The Voynich Manuscript

The true history and meaning of history's most famous undeciphered book.

Filed under Ancient Mysteries

Skeptoid #252
April 05, 2011
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Today we're going to look at the most famous undeciphered text of all time: A medieval book of science, full of beautiful illustrations and strange wisdom, and containing not a single word that anyone's been able to make heads or tails of: The Voynich manuscript.

So let's get the big question out of the way right up front. The Voynich manuscript is an unsolved mystery, at least so far. According to the best information we have now, we still don't know who wrote it, what it says, or what its purpose was. We do have some theories, but there will be no unveiling of a glorious answer today. However, the voyage of scientific exploration is always a fascinating one, and much of what we have learned is just as interesting as what we haven't.

Somewhere in Europe, probably northern Italy, sometime in the early 1400s, animals were slaughtered (either sheep, calves, or goats) and their skin turned into parchment. Probably very soon thereafter, someone, most likely two people, took a quill pen in hand and wrote a 38,000-word book using common ink, beginning to end, using an alphabet and language that have defied all identification. It's not a huge book, measuring about 16 by 23 cm (about 6 by 9 in), and about 5 cm (2 in) thick. There about 240 pages, most of them illustrated, the exact number depending on how you count pages that fold out into large diagrams or drawings, of which there are several. The alphabet has between 23 and 40 distinct characters, depending on how you classify some which may be decorative versions of others or two-character combinations.

The book has six sections, delineated by the types of illustrations. Section 1 is the largest at 130 pages, and contains detailed drawings of 113 plants and flowers that nobody has been able to identify. It's called the Botanical section. Section 2 is 26 pages of Astrological drawings; lots of circular and concentric diagrams, and some signs of the zodiac. The third section is called the Biological section and contains mainly drawings of nude women frolicking in intricately plumbed pools. Section 4 is the Cosmological section, featuring the most impressive foldouts that appear to be circular diagrams of some cosmic nature. The fifth section is Pharmaceutical, with over 100 drawings of herbs, roots, powders, tinctures, and potions of undecipherable contents or use. The last section, called Stars, is the most mysterious; it's 23 solid pages of text only, in short paragraphs, each marked with a star. Some of the illustrations show Eastern influence, including a probable map of the circular city of Baghdad, the center of Eastern knowledge.

A few hundred years later (we don't know exactly when), a cover was added, but unfortunately it's blank. Also at some later date, the illustrations were colored, by someone less careful than the original artist.

The book was owned by the English astrologer John Dee during the 16th century, who wrote his own page numbers in the upper right corner of each leaf. Dee sold it to Emperor Rudolph II of Germany, with the understanding that it was the original work of Roger Bacon, a 13th century friar widely regarded as one of the fathers of the scientific method. From there the book passed to one or two other owners, who wrote their names in it, and at one point it was presented to the scholar Athanasius Kircher in Rome along with a signed letter from a Johannes Marcus Marci expressing a hope that Kircher could translate it, in 1666. Marci's letter is still preserved with the book. The manuscript's history becomes unclear at that point, until it was discovered by antique book dealer Wilfrid Voynich in 1912 at the Jesuit college at Villa Mondragone in Italy. Voynich brought it to the attention of the world. After several owners, the book was eventually donated to its current home, the Beinecke Library at Yale University, under its official name of MS 408.

Since its discovery, hypotheses have abounded as to what the Voynich manuscript means. Many believe it's written in a type of code, but all efforts to find decodable patterns have failed. Some believe it may be what's called a constructed language, which is a language that's deliberately planned and invented rather than naturally evolved. Some have speculated it's to be used with a Cardan Grille, a paper with holes in it that you lay on top of the page and read only the revealed letters. Perhaps the most popular theory is that it's a hoax, written at practically any time since the parchment was made, and for just about any purpose ranging from financial gain to scholarly fraud to someone's weekend lark.

Guesses on its authorship are just as plentiful. Roger Bacon remains the usual suspect, but this is based only on the presumption of most of its owners and is not supported by any evidence. Roger Bacon never wrote anything else in the Voynich language so far as we know. Moreover, he died in 1294, more than 100 years before the book was written.

