The Comparison Paradox

I accept many of the hundreds of the comparisons made between illustrations in the Voynich, with illustrations and objects outside of it. I even accept most of those that are dismissed as “too new”, because, of course, I think the Voynich is as new as 1910. I don’t think those later comparisons should be dismissed so easily. In fact I think they are discarded clues… “Purple Cows”.

purplecowheroimage

From a book review by Khoa Bui

 

But there is another phenomenon that I see within the great number of people who have good comparisons, which they then think point to a certain person, a path, a genre… while needing to reject those comparisons that others make, for other objects, because they are contrary to their own theories. For instance, say person “A” thinks the Voynich was illustrated by “Mr. Apple”, person “B” thinks it was illustrated by “Mr. Bean, and person “C” thinks it was illustrated by “Ms. Corn”. And each sees in some illustration that which they feel is evidence that only their person could have drawn the illustrations… let’s say of an apple, beans, and corn.

But then each person cannot accept that the comparisons of the others are correct: A cannot see beans or corn, for then their Mr. Apple theory is finished. B can’t see apples or corn, only beans, or theirs is finished… you get the idea… This sets up what I consider a powerful bit of evidence of its own… because we have hundreds of people, hundreds of comparisons, all acting like A, B, and C, above. We have these possible explanations for this effect:

1) The comparisons are all wrong, or mostly wrong, except for only ONE of the theories. This means that all the others must be thrown out, discarded as purely coincidental, or pareidolia. The problem is that it is implausible that the mass of good comparisons are wrong, and only one is right. This case covers all theories, because all use comparisons, even “genuine 15th century European Cipher Herbal”.

2) All or most of the comparisons are correct, that is, Mister Apple, Beans, and Ms. Corn, and all or most of the other authors either wrote in the Voynich… it passed through all their hands, and they all had a part in creating it. Well of course this is wildly unlikely, and not proposed by anyone. But I point this out, because many of the individuals… A, B and C… DO propose that THEIR person DID create the Voynich. They do not, of course, propose this #2, though, they can’t, because they know it is an un-sustainable position. If their person is the author, the other comparisons MUST be wrong.

3) All or most of these illustrations are copied from originals by Mr. Apple, Mr. Beans and Ms. Corn. And we do see this from time to time… the suggestion that the illustrative comparisons in the Voynich are copied from the works of those people and items which they most look like… but that it is only a copy, and sometimes a bad one at that. But then one runs into the problem of discarding those items which they think CANNOT be in there… as, again, either coincidence or pareidolia, or wishful thinking driven by earnest bias. So for theorist D, E, and F, they argue among themselves, to a varying degree, which items should be accepted as “evidence”, and which must be discarded and ignored… often by dating, sometimes by geography… depending on when and where and by whom the individual theorist believes the Voynich originated. The problem then is twofold: Discarding any evidence with equal, point by point comparative validity becomes a subjective and unfounded action. The second problem is still that you must explain why and who would have access to the still great many good comparisons that one does accept. The first smacks of a need for great speculation, the second is an onerous task, since as we go back in time, the sharing of the wide range of illustrations and objects, coming from a great diversity of people and places, some practically unknown to ages past, is a very hard hill to climb. I don’t think it can be done. Maybe a Dee, or Erasmus, might have had access to such a corpus… but then, again, much of what they could not have seen, nor even conceived of, must be explained or discarded.

spanish_compare_2

Voynich “cylinders” left, 18th century Spanish spyglasses, right

A very good example of this… I could reel off dozens, though… is the very good comparison found by Ms. Elitsa Velinska (she has found probably more good comparisons than anyone else, I think), of the “stars on strings held by women“, and Elihu Vedder’s illustration of the Seven Sisters… holding the stars of the Pleiades on strings. It is an unusual, almost unique concept, found (as many of these comparisons are) ONLY in the Voynich, and the work of Vedder. So is has been suggested by some, like #1, that Vedder himself had a hand in the Voynich (not by Elitsa, to my knowledge, I believe she only made the comparison, not that suggestion). But for Vedder to have had a hand, all or most other comparisons need to be discarded, or explained. Either Vedder created the Voynich, and saw and copied all other comparisons; or Vedder saw and copied ALL comparisons, including the “string star women” from some unknown source; or the other comparisons are coincidental or pareidolia…

… or, simply,  someone copied Vedder’s and all the other illustrations from a great many sources. This is my contention, as it allows for almost all the comparisons made, and explains why they are… in fact, the only way they can logically be there.

voynichropedstars

Composite illustration by Ellie Velinska, from her blog.

