What I have long tried to do with this blog is to genuinely advance our collective knowledge about unbroken historical ciphers, not by speculating loosely or wildly (as seems to be the norm these days) but instead by trying to reason under conditions of uncertainty. That is: I try to use each post as an opportunity to think logically about multiple types of historical evidence that often coincide or overlap yet are individually hard to work with – ciphers, cryptograms, drawings, treasure maps, stories, legends, claims, beliefs, mysteries.

The world of cipher mysteries, then, is a world both of uncertain evidence and also of uncertain history built on top of that uncertain evidence – perpetually thin ice to be skating on, to be sure.

A skills void?

It is entirely true that all historical evidence is inherently uncertain: people lie, groups have agendas, listeners misunderstand, language misleads, copyists misread, propagandists appropriate, historians overselect, forgers fake, etc. All the same, seeing past/through the textual uncertainties these kinds of behaviours can leave embedded in evidence is the bread and butter of modern historians, who are now trained to be adept both in close reading and critical thinking.

However, what I am arguing here is that though History-as-text – i.e. history viewed as primarily an exercise in textual literature analysis – managed to win the historical high ground, it did so at the cost of supplanting almost all non-textual historical disciplines. To my eyes, the slow grinding deaths of codicology, palaeography and even dear old iconography (now more visible in Dan Brown film adaptations than in bibliographies) along with what I think is the increasing marginalization of Art History far from the historical mainstream have collectively left a huge gap at the heart of the subject.

This isn’t merely a focus void, it’s also centrally a skills void – the main missing skill being the ability to reason under conditions where the evidence’s textual dimension is missing or sharply limited.

In short, I would argue that because historians are now trained to deal primarily with textual uncertainties, the ability to reason effectively with other less compliant types of evidence is a skill few now seem to have to any significant degree. In my opinion, this aspect of text-centrism is a key structural weakness of history as now taught.

In my experience, almost nothing exposes this weakness more than the writing done on the subject of historical cipher mysteries. There it is absolutely the norm to see otherwise clever people make fools of themselves, and moreover in thousands of different ways: surely in few other subject domains has so much ink have been spilled to so little effect. In Rene Zandbergen’s opinion, probably the most difficult thing about Voynich research is avoiding big mistakes: sadly, few seem able to achieve this.

“The Journal of Uncertain History”

Yet a key problem I face is that when it comes to presenting or publishing, the kind of fascinating historical mysteries I research are plainly a bad fit for the current academic landscape. This is because what I’m trying to develop and exercise there is a kind of multi-disciplinary / cross-disciplinary analytical historical skill (specifically: historical reasoning under uncertainty) that has quite different aims and success criteria from mainstream historical reasoning.

On the one hand, this “Uncertain History” is very much like Intellectual History, in that it is a meta-historical approach that freely crosses domain boundaries while relying heavily on the careful application of logic in order to make progress. And yet I would argue that Intellectual History as currently practised is heavily reliant on the universality of text and classical logic to build its chains of reasoning. In that sense, Intellectual History is a close cousin to the text-walled world of MBA courses, where all statements in case studies are deemed to be both true and given in good faith.

By way of contrast, Uncertain History turns its face primarily to those historical conundrums and mysteries where text falls short, where good faith can very often be lacking, and where strict Aristotelian logic can prove more of a hindrance than a help (here I’m thinking specifically about the Law of the Excluded Middle).

And so I propose launching a new open-source historical journal (Creative Commons BY-NC Licence), with the provisional name of “The Journal of Uncertain History“, and with the aim of providing a home for Uncertain History research of all types.

To be considered for the JoUH, papers should (also provisionally) be tackling research areas where:

* the historical evidence itself is problematic and/or uncertain;
* there is a problematic interplay between the types of evidence;
* to make genuine progress, non-trivial reasoning is required, not just for thinking but also for explanation;
* historical speculations made within the paper are both proposed and tested; and
* future tests (preferably empirical) and/or research leads are proposed.

I welcome all your comments, thoughts, and suggestions for possible submissions, authors, collaborators and/or editors; and especially reasons why existing journals X, Y and Z would all be better homes for this kind of research than the JoUH. 🙂

57 thoughts on “Announcing: “The Journal of Uncertain History”…

  1. Mark Knowles on April 23, 2017 at 5:46 pm said:

    Nick: I think a factor in this area of research which affects academics is the fear of loss of reputation and the damage to their career resulting from it. So when you are working in an environment of a high degree of uncertainty it becomes much more likely for even a highly intellectually able person to just get it wrong. For someone such as yourself or myself, for that matter, if it turns out we have made a huge mistake in our theory or analysis well it matters far less. People are risk averse and so taking this risk of destroying one’s career is not a risk many are prepared to take. My preoccupation of the Voynich, at the moment, has ruined careers of people who have tackled, so it is not a surprise that many academics steer clear of it like the plague.

