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Previously

There are a number of exhaustive transcriptions of the Voynich Manuscript onto the Internet, using the EVA font, FSG font, Voynich 101, etc. (See here and here).  One can ponder a thoughtful discussion of the “solution space,” i.e. the various types of answers to the riddle.  The author of the cited website has brought forth some well-reasoned and cogent arguments, e.g.

To me, the Voynich MS does not look like a document commissioned by a client. It looks like this was someone’s own initiative. From the similarity of the herbal pages to other herbal MSs, of the zodiac pages to other astrological MSs, I would tend to believe that the author / composer of the MS was quite familiar with philosophical (scientific) books of the time. The particular case of one herbal illustration for me strongly confirms this.

At the same time the MS does not make any sense as it is unreadable. Why should that be. I very much like the suggestion by Sergio Toresella that this MS was made by a quack just in order to appear very learned, and thereby attract clients who would buy his medications. I could also well imagine that this could be someone’s masterpiece, to be used to enter one of the secret societies that existed at the time. Of course, in both of these scenarios the text of the MS may very well be meaningless.

Propositions

Approaches

The instincts drawn from cryptanalysis may do us a disservice here.  One sees a sequence of unrenderable text, and immediately goes about applying common logical tests to determine the nature of its encoding.  We have seventy years of text analysis guiding and driving us.  Perhaps that gets us too focused.

I think of the Voynich text in the metaphor of Wernicke’s aphasia. (e.g. see here and here.)   Wernicke’s is, interestingly, described as a RECEPTIVE aphasia, although it is the speaker whose brain has been damaged, who produces incorrect speech.

The speech shows signs of order and organization in its creation; it follows rules of grammar and prosody.  What it lacks is effective content.

“What my fytisset for, whattim tim saying got dok arne gimmin my suit, suit ti Friday . . . I ayre here what takes zwei the cuppen seffer effer sepped . . . I spoke on she asked for clubbin hond here, you what, what kind of a siz sizzen . . . and she speaks all the friend and all is in my herring.”
Brown, Jason (1972). Aphasia, Apraxia, and Agnosia Clinical and Theoretical Aspects. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas Publisher. pp. 56–71

In caring for patients with dementia and Wernicke’s – I am thinking of a fellow from yesterday’s clinic – there IS comprehensible content, but it is assembled in a rudimentary fashion.  Wernicke’s speech sounds familiar to readers of Finnegan’s Wake.  Joyce created a style that feels like Wernicke’s speech.

I have been wondering what the fMRI and EEG might look like for a person who listens to a speaker with a Wernicke’s defect, and tries to “re-content-ize” the language.  I would not be shocked if the listener’s brain were especially active in the regions that were damaged in the Wernicke’s patient.  I may ask a colleague to think about this.

Rarely, if ever, is unintelligible content devoid of an attempt to express meaning, in my experience.

It is worth considering Expressive Aphasias and Broca’s aphasias, which are considered, in a sense, opposites of Wernicke’s.  The “fluency machine” in the brain is broken.  Unlike Wernicke’s speech, which is pleasant to listen to but unintelligible, Broca’s speech is much more intelligible but unpleasant, in my experience.

“For example, in the following passage, a Broca’s aphasic patient is trying to explain how he came to the hospital for dental surgery:

Yes… ah… Monday… er… Dad and Peter H… (his own name), and Dad…. er… hospital… and ah… Wednesday… Wednesday, nine o’clock… and oh… Thursday… ten o’clock, ah doctors… two… an’ doctors… and er… teeth… yah.
Goodglass, H.; N. Geschwind (1976). “Language disorders”. In E. Carterette and M.P. Friedman. Handbook of Perception: Language and Speech. Vol VII. New York: Academic Press.

One can step back from the rather jarring speech, and assemble a fluent sentence or two, using elements of speech which do not incur new content, but just render the text mellifluous.

Most persons who are not well experienced in a foreign language can convey content by just knowing simple nouns, and assembling them into a string.  Listeners who are fluent in that language can string together a prosodic equivalent.

I suggest that the manuscript be approached like pointillism – it resembles Wernicke’s speech to us.  In the manner of a news broadcaster who can read text in a foreign language clearly, prosodically and properly accented, but does not comprehend the language and has no idea what he/she is saying, the text speaks to us in a highly organized manner, but is merely unintelligible in detail.  To focus right in on cryptanalysis is the equivalent of pondering Wernicke’s speech, and asking what the mysterious phrase “clubbin hond” means in relation to “here, you what, what kind of a,” which directly follows it, and is quite comprehensible.  Any putative conclusions based on textual analysis are, in fact, ridiculous.

Origins

Although the book has its own language, it dates from the middle ages, and should to some degree be inspired by similar dissertations.  If the author is not familiar with the particulars, say, of Hildegard of Bingen’s book about natural history and medicine from five centuries or so earlier, or the Leech Book of Bald, a nearly perfect manuscript of Saxon from a century earlier, and the Cotton Vitellius C. III containing the Herbal of Apuleius (see illustration;) there would have been cultural predecessors of compendia, etc., which formed the author’s way of conceiving of the layout and order of the Voynich.

Construction

What is the Voynich Manuscript?  Well, it certainly looks like an exhaustively constructed codex intending to convey rich meaning.  It appears to be a chapterized compendium gathering five or six dissertations related to topics, which may (or may not) be understood in relation to their illustrations.

(To be continued)

 

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