There are now many people who would happily classify themselves as ‘online researchers’. You don’t usually have to peer too far beyond the end of your mouse to see their forum comments, web pages, blog posts, YouTube videos, and occasionally even self-published meisterwerke.

Even though most of these people probably consider that they are engaged in serious research, is that actually the case? What is the difference between serious research and non-serious research? Is there even a difference at all? And (as I heard proposed recently) if there is a difference, surely it’s nothing more than a matter of intelligence, persistence, and luck?

Well… I have to say that that’s a position I can’t agree with at all.

Pay Per Click

Someone clicking on thousands of web pages or running a load of statistical tests can certainly be said to be searching, but this is really not the same thing as researching.

Think about this: how would your behaviour change if every click were to cost you five pounds? Yet in many ways, each click probably does: in terms of the computers you use, the mice you burn up, the broadband you rent, and (arguably the costliest of all) the portion of your life it consumes without returning anything to you. You don’t have to be a full-blown Marxist economist to see that the main thing being eaten away by this kind of activity is you.

The first main difference between searching and researching, then, is that a researcher needs to have an aim to guide his or her actions: every click needs to earn its keep. And the two basic planning tools that help researchers achieve this are research questions and research programmes.

Research Questions

Luckily there is no shortage of web pages that define and discuss research questions, because research questions often have to be included in requests for academic funding. But in many ways, though, given that researching may (being brutally realistic) come to absorb so much of your spare time / life, perhaps you should think of forming a research question as part of making a funding request to your (rational) self. No funding body would ever back someone whose research plan was just to read / try a load of stuff, so why should you back yourself to do the same?

As this web page puts it:

You may have found your topic, but within that topic you must find a question, which identifies what you hope to learn. Finding a question sounds serendipitous, but research questions need to be shaped and crafted.

As a rule, making your research question too general, too wide-ranging or too ‘loose’ is almost always unhelpful, because it means that you will struggle to ever reach an answer for it: too tight and it can come close to being tautologous. There’s a further balance to be had between the availability of evidence and the ‘speculativeness’ of the question: though it has to be said that once you’ve put together your first research question, forming others becomes a lot easier.

Even if your chosen topic is a very evidence-sparse and/or epistemologically uncertain field, you can still form practical research questions (though admittedly doing so can be a little bit less straightforward than in other, more mainstream fields). For example, in the field of Voynich Manuscript research, a partial list of the research questions I personally have pursued over the past 15+ years could contain:

* Using best-in-class Art History dating techniques, when was the Voynich Manuscript made?
* What was the original order of the Voynich Manuscript’s bifolios?
* What did the Voynich Manuscript look like in its ‘alpha’ (original) state?
* Were any parts of the original Voynich text laid down in separate codicological passes?
* Is there a direct mapping relationship between Currier A text structures and Currier B text structures?
* Is there a relationship between the Voynich Manuscript’s zodiac section and the Volkskalender B family of manuscripts?
* What was the nature of fifteenth century cryptography?
* Might Antonio Averlino have been the author of the Voynich Manuscript?
* What happened between the vellum’s first being written on and the Voynich Manuscript’s reappearance in Prague?
* What did the f116v marginalia originally look like?
* Where did the f116v marginalia handwriting come from?
* Might there have been a relationship between the Voynich Manuscript and the Rosicrucian manifestos?

Note that none of the above is a ‘why’ question: all were specific enough – I hoped when I formed them – for an answer to be reached, though most have still proved to be slower to bring to a fully satisfactory conclusion than I would have chosen. 😐

Note also that a number of the above (though not all) are constructed around hypotheses: while some people are comfortable with hypotheses, others are less so. Regardless, I think it’s important to point out that a good research question need not explicitly include or rely on a hypothesis.

(I’ll leave it as an open question how many other Voynich Manuscript researchers have genuinely formed explicit research questions and research programmes: doubtless you will have your own view on this.)

Research Programmes

Following the logic through, it should be obvious that constructing a research question is only the first half of the planning stage. What you then need to do is to construct a research programme around that research question, to try to help you turn it into a focused series of practical actions you can work your way through in order to reach a worthwhile answer.

Here’s a useful list of questions to help you build this up:

* What literature should you review? (What kind of idiot would not build up a picture of the literature first?)
* What evidence can you rely on in your research?
* What similar research questions have been posed before?
* What answers did those researchers reach? (And what did approach did they follow to reach them?)
* Are there related or parallel fields where similarly-structured research questions have been posed?
* How much time and money do you want to invest in to answer this question?
* What process can you follow to move you closer to an answer?
* Are there others you can usefully collaborate with?
* Are there open source tools or data you can work with (or help develop) that would help?
* If your question is based on an hypothesis, what steps can you take to avoid presuming it is true along the way?
* How can you make sure the answer you reach will be based on causality and not merely on statistical correlation?

Trying to answer these questions (and others like it) should help you work out how you plan to reach a reliable, useful answer to your research question.

Note that “research projects” are the short term subsections you would typically decompose a medium term research programme into so as to make it achievable: project is to programme as chapter is to book.

Planning vs Action

At the end of this whole planning stage, you should have not only a research question that you’re trying to answer, but also a practical plan – i.e. some research means to help you try to reach an answer to your chosen research question.

And so it should be clear that the final difference between searching and researching is that researching requires both a pre-planning phase and some kind of systematic action.

Without conscious pre-planning and some kind of systematic research programme to guide you, you’re searching rather than researching, blindly casting your rod out into a vast evidential ocean. You might occasionally catch a fish, sure: but don’t be surprised if you go home hungry more often than not. :-/

95 thoughts on “Searching and researching…

  1. Thanks for your solicitude Nick! Thankfully the internet remains an available leisure and Voynich “search” does not yet require reports of mansual activity. We can continue to invest our time and money in making ourselves happy.
    Best regards

  2. Perry D. Edwards on August 21, 2017 at 12:08 pm said:

    It is hard to see any research plan behind your questions. You have formulated some unrelated hypotheses as questions. Your questions suggest that you are still searching for the right starting point. There is nothing wrong in asking questions. But without a plan you can’t call it a planned research.

  3. Perry: ah, then perhaps we will have to agree to differ about how concerted a research plan it is possible to form when researching the epistemologically uncertain. 🙂

  4. Ruby: searching is fine as a leisure activity, but perhaps it should come with a health warning that it might not make you happy. :-/

  5. Mark Knowles on August 21, 2017 at 1:59 pm said:

    Nick: If you are inclined at some point I would welcome a post on archival research. So much research about the Voynich resolves around the discovery and interpretation of medieval documents.

    Some medieval documents have been digitised and so their contents are available online. Even in this case there is obviously the question of searching for documents relevant to one’s own line of research, which amongst the mass of documents is obviously far from easy. Clearly relevant books may make references to useful documents which one can view. Whilst “Google” is the wonderful tool of our time it can sometimes feel, given its limitations, like a rather blunt tool.

    Then there are the documents out there which are kept in some kind of archives somewhere like the Vatican archives or other archives associated with quite large institutions. I would also assume that there are still a significant number of documents kept in small private or public collections.

    The Voynich could very possibly be deciphered as a result of the discovery of a specific document or maybe documents. But how does one find the documents that one is looking for. This is big a difficult question to ask, but the wisdom of other is certainly of value.