    Again the Voynich requires such a very wide range of skills to tackle it that a coordinated interdisciplinary approach would be very valuable.

    Having said that much of the very best historical research is great, because it has made progress despite high levels of uncertainty. Also, history is full of uncertain and fascinating questions. I am generally not a cipher person, but I find questions like:

    “Is there a true historical location from which the Biblical Eden is derived? If so where was it?” (I found the work of David Rohl intriguing.)

    “Who were the Sea People?”

    “How can we translate Linear A?”

    and on and on and on… (These are just the first things that came to my head)

  2. Thomas on April 23, 2017 at 7:36 pm said:

    Perhaps the single biggest hurdle of this research field is that it generally lacks peer review. Create a journal that has an editorial board of known scholars and create a network of peer reviewers. That way the journal will be taken seriously.

  3. Flavia Hodges on April 24, 2017 at 6:48 am said:

    Very exciting. May I paste this URL to my Facebook timeline?

  4. Flavia: of course you can – at this point, I don’t honestly know whether I’m banging my head on a wall or knocking at an open door, so all comments and thoughts are most welcome. 🙂

  5. Nick,

    I disagree that codicology, palaeography, iconography etc are dead or dying. Taking the April 2017 issue of Speculum as an example and running through the titles, of 5 articles there is at least one of each regarding codicology, iconography and paleography.

    More generally the study of history has become interdisciplinary and the focus is now on the whole story using a variety of sources (text, archaeology, iconography, oral tradition etc where applicable) rather than these fields being considered separate as they once were.

    That these skills are not being generally applied to historical cipher mysteries and the like is more a reflection of the people whom we see writing about them often more driven by enthusiasm and a certainty in their own notions than by a rigorous, evidence-based approach. All the time we see speculation being proposed and then treated as ‘fact’ with evidence to the contrary being disregarded or dismissed. But then again, there is a general lack of ability to evaluate evidence, historical or otherwise – this applies as much to science and economics and politics.

    Where am I going with this? I was involved with an attempt to create something similar, what I hoped would be a more rigorous, evidential approach to Voynich research. While it did, I think, end up providing a space for some interesting ideas to be discussed, from my point of view it failed in its original intent because of a combination of contributors being unwilling or unable to distinguish between speculation and fact and editors not being able to enforce that rigour. My fear with the Journal of Uncertain History is that you will have the same problem: the ‘real’ historians will continue to publish where they do today, and the contributions you receive will not (in general) meet the standards you would like.

  6. tl;dr: banging head on wall 🙂

  7. Greg: well… if you yourself thought something very similar was worth a try, we’re surely not far apart. 😉

  8. Thomas: I have a number of ideas about how to adapt the peer reviewing process to better fit Uncertain History, but that will take a much longer post than I was comfortable writing here. 🙂

  9. Not far apart at all 😉 we need something like this (both Voynich and cipher mysteries more generally) …

    Write some clear principles for content, take Thomas’ advice and put together a good group of editors, and go for it.

    Though perhaps something other than ‘Uncertain’ in the name? A little more academic, a little less … ‘shaky’? How about “Conjectural”?

  10. Mark: I’m not really advocating that the Journal of Uncertain History be a proxy title for what is actually something more like a “Journal of Historical Mysteries”.

    Rather, I’m more focused on sharing and explaining the kinds of difficult reasoning steps we can take to demystify and clarify tangled historical knots. That is, my vision of the journal is one of understanding the larger process by which we can gain historical clarity, not necessarily of – ta-da – solving mysteries with a rhetorical flourish.

  11. Nick: your last reply to Mark is very enlightening and that focus as much on methodology as results would be very valuable.

  12. Greg: my dissertation was on uncertainty 🙂 , and given that there are already numerous conferences on fuzzy machine reasoning and mathematical uncertainty, it’s not such a bad word. I’d certainly rather steer clear of ‘conjectural’!