We can be certain of that, because we do know when the parchment was made, a fact that neither Voynich nor his predecessors could have known. Carbon dating of the parchment was performed at the University of Arizona in 2011 by Dr. Greg Hodgins, and nailed it down to the early 1400s. Dating the ink, however, is not something that we have any good way to do. Most ink can't be radiocarbon dated because it doesn't necessarily contain any organic matter; and even when it does, we don't have the technology to reliably separate carbon in the ink from carbon in the parchment. We've found that the pigments used are consistent with what is known to have been used in those years, but it could also be consistent with expert modern fakery.

However, we can still make some strong educated guesses. Parchment was commonly washed and re-used (it's a good way for modern forgers to create a document that legitimately radiocarbon dates to an ancient time), but doing so leaves chemical footprints. We do know that the Voynich manuscript was the first application of ink to its parchment. And from history, we know that parchment was always in good demand; it would have been virtually inconceivable for perfectly good parchment to sit unused for decades or centuries waiting for someone to come along and make a forgery on it. Combined with the fact that we have no reason to doubt the history of the book's ownership as given in Marci's letter, we can be pretty confident that the book was written about the same time as the parchment was made.

So let's look at the book's other properties to see what we can learn.

Here's an important one. There are no corrections in the book. There are also no places where the text has been squeezed to fit onto the page. This would be highly improbable if it were an original manuscript; we would absolutely expect there to be such minor errors in a first edition. So how do we explain this? There are a number of possible explanations, but two of them are most likely.

The first is that the book is a copy, perhaps even of something written by Roger Bacon. If a scribe has an original to work from, he can see how many words there are and properly plan everything to fit onto the page. And if he copies carefully, there will be no corrections. The copy theory is also consistent with other characteristics, such as its appearance of having been written straight through by only one or two people. If it is a copy, this alone doesn't tell us much that's useful in trying to decipher it. But it does leave us wondering why anyone would go to the trouble of making a nice copy of a book that doesn't say anything.

The second theory to explain the book's neat appearance is perhaps more revealing. The text could be complete nonsense, made up as the scribe went. There would be no need for corrections. There would be no need to compress the writing as space ran out.

The "complete nonsense" theory has one thing working against it. If it is nonsense, it's very good nonsense. It's almost too good to expect of an amateur. Computational analysis of the text has been run, exhaustively, many times by many different researchers, using many different techniques. This allows us not only to try and translate it (at which all attempts have met utter failure), but also to compare its metrics to those of actual languages. The letter frequency, word length, and word frequency are very similar to what we see in real languages. But they don't quite match those of any real languages. It's speculation, but I can imagine a monk or professional scribe who does this all the time being well aware of such things and deliberately giving the book a realistic appearance, but it seems less likely that an amateur, just a Joe Blow or professional from a different field, would happen to write gibberish that's such good gibberish.

$2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

But clues indicating that there is meaning within the text don't end there. Patterns of word usage and word relationships are also found within the six different sections, as if the sections are actually about different subjects. The pages within each section are more similar to each other than they are to pages in other sections.

However, a broader analysis of this leads to another interesting point, which we in the brotherhood often describe as "The plot thickens."

A famous analysis done in the 1970's by US Navy cryptographer Prescott Currier found that the Voynich manuscript is written in two distinct languages. He used the term languages, but also cautioned that they're also consistent with different subject matter, different encryption schemes, or possibly just different dialects. He called them Voynich-A and Voynich-B. Interestingly, Voynich-A and Voynich-B are in two different handwritings, though both use the same alphabet and script. Every page of the book is written entirely in either A or B. The Biology and Star sections of the book are written in Voynich-B; the others are written in Voynich-A. The exception is the first and largest section, Botanical, which contains some of each. But they're not simply interspersed. The way the book is bound uses bifolios, which are groups of pages folded together, which are then stacked on top of one another to be bound. Each bifolio in the Voynich manuscript is written entirely in one language or the other.

