Falsifiable, Provable, Probable?

The scientific concept of falsifiability, as proposed by Karl Popper, has been suggested to me in the past, as a way to test the validity of this theory. At first I did not fully understand it, and if I understand it now, it is in layman’s terms. But the basic premise of falsifiability is that if a theory, hypothesis, or proposition cannot state the criterion by which it can be shown false, then it is unscientific. An example of a falsifiable statement used in Wikipedia is “All swans are white”, because it would be shown false by finding a non-white swan.

I suppose a good example of unfalsifiable claims would be religious and artistic, which of course make no such claims of being “true” in a scientific sense, and rely solely on faith… the faith of belief and/or the subjectivity of emotion. But if we think of various conspiracy theories, it quickly becomes clear that include a great deal of self-protection against falsifiability. If you have a theory which includes events not supported by the evidence, but also not assailable by it, or assailable even by any evidence which could be found, then it seems at first to be immune, and therefore, plausible. For instance, how do you “prove” there was not a second gunman? The statement can be made that there was one, with little or no evidence, and then it is impossible to prove they did not exist. But any theory is unscientific when it claims that it is true only because it has not been, or cannot be, dis-proven.

I have been asked a few times about the falsifiability of my New Atlantis/Voynich theory. At first I did not understand the purpose or meaning of the concept, and thought the questioner was asking me to “prove it wrong to prove it right”. But I was recently asked again, which caused me to think about it, again. I think that it is probably a concept which everyone deals with, internally, but it only has value when accepting it’s importance, and in discussing and accepting it openly. So when asked what evidence would convince me my theory was probably wrong, I came up with these:

1) If the C14 dating shows a pre-1550, or post-1639 dating of the vellum.

Although it is possible, and has been done, it is far less likely that an  1610-1620 author of a fictional book would have sought or used vellum over 60 or 70 years old. Vellum, as I have discussed in the past, was readily available, and commonly used… new… at the time my theory proposes. I would therefore consider a dating of before about 1550 as proof my theory was most likely incorrect. If pre-1460, then it would become very implausible, as the bulk of Voynich theories would in the right time frame, and much more likely than this one.

If post-1639 dating is shown, then this is not the document referred to by Marci in his letter, and not created by my people, in my time, for the purposes I theorize.

2) If a very similar document from another time was found.

The unique nature of the Voynich makes it an orphan of time. I know that others claim it looks enough like items from some specific time or another to prove it is from that era, but also it is acknowledged it is really unique enough in many ways to possibly be a singularity. I concur with the latter view. So if something other than the Voynich, but obviously from the same source or authorship, was found, and could be decisively dated from a time frame well outside my theory… it would disprove it.

3) If the VMs characters were found elsewhere.

There are of course a smattering of individual Voynich-like characters throughout history, their appearance blanketing the supposed time frames of many theories. But if there was a near complete set of the same characters found, used, even in a somewhat dissimilar document (as opposed to the case in #2, above), and it was from another time, it may disprove my theory. I have to add I’m trying to be open minded here… because there are qualifications. For instance, I am now typing in much the same characters which Shakespeare used, which does not disprove the time frame of Shakespeare’s works. But if there were a near-complete set of Voynichese used well outside the time and influence of my theory, it would… as they are not generally, otherwise, used… it would falsify a premise of my theory: That the characters are created for the Voynich, as an artifact of the New Atlantis, to create a unique and mysterious aura of “lost and forgotten lore”.

4) If a reference is found, clearly showing the Voynich’s existence in some other time frame.

If a mention were found, clearly describing the Voynich itself long before, or even, soon after, my theory’s time frame, this would falsify it. So far there is no evidence it was owned by Rudolf II in his lifetime, only rumor related in a much later letter. John Dee’s son makes some reference to a book of hieroglyphics that his father owned, but there are inconsistencies with the Voynich in the description. However, if a verifiable quote or reference (receipt, ledger entry, etc.) which supported these, or other such claims, or clearly described the Voynich in some other context, before my time frame, it would of course show the theory to be wrong.

5) An acceptable translation of the Voynich, which shows the manuscript to have a purpose or origin other than my theory.

That one is self-explanatory. This is of course the Holy Grail of Voynich proofs, for everyone.

Exceptions:

I will mention here that I don’t ascribe much to probabilities as evidence to falsify, or conversely, to prove much, in the case of the Voynich. I would say it this way, “Probability does not apply to unique cases, and the Voynich has the appearance of a unique case”. Using subjective opinion some claim it is not unique, and give other examples of herbals, pharmas, astrologicals, alchemal herbals, astronomicals, and so on, which have some similar styles and elements. And so, for instance, if it has similar elements, to mid-15th century herbals, then it is claimed that it is “more probable” that it is a 15th century herbal. But then, conversely, it is claimed the Voynich must be a unique herbal, with many elements which fit no other. So often I find that similarities are used to promote high probability, then differences used to explain… well… that it is really very different. But I believe the Voynich is unique, and so outside the realm of probabilities based on similarities. But another problem is “how much” or “how little” the Voynich looks like this or that other type of work. Based on the level of acceptance of the observer, the probabilities can and do skew in many different directions.

Another claim to the falsity of my theory, which I do not include on my list, are claims that the style of the Voynich is earlier looking than my time frame. That would be in the art, writing, numbering, dress, and so on. But the existence of earlier styles does not prove an early existence, any more than an early, reproduction of a costume in a 1604 or 2009 stage performance proves it really took place in, say, 100 AD. Is it “more probable” that an author would use only the style of writing in their time frame, and not be mimicking an earlier style? Maybe it is more probable (see above)… but replicating earlier styles is and has been done in innumerable cases in literature and art, so it does not constitute proof of earlier existence. Anyway, this theory contends the early look of much of the Voynich is intentional, so in fact it is one of my claimed supporting arguments to find multiple early styles.

What would prove the theory?

An acceptable translation, which fits the theory, for one. Or a clear, verifiable reference to the Voynich as the theory describes it. The upcoming dating results, if they show a time frame of about 1550 to 1620 will strongly support my theory (and the very few others in the same time-frame), and at the same time, obviate the bulk of previous assumptions. But it would not, in and of itself, prove mine. However, if the DNA of the vellum used by others in my circle matched the Voynich, then I would say, combined with concurrent, favorable dating, that this would be a proof. I would suggest DNA, in fact, if the dating matches my theory. Other than these possibilities, I think, it remains an arguable theory, as all Voynich theories are.

I’m sure other items of falsification can be added to my list, and I will be glad to hear them. If the list is short to begin with, I hope it is because of the very enigmatic and indiscernible nature of the Voynich, and due not to any rationalization on my part.

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