  13. Fair enough!

  14. Greg wrote:

    ” I was involved with an attempt to create something similar, what I hoped would be a more rigorous, evidential approach to Voynich research. While it did, I think, end up providing a space for some interesting ideas to be discussed, from my point of view it failed in its original intent because of a combination of contributors being unwilling or unable to distinguish between speculation and fact and editors not being able to enforce that rigour.”

    Thanks! This clarifies something I had been wondering about….

  15. Mark Knowles on April 25, 2017 at 8:29 am said:

    Greg: When you state “contributors being unwilling or unable to distinguish between speculation and fact.” Isn’t the problem that we have few facts and mostly speculation and one person’s facts are another person’s speculation. It seems almost the only real facts we have a the carbon dating and a description of the manuscript’s appearance. It seems better to have theories presented in sufficiently well developed, rigorous and well presented a form, but described as theories not facts and where speculation occurs the writer should make it crystal clear to the reader that that is the case.

  16. Mark: this is an Internet fallacy. We actually know a terrific amount about the Voynich Manuscript, but this signal is swamped by the mahusive tide of nonsensical and speculative noise.

  17. Mark Knowles on April 25, 2017 at 9:35 am said:

    Nick: Maybe I am missing something, but what do we know that is beyond dispute? it is possible that I have too exacting a standard of certain knowledge. Also, I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with speculation as long as it is acknowledged as such; maybe the problem comes when something is presented as solid fact when it is speculation. I think speculation can potentially lead to certain theories. If one refuses to make speculations I think one can hamper one’s ability to move beyond speculation. I think any reasoning step as long as it is clearly flagged as speculative and its limitations outlined is not necessarily a problem. Obviously wild and absurd speculation is not worth much, but one can make reasonable speculation. For me it is all about exploring the space of possible solutions and restricting solutions outside the realm of reasonable possibility Much of the work you have done in my opinion could be characterised as speculation, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t very good or quite reasonable speculation. I would acknowledge that all of my work, such as it is, on the Voynich could be characterised as speculation, but I certainly don’t see it as lacking value at all.

  18. Mark: as you’ll have no doubt already noticed, there is almost exactly nothing that is “beyond dispute”. Rather, the issue is that the vast bulk of what we have is “uncertain knowledge”, i.e. knowledge that isn’t exactly speculation, but isn’t exactly certain either.

    My hope is that the Journal of Uncertain History would be useful as a forum for people who want to try to make progress with uncertain knowledge.

  19. Mark Knowles on April 25, 2017 at 11:22 am said:

    Nick: Please excuse me, it wasn’t my intention to denigrate your completely laudable and truly interesting idea for a journal. I was just slightly concerned about how we make a distinction between “knowledge” and “speculation” and who decides what is what. Obviously it is always difficult to decide which articles are worthy of publication in any journal, so I am not suggesting that these kind of issues are not normal and are universal, but in this case I would have thought these issues are magnified. It is a question whether the work of Bax, O’Donovan, Rugg, Sherwood, Ponzi etc. names that I have only become aware of recently are worthy to be included and similarly if they feel other work is worthy of inclusion.

    One can ask the question, if what I, personally, have worked on is worthy of inclusion.

    I feel if people are honest about where they are speculating then that’s fine within reasonable bounds(excluding aliens etc.). If they provide a reference to different perspectives that is really helpful.

    I would certainly say I do not want to derail your plan as it sounds excellent and I think if it succeeds it will benefit Voynich research as well as other areas of research.

  20. Much of the “dispute” is coming from the very same problem. There are not only people who are enthousiastically proposing hypotheses and mistaking them for knowledge or fact (as Greg summarised above). The same happens on both sides of the discussion.

    Take the Tepenec ex libris for example.
    In more scholarly environments, the presence of someone’s ex libris in a book shows that (s)he once owned it. Simple.
    In Voynich discussion fora there have been endless discussions over years that this is not certain.
    This is one of many examples.

  21. Rene: another good example is the presence of the letters to Kircher, which were completely unknown when Marci’s 1665 letter to Kircher appeared circa 1912. The claim that this letter was a modern forgery added to try to pass the Voynich-as-supposed-hoax off as the similar-sounding document mentioned in those letters is therefore false. However, trying to understand such a claim can give almost anybody a headache. 🙁

    Yet this is the kind of epistemological gymnastics you currently have to do to deal with uncertain knowledge. I’m hoping that people will use the JoUH as a forum for finding and developing ways of doing the same more effectively, e.g. by developing a shared pattern language, or better ways of communicating difficult reasoning.