So let's wrap this up with my favorite theory, and the one that is perhaps best supported by all that's known. In the early 1400s, some professional, perhaps a physician or astrologer or alchemist, wanted to create some marketing material that demonstrated he had rare knowledge from the East. He engaged a monk or other scribe to produce a book filled with wondrous and curious illustrations from multiple sciences, and a text that nobody could read, which he could tell his customers was the source of whatever great Eastern wisdom he wanted. The monk had a colleague assist, and the two devised an alphabet and used their own multilingual familiarity with written language to devise a convincing nonsense text. It was well done enough that its owner could even use it to impress his colleagues. Thus, this anonymous professional ended up with impressive marketing collateral that's conceptually identical to the labcoat worn by a naturopath, the energy diagram on the wall of a yoga guru, and the purchased-online title of "doctor" sported by alternative practitioners of every variety.

This remains the leading theory. Not quite a hoax, and very deliberately and carefully created; yet full of nothing but pure nonsense. Perhaps one day the Voynich manuscript will reveal a different purpose, but for now, this theory is as good as any.

Follow me on Twitter @BrianDunning.

Brian Dunning

© 2011 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Curators. "MS 408 Cipher Manuscript." Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. Yale Univerity, 10 Jun. 2002. Web. 29 Mar. 2011. <http://brbl-net.library.yale.edu/pre1600ms/docs/pre1600.ms408.htm>

Kennedy, G., Churchill, R. The Voynich Manuscript: The Mysterious Code That Has Defied Interpretation for Centuries. London: Orion, 2004.

Knight, K. The Voynich Manuscript. Los Angeles: University of Southern California, 2009.

Rugg, G. "The Mystery of the Voynich Manuscript." Scientific American. 21 Jun. 2004, July 2004.

Stolte, D. "UA Experts Determine Age of Book 'Nobody Can Read'." UA News. University of Arizona, 9 Feb. 2011. Web. 24 Mar. 2011. <http://uanews.org/node/37825>

Zandbergen, R. "The Voynich Manuscript." The Voynich Manuscript. René Zandbergen, 26 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 Mar. 2011. <http://www.voynich.nu/>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "The Voynich Manuscript." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 5 Apr 2011. Web. 21 Apr 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4252>

Discuss!

I had never heard of this, so now I got a lot of reading to do... If this doesn't end up in my Dungeons and Dragons campaign I don't know what will!

illuminatus, Reality. Kinda.
April 05, 2011 9:28am

Ye GADS I had forgotten all about this but used to wonder for years what it was about, how a book with such an unknown language could exists that seemed to describe "stuff".

The final theory does seem to have a lot of credence since the best linguists and cryptographers have taken a swing at it and found nothing. This does not conclusively mean there IS nothing to it, but language is language, and its about pattern and consistency.

I just think whoever made it had a substitution code for whatever alphabet was there and made stuff up now.

Thanks for getting more in depth about this. It was a childhood fascination where I had wondered as a kid if aliens wrote it, or some mysterious society :D I'll read up more on it.

Cam, Thunder Bay
April 05, 2011 9:32am

Hurrah! You're back to classic Skeptoid - the sort of 'cast that attracted me in the first place. Thanks for a really good episode, Mr D ;)

Jon, Auckland, NZ
April 05, 2011 11:59am

I still think Wilfred Voynich did it. He was a book dealer and could have come across some blank parchment of the correct age. So what if he didn't know about carbon dating -- he was making an "old" book so he used old parchment. A modern forgery also explains the "futuristic" knowledge like spiral galaxies, New World plants, etc. -- all things known at the beginning of the 20th century. The clues to Dee and Rudolf were put there by Voynich, who presumably could look in their library catalogs and find a good missing volume to forge. After that it's just a question of obsessive scholars trying to find a hole to fit this oddity into.

Cambias, Massachusetts
April 05, 2011 12:05pm

I had never heard of this. Very cool episode.

Dave, Philadelphia, PA
April 05, 2011 1:34pm

I would not be surprised if it was drawn on old parchment using kind of correct ink to be some kind of prop. Convincing looking nonsense that the likes of the revived Hellfire club or pseudo-mystic groups would have liked to have around for set dressing.

TomH, Kent, UK
April 05, 2011 1:45pm

Brian: I like that you point out that the ink is only "of the type" which was used at the time the Voynich was dated to... and could have been applied much later. That is was applied soon after the vellum was prepared is a common, but recent, error of assumption.

But no one "wrote their name in it". There is only one name in the Ms., Tepencenz, and it was added in another hand.

As for Roger Bacon, he is far from the usual suspect... he had been dismissed by almost everyone who studies the Voynich Ms., starting long ago... probably by the 1920's.

