High tech analysis and the book nobody can read

Credit: NASA

In 1912 a man by the name of Wilfrid Voynich discovered a book, made up of 104 separate folios in a strange language, in an Italian monastery. The tomes were later carbon dated, and found to hail from the 1400s. Ever since its discovery, people have attempted to decipher this nameless, authorless book — without success.

So fruitless has the search for a cipher to the book been that it has many an expert calling fraud. But a new study of the so-called Voynich Manuscript by theoretical physicist Marcelo Montemurro and colleague Damián H. Zanette hints that the manuscript just might be the real deal, and not a bunch of gibberish.

Utilizing a series of algorithms, Montemurro's team has concluded that the manuscript does harbor meaning. The team's proof of this comes from a pattern distribution algorithm known as "entropy," which studies the complexity of any text it is given. Montemurro and his team fed sections of the Voynich manuscript into the entropy engine, along with samples of English, Chinese, the programming language Fortran and Yeast DNA.

Entropy then assigned a number to each sample based on its complexity. The higher the number, the more complex the sample was found to be. Unsurprisingly, the Yeast DNA came out as the least complex, scoring 25 points. Next lowest was the sample of Fortran, coming in at 285. But when it came to the remaining samples, scores jumped noticeably. Chinese came in at 580, English at 728 and the Voynich script topped the list at 805.

So whatever the mysterious writing of the Voynich Manuscript is, there is meaning to it. But that's still all we know. Nobody has any idea what the text has to say. Moreover, nobody has ever identified any of the strange plants that decorate the manuscript's pages. And so the mystery of the Voynich Manuscript carries on, stronger than ever. Six hundred years ago, its words were written down and, despite our greatest efforts, all we can say for sure is that they do in fact mean something. Here's hoping that in the future we'll be able to glean even more from the mysterious book's pages.

Plos One, via Phys.org

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