But the white whale of the code-breaking world is the Voynich manuscript. Comprising 240 lavishly illustrated vellum pages, it has defied the world’s best code breakers. Though cryptographers have long wondered if it is a hoax, it was recently dated to the early 1400s.
With a University of Chicago computer scientist, Dr. Knight this year published a detailed analysis of the manuscript that falls short of answering the hoax question, but does find some evidence that it contains patterns that match the structure of natural language.
“It’s been called the most mysterious manuscript in the world,” he said. “It’s super full of patterns, and so for somebody to have created something like that would have been a lot of work. So I feel that it’s probably a code.”
From NYtimes article about the Copiale cypher and its decryption.
The illustrations of the manuscript shed little light on the precise nature of its text but imply that the book consists of six “sections”, with different styles and subject matter. Except for the last section, which contains only text, almost every page contains at least one illustration.
The image above is fro the “biological” section of the book (“A dense continuous text interspersed with figures, mostly showing small naked women bathing in pools or tubs connected by an elaborate network of pipes, some of them clearly shaped like body organs. Some of the women wear crowns.”). The other presumed topics are herbal, astronomical, cosmological, pharmaceutical and recipes.
We all build internal sea walls to keep at bay the sadnesses of life and the often overwhelming forces within our minds. In whatever way we do this-through love, work, family, faith, friends, denial, alcohol, drugs or medication-we build these walls, stone by stone, over a lifetime. One of the most difficult problems is to construct these barriers of such a height and strength that one has a true harbor, a sanctuary away from crippling turmoil and pain, yet low enough, and permeable enough, to let in fresh seawater that will fend off the inevitable inclination toward brackishness. For someone with my cast of mind and mood, medication is an integral element of this wall: Without it, I would be constantly beholden to the crushing movements of a mental sea; I would, unquestionably, be dead or insane.
But love is, to me, the ultimately more extraordinary part of the breakwater wall: It helps to shut out the terror and awfulness while, at the same time, allowing in life and beauty and vitality. When I first thought about writing this book, I conceived of it as a book about moods, and an illness of moods, in the context of an individual life. As I have written, however, it has somehow turned out to be very much a book about love as well: love as sustainer, as renewer and as protector. After each seeming death within my mind or heart, love has returned to re-create hope and to restore life. It has, at its best, made the inherent sadness of life bearable, and its beauty manifest. It has, inexplicably and savingly, provided not only cloak but lantern for the darker seasons and grimmer weather.
An excerpt from a beautiful text written by K. R. Jamison. It’s an extract from her book The Unquiet Mind (which I haven’t read).
And here’s a link to the T.S. Eliot poem referenced in Jamison’s text and in the title of this post.
Continuous partial attention is that state most of us enter when we’re in front of a computer screen, or trying to check out at the grocery store with a cellphone pressed to an ear — or blogging the proceedings of a conference while it’s underway. We’re aware of several things at once, shifting our attention to whatever’s most urgent — perhaps the chime of incoming e-mail, or the beep that indicates the cellphone is low on juice. It’s not a reflective state.
—Scott Kirsner, “Are your feeds turning into too many long tails? Filter!.” The Boston Globe, June 27, 2005
Or we may cultivate a skill John Cage calls “polyattentiveness” — the simultaneous apprehension of two or more unrelated phenomena.
—Marshall Cohen, “What is dance?,” Oxford University Press, April 7, 1983
…Attentional blink. This is temporary amnesia caused by the fact that human beings are not good at looking out for two things at once. So if you ask the viewer to watch for a “target” number in a row of figures going past on a screen, they’ll spot it, but fail to notice what comes afterwards.
The amnesiac effect works with words too -unless you put someone’s name after their target word. They’ll spot it every time, report Calgary University scientists in the Journal of Experimental Psychology and Human Perceptual Performance.
—John Naish, “Narcissus: the name for us all,” The Times (London), January 13, 2007
Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. The sound of a truck at 50 miles per hour. Static between the stations. Rain.