Another assumption is that there are no corrections... some corrections can be seen, first of all, and secondly, no corrections may mean it is still full of errors, dutifully and carefully copied... or left in, from the start. And by the way, text has been "squeezed to fit the page", in that it works around illustrations, and the "words" shorten near the end of "sentences".

And lastly, there is no evidence... it is only a theory... that the Ms. was colored at a later date. I might have been done very soon after the illustrations were outlined. Rich.

Rich SantaColoma, Putnam, NY
April 05, 2011 1:50pm

Rather reminds me of the Latin inscription we studied at school

FORSIL
LYAS
SESTO
PONDE
ROVER

It took some of us a while, even with Latin dictionaries to translate it.

I wondered when the Jesuits would come into the story

Phi, Sydney
April 05, 2011 2:48pm

It's disappointing to see Brian in the hands of Big Voynich.

Ben, Ann Arbor
April 05, 2011 2:54pm

Aw, I was hoping it would be traced back to Yemen, circa 730 CE...

Seth, Washington, DC
April 05, 2011 8:28pm

Could it simply be a work of art like "Codex Seraphinianus"?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Seraphinianus

Paul, Minneapolis
April 05, 2011 8:47pm

Clearly, the Voynich MS is the long lost "Protocols of the Elders of Mars" Mentioned by the late Sci Fi writer, Phillip Jose Farmer, in his short story; "The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod" A classic for sure.

(What if "Tarzan" was written by William Burroughs instead of E R Burroughs??)

Now to find proof of the "Venusian Bankers Plot"

I am surprised that some jut job has not used this in his theories, that I know of anyhow....

BTW: I think that William Burroughs is/was the Godfather of the current crop of conspiracy believers. They steal his ideas often enough!!

Dale, Pinson AL
April 05, 2011 8:50pm

There was a program on television just a short while ago showing you how to create something exactly like this. Just took some alphabets some cardboard cutouts and a number of people with time on their hands. Not rocket science at all.

Bob, Wellington
April 05, 2011 9:18pm

This is a very interesting object that I've looked into several times.

I too am drawn to the theory that it was a marketing gimmick. Occam's Razor aside, there was certainly an abundance of wonder-selling charlatans at the time it was made, many of them paid very well to foretell astrological portents or create gold from alchemy. This mysterious book could easily have wowed many credulous customers.

Jared D., Fairport, NY
April 05, 2011 10:17pm

Perhaps the language of text is not among those that have been recovered by modern scholars. The cryptographer would rightly detect a cadence and repeated frequency of words, but a single book would not necessarily be enough to recover the grammar and vocabulary to get the meaning.
There are 5000+ languages in the world today, and there used to be a lot more. Maybe Voynich is simply written in one of the lost ones.

Julian, OR
April 05, 2011 10:19pm

I've always liked Edith Sherwood's theory that it was drawn by a young Leonardo da Vinci - the code is merely anagrams, which is why cryptographic analysis has failed and that there are clues in the illustrations as to the identity of the author (even a mirrored signature). Edith builds a case referring directly to the text, with articles and illustrations on her website:
http://www.edithsherwood.com/voynich_decoded/index.php
http://www.edithsherwood.com/voynich_author_da_vinci/index.php

Bronwen, SA
April 06, 2011 1:06am

I bet this was an early dungeons and dragons game.

Michael, Chicago, IL
April 06, 2011 5:02am

I personally think the manuscript is nothing more than a sample, a demonstration of the scribe's (and/or his apprentice's) skill and used for the purpose of drumming up business.

The language may well be nonsense, but I suspect in the same way that Lorem Ipsum text is nonsense - it's not supposed to impart information, but to demonstrate something else entirely such as letter forms or layout.

As for the illustrations, it's highly probable they were drawn from imagination - that singular trait of us humans that lets us conceive of things that just aren't real. Again, I'd rather suspect these were done to demonstrate some skill or other rather than impart any knowledge.

I guess the real mystery behind it - for me at least - is why people try to attribute so much meaning to it.

