Posts Tagged ‘code’

Pitfalls of Decipherment

July 26, 2015

I am barely a cipher amateur. Nonetheless, I’ve read and studied about many historical cipher attempts, both successes and failures, and over the last few years, and I’ve been privy to a great many decipherment attempts on the Voynich, both in public and in private. And so even if I have not made any significant decipherments of my own, the successes and failures of others have still taught me many useful signs of error in the process of decipherment. The failure of many of these attempts may be obvious to me and others, but is often not at all apparent to their proponents. This should not be so, as there is available a very simple two-step test one can use to determine a the correctness of any proposed solution. These tests are derived from several sources, but most notably the works of Elizebeth and William Friedman. Both of these conditions MUST be met in order for a claimed decipherment to be deemed correct:

1) Repeatability: If one can explain the system used, to a second person, and then they derive the same cipher text as the solution’s proponent, then part one has been passed.

2) Meaning: If the system is repeatable, as above, then the results must have meaning.

But the problem is that, in a very many instances, a decipherer believes they have met the above two-step criteria, and passed the test, when they have not. As I asked, why? It usually is because they have been trapped by various pitfalls, in which “ways around” the tests… although invalid… seem to obviate a need to meet those basic requirements, or convince them that they have met them. I’d call these “pitfalls” then, and are very dangerous. By not recognizing them in one’s own work, by stepping over or around them, one can become victim to spending huge amounts of life and effort continuing to work on what is a failed scheme.

List of potential pitfalls to decipherment:
1) Defending subjective input: It is normal, in many cases, for a decipherer to insert speculative plain text characters, words or phrases in order to test cipher schemes: Such as using the name of an item in an illustration, or a word which might make sense in the context of the work in general. But then a problem arises if the system is not seen as flawed when it needs to alter itself in order to allow for new results from new cipher text. That is, if the scheme needs to be altered to fit the new, speculative plain text, then this should be seen as a test of the scheme, and that the scheme has failed. It this “red flag” is missed, there is no limit to the complexities that that a decipherment scheme/system can grow to, in order to continue to adapt to speculative, desired, plain text. But we know the solution is wrong, because no cipher system needs to adapt for individual words. No matter how complex, a proper cipher will work consistently to decipher the text without needing to adapt as it progresses.

The signs to look for are if the decipherer will not try new text, and only sticks to small section of selected text. Another is if the system is not shared, often said to be “too complicated” for others, or if there is no expressed, relatable system at all. Sometimes a system is shared, but cannot be used to create meaningful text by a second party, and then this shows the solution is wrong.

2) Multiple Plain Text Choices: If at any point in the decipherment process, choices of multiple possible plaintext letters or words are needed, the number of outcomes quickly rises. The level of subjectivity in such decipherment schemes can be so high that many different translations of meaning, or near meaning, can be derived from the same cipher text. What to look for are charts with columns or rows of alternate “translations” for one cipher character or word.

Often the pitfall is that the translator has a concept of what they think the content is, or should be, so then the choices they make for the output don’t seem subjective to them, but the only logical possibility from the many variations conceivable during the process. In these cases, a proposer may believe the “repeatability” requirement must be bent, as there needs to be a mutual understanding of what choices should be made in the process, and that the original users of the cipher would possess that understanding. Another excuse is that the original creator alone possessed the necessary understanding, as they never intended anyone else to read the plain text. They then feel that, possessing this understanding, they alone come to the proper results. This is a dangerous pitfall, as there is really no way to convince oneself, or others, that this is unlikely to be the case. But it is  historically unknown as a concept, if that helps.

Another good test is falsification, as if many other results can be derived by using other choices of characters, then at the very least it should be apparent that any particular results cannot be known if correct or if in error. That is, any such results are virtually indistinguishable from guesswork, and therefore, the solution can be assumed incorrect.

3) Anagrams: Similar to the above, if any string of plain text results needs to be reordered to derive meaning, the chance are the derived meaning is purely speculative on the part of the decipherer. It is true that anagrams have historically been used to hide information, but rarely used to hide it in a way that another person could readily derive the meaning without help. This is a common misconception about various historic uses of anagrams, such as those by Roger Bacon and Galileo. They were using anagrams to insert a “watermark” of sorts in the test, so that they could later reveal that they were privy to some knowledge, so that they could later claim precedence to that knowledge, but without revealing it to unwanted eyes. But the purpose was not for another party to discern the meaning on their own, as it needed help from the creator to find it.