  22. I should like to temporarily cross the picket-line, if I may, to ask a little more about that very interesting information – which I’ve never seen before. Has it been a result of the recent tests done by the Beinecke that we may now say it’s not just a case of someone having written Jakub’s name in the manuscript (for whatever reason) but it is actually inscribed as a book-plate, with the phrase ‘ex libris’.

    If it is inscribed ‘ex libris’ that should certainly end any argument about whether or not the Jesuits were entitled to have the manuscript, and would also put an end to the long running uncertainty over whether or not it was Jakub himself who wrote his name on it.

    Very interesting indeed. Certainly the first time I’ve heard that the inscription is a formal ‘ex libris’.

    Nick – I’ll take the opportunity to say what an interesting proposal your journal sounds. I hope it takes off. For obvious reasons, I hadn’t commented

  23. Diane: the presence or absence of the words “ex libris” doesn’t define whether or not something is ex libris. But the presence of somebody’s name written at the front of a particular copy of a book that was said (and indeed believed) to have been owned by that same person’s main patron is surely enough to make the assertion it is indeed an ex libris the most likely scenario by a country mile or two.

    All of which should only help to underline why I think such a journal is needed.

  24. Nick –
    Thanks for the clarification. There is in fact a distinction between an inscription which says “Ex libris… so and so” and one which has a person’s name written in the book. If there was no doubt about whether Jakub wrote it himself the difference would be trivial, but since there has been doubt expressed about that too, the question remains open about who wrote his name on it, and why. As you know I’m not inclined to rely as much as others have done on the offhand comment by someone whose memory was affected by age, or alzheimers or senile decay, about an incident which happened years before, and which in any case is no more than an assertion about an assertion made by someone who couldn’t have been there at the time, and who was himself therefore (if correctly remembered) passing on a second-hand rumour. All very flimsy indeed. IMO

    Thanks for allowing the comment to appear, and for the reply.

    Good luck.

  25. Diane: when your distaste for accepting anyone else’s narrative about anything drives you to construct alternate histories for something as innocuous and good faith as an ex libris, it’s hard to take what you say very seriously, sorry. 🙁

  26. Mark Knowles on April 25, 2017 at 4:55 pm said:

    Nick: Sure I am happy with the “Tepenec ex libris” and letters to Kircher as something we can have confidence in, but in some respects those kind of things seem to be scratching at the service metaphorically as well as literally.

    Questions that one can ask are do the plants in the Voynich represent real plants of merely fantasies, does the Voynich contain a meaningful text or is it nonsense and one which came up recently with me is does the 9 rosette foldout page represent a map(Rene Zandbergen thinks it does not and he is an authority. As may not be apparent to some I think it does represent a map).

    My personal perspective is similar to yours, Nick, in that I believe it to be a very rational document with meaning and significance to almost everything in it(null characters/text aside), but clearly this not the perspective of everyone. With such basic and fundamental differences between, in some cases, justifiably considered to be reputable specialists like Rene; it seems we have to classify, so much, analysis of the manuscript as speculation.

    In this subject area I am comfortable working with probabilities and sensible speculation.

    I wonder if this culture of doubt about the Voynich over so much creates doubt over everything in the minds of some, even in some people centuries divergence from the carbon dating.

    Obviously in this area it is a blessing and a curse that the Voynich has caught the public imagination. It is blessing as it has encouraged many people to research in this area, but a curse that it has attracted some people who lack the level of rigour that one finds in mainstream academia.

  27. Mark: I certainly don’t see the nine-rosette page as necessarily anything just yet. I can see how it could possibly be a “map” of works in the context of an architect’s book of secrets, but the logic doesn’t comfortably work the other way round.

    As for the curse, well… you can probably guess my thoughts. 🙂

  28. My opinion of the Rosettes page is nothing more than an opinion. I would not give it too much weight.
    Just to keep in mind that not everyone thinks it’s a map.

  29. Nick – sorry but your comment was not reasonable. There is an unfortunate habit these days to permit reasoned critical re-evaluation of assertions made about the written text, about the radio-carbon dating and such matter – but to offer any critical comment or to doubt assertions made in the course of creating ‘histories’ is to risk the sort of remark you just made.

    If one can no longer ask basic historical and historiographic questions without incurring purely personal and derogatory comment, then we are in an environment hardly likely to lead to anything useful.