Martin, Southampton, England
April 06, 2011 5:47am

I found a complete image directory for the manuscript.

http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/esp_ciencia_manuscrito07.htm#top

It's pretty cool. There are pages and pages of text with no pictures at the back of the book. I wonder if it would be possible to decipher the encryption if we knew what languages were spoken at the time and location the manuscript was written. The alphabet looks like a cross between Sanskrit and old Gaelic. But I don't know anything. ;)

Dave Noel, Toronto, ON
April 06, 2011 7:54am

Right now there is an alien sitting at home thinking, "I hate it when you give someone your number and they don't bother calling."

Mike, Vienna, VA
April 06, 2011 9:17am

The thing that struck me immediately when I looked up images of the manuscript was the extremely low quality of the illustrations, especially given the high quality of illustrations of medieval illuminated manuscripts. While I don't think it was a young da Vinci, it would have to have been done by someone young and/or inexperienced. This makes me think it wasn't a marketing gimmick. If it was, I don't see why they skimped on the artwork budget.

Ben Carlsen, Buena Vista, VA
April 06, 2011 12:48pm

Just like to let all of you know that the NSA has made D'Imperio's book about the MS available for free.

http://www.nsa.gov/about/_files/cryptologic_heritage/publications/misc/voynich_manuscript.pdf

Chuck, South Bend
April 06, 2011 2:56pm

XKCD (my favorite web comic) has a theory...

http://xkcd.com/593/

Alan Bombria, Long Island, New York
April 06, 2011 6:23pm

- Michael, Chicago

You're not alone in that belief. :)
http://xkcd.com/593/

Will, Launceston
April 06, 2011 6:25pm

One of my favorite topics, even the history of the decoding efforts is fascinating.

Unless it turned out to be the original Necronomicon almost any successful translation would be a disappointment.

Robert Jase, New Britain, CT
April 07, 2011 6:42am

lol I fully third that belief. :)
http://xkcd.com/593/

banff, vancouver, canada
April 07, 2011 1:55pm

I somehow doubt that the 'alchemical herbal' hypothesis is the "leading theory" (as claimed in the last paragraph here). It's a ~plausible~ theory, sure, but doesn't really square with any of the actual 'alchemical herbal' manuscripts that are known to exist (upon which an entire academic literature is focused).

Sadly, the leading Voynich "theory" is probably still the whole Dee/Kelly hoax nonsense, even though the radiocarbon dating has left that embarrassingly high and dry. However, that doesn't mean that the same basic hoax ideas can be transposed to the fifteenth century without significant problem. Oh well.

Nick Pelling, Surbiton, Surrey
April 07, 2011 3:25pm

I think the most reliable way for anyone to produce "nonsense" that still rings true to mathematical analysis is to encode something that makes sense. Now, I am willing to wager there are lots of weird embellishments to the "source"-- doubled vowels, ye olde extra letters or les leters or even u no liek chat speak-- or whatever. THEN a cipher on top of that.

mordicai, Brooklyn
April 08, 2011 10:24am

In the early '80s I found three new copies of a book obviously inspired by this manuscript. It is called the Codex Seraphinianus and is beautifully illustrated, written in a made up language and is divided into sections about different peoples, their social conduct, their flora and fauna, etc. I loved it so much I bought all three copies. Then I gave them away to friends. The book (first edition) is now worth around $1,000. I have expensive friends!

D Fuller, Orlando
April 08, 2011 10:54am

Glad for your health Sam.

Couple of points.

First, just about everything that has been tested in the naturopathic arsenal has been found to have little to no effect medically for what NDs claim it is supposed to work for.

Thats not to say that here and there something might by chance work for a person as yourself, but for the vast majority of cases NDs do no measurable good for anybody., and in some cases terrible harm So its not just poking fun, therese a lot good reason to knock it and knock it hard. I suggest you do a reading of the enormously popular cancer salve issue some day for one easy example out of many.

Second, the general idea is that positive effects noted are mostly attributed to the placebo effect. As I said much of what NDs claim their medications do as primary use, does in fact very different things to the human system then the claim, or not much at all.

I insist you do not take any of our words for it or believe a thing we say. Look at many articles on the issue and find your own feel for the general consensus on stuff like this and homeopathy.

I am glad your health is improved but unless you had it studied you cannot be sure what brought about the changes. Maybe it was the ND stuff (unlikely though but possible in a remote way), perhaps it was another variable in your life. I wont give it a try till its been demonstrated to work in trials. So far nothing of the sort has been demonstrated.

