Saturday, May 31, 2014

The mystery is the hoax

They say it's the most mysterious manuscript in the world. The 600-year-old Voynich Manuscript (Wiki and whole manuscript) has been baffling scholars for centuries and still cannot be read. Since the manuscript's carbon-dating and statistical text analysis, most agree that it was written genuinely enough. Yet it has resisted and continues to resist any traditional framework of study applied to it.

Omne ignotum pro magnifico. Every unknown thing [is taken] for great.

Under the usual assumptions of what it could be, scholars to this day hunt for hidden meaning, cosmic relevance, their favorite man-of-science, and knowledge of alchemy between pages which have yet to offer anything of the sort. But since they can make little heads or tails of the graphics or script, the general consensus is that the manuscript is a hoax by some genius of letters. Hoaxes, at least, are still interesting, despite the fact that the content generated is summed up as gibberish. With the Voynich, however, the punchline remains excruciatingly elusive.

Nevertheless, people continue to hunt for clues in the manuscript that would lead them to the author so they can "crack" the content. Where's it from? Who wrote it? Why? What, if anything, does it mean?

Most studies regarding the Voynich manuscript recall the parable of the blind men and the elephant. A linguist will concentrate on the origins and sounds of words, a historian will hunt among the biographical information of the manuscript's sequence of owners, a cryptographer will focus on the script, a mathematician will use algorithms, a botanist will study the plants, a theologian will look for a religious message, and an astronomer might hunt for constellations and galaxies. And so when reading about this work you can go from Mexico to Pakistan to the Middle East and out to space and back, and end up somewhere in Vinci, Italy. Whatever knowledge bases have been used to analyse the VM have yielded shaky results at best. Instead of stepping back and rethinking their approach, experts have gotten even more abstruse about it.

But there is another obstacle at work in nearly all scholarship about the Voynich manuscript that is so ubiquitous it is difficult for us even to see it. To begin to flesh it out, let's examine some examples of what various analysts have done with the graphics in the Voynich manuscript.

Below are the female suns from the star charts.
Here is an interpretation of the zodiac created by a researcher. In the middle is a male sun.

Elsewhere, the faces of famous astronomers like Tycho Brahe here (born about a century after the Voynich manuscript was created) have been superimposed onto those suns.
This is allegedly Tycho Brahe
with his pretty blue hair band.

Steganography and the lost boy astronomer

One rendering of f103v is supposed to be an example of steganography, whereby secret meanings are supposed to be hidden in plain sight. This page is said to contain the image of a boy astronomer gazing up at the stars. The publishers have since taken down this graphic and broken the link, and the graphic seems to be deleted from Google, so I can't pull it up for you. Nevertheless, why look for images in the cracks in the material or in the gaps between the lines, or in the stain on the right without trying to first figure out what the obvious images mean?

The Crying Game

Here below, according to a fourth and altogether different researcher, is a woman claimed to be issuing neither menstrual fluid, nor amniotic fluid, nor a child, nor afterbirth--nor anything. She's just well hung. 

A boy genius, it is speculated, didn't know that females don't have peepees. 

Let's just turn the whole thing upside-down
and make three women into an elephant.
None of these theories or approaches was made up by me. I've looked at a lot of research out there. Most of the rest of it ignores the women altogether. 

What is forcing researchers to

  • tweak the font
  • Definitely not sweating,
    blushing, or naked

  • dismiss the manuscript as an elaborate hoax
  • search among the plant leaves for a name
  • search among the stains and wrinkles and margins, or turn it upside-down...
  • revise the zodiac calendar 
  • omit discussion of a large portion of the manuscript
  • and give Tycho Brahe a sex-change?
    Why does this obstinate shoehorning continue? Because there is a favored discourse. We'll call it apple. It's as if a truckload of apple experts descended on an orange grove. They keep speaking apple and grabbing any means they can to paint the fruit on the tree red.
    Just as the discourse used to analyse it lies outside the Voynich manuscript, so the Voynich manuscript lies outside the discourse used to analyse it.
“There is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.”   ― Michel Foucault
The fields of knowledge attacking (their term, not mine) the Voynich manuscript have no framework on which to hang their research. These are ships passing in the night.

With all this in mind, I ask you to look at the graphic below and answer what may seem a really stupid question. 

Do you see the woman?

Do you know how many women are in the Voynich manuscript? The sex ratio has to be something like a hundred to six.

I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of researchers of the Voynich manuscript, however smart they are, really and truly and actually cannot see a single woman in it.

Gender bias is THE crux of why the Voynich manuscript has yet to be cracked

Here's it. You can paint an orange red all you like--you won't have an apple. If you're bent on looking for your man of letters in this manuscript, you will be hunting snark.

As it is, in order for mystery to remain about the Voynich manuscript's meaning, you have to keep assigning as little significance as possible to the naked bathing women.