    Objectively speaking – to say that a person’s name written on a manuscript by someone who may or may not have been that person, is equivalent to saying the book is inscribed ‘ex libris’ is not accurate. To question the extraordinary weight and importance placed on a single sentence in a letter is routine stuff for historians.

    That one may not question past ideas and assumptions about the ‘histories’ – without a high risk of ad hominem responses, though one may comment on materials, binding, or textual analyses.. seems curious to me. I don’t mind whether or not you take my work seriously. I do mind your adopting the Santacoloma-and-co habit of responding to comment about the manuscript with ad hominems whose only purpose is to denigrate.

    Bad form, Nick.

    I would have preferred to talk about your proposed journal, but – not possible.

  30. Jim S on April 25, 2017 at 7:49 pm said:

    This discussion has strayed quite far from the original topic … and seems to include an assumption by most responders that the proposed journal would be devoted to the VM (which if correct would IMO guarantee failure as an academic journal).
    I suggest the ‘Journal of Methodologies for Reasoning under Uncertainty’ would be best if devoted to just what my proposed title implies: papers on methodology, applicable across a large range of disciplines.
    I agree that the critical first step would be building an editorial/advisory team of respected experts across all academic fields where uncertainty must often be taken into account.
    Adapting the peer review process, as Nick suggests, makes me uncomfortable and seems to me to risk being a fatal flaw. Peer review, far from perfect, is the accepted practice and differing from it may discourage serious submissions to the new journal.

  31. Diane: sorry, but once again you parachute into Cipher Mysteries, angrily setting fire to yet more straw man summaries of what you erroneously read into other people’s posts and comments. Moderating such nonsense – particularly when it is peppered with claims of “ad hominem”, “personal” and “derogatory” – is not my cup of tea.

    Please don’t leave comments here.

  32. Jim S: you’re right that people have responded to it in that way, but it is also perfectly true that the Voynich Manuscript is the poster child for academic self-delusion and foolishness. And you’re also right that I’m thinking of uncertainty more in terms of methodology than mystery per se, so your proposed title would arguably capture the spirit of what’s in my head somewhat better than my original title (so thanks very much for that 🙂 ).

    More generally, I’m still trying to refine the overall ‘pitch’ before I start trying to put together any kind of editorial team: I by no means think I’ve nailed that just yet. But I do completely agree with you and Thomas that this would need to be an early stage in the journal’s trajectory.

    Finally: my ideas for adapting the peer review process were actually more about ways of pre-qualifying papers going into the peer review stage to avoid getting into the problematic situation where you’re peer-reviewing ten papers for every one that actually gets published (something I can easily see happening with a completely new field, and would very much want to avoid). However, that’s something that I’ll write up separately.

  33. xplor on April 26, 2017 at 2:03 pm said:

    Why was the book written ? Was it about power in the city states ? Did the humanist thinking come
    from the newly arrived Greek scholars ? How does Petrarch fit in ?
    The Milanese dynasties of Visconti and the Sforza had lots of money. Did they persue knowledge over art ?

  34. Dennis S. on April 28, 2017 at 1:29 am said:

    Have we ever had a real expert in Latin paleography examine the Voynich Manuscript?

  35. Dennis: you mean late medieval Latin palaeography? The answer is yes (I believe), but it’s still not at all clear where in Europe Voynichese or michitonese was written. It’s a very tricky issue. 🙁

  36. Mark: on April 29, 2017 at 7:00 am said:

    Rene & Nick:

    Nick Said

    “Mark: I certainly don’t see the nine-rosette page as necessarily anything just yet. I can see how it could possibly be a “map” of works in the context of an architect’s book of secrets, but the logic doesn’t comfortably work the other way round.”

    I think this illustrates my point; there is almost no consensus on most questions pertaining to the manuscript.

    Which do you regard as the most prominent and respected complete theories concern the 9 rosette page? By complete theories I mean ones that try to explain the whole of this foldout not partial theories. The reason I don’t want to address partial theories is just that a theory, for example, which identifies just 1 building is not one I can address adequately as in the absence of the rest of the page almost anything is true. Complete detailed theories I feel are amenable to analysis and comparison with my own. I know Rene you listed a few “map” theories in previous comments, but if you could just let me know what you regard as the best “non-map” theory and the best “map” theory. It doesn’t matter if it is your own as long as it is a complete theory. I don’t want to have to compare my theory with lots of others in my article and analysis, 2 or 3 theories in total would be manageable. Just let me know your personal opinion which are the best.