Cam, Thunder Bay
April 11, 2011 9:47am

...most of the plants in the herbal section are also non-existent, or chimeras of known plants hybridized together in the illustrations.

It is easy to imagine that this technique was applied to the text as well.

This subjectively supports the "fake knowledge" theory - drawing from common knowledge, shaking it up and presenting something apparently arcane or obscure.

Alex, Tuvalu
April 12, 2011 1:25pm

Concerning the Voynich Manuscript episode:

Has anyone considered that the text might just be dummy text used by a scribe to showcase his talents as a book producer and illustrator, a bit like Lorem Ipsum is currently used to present a model text without distracting the reader with readable prose? He could then show the model book off to clients to try to persuade them to use his services?

Just a thought!

Larry Hodgson

Larry Hodgson, Quebec City, Canada
April 13, 2011 5:05am

@Larry

Yes - me, just a few short posts up :)

Martin, Southampton, England
April 17, 2011 2:09pm

Hello,
I was listening to this episode and I had an idea. I'm sure a lot of other people have had this idea as well, but I found it a little strange when you didn't mention it!

What if the text in the book is some sort of shorthand! I know that if I was writing a 38 000 paged book in the 1400, I would not want to write everything out! I know (or at least I think I know) that the scribes at the time used a form of shorthand when recording meetings and such things.
Just a hypothesis!

Zachary Nixon, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
May 03, 2011 2:28pm

Thanks for the link
http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/esp_ciencia_manuscrito07.htm#top

It reminds me of my 9th grade biology notebook.

Debbie, Pinson, AL
May 24, 2011 12:28am

I like the simple notion of using "Lorem Ipsum" to demonstrate capability, and drum up business. But 250 pages of it?

I do like the multi-hands theory.

Was one of the multi-hands, left handed?

Was this the work of children with time on their small hands?

I like the idea that the VMS is a copy created by someone with a flowing hand who may not have understood a word of the text. But then that may have been part of the plan.

This mystery must rank with the Marie Celeste, Bermuda triangle and the Amulet of Yendor. Of course the Loch Ness monster is real.

Mysteries are good. They keep you thinking.

2 June 2011

Paul Slater, Formerly Scotland now South Australia
June 01, 2011 9:20pm

I have read some on this subject but not in awhile. I did run across Edith Sherwood Ph.D. and she has a theory and some actual translations that she had done. I do not know much about translating languages so I am curious to know what someone with more experience thinks of this. Links provided.

http://www.edithsherwood.com/voynich_decoded/

http://www.edithsherwood.com/voynich_decoded_part2/index.php

James Emge, Dayton, OH
June 09, 2011 11:51am

A great article, until the end. While I am no fan of naturopathic or homeopathic medicine, and I recognize that there are many charlatans and acclaimed gurus of eastern practices - you show an ignorant bias against yoga, which in and of itself has nothing to do with those that abuse its name. There are countless objective peer-reviewed studies testifying to the benefits of yoga - and really, one can apply common sense - stretching and strengthening one's body along with appropriate breathing is good for you -whatever you call it. Really, that entire sentence reeks of a secondary agenda - to mock practices and pseudo-sciences that you (validly,IMO) find issue with - but it weakens the subject you were addressing. It's also culturally quite disrespectful, like suggesting to the Chinese that Tai Chi is quackery. Poor form.

James, Seattle
June 21, 2011 1:31pm

I don't think Brian was bashing yoga, but as he said "the energy diagram on the wall of a yoga guru." Of course yoga is a perfectly valid form of exercise.

Alex Butler, San Francisco, CA
July 12, 2011 1:04pm

I've studied the writing of the Voynich manuscript off and on for about 7 years. My interest is mainly in the semantic content - if any. I don't think that the text is asemic. Yet it may prove impossible to decipher because of its novelty. I've used my own invented scripts for over 20 years and have studied dozens. The Voynich text shows many characteristics of a constructed writing system.
At the time of the manuscripts' composition Europe and Asia had a far greater diversity of spoken languages than today. It is difficult to reckon which language the Voynich text represents, much less how the orthography would relate. Lacking its own "Rosetta Stone" and with so many variables involved in its decryption, the Voynich Manuscript is likely to remain a sphinx. I liken it to finding an old floppy disk in the basement. You know there's something on it but there's no way to read it.

