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VMs: Re: Is an "o" always an "o"?
At 20:59 18/10/02 -0700, DANA SCOTT wrote:
I am curious at to what the general consensus is concerning the Voynich
"alphabet"? Can we say that each "character" (symbol, glyph, etc.) always
represents the same "character" wherever it appears in the manuscript.
Here's how I think the character set is concealed.
In the only other place that "4" / "4o" appears on its own, it's used as a
verbose mechanism to confuse decoders between glyphs, letters, and the
You see, in Tristano Sforza's 1450 cipher, "c" <--> "4", and "s" <--> "4o":
so, if you then take a frequency count of the text (separating "4" and "o"
into two apparently different letters), you'd find that "4" had a high
frequency - but it actually corresponds to a lower frequency letter ("c").
You might then guess that "o" maps to "s", but that "4" was a null (which
it isn't). Or that "4" maps to "s", and that "o" was a null (which is
closer, but also wrong).
In the VMS' code/cipher, I believe that this too is the basic misdirection
mechanism, only extended just a little further than the above. In the same
way that its numbers are probably hidden (as steganographically concealed
Roman numerals), so I believe its non-code-book letters are probably hidden
as pairs of letters (whose partial alphabet overlaps).
This points to letter-pairs (like EVA <ar>, <as>, <or>, <os>, etc) quite
possibly being individual letters (or perhaps pairs like "ch"). Certainly,
this might comfortably explain many apparently odd features of the text.
I believe that this helped keep the VMS within one of its main design aims
- which was that its apparent alphabet should have approximately 22-24
characters. This would mean that the proto-cryptologists of the day would
try to decode it as a simple monoalphabetic substitution cipher, when in
fact it was much cleverer than that.
If you believe my dating (of 1450-1460), then you should also accept that
few would have used a simple monoalphabetic substitution cipher then in the
belief it was secure - everyone knew that these could be cracked without
great difficulty, and the cipher "arms race" of the century (to build an
uncrackable code) was in full swing. In the terminology of Thomas
Homer-Dixon, privacy was a technological "ingenuity gap", crying out for
The genius of the VMS, then, is not that it *is* a simple cipher, but that
it *disguises* itself as a simple cipher. :-)
So: to answer your question (finally)... I think that an "o" is always an
"o", but that each probably represents only half a character in the
underlying character set.
Cheers, .....Nick Pelling.....