    One piece of good news is that more and more manuscripts are being digitised, which should make the task of finding the document that one is looking for easier.

    Strategies for finding and navigating the vast number of documents out there would be of great value.

  6. Mark: there is a staggeringly huge ocean of documents out there, one that makes Google look like a village pond. Like it or not, the chances of walking into the right archive (are there 10,000 of these? Or 100,000? or more?) or private collection (nobody knows how many of these there are) and then finding exactly the right part of exactly the right document are at Lottery levels of improbability. 🙁

    Arguably the biggest difference between search and research is that while search operates on the level of possibility, research tries to use planning to make search operate on the level of probability. Hence the idea of having a research question is to help you reduce the vast number of documents to something far more manageable, rather than just persisting blindly against extraordinarily poor odds. 🙂

  7. Some useful resources for researching medieval documents online. (Warning – you could spend weeks just browsing..)
    a map showing and listing hundreds of repositories – linking to any send you to their lists, and those link to the mss in that collection.

    The British Library has a catalogue of illuminated manuscripts with very user-friendly search function, including search by type of image. (This has proven very popular with devotees of pininterest).

    The Brit.Lib’s catalogue of digitised manuscripts is not quite so user-friendly but there is a complete Excel list with categories that you can download and consult at leisure.

    the BSD CLM manuscripts are superb. If you don’t have German, there’s an EN option.

    e-codices and the BNF Gallica sites are also popular.
    at e-codices you can call up a key word and receive list with abbreviated bibliog. details in … I think.. four languages.

    If I might suggest, though – if your interest is, say, in early ciphers you might begin by reading Nick’s post about one or another, then see what is available on the subject through internet archive, JSTOR or even G.books, and check out the bibliographies to see which manuscripts are relevant or most talked about.

    Hope that helps.

  8. Mark Knowles on August 21, 2017 at 5:50 pm said:

    Diane: Thank you very much for your interesting and helpful post.

    The primary difficulty I have is that what I am looking for specifically are not really manuscripts, but I would assume are letters or other short documents. Sadly I doubt any of these have been digitised as I imagine the focus has probably been on digitising beautifully illustrated manuscripts not documents of the kind that interest me.

    Having said all that, I think what you have written is really worth knowing, so thanks again for that!

  9. Mark Knowles on August 21, 2017 at 7:48 pm said:

    Diane: Yes. I believe I am familiar with most of Nick’s writings on Medieval ciphers and his work in this area has been very valuable indeed.

    I am primarily interested in correspondence between a specfic Abbey and other institutions. I am also very interested in documents pertaining to the Abbot. The Abbey’s documents were either moved elsewhere or destroyed in the Napoleonic era, I believe.

    I would assume that most documents in some way related to the Abbey would be in the possession of other religious institutions whether that be the Vatican or nearby religious entities such as other Monastic institutions or Cathedrals. But this is all speculation and it would be nice to come up with a systematic list of the most likely archives to investigate. I don’t know how to best go about producing that list.

  10. Josef Zlatoděj Prof. on August 21, 2017 at 8:11 pm said:

    Nick. And ants.
    1 . Currier A + Currier B = poorly.
    2. Zodiac MS 408 + Volkskalender B = poorly.
    3. A. Averlino = poorly.
    4. The manuscript MS 408 = original.
    5. f116 v = key.
    6. rosikruciani = poorly.

    1. You can not read the characters correctly.
    2. Find out what the word means = ajin.
    3. Find out why there is not a character in the handwriting – U,V,W,X. ( number 6).

  11. @Diane
    (Warning – you could spend weeks just browsing ..)
    Switzerland alone has over 1 million books, and it is just 2500 digitized.
    With other states it will look about the same.
    So you have to hurry now, because later you spend years for surfing. 🙂

    Research is a theory which can withstand a philosophical view without breaking it into ashes and thereby not throwing the PC out of the window. To admit to themselves that there is no light at the end of the tunnel and goes to a new theory. In the hope it could actually be the beginning of the thread.

  12. Jackie Speel on August 22, 2017 at 9:29 am said:

    Any topic ‘worth’ researching will turn into a ‘research spiderweb.’ Some spiderwebs will be too small (effectively closed questions, or asking the wrong sort of questions), and others will be too large/complex (question too vague etc), or contain incomplete fields – the information was not there in the first place/was not considered relevant enough to retain, or it is there but is in unexpected place(s) – we have probably all come across examples, and sometimes the links in the spiderweb lead to ‘more interesting spiderwebs (in both senses) of research.’
    One should know when to stop researching (one has spent a reasonable amount of time on the research, all obvious material has been identified, and ‘this can be the next topic etc) – and which topics can be pursued as a hobby (whether or not intermittently). Sometimes one has to apply the Scots ‘Not proven’ verdict to a topic.
    There are a couple of VM related wikis I am involved with if anyone wishes to add summaries of research done etc: and it is easy enough to set up a publicly accessible wiki on (platform of choice) on your particular topic of interest – and possibly other researchers on the topic may find you.

  13. Perry’s point is well taken. Nick is still searching for the historically right starting point.

    Both Egyptian hieriglyphic writing, introduced by the Rosetta Stone, by two bi-lingual texts, and Mayan writing were severely delayed by the same false premise, that no phonetic writing was involved.

    A son of the main Egyptology non-phonetic fanatic had full access, and was able to find hieroglyphic phonetic markers in 25 years, and easily unlocked a previously lost written language. Mayan phonetic writing was much harder to see since a mod four context, often based on emotional/political symbols, denied by academics until the death of the main non-phonetic fanatic Eric Thompson in 1975, was solved by “behind the iron curtain” USSR code breakers.

    Openness to untried approaches seems missing here in serious ways. My approach, equally considering numerical and language based encoding systems, falls on Nick’s deaf ears. Nick continues to offer one size fits all language base approaches, throwing out number based, and other approaches “out with the bath water”.

    To solve any lost encoding system, or closed related multiple encoding systems, a researcher must travel back in time and open his/her mind to all types of encoding systems. The history of math ciding systems that existed before Simon Stevin convinced the Paria Academy that base 10 decimals must replace the Arab greedy algorithm, based on the binomial theorem, is a case in point.

    Nick knows nothing about the number theory approaches connected to base 10 decimals and the superseded 800 AD Arab two and three term unit fraction system, based on subtraction, nor, the Greek and Egyptian upto five term unit fraction system based on scaling rational numbers by multiplying by LCMs m, thought of as m/m.

    Thanks for reconsidering a broader view of math and language.


    Milo Gardner

  14. Milo: respectfully, dear old Nick knows plenty about alternative historical numbering systems and has explore numerous numbering alternatives as possible explanations of some of Voynichese’s properties. Furthermore, if you can demonstrate how any of the twelve research questions listed are even slightly built on a view of the Voynich Manuscript that presupposes the presence of any given numbering system, it would come as a surprise: the vast majority of those research questions are theory-neutral, a point which seems to have escaped your gaze.