Chris Range, Knoxville, TN
August 23, 2011 5:44am

As James says, your final line is a complete non-sequitor and only reveals your ignorance. Naturopaths are licensed doctors who went to medical school and passed through residency. What about lab coats to you denotes professionalism? Mengele wore a lab coat. Would you trust him moreso, simply because he was an allopath?

Jeff, Boone County, MO
September 08, 2011 7:16pm

Jeff, in the United States there is no accredited doctorate in naturopathy, and it is not an AMA recognized profession. There are numerous unaccredited institutions that offer naturopathy degrees (and even some accredited schools that offer non-credit courses), and they've even created their own boards. However, since there is no authority and no official recognition, it is perfectly legitimate for anyone to call himself a naturopath with or without any education. That's not anyone's opinion, it's the law. There is no such thing as an accredited medical school or degree for naturopaths.

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
September 08, 2011 9:49pm

Same here Brian. It doesnt stop folk who have never been to a single naturopathy program including DN after their names on their shingle.

Secondly, allopathy is not a naturopathic or medical term. In fact the folk who would use the term allopathy would apply it to naturopaths as well.

Its rather sad that folk never read terms and use them like mantras.

The sad thing is, amongst the alternate modalities, none have yet to come up with a single peer reviewed study in physiology. Physiology one asks? Yep, naturopaths do.

Henk v, Sin City NSW, Oz
September 08, 2011 10:22pm

In the UK Naturopathic doctrates like that used by celebrity "doctor" Gillian McKieth, can be bought on the net. Writer Ben Goldacre has a dead cat who is a fully "qualified" practitioner.

Tom H, Kent
September 09, 2011 8:57am

You know what would be a great idea, come by a crime scene and innocuously drop off a copy of the voynich manuscript as a clue. Just for the giggles.

Max Bowman, Brooklyn New York
September 24, 2011 10:43pm

Brian, Tom and Max... the dog that I registered as a naturopath ran away in shame..Ben Goldacres very frank lecture on "BigPharma" game tactics on TED is refreshing (he is an epidemiologist BTW) for us stat bent. When medicine starts decrying EB every day you live is in the sun Guys!

And Finally (drum roll and kick) Spell check would make the voynich manuscript unintelligible to even the braille inclined with aura indicators..Another manuscript for the UK soccer commentary come reptoid fanciers.

My beer is better than your beer because I make sure!

Henk V., Sin City, Oz
October 13, 2011 12:12am

how about it coming from an alternate reality/universe where everything is just slightly off.

both Angel and Twilight Zone have done variations on this theme ...

Curious Cat, Toronto
March 06, 2012 2:49am

Curious. Maybe a subscription to Sci-Am or New Scientist and the investment of a night light will save you wasted money on power bills and enrich your notion about alternate universes being so accessible to medieval people.

Angel was made by Darla if I remember correctly. Sadly it was a show (brilliantly) written around mythological themes common to our religions. It was funny (very) and I have an unending respect for the writers.

You know what the give away is yet? Bran spelled it out..or maybe he just channelled it. With his outrageous work ethic one can only assume he is working for Wolf, Ram and Hart..

I have no idea what evil master race beneath the earth or on the other side of the sun fuels SGU. But those guys write and do so much they must be dithium powered droids for Big Skeptica?

I hope neither Brian or Steve take that the wrong way..Guys, Klaatu!

Oh look, belladonna 1500C..no wonder there are no werewolves here!

One thng I will point out is that it is not only explicable that we find living animals comprised of ancient carbon, its scientifically demonstrable.

A weird scrap book from 600 or so hundred years ago when science was only just clawing its way back from 1000 years of a dogmatic dark age is not only explicable, demonstrable and producable it becomes immediately comparable to all the other gargling scrap books to be found from that dark dark time..

I have a nice flag with a skeptica on it!

Twilite zone! That rocked!

Mud, Sin City, NSW, Oz
March 17, 2012 7:41pm

The language of Voynych is old Czech. More info is on http://zlatodej.blog.cz/. There are translations of some pages.