  37. Mark: I’d say that your map theory is “well filled in”, as indeed is Diane O’Donovan’s. But I’m far from sure that trying to order them in terms of bestness or (what programmers call) coverage would be a hugely useful exercise. We need rather more revealing tests to make genuine progress.

  38. Mark: on April 29, 2017 at 8:06 am said:

    Nick: I mention this not directly for the purpose of making genuine progress specifically, but rather to allow me to have something to compare my theory with in my write up so that I don’t have to compare my theory with every theory out there.

    I agree with you on the question of the importance of testing a theory, as I mentioned in the case of my own theory, in previous comments, the scope for a model to make testable predictions I think is of value. I have made predictions which I have verified throughout my analysis of the map and I have also made predictions which are yet to be verified as I explained in previous comments.

    Now I don’t know whether there is scope for making testable and verifiable predictions in the case of Diane’s model, but that is something I would be happy to explore maybe in communication with her. I believe that there are reasons for almost all the details, even the smallest, in the 9 rosette foldout, bar for example the “*”s which I am pretty sure just serves as a feature of the style, so that can help as regards testability. Having an example of a “non-map” theory would be of use. If I had one example of each that would be useful to work with.

    I know they are not your personal theories, but I daresay you would be able to decide which are the most plausible. For example, my only concern with your otherwise certainly valuable theory of the 9 foldout page is, because of its limitations of scope i.e. 2 rosettes and a causeway, there is not much room for comparison and analysis especially given the number of similarities between your and my interpretation.

  39. Mark: theories don’t need an imprimatur (mine or anyone else’s), they need testing – everything else is just politics and vanity. 😐

    I put forward my own map account not so much as a cause of but as a consequence of my hypothesis, so its lack of coverage was quite deliberate – I wasn’t trying to build out from there.

  40. Mark: on April 29, 2017 at 2:13 pm said:

    Nick: Thanks for your thoughts.

    So in your opinion I should not bother to compare my theory with any other. OK, fair enough.

    Please don’t understand this as an attempt to insult your ideas rather to explain why I didn’t think there was much room for comparison. If my ideas in any way contradict yours it is just because that is due to my reasoning taking me to different, possibly erroneous, conclusions and certainly not anything personal. I genuinely value your work and am also open to considering the ideas of others.

    All the Best!

  41. Mark, all proposed explanations for this part of the MS have one thing in common, namely that they are unproven. In that sense I see them all as equivalent.

    The one thing that has become clear to me in the course of all these years is that it is possible to come up with an unlimited number of different stories about the MS, all of which can be confirmed by this or that detail.

    There is a great risk of circular reasoning in all this:

    1) One makes an assumption.
    2) One finds an explanation for a detail that is consistent with this assumption.
    3) One then concludes that the assumption must have been correct.

    I see this happening a lot.

  42. Mark: I’m not a big fan of comparing theories – as my (pre-political-correctness) philosophy lecturers tried to persuade me, truth isn’t a beauty pageant.

    Rather: concentrate on making your own theory as strong and as testable as you can, and leave other theories to their respective champions.

    As the great philosopher James Joseph Brown put it, “I got mine / don’t worry ’bout his”. Get up!

  43. Mark: on April 29, 2017 at 2:42 pm said:

    Rene: My concern with your perspective is that it could lead to people not developing theories at all about the Voynich as so little has been proven about the Voynich as I mentioned before. If all we can say with confidence are details like the “Tepenec ex libris” and letters to Kircher then we are incredibly limited in what we can possibly say or may be should attempt to theorise about. It feels like you are saying until we know everything about the Voynich theories are worthless.

    I am inclined towards the view that there are better or worse theories which fit the evidence or don’t which can make testable predictions or not.

  44. Mark: on April 29, 2017 at 2:47 pm said:

    Rene: My theory may be wrong, but without developing we will never know.

  45. Mark: on April 29, 2017 at 2:50 pm said:

    Nick: Thanks for your advice. Yes, I am making progress on my write up. I am still checking up a few very small details as I want to address absolutely everything on the “map”, but I hope to get something to you soon.

  46. Mark: on April 29, 2017 at 3:11 pm said:

    Rene: I feel like you are probably a bit jaded looking at so many years of Voynich research still without a solution. I feel confident someone will solve it some day. Everyone, I daresay, believes they are the one, me included, but I believe truth will out the question is just when. In Maths, for example, over many centuries there were attempts to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem by able Mathematicians, but eventually it was solved. People just need to keep trying and maybe failing until a solution is arrived at. I see it can be frustrating, but if it was easy it wouldn’t be fun. So you may need to prepare yourself for many more Voynich theories until the true theory is arrived at.