I’ve attempted to explain one of the greatest reasons I am where I am, and why I believe the Voynich is a modern hoax/fake/forgery: I’ve often said I accept most of the very many great comparisons out there, like Elitsa’s string star sisters, and so many others; but that to suggest any of the (above listed 1-3) alternatives strains credibility past the breaking point. It is far more likely, more plausible, to me, that the Voynich is simply a modern compilation of all, or most, of those things seen by a great many people. They are those things, put there by someone with ready access to all of it, surrounded by books, mobile over a wide geography to see many actual ancient items in museums and libraries… probably Wilfrid Voynich, probably around 1910.

9 Responses to “The Comparison Paradox”

  1. proto57 Says:

    A friend on the VMS-Net list pointed out that there are antique paintings with seemingly anachronistic content, such as cell phones. And this brings up a common rebuttal to my point in this blog: That it is probably just coincidence that so many people “see” anachronistic content in the Voynich, so it should not be used as evidence that the ms. is newer than thought. I worked out three questions, which I think point out why this is not correct.

    1) If the anachronistic comparisons from the year 0 to 1910 are all coincidence, pareidolia, inaccurate art depictions and/or wishful thinking, then why do we not see virtually any such comparisons from objects either post 1910, or that would not have reason to be put there by a 1910 forger? No typewriters, toasters, cell phones, computers, anything from Tut’s tomb, no DNA helix, none of the millions of objects that would not fit the context of a 1910 forgery?

    If truly coincidence, pareidolia, inaccurate art depictions and/or wishful thinking, shouldn’t such “errors” be evenly spread across the world of illustration, and not stop at 1910?

    2) Further, if the the anachronistic comparisons from the year 0 to 1910 are all coincidence, pareidolia, inaccurate art depictions and/or wishful thinking, then why do we not see virtually any such comparisons from objects that were not either in print by 1910, or in a place that Wilfrid Voynich is either known to have visited, or reasonably can considered to have easy access to?

    If truly coincidence, pareidolia, inaccurate art depictions and/or wishful thinking, shouldn’t such “errors” be seen of objects Wilfrid could not have seen?

    3) How can all the many hundreds of comparisons all be wrong, for every theory, except the exact theory in question at the moment? That is, if genuine 15th century, over a hundred comparisons, by dozens of people, must be wrong, and dismissed as coincidence, pareidolia, or wishful thinking. If by Hildegard Bingen, some are said (need) to be acceptable, but dozens of others, must be wrong. If by Anthony Askam, 1550’s, some of those correct, and hundreds of other comparisons are wrong. If by Dee and Kelly, then some same, and hundreds of other comparisons are wrong. If by Filarete, then some different ones are correct, and hundreds of others, wrong. If a 16th century New World account, then some good comparisons can be accepted, but dozens others, wrong. And so on, for any one of dozens of theories about the Voynich. For any one of them, more good observations and comparisons must be deemed incorrect, and thrown out, than are used to claim as evidence for that theory. Why?

    Shouldn’t a theory be able to use more than it discards?

  2. D.N. O'Donovan Says:

    Rich, If am presented with an image showing a crowned female figure, and one person asserts it the image of a seventeenth century Polish ruler, while another insists it is a Russian woman in festive costume, a third says it is a Spanish image of the Virgin Mary and a fourth produces as comparison an image of Miss Dakota 1928, the first phase is simple: which of the four persons is relying on subjective impressions of the ‘looks-like-to-me’ sort, and which has the sort of background (in historical studies, comparative cultural studies and religious studies, the history of costume and much else apart from art history) to be able to see the picture as it actually is – that is, within its proper historical and cultural framework. Obviously it can’t be both 20thC American and 17thC Polish.

