Undeciphered

Treatise or New Language,
Voynich Enigma Is No Hoax

In the age of massive data collection, of inflated intelligence budgets, and of mastery of secrecy and surveillance, it’s a sobering realization to see how a 15th century manuscript continues to humble ciphers and code experts, as the Voynich has been doing for ages.
Since its rediscovery in 1912, some progress has been made, but overall, all efforts to understand it have been thoroughly defeated. Despite several theories, and a few words deciphered, the content of this exquisite document remains elusive and mysterious.
Named after Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish-born book antiquarian, who acquired it in Italy, and owned it until his death in New York in 1930, the Voynich Manuscript has been handed by some of the most brilliant minds of what became later known as the global intel community.
Alan Turing, the British computer wiz who later broke the secrets of the German Enigma machine, took a crack at the Voynich, and failed. So did William Frederic Friedman, one half of the so-called America’s First Cryptographic Couple (with wife Elizebeth Smith), who worked for decades for the U.S. military.

WHEN CODE BREAKERS GET BROKEN
Having decoded hundreds of papers (and previously obsessed with a theory, later abandoned, that works by William Shakespeare were actually written by Sir Francis Bacon), he spent decades on the Voynich, but came up with only a well-crafted but ultimately vague anagram, whose key was revealed after his death in 1969.
‘An early attempt to construct an artificial or universal language of the a priori type,’ was all he could gather of the manuscript. Many others tried their hand, or at least worked theories around its origins. Among the most durable, two out of four are still standing and show promise.
An interesting take was advanced by Lawrence and Nancy Gladstone, pointing the book’s authorship to Roger Bacon. But for all its elegance, the theory lost steam after Continue reading

Counting Glyphs

Three Outstanding Numbers &
a Century of the Voynich Enigma

For budding mathematicians, the Number Pi is sacred territory. For mystics, there’s the cryptic Belphegor’s Prime. Some social pundits give currency to the Dunbar Number. But after one hundred years, no one has come even close to decipher the Voynich Manuscript.
While Pi is called an ‘irrational number,’ Belphegor is a palindrome with a religious cipher at its core, and a glyph lifted from the Voynich. Now, about the Dunbar, guess what? is not even a number.
We’ll go over each one in more detail, of course. But we do love this sort of thing, even without quite fully understanding their implications. So what? Does anyone need to be an astronomer to admire the stars at night? OK, that was a cheap shot.
But there are definitely ways of immersing oneself in the beauty of these mysterious landmarks of the human thought, without necessarily being current with quantum semantics and the intricacies of code-breaking and algorithmic calculations.
One of them is, naturally, shut the hell up and just enjoy them. But we, dilettantes and amateurs of all stripes, fancy ourselves to be able to Continue reading