    While it’s true that good old Nick proposed (back in 2006) that one specific numbering scheme might well have been used (and laid out the evidence that suggested it), the Beinecke curators wouldn’t let him codicologically test it: and I don’t believe that anyone has come up with anything approaching a Plan B for numbers in the decade-plus since then. So we are in a situation where apparently the only substantial number-based hypothesis about the Voynich Manuscript remains untested.

    Whether or not it is convenient, we’re all stuck in the same bath water: and the evidence we need to bring us fresh water remains as hard to reach as ever. 🙁

  15. James R. Pannozzi on August 22, 2017 at 12:56 pm said:

    Disagree completely.

    Nick old bean, you’ve been researching too hard ! Get some tea, solve some Troitzky chess puzzles to relax, go outside with the cat.

    The Internet and personal computer are tools of personal empowerment and liberation beyond anything we could have imagined even back in the early 80’s.

    You disparage mere “searching” but I counter that the opportunity to search for patterns is an essential prerequisite to avoid premature theorizing in which one then “researches”, by searching, in a Quixotian quest of validation of the theory.

    Searching the web can also be pattern seeking, sometimes depending on fortuitous aleatory happenstance made possible by a good search engine, the cleverness of the searcher and a good browser.

    We are able, ghost like, to visit libraries, see documents, manuscripts and learn of people which only a billionaire in the pre Internet era, or someone with a lot of time and money, could possibly do.

    When the semantic tapestry of the Voynich is finally revealed, I believe it will be from an “aha” moment arising from being open to the realization of unexpected patterns, sitting there in front of us all along, rather than some elaborate historical analysis.

    I believe solving the Voynich will be very much like the discovery of the Fullerene molecule, discovered not by theoretical chemists, but by physicists who one day found something rather curious in cosmic soot, something apparently totally unrelated, that they were analyzing and followed up on it.

    People have been “researching” the Voynich for a long time with enough false trails, confusions and ambiguity to send Sherlock Holmes into voluntary retirement tuning Violins.

    It is precisely more and continued searching…followed by researching when promising patterns or connections arise, that is the key, and NOT the other way around !

  16. James: there are plenty of people who, like you, think that if a billion eyeballs look at the Voynich Manuscript, something is bound to click for one of them and lead to some extraordinarily penetrating insight which will open all the doors hitherto closed etc. Maybe you and them are right.

    Personally, I think the chances of this happening get smaller every year: it’s not as if the Voynich Manuscript is still just a footnote, a curious book that never got sold – many millions of people have seen it already, a group that now probably includes just about everyone who might have something interesting to say about it.

    My position is that the number of people who have researched specific aspects of it in anything like a systematic way (and without deluding themselves) is still dwindlingly small: I’m betting on one of them forcing a breakthrough through planning and researching, rather than waiting for a Voynich Monkey to write Hamlet etc. 😉

  17. * Using best-in-class Art History dating techniques, when was the Voynich Manuscript made?

    Certain features, the apothecary jars among them, from the Voynich Manuscript were identified as “Early colonial Mexican” by Professor Michael Coe in 1999. He wrote “The way the root systems of the plants are drawn show a definite Aztec heritage (similar to the Badianus Herbal) The glyphs almost certainly indicate the name of the plant, which is probably medical.” He advised “You should have this photocopied so that you can have the pictures and the Nahuatl text looked at by an expert. ” Personal communication 27 April 1999

    The problem, Nick, is that the Voynich experts, such as Rene Zandbergen and yourself are loathe to even consider, much less examine evidence from any other continent or century than 15th c. Europe. Or am I wrong? Post this if you are willing to consider art history evidence and actually read my manuscript. Tucker and Janick certainly have.

  18. In case you don’t immediately recognize the name Dr. Michael Coe wrote breaking the Maya code.

  19. I sent Dr Coe pictures redrawn from the Voynich manuscript from f27v, f28r, f49v, f22r, f86r, and f88r of all three ‘apothecary jars’. I never named the Voynich Manuscript because I knew that the VMs is where scholarly reputations go to die. )

    He confirmed my observation that the bottoms of the ‘apothecary jars look like “molinillos” which are Spanish chocolate mills.

  20. Mark Knowles on August 22, 2017 at 2:32 pm said:

    John: One thing which becomes evident is that there are lots of highly intelligent people with great credentials who have tried to unravel the mystery of Voynich, but who have arrived at quite different conclusions. So ultimately the credentials of Dr Coe are probably not that relevant.

    I think one has to be wary of viewing anyone as an expert whether it be Nick, Rene or anyone else. Certainly some people are more familiar with the contents of the Voynich and existing research and theories than others; however this does not mean that their own interpretation of its contents should be trusted.

    It is worth mentioning the carbon dating as something objective we can take seriously as opposed the speculations of any individual researcher.

  21. John Comegys: we have fifteenth century radiocarbon dating that predates the (1552) Codex Badianus by more than a century, and someone has added quire numbers in a distinctively fifteenth century hand: a third (zodiac month name) hand looks no later than 1500 too.

    Feel free to propose readings of the Voynich Manuscript that go against these basic data, but please don’t be surprised if others don’t share your specific enthusiasm.

  22. James R. Pannozzi on August 22, 2017 at 4:10 pm said:


    Hamlet, eh ?

    I was thinking more along the lines of “As You Like It”

    The suggestions of Mr. Comegys are more in tune with my thinking, if we must entertain theories. But your points are well taken. And I’m not sure what to make of the radiocarbon dating.

    One last intriguing thing.

    ….Mayan, eh ? (!!)

  23. Mark,.
    If you are researching an hypothesis of your own (rather than anything specific about the ms), then perhaps your best bet is to learn the name of the religious Order which occupied the abbey at the time you’re interested in. From there, it may be possible to discover whether any histories of the order have been written and consult those secondary sources. Academic ones always acknowledge their sources, add accurate bibliographies etc., and this should permit you to follow their information to its source/s.

    Alternatively, you might find out where that Order how has its main centre, and write (snail mail is preferred) to the chief archivist/head librarian asking for help discovering documents relating to the order, and to that particular abbey.

    I’ve found that people are very helpful once they realise that your interest is in the material for its own sake.

    But of course, that’s not dictation, you must do as you see fit.

  24. John,
    When you say Dr. Coe “confirmed that they looked like…” it sounds as if someone said to him ‘Do you think these look like chocolate mills’ and he said ‘Oh yes, so they do’. That is no better than saying that someone agrees a cloud looks like a dragon; it is can’t be used as proof that the cloud IS a dragon.

    I won’t say more because the phrase ‘looks like’ tends to make me all berserker, and you wouldn’t want that. 🙂

  25. Scotty on August 22, 2017 at 5:38 pm said:

    Nick, et al. : At the end of the day: Internet “web” is simply a medium for storage and retrieval, much like books and parchment rolls, and such. The wrong or right does not depend (or justify) on their existence, access, or usage – or perhaps does it ?

    Worth 2 cents . . .. maybe 🙂

  26. James R. Pannozzi on August 22, 2017 at 6:21 pm said:


    Aw don’t worry, as near as I can tell we’re all somewhat “berserker” here.