You will have to continue to ignore
  • the lettering above them
  • the differences between them
  • what they are holding
  • what they are doing
  • their complexion and hair color
  • the fact that they have children with them
  • the apparel on their heads
  • their faces in the centers of the star charts 
  • that they look pregnant, all of them
  • that there are very few men depicted and, geez, how many women? Has anyone ever counted?
  • that the artwork is not male-oriented
  • and most disturbing, you must dismiss the possibility that women could be the authors.
These women were lending tremendous significance to their world in all sorts of ways, which could well be why they were erased sufficiently enough to become a centuries-old enigma.
The Unusual Suspects
Taking the mystery away from the researchers would be like taking candy from baby. You have to think about the intrigue of finding such an odd thing and wishing it had some momentous significance that would change the world. Scholars made their careers on such discoveries.

"Men have always tried to encode secrets..." begins this documentary with its eerie music and Rod Serling voice. What happens when you realize you've been beating your brow for days, perhaps months, over what, if you are a scholar of antiquity, you might well perceive as superstitious twaddle by a gaggle of semi-literate gossips? Better a man's gibberish than a woman's sense, or no? An age-old assumption continues to blind the research, most obstinately generating obfuscation.
“Frenzy of Exultations” (Szał uniesień), Władysław Podkowiński, (1893)

A prime example elsewhere

Here is gender bias at work in another artifact whose authorship has until recently gone unquestioned. Look at all the paleoMichaelangelos.

A new analysis of ancient handprints has found that women made most of the oldest-known cave art paintings. Most scholars had assumed these ancient artists were predominantly men, so the finding overturns decades of archaeological dogma.
So much for the man cave.
"There has been a male bias in the literature for a long time," said Archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University, whose research was supported by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. "People have made a lot of unwarranted assumptions about who made these things, and why."
Snow theorizes that if women were doing most of the cave art, it's possible they played a larger, more important role in how hunter-gatherer societies functioned than has been thought.

If painting, why not sculpting?

While the men were off hunting and fishing, women may also have had time to carve things not necessarily to promote fertility, nor to celebrate it nor worship it nor even to worship a single deity, male or female, earth or sky, but rather as tools to control their blood flow and to keep them company.

If these are in fact a tampon and a dildo, I rather doubt a man had a hand in their creation.

Neither are these "mysterious" objects used for warfare, hunting, or construction.
They are blown-up models used for making intricate beads (2 cm) that served
in ritualistic, trade, and adornment capacities.
Hardly anyone is unfamiliar these days with the equal pull of gender bias going the other way, which deem such objects sacred. In the interest of mystifying these objects toward sociopolitical or religious gain, the call to search for any pragmatism behind them can often get ignored. I don't think that serves women. I don't think it serves science. Postmodernism is a vortex of cultural appropriation with little to no basis in hard fact. I hold to the suspicion that through their male and female and animal deities the ancients worshiped timeliness. Period. My main goal here is to bust through some long-held assumptions to where it's entirely possible for women throughout humankind's story to be creators: painters, sculptors, bards, illustrators, herbalists, calendar-makers, and writers. It's entirely possible they could have created the Voynich.

Here is an article that in one way targets this bias, which is very old and alive and well: History podcasters occasionally mention women, butthurt dudes complain it's "all women".

Comprehensive Coherence

There are three major obstacles to cracking the Voynich. First, most people are clinging to a dead-end transcription alphabet that yields drivel like qchedy qokain cheeky lokeedy yched qokain. I don't know why. They have a mental block about the handwriting. Second, I don't think even the Finnish want to deal with Finnish, let alone what's most likely a Balticized, extinct dialect that's blended with Old Norse. Third, and here's the one that will probably get the most goats. Why hasn't the Voynich been cracked? Because grant money received to study the Voynich is not received contingent upon actually making real progress on the thing. Rather, this manuscript is known throughout the land as the quintessential unsolvable mystery. Hence, the "great" Voynich mystery is not only a cash cow but one that won't run out any time soon. Why not? Gender bias has caused centuries of blindness so that the myriad women, what they're doing, wearing, holding, or trying to say gets utterly lost under volumes of irrelevant references and explanations brought on by wishful thinking. I would say maybe one twenty-fifth of the scholars who have received funds to work on the Voynich care to understand what it's actually about. Far more of them would rather stake their reputations on it being an elaborate hoax made up of gibberish (or at the very least, some alchemical tome by an exceptionally quixotic rabbi.)

What I have not anywhere seen much of is someone looking at the manuscript as a whole and making connections between the pages so that there is coherence. What might the star charts have to do with the caves and the words? What might the tie be between the implements held and the plants? Why so much water? What explains the whole, comprehensively, with no tweaking, no hunting for secret code, but just taking the manuscript as it is, the whole of it?

This is not me, but I really like her look.
I don't know if anyone will ever know the language in which the manuscript was written. The script and tongue are obscure. That much is agreed upon. So to try to read words is like diving into a linguistic shark tank. However, the visual elements are far less obscure. If this blog gets you for just one moment to consider that the women depicted in this manuscript are not a minor element to it but rather a central key, then it will have done its job.

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1 comment:

  1. I stumbled onto an article about the Voynich Manuscript online. Got intrigued and just looked at the whole thing online. I looked at just a few pages and was convinced that this manuscript was created by a woman or women. Just pure gut but I'm pretty darn sure it was all woman. Wish I was a researcher, would love to look into it.