  47. Mark,
    there are hundreds of amateurs without significant knowledge about the history of science and the history of the book, who are formulating hundreds of theories about the Voynich MS.
    The risk that this will ever reduce is exactly zero.

    More theories is not progress.

  48. Mark: on April 29, 2017 at 5:35 pm said:

    Rene: Do you feel then there is nobody working on the manuscript who is qualified to? I did a degree in Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge University. I have never formally studied the history of science, although it is genuinely an area of interest of mine and I have read quite a lot on the subject. However I will say like economics or sociology there are differences in the nature of this kind of research as carrying out experiments in quite the ways scientists do and constantly collecting new data, like cosmologists, is not possible.

    Methodologically, one thing I will say, for example, one can do is formally state as yet untested predictions or possibly unexamined evidence coming out of one’s Voynich theory/model and subsequently determine whether these predictions are true or false.

    Certainly future scientific advances might provide additional techniques for understanding the manuscript like extracting and sequencing relevant DNA or identifying the geographical area where the materials used to produce the manuscript originated by extremely precise chemical analysis of the precise composition of certain materials as can current be done for teeth.

    Is there anyone in the world who you feel is qualified to study the manuscript and if so who? Very able people have tried to solve the Voynich and failed. (I, myself, am somewhat sceptical of the recent Russian academic research. I recently went to a talk in Oxford by a post-doctoral researcher in Medieval manuscripts from Chicago; now I am not sure you would have agreed with her research.)

    Given the interdisciplinary nature of Voynich research in would be hard to determine which specialists are suitable to investigate this subject. I also think it can also be dangerous to decide who is suitable to research a subject like this and who is not.

    Prior to researching the Voynich, I have felt it sad that in this day and age the role of amateur researchers has diminished from what it once was. In the past amateur scientists were very common. Of course in our sphere the work of Ventris on deciphering Linear B is noteworthy in this regard. Whilst I appreciate the sheer number of theories produced without significant care or attention can be frustrating I nevertheless believe that more brains working on the problem will increase the chances of it being solved. I understand having to face this deluge of theories is frustrating and I find it annoying when one feels that people haven’t put sufficient time and serious effort into a theory. I imagine the noise generated from so many different theories can be deafening and make impossible to sift the interesting from the uninteresting. I think the number of theories is, in part, a function of the very high level of difficulty of the problem. Once there is a solution the number of other theories will drop off slowly to zero. We just need to have patience.

  49. Mark: recall that most statistical tools will fail you if you apply them to non-Gaussian distributions. The Voynich is essentially the same as that, but in just about every dimension at the same time. i.e. the reassuringly reliable conceptual toolkits people like to use to make sense of things utterly fail them when they apply them to the Voynich.

    So the Voynich problem isn’t one of brains or “eyeballs” or cathedrals or bazaars, but one of failure of methodology and/or conceptual tools. It’s tempting to think that the causality runs from (more brains) => (more theories), but actually it runs from (more eyeballs) => (more noise). 🙁

  50. Mark: on April 29, 2017 at 7:07 pm said:

    Nick: I do agree that there is a strong case for developing new methodologies to tackle this kind of problem and also to research how to improve existing methodologies. Although I don’t feel this precludes the productive use of more traditional approaches. The Voynich is such an unusual problem that this creates all sorts of challenges including certainly methodological; that is part of its attraction.

    Also, I definitely agree that more bazaars won’t help the situation.

  51. Mark,

    I don’t think anyone is tying to stop you. I think it’s more a case of “Don’t sell the skin till you have caught the bear”.

    Fermat’s last theorem is of course a highly interesting question, but perhaps OT here. In any case, while the problem has been solved (at least until someone else proves that the proof was wrong), we still don’t know what *he* was thinking.

  52. Mark: on April 30, 2017 at 9:27 am said:

    Rene: I have presented a clear outline of a large part of my work on the manuscript as I was advised and I am preparing an even more detailed analysis for presentation. I don’t know if this counts as “selling the skin till you have caught the bear”. It is true that I do think the financial rewards for someone who puts in significantly large amount of time into this project and arrived at a universally recognised solution is important. In fact I would suggest the establishment of a Voynich prize, which could be crowdfunded, and a committee to determine whether criteria have been met.

