The Voynich Manuscript
The Voynich Manuscript is an ancient manuscript that nobody has been able to decipher. Gordon showed that the manuscript could easily have been produced as a meaningless hoax, with no code involved.
The Voynich Manuscript in brief:
- Discovered by Wilfried Voynich in 1912
- Bizarre illustrations, and text in an unknown script
- Written on vellum carbon dated to about 1420
- Resisted decipherment; nobody knew whether it was a code, an unknown language or a hoax
- It appeared too strange to be a language, but too complex to be a hoax
- Gordon showed in 2004 that it could have been hoaxed using low-tech methods
Why we tackled it
Gordon and Jo had developed a method called the Verifier approach, which was designed to find errors in experts' reasoning about difficult problems. We needed a case study on which to try out our approach.
The Voynich Manuscript was a good test case because it had been studied by expert codebreakers and linguists for ninety years, but had never been deciphered.
Gordon started with a "light" version of Verifier, and within a few weeks had found key mistaken assumptions in previous research. He also found a way of replicating the unusual features of the manuscript's text using low-tech ancient techniques.
His conclusion was that the Voynich Manuscript's key features could be explained as the products of a hoax that produced meaningless gibberish.
His work was published in the journal Cryptologia in 2004.
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