    Then – setting slightly apart the superficial sort of comparison – we next consider those which have begun in the way a professional does: by writing a top-to-toe description of the image, including all its details. If that isn’t done – that group is also set aside. Details and context are everything. ‘Miss America’ should show signs of lipstick; if later than the 1940s, red nail-polish. Not taking the preliminary step of full description is a significant failure if the aim is to rightly understand and provenance an image.

    So now you’re left with people who have closely inspected the image and who have some serious background studies to help them see it in terms of historical and cultural lineage.

    The next vital step is a discussion of stylistics. The usual assumption of modern amateurs is that a pre-modern ‘artist’ (by pre-modern I mean before 1800) was free to express themselves in any way they chose. That’s an anchronism – a basic error. Style of drawing, the attitude to (and materials of) the palette are key indicators of where and when a picture was made. By those criteria alone a qualified valuer, or an iconographic analyst can locate the time and place a picture was made, or offer a limited range of possibilities (e.g. 12thC Spain or Southern France).

    In relation to Voynich studies, I’m afraid the majority of those who have been talking about the imagery since … oh, about 2011-12.. seem to believe that identifying what they imagine the subject of the image, or (conversely) presenting ten or twenty pictures of a goat representing Capricorn from (say) Scottish manuscripts proves the Vms Scottish. It proves nothing more than that – like most of the world – Scots etc. depicted the constellation of Capricorn as a goat.

    Since the underlying motives of many are less to understand the intention of the original makers than to push a regional or nationalistic theory, the range of comparisons, and the depth of informed comment on images is either minimal, non-existent, or ill-informed. (Sorry…) It also means that the level of self-imposed checks and balances which are a routine part of formal iconographic analysis are missing. A person claiming to place an image in its proper time and place has to take the question “What else could it be” very, very seriously.

    Conclusions have to be a result of both elimination of carefully-considered alternatives, and informed, detailed explanation of not only the asserted subject of a picture, but every detail in it and all must be demonstrably consistent with the proferred opinion. Getting it wrong, in the ‘real world’ can have serious consequences, in terms of money and of the analysts’ professional standing. In Voynich studies ‘having a go’ can be (and too often is) a responsibility-free activity, a form of online team-debating society done for pleasure.

    That’s fine, and it may advance a theoretical construct to get things wrong, but it can’t advance our correct understanding of the real-world manuscript.

    I suppose the bottom line is that there is more to imagery than the viewer’s subjective impressions – pretty much exactly the way written language has a right, and a wrong reading.

    Sorry that won’t sound warm, kind and like a ‘team-player’ but I do feel it that a discipline to which I’ve devoted decades of my life and in which I’m entitled to be considered a specialist, is treated as easy, trivial and ‘up for grabs’. It isn’t and most of what is said about the Voynich manuscript’s imagery is wrong: in terms of time, place, stylistics…

    • proto57 Says:

      Hi Diane: Thank you for the feedback.

      Your points are exactly correct, for you (and by the way, as you know, I do like your comparisons and observations). But then different ones are also deemed correct for each one of the many other individuals who see this in many different ways (and I like many of them, too). And this is my point precisely.

      You are educated in your various fields, very intelligent, discerning, and observant. Now take 50 different versions of “you”, all also capible to varying degrees, in some same, in some different, areas of expertise… those are my “A”, “B”, “C” above… each person, with different opinions on content, all disagreeing with one another, each thinking different comparisons are correct, and the ones of others are wrong. And each just as certain, as you are, that they are the only one who is correct.

      It is not a matter of “who to believe?”. Sure, we can “pick one theory”, and go with that… many have picked the Yale version, the Yale theory, over all others. Some theories have many adherents, some have few, or even, one person, the proposer. And each theorist, like you, is well intended, and certainly many are undeniably unassailable experts in one or several fields.

      But they disagree with each other, and reject a very great number of the comparisons that others accept. This whole phenomenon is almost exclusively limited to the study of works of forgery, and when it is not, there are alternative, and satisfactory explanations for why it happens.

