This is the point in the calendar when it’s traditional for bloggers to gloss over how miserable the preceding year has been, by devising some clever rhetorical formulation which gives all the appearance of optimism for the coming year, but which actually says nothing of real substance. I’ve even done this myself in the past (*sigh*), but now I’m solid enough with blogging to really grasp its tropes and limitations, I can aim to transcend all that faux positivism and to tell it like it is.

For 2010, ‘The Year In Voynich’ has been somewhat disappointing, particularly relative to my predictions for it: last Christmas, I was convinced that proper write-ups of the VMs’ vellum radiocarbon dating and of its McCrone ink microscopy (both following on from the ORF VMs documentary) would be major steps forward for the field; that these would clear some dead wood from the research forests; and, when considered together, might just form a tasty enough dangly maggot to tempt a big fish from the pool of contemporary historians to take a punt on the Voynich Manuscript. All plausible ideas on my part: but all so wrong, all brutally pareidolic.

Well… I now hear news that Dr. Gregory Hodgins at the University of Arizona is writing up the radiocarbon dating for submission in an (as-yet-unspecified) journal during January 2011, so perhaps things will start moving back on track then. Perhaps not, of course, but we shall see… fingers crossed, all the same. Just pretend I got the year wrong in my previous post, OK?

Finally, there’s a recent quote from Victor D. Huliganov that “the only way to win as a linguist with the Voynich manuscript is not to play” (appropriating the famous quote from the film War Games that “the only winning move [in nuclear war] is not to play”). Now this worries me: even though I’m 99% certain that linguists are on a losing game with the VMs (it’s an historical ciphertext, not a language, duh), it concerns me that other types of academics might use this as an excuse not to engage with it. So if anyone unexpected happens to ask you about the VMs during 2011, can I please ask you to tell him/her that:-

  • It’s a genuinely old object, so normal forensic historical techniques should apply perfectly well to it
  • We continue to untangle its complicated codicology and (probably 15th century) palaeography
  • We’ve also made reasonable progress in grasping its provenance back to circa 1600-1610
  • Though it’s anomalous in many respects, it’s not as if it’s alien – it’s just a damnably tricky artefact
  • Contrary to widespread misinformation, there’s no direct evidence that it is a hoax because…
  • Absence of evidence (of meaning) is not evidence of absence (of meaning)

Anyway, I’ve actually got far more interesting research leads to follow than I did last December, so I’m looking forward to 2011 in my own sweet way. Which is not to say I’m massively optimistic that they’ll bear fruit, but I’m going to keep on trying regardless, and I hope you do too. So have a Merry Christmas and – however you choose to spend your time – a revealing New Year! 🙂

6 thoughts on “A Merry Cipher Mysteries Christmas to you!

  1. Sorry if I hit a nerve! I did not say that it was a language, incidentally, but some people think it is. I stated that I did not think it was a language. But I had been asked whether I considered that the linguistic tool I invented would serve researchers in this manuscript, and that’s the question I was asking.

    I stated that in my opinion it is a work of art. It’s correct place is being exposed on walls and on raffia biags and coaster sets so that people can get utility from the aesthetics of it. Not for people to spend their lives trying to decipher as if it were the next Rosetta Stone or Samuel Pepys’ diary.

  2. Viktor: thanks for dropping by! I think it’s fantastic that you see beauty (or at least art) in the Voynich Manuscript’s form, because this is a worthy (and indeed worthwhile) reaction to such a complicated artefact: but I remain a little disappointed at your apparent conclusion that the presence of aesthetics somehow implies the absence of content. My position has long been that both sides are strongly present: and that, in fact, it is probably the simultaneous presence of both high tech and high artistry that causes us to misread the VMs so badly. I agree that your (very interesting!) linguistic tool probably isn’t applicable to the Voynich, but good ideas and observations are always useful. Best wishes, ….Nick Pelling….

  3. … and a Merry Cipher Christmas to you, Nick, and a Happy and hopeful New Year too! I concur with your opinions here.

  4. Unsolved historical cipher…

    I’m Petros Petrosyan.
    I now live in Chicago.

    Attention Please!

    Please Go to:

    1. The pyramid is not a sepulcher of Pharaoh and the purpose of
    its construction was not on this plane.
    2. The basic model of the Pyramid cipher was established.
    The basic model of the code of a pyramid is formed of 365 small pyramids
    which consist at 14 steps of model of the code.

    Petros M.Petrosyan

  5. Thanks for your reply, Nick. In the end I believe that the end the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. If someone finds a credible key (and I do not see the work done by linguists like Banasik so far to be really credible) and deciphers it then I may be the one to have much egg on face to have suggested that it is not a separate language and is not likely to yield a great deal of content beyond the creative fantasy of one person.

    Maybe the creative fantasy of one person is a worthy field of study, but probably less so for the linguist than for the student of arts, and I do class this as a work of art, and I do see beauty in it. It should be, like I say, more available for inclusion on products and maybe there is a way for you to use something like and get some funding for this site that way as well as make the artefact more known and popular.

    In any event, I wish you pleasure and fulfilment with it.

  6. Rene Zandbergen on December 30, 2010 at 11:33 am said:

    Hello Nick,

    I suppose this is a good place to briefly surface and wish everyone all the best for 2011. It’s been a very interesting year for me, Voynich-wise, although it’s become a bit more quiet in the second half.

    Unfortunately, the interesting alchemy exposition in Prague has been delayed for a few years, but the exposition book will still be published next year (in Czech…). Two more publications are pending, one now overdue, with Kircher’s (very brief) response to Barschius’ first letter. The other, related to the forensic results, may be a bit later than January, but will be an important one.

    There are still more interesting leads, but so little time, as work has been consuming me this year, especially the second half.

    The best part for me was looking more closely at the herbal MS traditions, and searching the net for illustrations. It has been an absolute eye-opener, and helped me to understand much better Sergio Toresella’s point about the alchemical herbals.

    Who knows when I will have more time again to update the web site…

    All the best, Rene

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