperanto in Europe.

Not translating it does not equate to an inability to explain it. Currently, it looks like an elaborate fake designed to con gullible rich people out of large amounts of cash. Edward Kelley, at least, was known to be particularly good at that.

I'll look at the others in separate posts, otherwise this is going to turn into a very long essay.


Chris said...

I thought xkcd had already explained the Voynich Manuscript.

*settles in for the series*

(although hasn't #5, The Antikythera Mechanism, been explained as an orrery?)

Romulus Crowe said...

Chris - yes, it's an orrery, but the 'mystery' concerns how anyone could have made it at the time.

Which is strange, considering that the pyramids predate it, as do those Aztec buildings with stones so accurately cut they fit together with no gaps.

Given enough incentive, people can do pretty much anything.

That explanation of the Voynich manuscript is disturbingly plausible...

Southern Writer said...

I have never heard of this before. The writing is beautiful. Where can I get a book like yours?

Southern Writer said...

The paper doesn't look that old...the drawings I can see look like they're from the Raphael period of art. Maybe some artist's kindergartner made it; his mom kept it as moms tend to do, and that's why it survived as the only one. :-)

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