  3. D.N. O'Donovan Says:

    Rich, my point is that intelligence isn’t enough.

    Not even having a formal qualification is necessarily enough – Alexandra Marraccini is phenomenally well qualified on paper, but her ‘bitumen’ idea is absolutely, completely off-centre and mainly because she imagined Voynicheros’ ‘canonised myth’ could be treated as if it were a body of formal scholarship. Her first error was in accepting, unexamined, legends and theories as her ‘givens’.

    To get technical – To be able to read the Voynich map needed more than just ‘two good eyes’ and intelligence, or even formal qualifications in art history and iconographic analysis. It needed a solid prior study of medieval history and of cross-cultural exchange, economic geography and geography proper – with some knowledge of *different* cultural habits in depicting land-forms, buildings and how those habits altered over time.. and such things as the various forms of directional ‘rose’ which *might* be embodied in what some still persist in calling the map’s ‘umbrellas’ etc. It needed the ability to recognise whether or not a circle divided into three was a reference to Isidore’s ‘T-O’ diagram, or to Bacon’s orb-shaped division which (as I discussed) replaces the older emblem for the earth in English manuscripts at a specific moment in time… or whether it’s just a circle divided into three for other reasons.
    But people who have just discovered ‘t-o’ diagrams, knowing nothing else, can’t imagine alternatives or what their significance might be.
    It’s not just that they *won’t* budge from their ‘t-o’ interpretations, nor just that they cling to that because it suits their theory. They *cannot* shift because nothing else seems to make sense; nothing else connects with what they happen to know.

    To be able to ‘read’ cultural and historical cues in what is drawn you need a wide enough range to recognise what it is you have before you – not only what is drawn but (most importantly) HOW it is drawn.

    I hope you’ll forgive the example – I cannot ever agree that the red-coloured containers in the manuscript are telescopes drawn by a Renaissance draughtsman or any European scientist of a later century.

    The reason is that the persons who drew those forms in the Voynich manuscript had real difficulty in rendering perspective, though perfectly competent at drawing fairly complex objects, including details of the human body and such botanical details as they wished to render literally (as well as those they did not). There are other signals of non-Latin character too, such as a fairly consistent avoidance of depicting living creatures ‘realistically’ and of drawing closed rectangular forms. The containers are drawn with lines less than straight, but straight lines – like interlace – are a standard characteristic of Latin works. The avoidance in the Vms isn’t total, but since we’re looking at what is probably a copy made within the western environment, a bit of spill is to be expected (as in a couple of pictures from the ‘bathy-‘ section where the lines are actually ruled, something which is actually shocking when you’ve become used to the work’s natural customs.

    Other regions and times are contra-indicated by the absence of interlace – a very common feature of Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, North African and earlier medieval Latin art.

    Now, if someone hasn’t acquired the range and type of background needed to pick up on such cues, they quite literally don’t ‘see’ them and often can’t see them even when they’re pointed out.

    Some ‘can’t’ see it for a different reason: they have so much personal investment in a theory that they can’t contemplate being corrected at all, let alone having their theory disproven.

    If I point out that a picture has been wrongly read, there’s far less chance the response will be ‘thanks for clarifying that’ than something akin to ‘How dare you criticise me’.

    In all this, I so often envy the cryptanalysts and linguists and statistical analysts. They are still, truly, working on the manuscript and happily exchange better information and do not mind correcting their own opinions, or accepting pointers from each other… that’s how it should work, don’t you think?

    Don’t I wish… 🙂

    And Rich – it’s very good of you to post lengthy comments from people who don’t agree with your views. Very rare thing, these days.

    • proto57 Says:

      Thanks much for the interesting and detailed response. Of course alternative ideas are always welcome… knowledge does not advance in a vacuum.

      All the best, Rich

  4. Ger Hungerink Says:

    Pleas see above the picture: “Voynich “cylinders” left, 18th century Spanish spyglasses, right”.