But if for whatever reason anagrams might be suspected, after only a few characters the possible translations quickly rises beyond any sensible use of hiding plain text, since many alternate plain texts can be derived from even short strings of plaintext characters. This means it becomes purely subjective, and almost from the start of the process. This was one of the pitfalls that William Romaine Newbold fell into, when attempting to decipher the Voynich Manuscript cipher text.  He derived long strings of characters, from which he, or really anyone, could assemble some resemblance of meaningful text. Newbold was assuming Roger Bacon content, however, and so he manipulated his anagrams until he found it.

4) Small Set of Input/Output: If a scheme seems to work for a select few words, usually under 20 (and rarely approaching it), and then the decipherer stops attempting their scheme on new words, it then becomes a pitfall. There are several such claims of translation, some of which have made it into mainstream media. In order to avoid this, one must make certain that their scheme continues to work on a larger set of cipher words, and that they do not stop at early, perceived, “successes”. Likewise, for those attempting to determine the validity of such small set solutions, they should first insist that the proponent apply their method to a larger set (editors and producers take note). Until they do so, the solution should not be taken seriously.

5) Lack of plain text meaning: This is only a pitfall if it is not seen as a failure of a decipherment, as per the two step test at the top of this post.

It is of course easy to translate the Voynich text, or any cipher I suppose, in a way that produces “something”. But if that something has no discernible meaning, it is wrong. The pitfall comes when one does not accept that this lack of meaning exists, or that it is important. For the former, one may think the encipherer must have had a meaning in mind for the resultant ramblings; for the latter, that it is simply not a problem that there is no meaning- that is, they simply do not address it, to themselves or to others. But if one wants to self test their scheme, or the scheme of others, then lack of meaning is a sign of an incorrect solution.

Nonetheless, there are many claimed solutions which produce meaningless text… in the case of the Voynich, this almost always involves long strings of repetitive words and phrases, as the cipher text of the Voynich has much repetition. It is often claimed that these meaningless solutions must be either song, chants or poetry we don’t understand, or lists of recipe ingredients or formulas, which we simply do not know how to use due to our modern viewpoint. In reality, they are simply gibberish, and not the solution.

6) False Patterns: It is human nature to seek, and then find, patterns in randomness. But the ability can become a pitfall when left unchecked in the practice of decipherment. This pitfall not only arises in seeing patterns in the text, but in illustrations, also. And a very good self-test is, again, if the results have meaning. There has to be a greater context for the pattern, or it is probably purely subjective. If one does not make an attempt to find that greater context, or diminishes the importance of doing so, they may never see the error in the scheme. But also, like many schemes which are vulnerable to subjective errors, a pattern may be “seen” which matches a preconception for meaning and context, and this then is mistakenly thought to be validation of the pattern. Another good check in that case is falsification… that is, seeing if other patterns can be also found, with other meanings, in the same text or illustration… by oneself, or better yet, by others. If they can, then there is no way of knowing which one, if any, may be correct, and the solution is in error.

7) Skipping the process: This is rare, but there are cases of decipherers simply inserting plain text for cipher characters or words, purely speculatively (or maybe loosely based on some belief of what the Voynich may be about): This can be food sources, if one thinks it a cookbook; or chemical names, if one believes it a formula book; or maybe herbal and plant names, if one believes it a pharmacopeia. Great lists of meanings for characters or words may be offered. The tests as usual are repeatability and resultant meaning, but these are often avoided in this case. One case I’ve seen is that the proponent wrongly claims repeatability because of anyone using the list will arrive at the same exact results as they do. But the point being missed in this case is that the list is the decipherment, and the list must therefore be repeatable, and is not. And so, repeatability has actually failed. Another danger is that one may simply surmise there is a missing code book that was originally used to derive the lists of meanings; and that the results are (again) simply not understandable to a modern mind. But if one is objective, and realizes that any list of words can be substituted for one’s own (for any speculative code book), and that any results can be claimed meaningful, as in #5, they will see the error, and so can avoid this pitfall.

Conclusion: There are many historical, and even contemporary, instances of decipherment attempts which have consumed large portions of their proponent’s life and effort. In the case of the many failed Baconian theories, several individuals spent decades in a fruitless pursuit of hidden meanings in Shakespeare’s texts. But there are many other cases like this, and unfortunately even in our time. The Voynich cipher has engendered many dozens, if not hundreds, of its own instances of this unfortunate effect. I’ve personally witnessed several cases in which very brilliant and sincere people have fallen into the traps I relate above, and so are expending their precious life energy, year after year, to baseless chimeras so easily avoided- if but a small amount of careful introspection would be applied. I offer my observations, above, as a well-meant and helpful warning to them.

