Diane O’Donovan has recently commented (here and elsewhere) and posted a number of times (on her own blog) about the priority of various Voynich ideas. For any given Voynich idea, who was first to mention, conceive, propose, argue, or even (puts tin hat on head and ducks) form it into a Voynich theory outlined in the TLS?
The immediate problem (obviously enough) is that 99% of Voynich ideas are groundless nonsense, homeopathically anchored on the sands of whimsical misreading, fanciful speculation, and over-optimistic just-so-ness. As a general category, then, it’s right up there with all the “pathology of cryptology” first outlined by David Kahn and more recently buffed by Klaus Schmeh in Cryptologia.
To be sure, Diane isn’t concerned with the priority of nutty Voynich ideas, such as the “diary of a stranded alien” notion, which every few days still manages to get reposted somewhere or other on the Internet. (And that is far from the nuttiest… so please excuse me if I don’t winch myself back down into the darkling pit containing the worst of the genre.)
Rather, she has formed a set of theories about the Voynich Manuscript which she believes to be both novel and true: and she is anxious/concerned to ensure that nobody should steal those ideas (i.e. by presenting them as commonplaces, or by passing them off as their own) and thereby deprive her of her ultimate Voynich research glory. As such, asserting priority has become an increasingly big concern of hers of late.
Well… I must confess that I do have a certain amount of sympathy for the desire to look back at what has been put forward in the past. However, even though I often feel the specific need to refer to D’Imperio’s index or to grep the archives of the old Voynich mailing list, for me this is only to try to gain a richer perspective on a particular topic, e.g. by looking at the conversations around it.
A significant part of the difference between her and me would therefore seem to be that I look backwards to try to place ideas in their context and by so doing to enrich my understanding of them; while Diane looks backwards to ensure that her ideas are genuinely hers, and that she hasn’t inadvertantly taken that which is someone else’s.
To the very greatest degree, then, priority is a non-issue for me, in that it is something that will get resolved (a) only once we can definitively decrypt Voynichese, and (b) by an entirely different kind of forensic historian (i.e. not by the people doing the research). Given that I see so few genuinely productive research paths being taken at the present time, the value of worrying about priority right now is surely inversely proportional to that of finding a rich new research furrow to plough.
Voynich priority, then, for the 99% of ideas out there that are complete bullshit, is surely an utter waste of time. And for the 1% of partially tenable ideas, it’s no more than very marginally better than that, and will make only sense once the plates have been cleared away after the big Voynich solution pizza party.
Anyone who hasn’t yet grasped that the solution to the Voynich will most likely fall squarely in the middle of the wide multi-dimensional chasms between our falteringly thin tendrils of historical and cryptological insight hasn’t been paying enough attention. That solution will most likely surprise us more by its curious proximity to the many sensible things that have been said about the manuscript, not by its distance from them.