MMM, Prerov, Czech Rep.
March 27, 2012 5:09am

Chris: it has been recently shown mathematically, using textual and semantic analysis, to be random.

There's nothing in the writing at all.

Paul, Canberra, Australia
June 15, 2012 7:09am

Whether its translatable or not..its profundity has not hit review.

I am not at all sure that even good old nostradamus has created any sort of wave past the Oprah begging set.

I am the sort who will dabble in trivia to a point.

If it doesnt raise its head above sports scores for the week, It cant be that profound.

We live in a world where expert view can be accessed immediately.

There is no expert on this topic rather than the originator and Brian is correct to point this out here and time again.

Given that skeptoid is a sort of "Myth Buster" without the pretty girl and handsome young assistants, every weeks myth killer is great to read.

Who knows what Voynich and Nostradamus were up to..this isnt even history.

Mud, At virtually missing point, NSW, OZ,
January 10, 2013 2:24am

An interesting Skeptoid topic might be looking at how many unknown languages have been decrypted or translated, and the stories behind the process and results.

Derek, Santa Fe, NM
March 05, 2013 2:28pm

A new study has been released, which suggests that the V.M. may contain a "genuine message":
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22975809

Russell G., Broward County, FL, USA
June 23, 2013 2:19pm

Quite possibly the "genuine message" is the result of the patterns which can be found in any text if you look at it long enough with a computer application designed to idnetify patterns.

I like Brian's hypothesis - it rings true, doesn't require invention of an entirely unknown language, and it's pretty simple ala Occam's Razor.

Which might disappoint anyone really, really hoping this book would eventually reveal something special. To willfully paraphrase Freud, sometimes a book of wonderful gibberish is just a book of wonderful gibberish.

Bill Kowalski, Webster Groves
June 24, 2013 11:30am

It seems so obvious now !

http://www.xkcd.com/593/

Matthew, Ann Arbor, MI
August 16, 2013 10:17pm

American Botanical Council Publishes Revolutionary Analysis Unlocking Mysteries of 500-Year-Old Manuscript

AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 20, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In the 100th issue of its quarterly, peer-reviewed journal, HerbalGram, the nonprofit American Botanical Council published a feature that may change the course of research on an approximately 500-year-old, illuminated text known as the Voynich Manuscript. Written in a curious language that is yet un-deciphered, the enigma of the Voynich has puzzled scholars and mystery enthusiasts since its 1912 discovery by Polish book collector Wilfrid M. Voynich.

This manuscript, now housed at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, has elicited enormous interest, resulting in numerous books and Internet sites with no conclusive resolution on the manuscript's origin. Even the US National Security Agency has taken an interest in its cryptic contents, and doctoral theses have been written on attempts to decipher the language of the Voynich Manuscript.

HerbalGram's feature article by Arthur O. Tucker, PhD, and Rexford H. Talbert, titled "A Preliminary Analysis of the Botany, Zoology, and Mineralogy of the Voynich Manuscript," is based on a unique, investigative approach to understanding the strange manuscript. Past researchers have attempted to prove that the manuscript was a product of Europe, mainly because it was discovered in Italy, but also because they believed a European language to be hidden in the writing system of the text. Other theorists proposed Asian origins based on the premise that cloaked Chinese characters existed within syllabary of the Voynich Manuscript. As with many of h

Edward Stradling, Philadelphia
January 25, 2014 4:08pm

Yet another headline claiming to have decoded it:

600 year old mystery manuscript decoded by University of Bedfordshire professor

http://www.beds.ac.uk/news/2014/february/600-year-old-mystery-manuscript-decoded-by-university-of-bedfordshire-professor

Michael Charboneau, SF Bay Area, CA
February 19, 2014 11:15pm

I notice a lot of people cling to Occam's Razor as if it were holy writ. While a useful logical tool, I also use "Holmes' Razor", as created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It states that "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, is the answer." As remote as the possibility of an epic work of imagination seems to be, an Italian artist, architect and industrial designer did exactly that. Over the course of 30 months from 1976 to 1978, Luigi Serafini created the "Codex Seraphinianus" which is strikingly similar to the Voynich Manuscript. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Seraphinianus

Mark Stockman, Albany, NY
March 07, 2014 6:15pm

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