T/O Map Label Implications

April 20, 2010

As I and others have said before, the labels seem to be one of the best ways “into” the Voynich Manuscript. They might be words which are disclosed by adjoining illustrations, most importantly. And if they can be assumed to be encoded/enciphered in the same manner as the rest of the Voynich, then they limit the possible methods used to do so… by the number of letters, the structure… and the fact that there is an “infinite space” before and after them. One would then have to explain how the space applies to the main text… as a character or symbol… when it cannot, ever, in the labels.

But the T/O maps of the Voynich seem to give us additional possibilities. The reason is, we have two with labels to compare. I believe this is unique in the Voynich, where we have a “word” which can reasonably assumed to have the same meaning as the same word elsewhere. The maps I am referring to are the two left ones in the below illustration.

The actual, known, 1472 T/O map to the right is of course in it’s usual “East up” orientation (thanks, Nick). The Rosettes map is, in the Ms., but I rotated it to line up the labels with the F68v3 map, and to make them more readable (can we use that term, “readable”, in the VMs?). For the sake of this discussion, certain assumptions are being made: That these are T/O maps in the Medieval style, and the segments are meant to represent the same places, and that the words within them, therefore, are meant to represent the same place/idea. Let’s look at the upper left word, first, and compare them.

If we look at these two “words”, and assume they are meant to be the same place or idea, certain points would follow. First, comparing the gallows, it would imply that these should not counted elsewhere as two gallows… that the second version is simply the same character drawn with a more closed upper left loop. Secondly, since the right word is seemingly a shortened version of the first, it implies the use of abbreviations. The importance of determining whether or not abbreviations are used at all in the Voynich can not be underrated. And thirdly, the fact that the fourth character of the right word is different from the fourth, fifth or sixth characters of the left, would imply that it somehow signifies the same meaning of those characters, where missing.

In the second comparable VMs word, we find the same and some new implications. First, the first character of the right word is actually a combination of the first two characters of the left word. There are several reasons this makes sense… for one thing, it includes the rare gallows with the crossed tail. This increases the possibility that it is representative of the left word.  Another reason that it follows the right character is a combination would be, again, the small area it is written in. One would expect a nice clean spacing of characters in a larger space, and the possibility of accidentally, or judiciously, linking them where necessary… and this is exactly what we find. A second major observation here is that the word in the smaller place, as with “Africa”, is also the shorter word. The first four characters are the same, and again, just like Africa, again, the last is different… implying, again, and abbreviation for space reasons. Now the fifth character in the left word may be a shortened tail “9”. If so, it might imply that such “o’s”, with short tails, are the VMs “9’s”, when written within a word. Only guessing there (as in the rest of this post of course, only guessing). But another possible is similar to the Africa example… that is, that the “9” character here is meant to represent the last characters of the left word, and have the same meaning… or, simply, to denote that an abbreviation has taken place.

This is only musing, given the rare but possible opportunity to compare two words which may have the same meaning in the Voynich. I don’t know of any other two words which can be compared in this way, in fact. If so, the implications are important:

  1. Abbreviations might be used in the Voynich
  2. When used, they may have replacement or marker characters, and these are two of them
  3. Two gallows may actually be one, drawn slightly differently
  4. Keys in the Voynich, if there are any, do not change over the pages we find these maps
  5. Some characters may be combination, but should be treated as separate in counts, etc.
  6. Most importantly, the Voynich has meaning…

… for to so closely represent the same idea, or place, on two different maps on two different pages, with so similar words, shows an attempt to convey real meaning. There would be no need to make them as alike as they are, if there was no meaning to the words… and the odds are, if randomly chosen, they would be very much more different from what they actually are, and in ways different from what their situation implies and supports. Of course and unless, this was on purpose, just to confound… but then, it would be the only situation where this was necessary to do, as again, it is our only comparison! What are the odds of that? Not for me to say…

T and O Map, Guntherus Ziner, 1472

Numerical Coding of Word Sections

November 29, 2009

Imagine for a moment a code which allows an encoder to make random, infinite choices when encoding, but which can only be decoded one way… into one, clear plain-text… at the receiver’s end. The interim coded text would represent the same characters and words in multiple ways, so that any attempt at decipherment, by trying to make a count on the elements, and compare them to various plain texts in various languages, would fail.