  27. Nick, Thank you for posting my comments. As for the Carbon 14 dating if I may quote my own monograph? “Greg Hodgins, the author of the study that dated it states, “It is important to realize that we date when the animal lived, not when the book was made”. 99 Further, other scholars have noted “…some materials, such as vellum, were so expensive in medieval Europe that they were sometimes scraped clean and reused.” 100 99 Lorenzi, Rossella. (2011) Mysterious Manuscript’s Age Determined. Discovery news. Posted February 11, 2011. Last accessed 12-30-2011. 100 Quoted in Lorenzi, 2011. James R Pannozi while Dr. Coe in a general Mesoamerican scholar his focus is on the Mayans. He would not go beyond a few general statements about the Aztecs and referred me to an Aztec scholar who never responded to my e mails. After I named the Mystery That Dare Not Speak its Name, but its initials are VM, we stopped corresponding. D. Franciscan. The specific feature of the chocolate mills was the serrated teeth at the bottom, more than the general form. Do not neglect his support for Aztec glyphs in the roots. This all happened in 1999 and I have had no contact with him since. I happen to know that he had the chance to weigh in on a work by T & J and last I heard had offered no support to their work beyond his knowledge of the range of a fish. As I said, I sent him pictures, not the name of our cursed manuscript.

  28. John C: it’s important to remember that a number of people (including me) have looked first-hand for any sign of vellum scraping / reuse, but there is none to be found anywhere. I specifically noted one vellum bifolio that was substantially thicker than the others (which was a strong candidate for possible palimpsestness), but that too drew a blank.

  29. Blessed are the searchers for they shall find metadata. Just like
    wicked uncle Gordon Welchman we take the fork in the road.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

  30. xplor: I’m not sure how a road trampled flat by ten million blindfolded piglets counts as “the one less traveled by”, but perhaps you’ve seen something I haven’t. 😉

  31. Hi Nick,
    About the month labels–I take you at your word that they appear in the style of 1500, I haven’t given it much thought. The earliest date for a writing style is a beginning point, not an end point. It surely took some time for the writing style to disperse from Italy to Spain and thence to their colony of New Spain. More interestingly is the idea that the Voynich was, as Rudd proposes, written in 1580, but not for money, rather to escape the Spanish Inquisition. My brother James the linguist tells me that the reason the ‘m’s in September, November, and December are omitted is because Nahuatl writers omitted nasal sounds at the ends of syllables.

  32. Michael Grace on August 22, 2017 at 11:58 pm said:

    All Time grows more ancient in the apparent researches of the archaeologists.How long ago is anything? The Voynich is obviously a calibration of mind alignments relating to hidden agendas of that time, but what and where? The word encryption of the MS cannot be broken but the images possibly so. But it stands as a great monument to Humanity.

  33. Karl K. on August 23, 2017 at 3:34 am said:

    *Now* Nick posts a high-level methodology post to comment on…

    Nick says, “If your question is based on an hypothesis, what steps can you take to avoid presuming it is true along the way?” In addition to not begging the question per Nick, another issue is:

    * Is your question falsifiable (i.e., what evidence could prove it wrong)? Testing to try to falsify your hypothesis is as important as testing to try to support it.

    Nick talks about personal time as the ultimate scarce resource, so from a pragmatic POV a couple useful questions to ask are:

    * Does working on this involve honing a skill that can be pitched as professionally useful? Does it involve learning or improving use of some relevant software tool(s)?

    * Can you generate non-Voynich-specific products? Could this result in a conference paper or journal article?

    Reiterating some points about methodology scattered in a number of comments in other threads:

    * If you have a hypothesis of some sort:

    1) If it is true, how does that constrain possible solutions to the nature of the Voynich Mss?, and

    2) What testable predictions follow from your hypothesis?

    * If you have a cryptanalytic hypothesis regarding the Voynich Mss., _actually trying to decipher the Mss. should be the very last step in your research program_. There are two reasons for this:

    1) Whatever tools you’ve developed to assist in the decryption, you need to know the distribution of results you get when you apply the tools to texts where you know the answer, otherwise you don’t know whether the result you get using the tools on the Voynich actually “rings the bell” as it were; and

    2) It helps prune dead ends up front — if you think the Voynich is some kind of polyalphabetic cipher at the glyph level, then you should probably think about how to get such a cipher to generate a ciphertext with 2nd order entropy lower than natural language plaintexts before you invest an enormous amount of time in trying to crack the Mss.

    * If I reach into the metaphorical urn from Intro to Probability and Statistics 201 and pull out a single sample from an unknown distribution, then in the absence of evidence to the contrary the reasonable assumption is that this lone sample is roughly modal. As a result, the reasonable assumption is that, whatever the Voynich Mss. text is (enciphered plaintext, generated pseudo-language, whatever), the Mss text is a fairly average example of text generated using that method.

    Hopefully people find that useful advice rather than pointless bloviating…


  34. Not particular to this thread, though it was also mentioned here…..

    I am always intrigued to see that “having an open mind” is supposed to be a good thing, and “not having an open mind” is a bad thing.

    While it seems to make sense at first sight, and I agree that it is a good general philosophy for life, one should also try to see how this applies to interpreting “Voynich MS theories”.

    Having an open mind means one is prepared to read just about anything without rejecting it a priori.

    Having an open mind does not mean that one should close ones eyes for all contradictions, circular reasoning, factual errors and logical fallacies of all nature, that one may encounter when reading such material.

    This is where the ‘critical mind’ comes into play.

    If it is argued for any theory that one needs to have an open mind in order to believe in it, I consider it a bad sign, and one is practically not allowed to have a critical mind.

  35. Karl: all sensible stuff, though wondering whether what you’re doing could generate a conference paper is perhaps one step further than most people would want to go. 🙂

    All the same, the point of the post was more about contrasting undirected (zombie) search with directed (steered) research.

    There’s a well-known description of owning a boat as “standing fully-clothed under a cold shower, tearing up 100-dollar bills”. Perhaps I should have similarly described zombie searching as an absorbing way to waste your life away, and cut out the other 990 words. :-/

  36. Rene: viewed from afar, it is perhaps amusing how some vocal proponents of keeping an open mind can have such a rigidly closed mind about what that means. 😉

  37. I read a lot about theories from other VM researchers, I make the possible hints that I might have overlooked on my way.
    But it takes a lot of time alone with so much text to see it is a theory or just imagination.
    Only the reading about Aztecs and Mayas is really hard for me. That was once a nice theory around 1990 and the without C-14 analysis. With today’s state what one knows, it is only a boundless fantasy. The book’s origins are only the second.

    Until 1500, America was a self-contained culturing system, why should anyone bring pictures of European plants in European drawing style from Europe to America, it is of no use. And certainly not at all.

    For me as someone wants to sell an Eskimo a refrigerator!

  38. John: the number forms used in the quire numbers would have looked quaint and dated by 1510, and the cumbersome composite half-Roman half-Arabic numbering system (e.g. 9n9 = “nonus”) was transitionary during the fifteenth century – I don’t know of a single example of it (or anything broadly similar) beyond 1500.

  39. SirHubert on August 23, 2017 at 8:48 am said:

    Rene: I don’t think anyone is suggesting that having an open mind means that one ‘should close ones eyes for all contradictions, circular reasoning, factual errors and logical fallacies of all nature, that one may encounter when reading such material.’ I agree that lots of people, self-proclaimed Voynich researchers included, do this with depressing frequency, but this is more like Jourdain speaking prose all his life without knowing it.

