For a long time, I’ve been struggling to make genuine progress with many of the unsolved historical ciphers that I’m so interested in. Many of them suffer from what most would agree is an evidence shortfall, a lack that invariably leads both to a poor level of discourse and to a proliferation of wonky theories (which are arguably both sides of the same badly devalued coin).
For most ciphertexts, there is more and/or better primary evidence yet to be had: though (inevitably) researching, collecting, preparing, and publishing this in a useful way takes organization, time, and money. Of course, even though everyone would benefit from this kind of activity, nobody wants to actually do it themselves: it’s just too big a pain in the neck.
But rather than complain about this, I’ve instead decided to tackle the larger challenge myself: and to do this, have recently started a UK-based charitable foundation called The Cipher Foundation (though it is currently unregistered).
Its (as yet unfinished) website is meant to be a repository for relevant primary or secondary information about individual unsolved historical ciphers: and hence to form, in each case, far more of a practical resource than, say, Wikipedia. At the same time, the Foundation’s website is definitely not meant as a repository for cipher theories, or even people seeking validation for their cipher theories: rather, it is a means for collecting evidence able to raise the level of informed awareness about each of these mystery ciphertexts, and then for giving direct, unfettered access to it.
But how could the Cipher Foundation achieve such a lofty goal? After several months’ thought, I’ve decided that it should mainly function as a platform for discussing, designing, funding, commissioning, supporting, and publishing “microprojects”. These are small, evidence-based research tasks that aim to answer basic questions about unsolved historical ciphers that would probably never happen otherwise.
For example, there are a large number of specific microprojects that could be funded to improve our knowledge about basic aspects of the Voynich Manuscript, such as:-
* DNA analysis of bifolios;
* Microscopic imaging of individual marginalia letters;
* Raman imaging of specific layered features (e.g. f116v and numerous others);
* Making images and transcriptions of many 15th century herbals available to researchers;
…and so forth. And similarly for other unsolved ciphers, too.
Which of these microprojects should the Cipher Foundation be scoping, designing, funding, and commissioning? Right now, I don’t know – but in the long run, I suspect possibly all of them.
All in all, I want to be clear from the start that the intention is not that these microprojects should ‘solve’ historical ciphers, but rather that they should help ‘resolve’ specific uncertainties surrounding them, and thereby (hopefully) give historical codebreakers the best chance of solving them.
Nothing is set in stone as yet, and this is Day One of what will doubtless be many. Note that this site (Cipher Mysteries) will continue very much as it is, though its specific remit will doubtless shift slightly more towards qualified speculation as The Cipher Foundation’s website takes shape.
So… what do you think?