Augustus of Brunswick-Lüneburg

Augustus of Brunswick-Lüneburg

There is at least one system I know of, which has this ability, and which at the same time is easy and fast to encode and decode. This is the numerical coding system which appears in the 1624 Gustavus Selenus Book, “Cryptomenytices et Cryptographiae”. Gustavus Selenus is the playful Latinized psuedonym of August II, Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg. He used the root “selene” (goddess of the moon) for his name, because of the “moon-root” in the name of his dukedom, and “Gustavus” being an anagram of “Augustus”.  He wrote this book on cipher, and a book on chess, under this pseudonym. Cryptomenytices is a compilation of dozens of codes and ciphers, with detailed explanations and examples. Many of them are from the work of Trithemius, or based on his it. But many of the systems are unique to Cryptomenytices, or adaptations of previous work of others, with improvements and additions.

The code with which this post is concerned with is found on page 360, in book seven of this work. I do not read much Latin, but from what I can deduce from the preface, this code is partially based on, or refers to work by, one Jacobus Silvestri. This man wrote a work on cipher and codes in the early 16th century, and is surprisingly little documented or discussed. In fact the only copy of his book I could find is in the NSA library.  I have a copy of this code, and so can understand that it is familial to the code on page 360 of Cryptomenytices. But the page 360 code is much more elaborate and ingenious, and expounds beyond the simple points of Silvestri.

The code works like this: Both the sender and receiver have a code chart, which assigns progressing numbers to first letters, then to combinations of letters. “A” is simply “1”. “B is simply “6”. These can be written as either an Arabic 1 & 6, or Roman “I” and “VI”, or of course, any way one would like.

After the single letters, the code moves on to numbering “consonants before vowels”… starting with “BA” (which is 22 on the code chart). So let’s stop here, and examine the letter string “BA” encoded. When the encoder comes across “BA”, they have a choice: They can simply write it as “22”, in which case the receiver looks up “22” on the chart (which is laid out very clearly, and in order, and so all numbers are quick and easy to find). They immediately know it is “BA” in the plain text. But the encoder had a second choice… they could have used the numerical codes for the B and A separately, and so written it as 6-1. Again, the decoder looks up 6 & 1 on the chart, and again, knows it is the plain text BA. But the choice of encoding means that BA can appear in two different ways in the coded text, confusing any character counts. Even if the numbers where suspected, and even if they were known, how would an investigator relate 22 and 6-1? And if they determined that “E” was “2” (which it is in this code), then they may think 22 is EE, and not BA.

214/213= “Intent”, because “int”=214, & “ent”=213

But this is a simple case. The code allows many more variables, as the plain text increases in complexity. For after “vowels after consonants” comes “vowels preceding consonants”, such as AB, AC, and so on. Then strings of three: “vowels preceding two consonants”, such as ABS and so on. The list goes like this:

  1. Individual vowels.
  2. Individual consonants.
  3. One vowel after one consonant.
  4. One vowel before one consonant.
  5. One vowel before two consonants.
  6. Two consonants before one vowel.
  7. One consonent before and after one vowel (3 letters)

All of these combinations are shown in alphabetical order, so an encoder can quickly look up their chosen string of letters. The list is numbered from 1 (for “A”) to 1,521 (for “ZUT”).  The encoder takes their strings, looks them up on the  chart, and writes down their number value. Elmar Vogt coined the word “chunk” for these strings of letters, as they do not have to follow syllabic or phonetic breaks… they can be chosen at the whim of the encoder.

So let’s look at a sentence, and the choices and the results of encoding it with this system. I previously used “I am here” as an example for the biliteral, so I’ll stick with that as a control. One choice for an encoder might be to break this up: I-AM-HE-RE. Looking the numbers for these chunks on the code list, we have: 3-147-48-83. But if broken down as IA-M-HER-E, it would change drastically: 257-13-808-2. Do you see the problem for someone out of the loop, who is trying to decode a text? They are presented with 3-147-48-83 and 257-13-808-2, and would have absolutely no way to relate the two. The counts of individual numerals would not make any sense of it. But to a receiver of the code, it is a simple matter of running their finger down the code list, and substuting the number strings with the appropriate word chunk. In either case it is fast and easy, and the plain text absolutely unambiguous. Not subjective, no anagramming involved, no choices on the decoders part at all.