    The point of keeping an open mind in academic research, as you doubtless know far better than I do, is allowing yourself to see where the evidence you are assembling does not lead where you originally thought it might take you, and adjusting your preconceptions rather than the evidence should this happen. This is also something which self-styled Voynich researchers often fail to do.

    Good research is good research, and bad research is bad research. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, or how ‘seriously’ they think they should take themselves.

  40. john sanders on August 23, 2017 at 9:00 am said:

    NP: What just caught my attention is your suggestion that European artists were unlikely to transplant their traditional art styles generally to the New World. (coal to Newcastle). You are obviously not familiar with the conceptions of colonial artists and how they perceived they could have their works appreciated back home. What you suggest as being pointless, is exactly what they considered quite logical. Probably not so blatantly obvious in North America of which I have no knowledge, but certainly in equatorial countries and the high Andes of South America. Also early artists in Australia had a pretty good idea that their home audiences would not be prepared for the contrasting shades and shapes found in their new plein air panoramas. The answer was to turn the river gums into English willows and the rugged cruel terrain into something a little less terrifying, perhaps a little more like pretty rural Sussex, including the thatch roofed field worker’s cottages. Unclad Aborigines were given laplaps to cover the genitals, curly Capetown hair styles, and the weird unbelievable animals were also treated with the same degree of cover-up so as not to scare excitable European children. And you know what Nick, they’re still doing it; just check out the artwork on any 2016 oAmerican or Australian designed Xmas card; Pure English country setting circa. 1760. By the way is there any sign of Murano glass or perhaps Selesian lead crystal in the VM and how about the odd matchlock fusil or cannon, noting that Cortez beat the Incas using mainly cross bows. There is a long way to go before you get to convince we the uneducated and not easily convinced old chap but you’ll persevere no doubt,as well you should.

  41. I must be a bit behind in reading my ‘meme-stream’.

    Last I heard it was the P.C. thing to deplore lack of rigor, lack of evidence and flippant approaches to this manuscript, and trigger to the sneer-brigade was to call another’s work “not scientific”.

    Apparently the mood has shifted gear – so anyone taking the manuscript seriously is the current butt, and the fashionable crowd pretends the whole “study” is shits and giggles and ‘taking it seriously’ darling is SO last week.

    I find it not only vaguely offensive but vaguely disturbing that anyone who writes for (or plays to) an audience should be so very indifferent to others’ rights. Perhaps any blogger who subscribes to the “don’t take me seriously, it’s all just for fun” philosophy could stamp each blogpost and webpage – so we know where we are.

  42. @SirHubert,

    I believe that what you write is not in any conflict with what I meant.

    It’s all about the validity of arguments, really.

    If I reject a theory that places the MS well after the 15th Century, this is not because the theory does not fit my views, but because the arguments for the much later origin simply are no match for the arguments in favour the earlier origin.
    Depending on each individual case of course !!

    Good arguments are always welcome and may convince.

    I don’t know why I should keep an open mind towards a theory that is based on weak/invalid arguments.

  43. SirHubert: even bad research may well still yield more of incidental value than a thousand people clicking on stuff and making YouTube theory videos. For example, there are many times that I’ve happily endured a badly-written paper just to plunder its bibliography. 🙂

  44. Nick,

    Thank you for the example

    “John: the number forms used in the quire numbers would have looked quaint and dated by 1510, and the cumbersome composite half-Roman half-Arabic numbering system (e.g. 9n9 = “nonus”) was transitionary during the fifteenth century – I don’t know of a single example of it (or anything broadly similar) beyond 1500.”

    Your approach to mixed Roman and Arabic numerals apparently assumes a sterile transliteration approach. Transliterations have held back Egyptian and Greek ciohered numeration systems since 1864, related to the RMP 2/n table, and since 1927, related to the 26 line EMLR.

    The RMP and EMLR were gifted to the British Museum in 1864, and the number theory building blocks of 2/n tables and EMLR 1/p and 1/n, and have only been transliterated as containing additive arithmetic operations.

    My 2002 EMLR paper, published in India, shows that one and two LCMs scaled 1/p and 1/n in a manner that a beginning scribe was required to study. To decode the 26 line EMLR answer sheet, beginning, middle and ending arithmetic steps must be connected to the RMP and Kahun Papyri 2/n tables, and over 120 hieratic math problems, many of which include proofs.

    Egyptians scaled rational number n/p by finding the best LCM m thought of as m/m such that

    n/p (m/m) = mn/mp, with the best divisors of denominator mp summed in red to numerator mn.

    For example, for Egyptians and Greeks

    4/13 (4/4) = 16/52 = (13 + 2 + 1)/52 = 1/4 + 1/26 + 1/52,

    Recorded from right to left with Greeks further mapping 4, 26, 52 as Ionian or Doric letters.

    There were differences between Egyptian and Greek scalings by LCM m. Egyptians were one-by-one, as cited above, while Greeks created n/3, n/5, n/7, … Families of tabular structured unit fraction partitions of rational numbers.

    Arabs ended the Egyptian and Greek number theory based rational numbers, that the British Museum refuses to recognize in an Eric Thompson manner, and replaced it with 2-term unit fraction series encoded by

    (n/p – 1/m) = (mn – 1/p)/mp

    As LE Sigler reported six classes (distinctions) for 2 -term series, and a 7th class for impossible cases like 4/13 when a second LCM 1/18 was chosen so

    4/13 = 1/4 1/18 1/468

    Written from right to left, in the Greek and Egyptian manner.

    The above translations would have been impossible if only transliterations would have been allowed, the sad world of British Museum scholarship.

    Best Regards,

    Milo Gardner

  45. Milo: the cumbersome composite numbering system I referred to is in the Voynich Manuscript’s quire numbers, not in the text itself.

    The mystery in the quire numbers (added by a different hand) lies in their rarity, not in their structure.

  46. Mark Knowles on August 23, 2017 at 1:48 pm said:

    Rene & SirHubert: I think as a whole the question of validity of arguments is in principle a straightforward one. Certainly in the context of formal logic it is clear and unambiguous. The problem is we are not discussing formal logic, we are dealing with speculative and inherently probabilistic arguments.

    Of course probabilitic arguments can be analysed in the context of a formal logical analysis as probability theory has laws which can be either be applied in accordance with the laws of logic or not.

    However the use of the notion of valid or invalid arguments is unhelpful in this context as it can lead people to believe that individual researchers should produce formal proofs rather than arguments based on the livelihoods of various facts being true and the likelihood of inferences proving correct.

    Given the probabilitic nature of these arguments there is a case for being open minded as there is a probability of any theory being true, however unlikely one may find that theory.

    Whilst one has limited time to spend exploring any given theory one has to make judgements on what one believes is the plausibility of any given theory, so as to determine how best to allocate one’s time. One naturally is inclined to devote more attention to theories which seem more likely rather than less likely.

    I think one has to be wary of rejecting the notion of “open-mindedness” which is core to the scientific method. Frustration over the study of theories that one perceives to be flawed should not prejudice one’s perspectives on new theories.

