NSA/CSS Symposium Lecture

I was pleased, and grateful, to be accepted to speak at the October 19-20 2017 Symposium on Cryptologic History, held at John Hopkins in Laurel, MD. Every two years this event offers a great selection of lectures, covering the history of Cryptology, and related intelligence and security matters in the military and private sectors. The title of my talk was, Is the Voynich Manuscript a Modern Forgery? (and why it matters).

With 25 minutes allowed for each speaker, I felt I would not have enough time to give even a good overview of my entire hypothesis. Therefore I chose to focus on one aspect of it, answering the question, “What characteristics does the Voynich Manuscript share with known forgeries?”. I call these features, which I have gleaned from reading extensively on the history of forgeries in art and literature, “red flags of forgery”. Some of them are occasionally found in genuine works, but there are usually no more than one or two, and even then, they are somehow explainable or understandable. I believe the Voynich exhibits 10 “red flags of forgery”, and that they are not so easily explained away.

I didn’t record the lecture, but when I came home I created a video from the Powerpoint slides, and re-recorded my audio over the slides. Therefore it is not an exact replication of the lecture I gave… but nonetheless, I feel it is probably very close to it.

One of the benefits of needing to focus on one facet of the hypothesis was that it organized my thoughts on this in a new way. It caused me to identify the elements of the hypothesis, and categorize them. Roughly, they would be:

  1. Characteristics of forgery inherent in the Voynich (this lecture)
  2. Problems with the existing “1420 Genuine European” Paradigm
  3. Life & personality of Wilfrid Voynich, his acquaintances & family
  4. Other possible forgeries owned/sold by WMV
  5. Attitude and practice of buyers, sellers of books in WMV’s time
  6. Changes in scholarship during & since WMV’s time
  7. Questions & problems with tests & data handling
  8. Politics surrounding current & past attitudes to the paradigm
  9. Necessary future tests & investigations to determine validity of hypothesis
  10. Timeline & interrelation of the above points

The feedback for my presentation was good, both at the time and afterwards. I think it was interesting to many people because they are still unaware that the Voynich paradigm has so many anomalies to begin with. And that these problems are difficult, or some even, so far, impossible, to resolve, without major rationalizations. They only have the image of solidity insisted on by promoters of the paradigm, by either misstating the value of existing evidence, or by using opinions and speculation based on non-existent or limited data to begin with, in order to ignore or explain away the serious flaws within it.

This is all predictable, and even understandable, because paradigms tend to defend themselves, when believers are challenged to explain the anomalies the paradigm exhibits.

I consider it my obligation, my goal, to set the record straight on this situation. I have and will continue to challenge that paradigm, and its promoters, so that any present or future Voynich researchers have a true, clear understanding of the story of the Voynich. Then they can make up their own minds, but based on a more accurate understanding of the evidence.

This leads to the reason for the lecture’s second part, “(why it matters)”. I have learned over the past decade that a great many theories, and possible ciphers and code systems, have been either ignored or gotten scant attention, because the paradigm sternly informs those interested in doing so that they are “too new”, and therefore not worth pursuing. Likewise for theories outside the paradigm. I consider, that is, that the power of this paradigm’s faulty projection to be the chief impediment to solving the Voynich mystery.

Because the lecture was focused mainly on the Voynich’s “characteristics of forgery”, most of the questions in the Q&A session which followed were understandably concerned with how I would explain existing “evidence” which supports the paradigm. But there were other questions, too. Here is a list of some of both types:

  1. Where would Voynich have gotten the ancient blank calfskin?
  2. What other forgeries, if any, did Wilfrid have and/or sell?
  3. What about the [De Tepencz] “signature”?
  4. Where is the University of Arizona radiocarbon report?
  5. What would you consider proof of genuine?
  6. What future tests/investigations would you do?

Most of those questions I answered similarly to how I have done so in my list of “Modern Voynich Myths”, which can be found here: https://proto57.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/modern-voynich-myths/

For the others, stay tuned.



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3 Responses to NSA/CSS Symposium Lecture

  1. Pingback: A few videos and crypto puzzles from the NSA Symposium on Cryptologic History – Klausis Krypto Kolumne

  2. A couple of points: I think if you’re trying to argue anachronism in the imagery, it would be a good idea to investigate if similar-looking forms are found in objects from the 15thC and earlier. You rely here too much, I think, on what the drawings happen to remind you of, rather than what exists in the archaeological or iconological record.
    And you’re right to say people keep saying ‘it looks like…’

    In the same way, the differences of opinion are not by experts in interpretations of pre-modern imagery, and most don’t go seeking the origin for these images. They begin with personal, unqualified and subjective impressions then refuse to do other than flip through manuscripts made in Europe during their targetted period.. and so on.

    It is important to distinguish the qualified from the unqualified opinion when it comes to notions propounded by the imagery.

    Having a professor of Philosophy pronounce an identification for one of the plant-pictures, when he is neither a botanist nor qualified to perform analytical-critical studies of imagery for the purpose of provenancing doesn’t constitute a ‘specialist opinion’.

    Similarly, the ‘1903’ catalogue so vaguely described isn’t something that a specialist would use to support an argument about provenancing. Hope you don’t feel harrassed by these objections.

    • proto57 says:

      I’m not bothered by your points, and always welcome rebuttals to my work, and my techniques. And I agree it is important to look at all sources, not only those that might support one’s own theory… I’ve advocated it in the past, many times, myself (notably, recently, in the case of Mr. Koen’s fine blog).

      And I appreciate the reminder to (continue to?) do so. I know you do… I hope I have.

      … and “yes”, that 1903 catalogue entry is not at all useful in provenance ANY particular work, rather it would describe any of thousands of extant, parchment, 15th century manuscripts. Shame it is now part of the “foundation” of Voynich research, and will continue to spread, and cause much damage to the field in lifetimes to come.

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