As for the breaks between the number strings, as Selenus points out, these can be written different ways. One choice is nulls, such as “+’s”. The use of crosses such as this a common Christian habit in the past, to emphasize text. But any null could work. Our code string might be 3a147b48c83, or if Roman, IIIaCXLVIIbXLVIIIcLXXXIII, and so on. There can be one null, multiple nulls, spaces for nulls. In any case it would not confuse or complicate the system for either the encoder or decoder.

I consider it a top contender for the code in the Voynich Manuscript.  For one thing, as I explained, it would frustrate counting attempts, as the counts of individual characters would bear little or no relationship with the plain text. Also, as I understand it, the Voynich character frequencies do roughly coincide with what one would expect with a core of the numbers 1 through 9, plus some nulls. I’ve seen this core, frequent, count as 17 in at least one case, although there are of course a smattering of rare characters, bringing the total to several time this. But these could easily be accounted for as shorthand or some other symbolic representations. And the often occurring “9” tail character, which was popularly a plural suffix (in Latin shorthand, and also Middle and Old Dutch), would make sense both in frequency and placement, in such a scheme. I also like the fact that is would help explain the large number of recurring Voyichese “words”, as any plain text, in any language, can be broken down into often repeating parts. For instance look at this paragraph, and count the number of times “ER” appears… and “AN”, and so on. And lastly, look at the well-discussed “key page” notation, with crosses, and almost-Roman numerals in part:

And compare it to this, as an example from the Selenus code:

Although I feel it is possible to use the Voynich characters to encode with this method, I did look into the possibility that there were complications which could account for some other Voynichese features. I experimented with those to some extent. For one, I had wondered if the gallows could be a “modifier” or “multiplyer” of some kind, for the larger numbers in the code. Here is an example of this, from my notes:

As you see, it explores the “what if” the gallows, in two variations, were 1,000 and 100 multipliers for a character (enciphered number) just before. This would help write out some of the larger numbers in different ways. But it is just part of the process of trying out the system, and does not imply that this complication is favored by me.

I do feel that “working backward” would be a valuable way to explore the Voynich code/cipher. I do feel that with some work, it would be possible to encode in Voynichese with this numerical system, and have actually succeded in a small way, in the limited time I applied to it. I explained my ideas to Julian Bunn, and he was working with the idea for a time. He wrote a clever conversion program, and was able to encode some very impressive sections with the method. Below is the text from Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, “…we have also glasses and means to see small and minute bodies, perfectly and distinctly; as the shapes and colors of small flies and worms, grains, and flaws in gems which cannot otherwise be seen.”, encoded by Julian in Gabriel Landini’s Voynich 101 font:

Well of course this would not follow the same patterns or counts found in the Voynich, but that was not the point at that stage. It was an exercise to discover if this Selenus code variation could encode in Voynich characters. It can. Almost any code or cipher can, really. But after that, one has a starting point, to see how the resulting Voynich-like strings are affected by various choices in the numbering lists, plain text content, breakdown of plain text, and so on. The point would be to see if strings of Voynichese, with the same resulting character and word counts, and other patterns, could be generated with this system or variation of it, while containing meaningful plain text. And this of course would be the next step, applying the necessary time and effort to do so, and answer the question.

Selenus in His Library-“oh to be a fly on the wall”

Biliteral: A Cipher in Plain Sight?

November 14, 2009

There has been a bit of talk, again, about the possibility of Francis Bacon’s Biliteral Cipher being used in the Voynich. It is one of my personal top-three candidates, and has been… and it’s been a favorite of mine for some reasons unique to my New Atlantis Theory. In fact those things which are considered detriments… the dating it would imply, and the origins and influence… I consider additional assets.

Bacon devised his cipher sometime in the late sixteenth century, but it first appeared in print in the early seventeenth. It is basically a binary alphabet, using only two characters. He designated these “a” and “b”… which sometimes causes confusion as to the structure and use of this cipher. I’ve seen people actually use those letters, or look for them, or alternately use the Biliteral, while not using it when an a or b appears in the plain text… but the cipher character or character distinction in its place. But the system is the simplest of all, and these errors muddle this simplicity, and cause further misunderstandings and confusion.