  47. Hi Nick,
    1) If the page numbers in the quires look old and quaint, all the better so that the VMs will pass for a Pre-Columbian Spanish book and escape the attentions of a badly educated Spanish priest or his acolyte working for the Inquisition to root out heretical indigenous documents some time around 1580, to use Rudds date. My examples of the Voynich letters found in Spanish and Nahuatl codices from the Valley of Mexico generally date from 1535 to 1565, I do not address numbers.
    2) I have a memory of mixed Arabic and Roman letters being used together or at least in the same documents in Early Colonial Mexico, but no quick reference comes to mind. I have a little monograph on the subject but cannot easily find it right now.

  48. John: many documents used both Roman numbers and Arabic numerals, but almost no documents use both numbering systems within the same number. The example I gave from the Voynich quire numbers (“9n9”) means “ninth”, and looks really ugly: the first 9 means 9, the second 9 means -us. Nasty. :-/

  49. Mark: historical proofs are inherently probabilistic (and hence almost always allow for the insertion of crazy alt.history in the remaining gaps of possibility).

    Yet even historical disproofs (which are stronger, and tend to need wild card mechanisms akin to TARDISes to work around) don’t seem to faze such theorists, so perhaps logic of any sort has little to do with it. *sigh*

  50. SirHubert on August 23, 2017 at 6:10 pm said:

    Mark: I think it’s about what Rene calls “all contradictions, circular reasoning, factual errors and logical fallacies of all nature, that one may encounter when reading such material.” You perhaps have some wriggle-room over what constitutes a fact, and I don’t mind people challenging historical ‘facts’ to see if they hold up. But I’m sorry to say that the other mistakes, as well as some others, do turn up in published papers from time to time, peer review notwithstanding.

  51. Charlotte Auer on August 23, 2017 at 6:50 pm said:

    Dear Rene,

    I fully agree with you, but let me add some thoughts.

    Having an open mind in general and having a restricted mind in special is not so much of a contradiction, and you can have both in parallel. The secret of successful research lies in the distinction between useful and useless information related to your topic or theory.

    If I’m convinced that the origin of the Voynich lies in the early 15th at a certain place in Tyrol – what I do – then all other Nahuatl or ex oriente stuff does’nt interest me because I exclude such origins in the first place. Am I therefore narrow minded? Surely not. Yes, it’s all about the validity of arguments, as you said, and “exotic” arguments are invalid to me.

    Following my own theory, I have to have a frame of supposed time and place of the ms to work with, and then use my experience with medieval manuscripts within that frame to either verify or falsify my theory. Taking into consideration all known codicological facts, the frame for the Voynich is rather narrow, and beyond that only fiction remains. This may be the difference between searching the internet at random and purposeful research. The latter requires sound knowledge, patience and, yes, a very critical mind, no less.

  52. Charlotte Auer: only if your hypothesis cannot possibly be demonstrated false by any other evidence can you safely shut your eyes to everything else.

  53. Mark Knowles on August 23, 2017 at 7:24 pm said:

    SirHubert: I think there is wriggle room on inferences.

    So for example:

    A) The velum has been carbon dated to the 15th Century
    B) The manuscript dates from the early 15th Century

    So our inference is:

    A -> B

    That is probabilitic in nature. Whilst I have approached the manuscript on the basis that it dates from the 15th Century there is just about enough wiggle room, be it small, for someone to argue that it dates from a much later period i.e. that the inference A->B is not valid.

    Of course there is scope for people making basic reasoning errors; however I suspect a lot of the time the differences come down to what individuals accept as facts and also what they accept as reasonable inferences.

  54. Charlotte Auer on August 23, 2017 at 7:51 pm said:


    right, but I don’t shut my eyes to everything else, I shut them only to obvious nonsense. If someone can proof my hypothesis false, then he/she must have strong arguments. In the meanwhile I can safely shut my eyes and take a nap.

  55. Charlotte Auer: I guess this depends on whether you filter out (a) only “obvious” / “exotic” nonsense, or (b) everything that isn’t from a certain place in the Tirol… a great deal falls between the two filter settings.

  56. @Charlotte
    Interesting for me, that you mention the Tyrol. I have come to about the same, but rather South Tyrol. (Brixen, Bolzano, Trento) the main valley and its side valleys towards Brenner Pass.
    Unfortunately, only 2 books from this region are known with the local language and dialect, so it is difficult to get a comparison between VM and region.

  57. The world’s best cryptographers have worked on the Voynich a long time and still no farther along than Raphael Sobiehrd-Mnishovsky.
    Using politeness, charm, persistence even a blind piglet can find an acorn once in a while.

  58. xplor: to be fair, the problem with historical codebreaking is that it’s an all-or-nothing affair – we won’t know how close we are until we actually break it fully. So we’re still a little bit early to make that judgment, to be fair. 🙂

    Piglets are in the news today here in the UK: apparently they’re good for sausages. Which is perhaps a sign of how unbelievably stupid the media turns here during August (AKA “The Silly Season”).

  59. Charlotte Auer on August 23, 2017 at 9:24 pm said:


    the filter settings, as you name that, are most simple as follows:

    Post 1500 and/or not Central Europe = out
    Pre 1500 only out of Central Europe = out
    Pre 1500 and only Central Europe = in
    Pre 1500 and region between Southern Germany and Nothern Italy = most probably = in
    First half of 15th. Century and Southern Bavaria/Tyrol = high chance due to paleographic and linguistic analysis = in
    First quarter of 15th Century and Bolzano (Tyrol) = my favorite starting point where paleography, iconography, language and history fit alltogether.

    For my personal use these settings are wide enough to keep my eyes open and narrow enough to keep nonsense out. Nothing will fall between the settings as long as it make sense int the general frame.

  60. The VM to decrypt goes into something like that!
    The Englishman: I have clearly found English words.
    The German: For me they were always in German.
    The Dutchman: I’m almost sure it is Dutch!
    The fourth says: I have no idea what you mean, I wrote it and come from South Africa and write Afrikaans. 🙂

  61. So if you were to discover the precise figure of nearly all of the EVA letters, including half of the gallows, but it wasn’t actually found in a European document in Europe you would discount it as unworthy of further consideration? Really? That is a very narrow Procrustean bed, Nick. Especially after a century of futile effort and many books that all proclaim loudly the alphabet is unknown, one of a kind, unique. But the alphabet is there for all who care to look in codices in Spanish and Nahuatl in the Valley of Mexico mid 16th c. so you clap your hands over your eyes and say no, no, no I won’t look, I dare not? Maybe the manuscripts are derived from some unknown earlier Spanish or Italian original…no, non, you can’t make me look? Hmmmmm. Curious. Have you considered casting your nets wider? I love and admire the work Rudd has done, we certainly don’t agree, but his research is good and reasoning is quite reasonable. I don’t dismiss his views and research simply because I don’t agree with his conclusions. But then my father was an historian, and I think that way. Really Nick give it a go. Take a look. I promise it won’t hurt you.

