A beautiful 15th century manuscript discovered in an Italian monastery in 1912 has long been thought to be a baffling hoax. Recent scientific discoveries, however, indicate that what many thought to be gorgeous gibberish may actually be some sort of ancient code. From New Scientist
Now Marcelo Montemurro of the University of Manchester in the UK and colleagues have analysed the text using a technique that pulls out the most meaningful terms. "We decided that's ideal to use in this mysterious manuscript," Montemurro says. "People have been discussing and quarrelling for decades about whether it's a hoax. This would be a new approach."
Their results support the idea that Voynich text really does contain a secret message.
Rather than looking for patterns in the words themselves, Montemurro's method looks for more global patterns in the frequency and clustering of words that might indicate meaning. "The results that we get looking at these things cast a new light on the content of the volume," Montemurro says.
The method uses a formula to find the entropy of each term – a measure of how evenly distributed it is. For a given term, the researchers determined its entropy in both the original text and in a scrambled version. The difference between the two entropies, multiplied by the frequency of the word, gives a measure of how much information it carries.
The method recognises that words that are particularly important will appear more frequently, as well as making a distinction between low-information words like and, which you would expect to be sprinkled evenly throughout, and high-information ones like language, which might only appear in sections dealing with that topic.
So what’s it all mean? Maybe nothing we’ll ever understand:
Montemurro now hopes to analyse other information-carrying sequences that are not necessarily language, such as DNA or perhaps even neural signals. This might help geneticists home in on the most valuable stretches of DNA and reveal whether different parts of the brain "speak" to each other in a code.
"But [the Voynich manuscript] does have a fascination, because for one thing, there's no closure," Rugg admits. "It's like the most interesting whodunnit ever, and somebody's ripped out the last three pages."
The full piece is here