The way the code works is like this: Each letter of the plain text alphabet is represented by a series of five characters. These characters are designated as either “a” or “b” characters. The first letter of the alphabet, A, is written like this: aaaaa. The plaintext letter B is written like this: aaaab. The plaintext C is written like this: aaaba. You see it is exactly the progression found in the binary number system. D is written like aaabb, and E like aabaa, and so on. Here is the list as published:

The message: “I am here” would be written:

abaaa aaaaa ababb aabbb aabaa baaaa aabaa

Now it is immediately apparent that simply sending a message in this way is not the point… it is instantly recognizable. This is where the beauty of the cipher comes in: The encipherer can chose any way imaginable to represent the a’s and b’s of the cipher text. Bacon used, as an example, two different typefaces. And this is another point where many make an error in understanding the biliteral: It is assumed that it relies on variations in typefaces, fonts or strokes. But this is not the point of the cipher… one can use any variation in the cover text to designate the a’s and b’s of the cipher text. In fact the cover text does not even have to be characters… they could be illustrations, or color variations. Here is my plain text, “I am here”, written as stars:

"I am here", written in the stars...

The stars have two distinctions: five point stars as the “a’s”, and six point stars as “b’s”. But there is a further issue which often crops up, which causes misunderstanding of the biliteral. The fact is that two distinctions are used in encoding, such as my star points, or standard and italic fonts, or serifs and sans-serif typefaces… but somehow when some are looking for evidence of the biliteral, they sometimes look for two frequent characters which re-occur. In the case of the Voynich for instance, one may look for “o’s” and “gallows”, assume these to be the a’s and b’s, and pull them out. But this misses the value of the biliteral… it can be some aspect of the characters which is in all the characters. I have been most interested in the differentiation in height, for instance. This is a large distinction in the Voynich, easily determined, and applies to all of the characters. What the character is would not matter, only that it is high or low. I like the idea, because it would be very easy to encipher and decipher… a decipherer could quickly run along the text of the Voynich and jot down the value for highs and lows… I’ve done it, and it is fast.

And this is one of the key reasons I like the biliteral in the Voynich, it’s ease. In addition to this, however, is the fact that it would answer many questions about the bulk of the text, with its seeming complexity. Some have suspected that the Voynich contains gibberish, that it’s cipher is meaningless. And this could be correct about the bulk of the text content, in the case of the biliteral… because there is one more error made in thinking of this code: That the cover text needs to be meaningful, in order to “throw off” anyone from suspecting that there is a code somewhere. Well yes, this is a tactic in some biliteral messages… Bacon used it as an example, and prisoner’s today still use the biliteral to transmit messages to one another. If a guard sees a message which says, “Did you get the cigarettes I paid for last week? Better hurry or I will take back my teddy bear”, he will not mind all that much, and may not notice that there is a code hidden in the two slightly different fonts used.

But as I demonstrated in my stars example, no meaning is needed in the cover text. And the same applies when it “almost just about looks like there must be some meaning there”… as in Voynichese. As I wrote on Nick Pelling’s blog, the seeming complexity of a fake, meaningless cover cipher of Voynichese, “…could be “there to confuse us”… useless complexity would be a fantastic, brilliantly diabolical cover for a simple cipher, and really very easy to do (not to see, however).”

So I feel the use of the biliteral would explain so much about our views and examination of the text of the Voynich: The inability to make any sense of it, for one thing, because there would not necessarily be any sense in the cover cipher; the concurrent feeling that there must be some sense to the Voynich Ms., causing an unfortunate rift between the proponents of sense and those thinking “nonsense”… both could be correct. And for those who rightly note that the biliteral would mean that there is only one-fifth of the characters in the plain text (there always is, with a five place biliteral), I would, and have, pointed out that we cannot assume the amount of information in the Voynich. It may well be one fifth of what is seen on the surface… for that matter, it could be a two hundred character sentence, with one page per plain text letter! To make assumptions about the level of content would be foundationless, and yet, the biliteral would allow quite a bit to remain.

I worked many hours on the cipher and the Voynich, and came up with some interesting observations. I cannot “read” any of it, so I cannot place myself in that rare, hallowed circle who think they can. But nonetheless I found some results somewhat promising… promising enough to continue when I have the time and patience. To begin with I used four different variables, and reduced the Voynichese four times using them, for comparison. The two main variables were: 1) All high characters were my a’s, and all lows my b’s, and 2) Reversed: All high characters were my b’s, and all lows my a’s. The second set of variables were: 3) All connected characters were considered separate, i.e., a string of three “c’s” was three low characters, and 4) A string of connected characters was considered one character, so that the same three “c’s” would be one low character.