  62. john sanders on August 24, 2017 at 4:31 am said:

    Plenty of old and decrepit stocks of government grade velum would have been in storage at Hipaniola or Santiago de Cuba when that mischeivous young fellow Cortez and a bit later on his likeness Pizzaro were given tacit approval to open up the New World namely the Aztec/Inca empires for occupation and exploitation. They knew that powers in the old dart were not going to be entirely happy with loose cannons traipsing around the newly conquered lands untethered and not knowing what was going on, in fact they would have been in some real fear off loosing their heads if they didn’t report in fairly smartly. The problem was that they had left all their educated notaries and artists at home, they being considered as non essential super numeries for the initial military phase. They would ertainly not have anticated how relatively quickly they would achieve total subdugation of their foes mainly by pure bluff as fortune would have i; so they would have had to act quickly in order to maintain their most fortuous initiatives. In amongst the soldiers they would have been able to find someone who could put pen to paper, perhaps a former Moorsish scribe from the court of King Caracatus and another who may have been a somewhat mediocre art student in grade school. They might have been given a rough outline as to what was required ie. a visual portrayal of the locals, their customs including leisure activities, food preparation and village defences &c. but set out in a format that wiuld not be likely to scare off potential interest for immigration. Then give the ahead and put it all down in writing, get it bound, five copies neat, then get it back to Seville for government’s perusal and subsequent distribution. Of course the masters Cortez/Pizzaro were not to know that the blackamoor scribe had never learnt to read a word of any language, his former occupation being as an illiterate neat coppier of scrappy court notes only. He certainly wouldn’t have been going to let on though, knowing full well that there was little chance of his deficiency coming to light in the short term. Obviously he would have recalled some letter forms from his adoptive country as well as other bits and pieces from Latin forms and also the style of some North African script. So the lads could then have gone ahead and fudged the whole commission in a trice, all the pretty pictures to be favourably compared with things at home so at to give the desired reassurance, then to have the volumes bound nicely, given to their unsuspecting overseer for his appreciation and forwarding for favour &c…….Of course I know the foregoning synopsis sounds quite ludicrous in reality and I don’t believe it for a minute personally, but I’m happy to put it out there for the VM geeksters to divulge, gasp in horror and then tear to pieces remorslessly as is their wont. But at the end of the day stranger things have probably happened in Seville.

  63. John Sanders: what’s really ridiculous about your flippant confection is that it’s essentially indistinguishable from a lot of what gets passed off as Voynich research.

  64. John Comegys: I have had a look, thanks. Unfortunately, I decided a while back to stop reviewing Voynich theories, because all I get in return is abuse and vilification. Instead, what I mainly invest my time in is trying to unearth new evidence: even a tiny amount would be sufficient to do an industrial level of disproof. 🙂

  65. Peter: you missed the Swiss! 😉

  66. john sanders on August 24, 2017 at 7:19 am said:

    NP: And thank goodness there was actually no research necessary, but ridiculous and flippant are appropriate and the italics well placed for effect. What I can’t quite come to terms with is why you allowed such nonsence to be posted in the first instance. I knew the sort of effect it would have on certain people and I’m wondering how Bdid1der might view it.

  67. Mark: what you’re talking about is how to perform logical deduction under conditions of uncertainty.

    The first thing to note is that no historical fact is 100% certain: full certainty is tautology, and is the domain of mathematical proof.

    The second thing is that even though individual facts are not fully certain, we can still combine them in ways that reduce the overall uncertainty. This isn’t often appreciated.

    For example, because fifteenth century handwriting, number-forms, and rare numbering system have been added to the Voynich Manuscript, and the vellum was radiocarbon dated to the early fifteenth century, only two creation scenarios sensibly remain: (1) that it was written in the fifteenth century, or (2) it is a later fake of immense sophistication.

  68. Hypotheses, assumptions and speculation all have their place and can all be used, as long as one remembers what is what.

    Where it goes wrong, is when any of the three are used as ‘evidence’.

    This happens a lot, and is facilitated by the missing “I think that”, in many statements that have been written about the Voynich MS.

    Of course there are varieties of “I think that”, such as:
    I believe that….
    I am convinced that….

    It can also be more subtle:

    “I have demonstrated that…” should really be read as:
    “I believe that I have demonstrated that…”
    etc. etc.

    As long as deductions or conclusions are based on hypotheses/theories, they are not supported by these, but they become part of the hypothesis/theory.

  69. john sanders on August 24, 2017 at 8:43 am said:

    NP: Where I went to school, a long ways from you to be sure, fact was and, I’m syre still is, a 100 per cent. certainty and so it’s a fact that fact cannot be improved upon whether it be historical or otherwise, with one exception. Tautology on the other hand is just the manner in which one attempts to convince by means of rhetorical persuasion and logic that something is fact. The means does not nececarilly forclude non factual chicanery and deception so in other words we must be eternally vigilant so as not to be taken in by perveyors of tautological rhetoric. Does that make sense to any of you VM class folks?, one can only hope that fact still speaks for itself.

  70. John Sanders: there are plenty of people who know for a fact who their father was and yet are wrong. 😐 What’s the difference between that and any other historical fact?

  71. Perhaps I have now learned something about the history of America and its conquest.
    The time span from VM to the Mexican origin. The first contact on the continent was dated to the year 1502.
    Cortes certainly had no interest in a cultural exchange. The first branch was founded in 1511.
    A completely different culture and writing system, and not a single, small indication that it was once in South America. But a bunch of Europe.
    I can not put the time into the length, just to fit a theory.
    Show me a plausible reason, and I’ll think about it again.
    Until then, I trust more South America as a branch of prä-astronautics.

  72. @Nick
    Missing? I’m here

  73. Peter: just bring chocolate and we can work out the rest. 😉

  74. (1) that it was written in the fifteenth century, or (2) it is a later fake of immense sophistication.

    Fake ?
    The VM was already documented in writing 100 years ago and the existence was corrupted.
    Could he know that you can test it today with the C-14 analysis? Rather not. Why this parchment. Coincidence ?
    Let’s assume it was written in 1580, is it still a fake?
    The composition compared to other books in this kind is indeed in something.
    We just do not know the language or writing.
    When naming as a fake, I became very prudent.

  75. Nick, which one would you like?
    Linth, Frey, and Arni … are just around the corner.
    At Toblerone you have to wait 30 minutes longer. 🙂

  76. john sanders on August 24, 2017 at 10:08 am said:

    NP: Yes you’ve picked the exception, one concerning legal or quasi legal definition, so if dad accepts someone as being of his jizzum, with a piece of accompanying parchment with a govt. stamp, that for all intents and purposes is a declaration of fact in the legal sense and undeniable until tested. Explor: If your blind piggy digs in just the right place he may pick up a scrumtious truffle. On the other hand he may find something even more to his taste, such as a fat, juicy turning worm should he move to the other side of the oak.

  77. Peter: ah, I’m a Lindt man myself. 😉

  78. Sorry, there just tell me now, no chocolate to exit to Britain, ( because Brexit ) );

  79. Peter: Switzerland isn’t part of the EU! It’s not even part of the European Economic Area, it just has a load of bilateral trade agreements with the EU.

    …which is probably exactly what we’ll probably end up with in 20 years’ time, when the Brexit negotiations finally end. 🙁

  80. Nick,

    My main point is that the VM will likely be broken by a team led by a mathematician, , that includes one or more linguists. That is to say, the VM will likely not be broken by a single person, especially by a linguist that has little math training, when i suggested

    “19 hours

    Milo Gardner


    My most popular Egyptian math paper may be of interest

    Note that transliterations have been corrected, required improvements, mentioned by Peet in 1923, that the British Museum has dragged its feet since 1927′ when the EMLR was first unrolled as trivially reported as only containing additive arithmetic.