    Alright, they look like “Spanish spyglasses”, but only if you’re completely blind for the legs. Or they look like microscopes if you’re completely blind for the context of herbs and NONE of the pictures show anything viewed by that “microscope”. Dozens(!) of microscopes, each plant its own(!) microscope, all different, and NO views – for WHAT reason? How can one defend that for 15 years?

    It’s the “comparison paradox” – mainly for people who think: “If it CAN be it then it MUST be it”. Pointed to illogical consequences they won’t give up but twist and turn their arguments, adding ever more unlikely reasons and unreasonable reproaches, like the whole world is against them just like Galilei. Forgetting that being the only one to assert something ridiculous won’t prove they’re right. Forgetting that Galilei actually DID prove he was right.

    • proto57 Says:

      Wow Ger… for someone who (falsly) contends that I must have some personal animosity to the detractors of my hypothesis, you certainly seem to have your panties in a wad. I am “blind”, “illogical”, “unreasonable”, “forgetful”, with “ridiculous” ideas?

      You exhibit much angst over this. Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgement… the only way you can effectively move toward any truth is by remaining coolly dispassionate and analytical. Anyway, I am glad that you respect my theories enough to let them get under your skin like this… rather than simply ignoring that which you disagree with, and clearly do not understand, nor deign to learn about.

      But my opinion does matter greatly to you, clearly, so for that I feel I ought to respectfully and patiently continue to address your concerns and misapprehensions.

      “Alright, they look like “Spanish spyglasses”, but only if you’re completely blind for the legs.”

      A great many features of microscopes are exhibited in many of the cylinders of the Voynich: Recessed tops, indicative of lenses; straight sides, with different diameters, indicative of the sliding nature of focussing tubes; the raised “rings” on the sections, some with evidence of “knurling”, which are an almost universal feature of microscopes; yes, legs on many of them, usually exhibiting the “delphini” motif, either head or tail down, as was sometimes found on early microscopes; red, green and blue colorations, with edge decorations, similar to the moroccan leather and vellum covering and decorations on many early microscopes. In features, proportions, coloration, many of these cylinders are strikingly similar to microsopes from the late 16th through about the mid 18th centuries.

      It was the reason I was chosen to appear in the 2009 ORF documentary, in fact, because the producers felt that I had a good case here. And many who disagreed with my theories have still felt they are a good comparison… Pelling even going so far as to delve into the history of microscopes, to see if the ones of the type I posited may have existed early enough to fit his own timeline. No, they don’t. And still others opposed to my early Drebbel and New Atlantis theories (Drebbel invented the compound microscope; and they are mentioned in the fictional New Atlantis) told me that even though they did look like microscopes, many of my comparsions were “too new” for those theories.

      That was a major reason I moved forward in time, in fact. Because I do listen to my (logical) opponents, and supporters, too, and realized that the Voynich was probably much newer.

      But again I see you pick out one point, from one blog post, to criticize, either being unaware of my ideas as a whole, or choosing to artificially claim they do not exist. If you are truly interested arguing my whole point on optics, these might help:

      Starting 19 minutes into the ORF documentary, “Many objects in the Voynich resemble objects only seen through a microscope”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awGN5NApDy4

      Here is one of my first blog posts, on the subject:
      https://proto57.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/optical-comparisons/

      I think the “Green Microscope”, is a very close comparison to an actual device: https://proto57.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/the-green-microscope/

      Here is a page of “microscope like” cylinders in the Voynich:
      http://www.santa-coloma.net/voynich_drebbel/jars.html

      And my overall page on my theory, which explains these comparisons also: http://www.santa-coloma.net/voynich_drebbel/voynich.html

      There is more, scattered about. But the place optics have in my latest “1910” hypothesis are explained here: https://proto57.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/the-modern-forgery-hypothesis/

      “Or they look like microscopes if you’re completely blind for the context of herbs and NONE of the pictures show anything viewed by that “microscope”. Dozens(!) of microscopes, each plant its own(!) microscope, all different, and NO views – for WHAT reason? How can one defend that for 15 years?”