Using the above four choices (and there are, of course, many more which may be tried), back in September of 2007, I wrote that I had, “…come up with some strings of letters… “POL…” was one which occurred. And “QUO…” also.”. But these sort of strings are in themselves possibly meaningless… well are meaningless, unless one can place them in some context. But what really struck me was that for certain combinations of my four variables, I came up with many useless strings, and for others, many more useful strings. By “useless”, I mean the strings did not correlate to any letters in the biliteral alphabet, as Bacon envisioned.” I later explained [with error corrected for this post]:

“I’ll tell you what I did, looking at f106, line 13 as an example:

1) Treating each character, even connected ones, as separate chars, and “A” as lower, and “B” as upper (the slash is before two from the next line, to
even out the group to five):


Which gives: RIXCGARRXTW

2) Treating connected chars as singles, but still with “A” as lower, and “B” as upper:


Which gives: STWENCEWTR

3) Now with each char as separate, but “B” as lower, and “A” as upper:


Which gives: QZL???QQLOM    You see? Three chars now do not work for any letter.

4) Treating connected chars as singles, again (as in #2), but with “B” as lower, and “A” as upper:


Which gives POM? U/W ??LOQ  …and again, three chars fall “off the list”.

The point being, for the last two choices of variables, I had a much higher number of characters which did not correlate to the biliteral alphabet. A red herring? Perhaps. But all this recent resurgent talk fo the Biliteral has inspired me to get back to it. And again, considering that I am looking at the Voynich as a possible artifact of Bacon’s New Atlantis, and that he invented the Biliteral Cipher, and that both were known and used by the early 17th century, it certainly holds a special place of consideration for me.

"I am here", in biliteral Voynichese

All this being said, I feel there are at least two other code and cipher concepts which would also account for the seeming complexity of Voynichese, while being extremely hard to discern, and yet, surprisingly easy and fast to encipher and decipher. Like the biliteral, in my opinion, and just as rarely considered possible.

The Chymical Wedding: Parallel Work?

July 8, 2009

The 1616 book, The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, is the third of the first three defining works of the Rosicrucian movement. It describes the progression of the fictional Rosenkreutz through a series of allegorical events, while encountering fantastic people, finding mysterious cipher writings, and witnessing bizarre, surreal scenarios in which Rosenkreutz was often an unwitting participant. These events explored, through allegory, various political, religious and ethical questions. At the same time, they symbolically reflected various alchemical processes… not all of which are entirely clear to us today. To better understand this entertaining work, I would recommend the 1991 Phanes Press edition, translated by Joscelyn Godwin, with excellent commentary by Adam Mclean.
Title Plate
Although printed in 1616 for the first time, The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz was actually written sometime after 1605 by Johannes Andreae. What most interests me is that, although openly published in 1616, it was released under the premise that it took place, and was written, in 1459. It can be accurately described as a fantasy book, written between 1605 and 1616, pretending to be over 150 years older than it was, using cipher to enhance it’s aura of mysterious, ancient lore. I came across the Chymical Wedding while researching the Rosicrucician connections of the people of my circle of interest, and was surprised just how immersed in this world they were. I do not hold stock in the premise that Francis Bacon was a leader of the movement (nor, of course, the discredited claims he was Shakepeare, for that matter… I am firmly a Stratfordian on that issue), but there is no doubt his works reflected some of the tenets of Rosicrucianism. In fact the work in question, The New Atlantis, reflects several principles, and some of the iconography, of that philosophy.

So of course I was doubly surprised to find that one of this circle, Andreae, was not only a follower of the tenets of the movement, but also claimed to be a writer of one of the chief documents. Years later, Andreae referred to this work as a “ludibrium” of his youth. A controversial statement which has been interpreted in several different ways. I won’t go into all of them here. To learn more about Andreae and Bacon’s possible roles and motivations relating to Rosicrucianism, do not miss reading Francis Yates’ The Rosicruician Enlightenment.

And then, like Bacon, Andreae wrote his own utopia, Christianopolis. And also, like Bacon, he was very interested in the workings of cipher, and used it as a vehicle in his Wedding, to reinforce the aura of secret and important lost works. Of course Bacon used the premise of mysterious writing in his New Atlantis for much the same purpose. In Andreae’s case, he was in contact with Duke August of Bruswick-Luneberg, the self-titled Selenus. From a description of the 1649 collection of Andreae’s writings, Seleniana Augustalia:

“…contains Andreae’s remarkable and important correspondence with the house of Brunswick-Luneberg; that is with Duke August, the three sons and the daughter, [Rudolf August, Anton Ulrich and Ferdinand Albert and the princess Sibylle Ursula whose portraits grace this volume]. Included is Andreae’s poem (Lemmata Sacra). A variety of humanist subjects are discussed, history, art, cryptography, utopianism, the ‘Societas Christianae’, etc.”