    Thanks again for your hard work.

    Milo Gardner

    Reading scribal math shorthand by adding back missing steps to decode beginnings, middles and ends of scribal number theory statements, an other algebraic and geometric number theory methodologies passed down and improved upon by Greeks.”

  81. john sanders on August 24, 2017 at 12:31 pm said:

    Peter: Being a man of simpe pleasures I always prefered gold old snicker bars, you know, cacao and groundnut derivation from the new world. Were they represened in the VM pictorgrams by any chance, I’m not really sure but there most certainly other tubers, convulvas and herbs not known in the west at that time circa 1430 or thereabouts from what I’ve heard.

  82. Milo: for what it’s worth, I suspect the team to do it would require historians, linguists and cryptanalysts – whatever has happened to the Voynich Manuscript (historians) has changed its underlying language structure (linguists) and its textual representation (cryptanalysts).

  83. Peter: as far as the notion of fakes or hoaxes goes, I personally don’t believe it for a New York second. However, no matter how dwindlingly small the probability that it is a highly sophisticated fake, we don’t currently have the evidence to rule out the possibility. 😐

  84. john sanders on August 24, 2017 at 1:54 pm said:

    Milo Gardiner: You may well be correct, I won’t comment because I’m no linguist or mathematician for that matter. What’s for certain, is that VM will not be solved by obstinance, intransigance and conceited rejection of all input that is disagreable to that profered by pig headed, greater than thou geek-freaks that are unable to compromise or hear out another’s point of view.

  85. john sanders: solving the Voynich Manuscript won’t be achieved by having numerous points of view battle it out, but rather by finding new historical evidence and ever more insightful patterns. Points of view suck, evidence rocks. 🙂

  86. I have not found a single reference in the VM where the new world suggests. No cultural feature, no number symbol or font. In architecture, (houses, roofs, churches …) nothing. Hairstyles of the ladies, clothes … nothing.
    With the plants there are certainly possibilities, but a swallow does not make a summer.
    I do not know when the spanish cocoa, tomatoes, have entered, but the first proof for potato where I know outside Spain is Ireland around 1588.
    I also know that many of the written testimonies of the New World were burnt down by the Church. Only a few of them have made it to Europe at all.
    Now I am already far over my time window raus.
    I would also have no clues in the book if the C-14 would have fallen to 1580.

  87. One thing I have forgotten.
    The same is also true for, Fern East (Japan, China, Himalayas, India, Australia and islands in the Pacifik.

  88. Nick:

    “However, no matter how dwindlingly small the probability that it is a highly sophisticated fake, we don’t currently have the evidence to rule out the possibility.”

    You’re pulling my leg 😉

    Unless you mean a genuine15th century fake, i.e. a meaningless MS written in that century, pretending to be a work of great knowledge. This is entirely possible.
    A turn-of-the 20th century fake can most definitely be ruled out.

    This cannot be explained in few words, though.

  89. Rene: I’m not pulling your leg, I do believe that scenarios can be constructed where the Voynich Manuscript is a fake. Despite it being a 99.9% certainty that the manuscript being talked about in the Kircher correspondence network is indeed the Voynich Manuscript, we cannot yet prove that it was, and so scenarios can be constructed where it was subsequently faked to match that description. And if you said that the chances that Wilfrid Voynich had secret access to the Kircher letters many years before anyone else were less than 1 in a 1000, I would agree.

    All of which only serves to foreground the difference between possibility and probability: yes, a hoax remains a possibility, though with such a tiny practical probability (from the above, no more than, say, one chance in a million?) that it should consume the time and attention of only the most fervently obsessive hoax enthusiasts.

  90. Hi Nick,

    I understand that figures like 99.9% are meant to be qualitative rather than quantitative. I once argued that the probability that Voynich faked the MS was less than 1 in a million, based on rather simple arguments.
    And that figure was optimistic. And still qualitative.
    (And yes, I know, one should not start sentences with ‘and’).

    I can state with confidence that no scenario can be constructed where the Voynich MS was faked by Voynich to match the Barschius letter.
    It would require time travel. As I said, it cannot be explained in few words.

    Of course, I also try to view it from the other side. How could it possibly have been done? The only way that does not clash with the evidence is:
    – Voynich was duped when he bought it
    – The MS was faked by a Jesuit sometime before 1873

    I rule out this possibility, but this is where it comes to the definition of ‘ruling out’.

  91. Rene: I’m pretty sure we’re basically saying the same thing, which is that the tiny uncertain gaps around facts leave a foolishly thin sliver of possibility for the numerically unwise to cling to. 😉

  92. STANLEYCLAYTON on August 24, 2017 at 8:28 pm said:


  93. Coming back to internet (or rather WWW) ‘research’, there are good and bad sides to it, of course.

    The amount of information one has access to is huge.
    One can find things now, that one could not find 5 years ago, let alone 15.

    However, there are two important limitations.
    One is with the information itself, and the other with how it is used.

    Parts of the information on the WWW are very well organised, but as a whole it is not. There is no central body governing and coordinating it.
    The information about any given topic is certainly incomplete, and there is no way of knowing whether it is even representative for the whole.

    I just need to look at how I use it, on the one hand as an amateur Voynich researcher, and on the other as a professional something else.
    In the frame of my job, I do use the net, but almost exclusively through dedicated tools with restricted access. I don’t ever find myself googling for anything.

    There are many publications one can access online, and this is perhaps the most promising part for amateur research. In effect, one would have to know the reference beforehand through some other means though.
    And that is the more traditional literature research, that is indeed facilitated significantly by the WWW.

  94. Perry: thinking about it some more, I think it would be fair to say that I do do my research within a much larger research plan – the single thing I’m always trying to achieve is to find out what happened.

    That is, I’m neither interested in psychological interpretations (most of which seem to involve the word ‘why’), nor counterfactual history, nor even the generalizations of social history.

    I find that this helps focus the mind on tangible and material issues, and makes forming research questions fairly straightforward.

  95. Mark Knowles on September 9, 2017 at 2:21 pm said:


    I wanted to return to the discussion of “Reasoning under conditions of uncertainty”, but I was distracted by other things.

    First of all I must say I am not an expert on this subject.

    However I will address the following items mentioned before->

    Circular Reasoning:

    Take the following statements
    1) A
    2) A->B
    3) B->A

    If A is true and A->B is true then B is true
    And therefore B->A is a superfluous statement

    However in a situation of the logic of uncertainty B->A has a significant supportive or corroborative value and so is by no means superfluous.So what might appear to be examples of Circular Reasoning may actually reinforce an argument.


    If A
    And A->B
    And B->~A

    In formal logic this is a straightforward contradiction

    In a situation of uncertainty that means the two inferences do not support each other. However it does not necessary mean the assertion is wrong just that it has been rendered less likely to be true.

    Reinforcing Implication:


    If it is believed that A, B and C are true then these statements can have a powerful combined effect in justifying a belief that statement D is most likely to be true.

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