      This is a perfect example of your unwillingness to educate yourself on the history of the Voynich, and all early attempts to discern what may lie in it. For it has been a GREAT MANY researchers, expert and amateur alike, who have LONG thought that many of the illustrations in the Voynich depict microscopic organisms and so on. But you say, “NO views— for WHAT reason?”, openly demonstrating your lack of knowledge on the subject.

      There is a vast difference between knowing, and disagreeing; and not knowing, but pretending to. Rather than continuing to embarrass yourself, you ought to learn what the rest of us do know, then feel free to disagree with THAT. I love debate, I love disagreement, and always enjoy a good argument. But rebuttals based on ignorance are pointless, and tiresome. So as I often suggest to you, go and learn something about Voynich history, then come back and debate me.

      “It’s the “comparison paradox” – mainly for people who think: “If it CAN be it then it MUST be it”. Pointed to illogical consequences they won’t give up but twist and turn their arguments, adding ever more unlikely reasons and unreasonable reproaches, like the whole world is against them just like Galilei. Forgetting that being the only one to assert something ridiculous won’t prove they’re right. Forgetting that Galilei actually DID prove he was right.”

      My ideas are all outlined in these pages, and on my main site, and in several documentaries and articles about me, and my ideas. Nothing needs to be “twisted”, it is all out in the opening, and obvious to anyone who chooses to know what it actually is. You demonstrate, over and over, that you do not know enough about the Voynich, nor the many theories regarding it, to entertain a reasonable, respectable opinion about it.

      In short, you continue to demonstrate that you don’t even know the basis for your own beliefs. You won’t take my advice and go away and learn something about this, and then come back and argue.. so I suppose you will continue to go off “half cocked”, and so, continue to be an easy mark. I prefer better debates, with better equipped debaters… but I’ll take you in lieu of that, for the moment.

  5. Ger Hungerink Says:

    Just an example: “For it has been a GREAT MANY researchers, expert and amateur alike, who have LONG thought that many of the illustrations in the Voynich depict microscopic organisms and so on”.

    You do not name ANYONE, not ANY “expert”. You do not give ANY illustrations, not even a source, not even a link. And you explicitly state that they don’t think so ANYMORE. And you don’t say HOW they came to their senses, and you didn’t. And so on…

    Can’t you see your arguments are completely empty? You seem to have read a lot, but you also seem to have forgotten even more. By the way – don’t bother to try and retrieve all this useless information about microscopes (as admitted by yourself) because I know of better ways to spend my time. And I am glad I did not study those stupid things that are obvious anyway, like I did clearly explain above.

    • proto57 Says:

      But Ger, the first part is (again) demonstrably incorrect, and the second part another unfortunate and telling admission on your part:

      “Just an example: “For it has been a GREAT MANY researchers, expert and amateur alike, who have LONG thought that many of the illustrations in the Voynich depict microscopic organisms and so on”. You do not name ANYONE, not ANY “expert”.”

      First of all, I note you limited your point to “expert”, when I wrote “researchers, expert and amateur alike”. And I did link to you several cases of this, and have suggested you read D’Imperio several times. Here is a link to her book: https://www.nsa.gov/Portals/70/documents/about/cryptologic-heritage/historical-figures-publications/publications/misc/voynich_manuscript.pdf

      It is mentioned in there, but also in other writings, attributed to other researchers over the years, that many of the illustrations in the Voynich resembled microscopic cellular structures of plants and animals. But it seems that you do not want to know, because you say,

      “By the way – don’t bother to try and retrieve all this useless information about microscopes (as admitted by yourself) because I know of better ways to spend my time. And I am glad I did not study those stupid things that are obvious anyway, like I did clearly explain above.”

      Could there be a WORSE admission on your part, that you tacitly aim to remain uniformed about the very theory you passionately and so certainly claim is incorrect? You admit to refusing to want to know these things, but still want the readers to take you seriously? ”

      And not sure what you mean by “… all this useless information about microscopes (as admitted by yourself)”, because I never admitted it was “useless”, as it is one of the (many) core elements of my theory. Far from useless. But if you refuse to look, then how will you know one way or the other?

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