  53. Rene: A more similar parallel to the Voynich is the research into the Antikythera mechanism which has relatively recently been understood. Research is solving long term historical unsolved problems all the time. I am sure the same will apply to the Voynich. Also, new historical puzzles are being uncovered all the time.

    I think speculation is OK. I found David Rohl’s speculation into whether there is a loose historical basis to the myth of the Garden of Eden story and where it was really interesting. There are many theories as to the meaning of the Phaistos Disc. I find Gobekli Tepe just amazing and a better understanding of its context in history will be absolutely fascinating. I have long been intrigued by the question of who were the “sea people”. The bible throws up so many fascinating historical questions even for someone who is an atheist. I could go on and on and on…

    Whilst the Voynich is unique it is part of a group numerous historical puzzles. I think the accessibility to the general public of the Voynich is a reason for the large number of amateur researchers which as I have said before I believe has its benefits and its drawbacks; most other historical puzzles don’t have quite the same level of accessibility.

  54. Rene: I should also mention I am still investigating the consequences and implications of my theory particularly as it pertains to authorship, although the slow process of finding the relevant historical data can be quite to very difficult. I think the question of authorship has to some extent and I hope will give me more insights into the method of encipherment. There is more computer based analysis into the the text I would like to do. In fact I am sure I will want to ask you about which existing Voynich data structure I should be working with in order to ask the kind of questions I want to. I have a feeling I will be best placed creating a new or using an existing SQL database. So there is so much I would like to do, but I am limited by the time available to me.

  55. Davidsch on May 2, 2017 at 2:56 pm said:

    Nick, I’m always a fan of new ideas and initiatives!

    Here are some of my thoughts and comments.

    These days, most people 95% of them, are followers to the main stream or the exact opposite, and most don’t care for either direction. No it’s not political, but this concerns also palaeographical, cipher-analytical and historical transcriptions.

    Sometimes I struggle with the results of research, because of these issues:

    * there is copyright on the used resources
    * it’s time consuming to enter a good text and paper and it uncertain what will come of it.
    * there are probably flaws in some parts of the research due to amateurism on certain fields
    * there is probably no/a small audience for it because it’s too technical or stupidly narrow niche subject
    * in publishing the results, parts of the research are in the open, and not a secret anymore. Building on those results will be possible for all that read it.
    * some things can only be discussed among a small group of people. Closed group areas?

    If discussion of “unknown, new and speculative content” will be possible, I have the following wish list for the participants:

    • Politeness and Respect
    • Open mind and willingness to change one’s mind
    • Short readable messages on specific subjects
    • Messages with intrinsic values and facts no blabbing
    • If sources are mentioned, then as specific as possible and not: somewhere in my archive…I think that…
    • People who respond to everything, everywhere, every minute should receive a time slot (or banned)
    • Willingness to really work towards a solution or mutual consensus

    The establishment needs to realize that we can now become an expert on every field, in a small amount of time. Boundaries between “what we already know, what are facts” and “new insights and knowledge” will diminish rapidly.

    On the other hand there are a lot of, how to say this political correct, people which more Internet experience than real life knowledge. That is why I suggested a while back to set up a forum for people based on “invitation only”, to avoid those in the first place. Or give those a “view-only”permission on certain subjects.

    Finally, I want to respond on Mark’s “there is almost no consensus on most questions pertaining to the V. manuscript.”

    Much information is not openly discussed. If all serious V. researchers would share all their information, I am sure there is a lot of consensus.

    Mark : “Is there anyone in the world who you feel is qualified to study the manuscript and if so who?”
    Huh, what qualifications do you need in 2017 to beat an ordinary writer from the year (let’s say) 1445 ? Perseverance, common sense and time.

  56. Mark: on May 2, 2017 at 5:21 pm said:

    Davidsch: When you say “Much information is not openly discussed” that makes me think of something like the “Da Vinci Code” with Voynich researches keeping their secret knowledge amongst themselves. Anyway I haven’t found much consensus at all; it would help if there was more we can be sure of. I don’t think the author of the Voynich was an “ordinary writer” quite the contrary; a proof being that he/she produced the Voynich manuscript which is an extraordinary document.

  57. Davidsch on May 3, 2017 at 10:11 am said:

    Mark: In the eye of the beholder it becomes perhaps something special, but there are so many similar and sometimes even more beautiful illustrated manuscripts.

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