Selenus was another remarkable person, in a vast ocean of such remarkable men and woman from this very intellectually rich moment in history, who seems to have influenced almost everything we know today in some profound way: from industry to religion to politics to gaming. The Duke needs his own forum for a proper showing, but for the purposes of this blog, and this investigation, suffice it to say he wrote on, and expanded, the knowledge of cipher in surprising ways. I have one of his adapted codes as a suspect for a Voynich code, and I will write on that shortly.

One Cipher From The Chymical Wedding

One Cipher From The Chymical Wedding

But for the time being, note that Andreae was fairly immersed in cipher, in Rosicrucianism (if not it’s true originator, at least, one of them), in the premise of utopia, and knew the powerful and valuable impact the aura of ancient mysteries had in pursuading people to look to his works for answers to a myriad of problems of religion, and of “science” and society. Whether or not a “ludibrium”, the works of the RC movement did draw believers, and followers, and many throughout Europe looked hopefully for the invisible disciples of the Invisible College. And, I propose, the Voynich Manuscript could be one more document of this type, also filled with cipher, meant to look older than it was, and meant to look mysterious and alien to the European circle hungry for such productions. A book such as this, a tome from the fictional island of Bensalem, would be a near parallel in intent and execution… although, so far, unreadable… to the known contemporary example, The Chymical Wedding.

Voynich f1r Closeup

Grille Experiment

June 11, 2009

Cardan Grilles, or grills of some type, have been suspected as taking a role in Voynich creation. Most famously, Dr. Gordon Rugg investigated the possibility, and discovered that the text could have been created with such a grill, and could contain gibberish. This caused a firestorm of objections in the Voynich community, and very unfairly in my opinion. Neither I, nor Mr. Rugg, knows or is declaring the Voynich to be gibberish… but if there is such possibility, it is only helpful to everyone when this is carefully investigated. No matter what the truth is, we have to be ready for it.

But this post is not about that controversy, exactly. It stems from my attempt to see if there would be a way to determine the original grill used… that is, the position of the cut-outs… by examining several pages of text created with it. The basic premise of the experiment is to determine the positions of hypothetical grill openings which would be necessary to pen a word in, then compare the positions of those openings across multiple pages. Where the openings would line up, one could assume a common grill opening. Of course this assumes several things, which in practice, may not have been done: That the same grill is used for all pages, and in the same orientation (not rotated or flipped). But perhaps if the concept is practical as I describe, there would be a way to encorporate such variables. The following is adapted from my webpage on this subject. For larger images, see the original page (recycling again! I’m all the rage…):

The first step was to mark out the positions of all words on the first six lines of two pages. If it seemed to be a workable method, I could then do entire pages. I made each box just large enough to allow for all of the characters in each word to fit, even if they went far beyond the word. To discriminate between the boxes for each page, I made one red and the other, blue. To be able to separate out the information I added and subtracted, I used additional layers in each image. Here is the first six lines of f104r:

And here are the first six lines of f104v:

And below are these two samples with the Voynich images removed:


On the blue (f104v) example, the words bent because of the folding of the page, causing their position to different than they were in reality… I excluded them for that reason, and traced lines where they had been. After getting my two word size/position examples, I merged them into one. I then moved one over the other, until I seemed to have the best alignment. Interestingly, the best match of all word sizes which were anywhere near their relative placements on both pages, was the first word:
The green rectangles are marking where the red and blue word rectangles aligned well enough to suggest a possible grille opening. I could then remove the red and blue, and I was left with the suggested grill openings:
This is just an experiment to try the method, and look for improvements. I have no reason to believe that the Voynich was created with a grille, or that such a grille would be used without rotating (as it usually is, I understand), or used with words and not letters, or that an enciphered would even use the same grill on different pages. It is just an experiment to try out the method in it’s simplest form. In this form, all it would tell you the approximate common positions of words across multiple pages, and as such, where a hypothetical grill would have it’s holes. It would not, I don’t think, tell one whether a grill was used or not. Unless, of course, the same positions, and only those positions, repeated over some larger number of sample pages.