Posts Tagged ‘mystery’


The pages of the Voynich Manuscript, estimated to have been written between 1404-1438, have puzzled researchers for over a century.

by Michael d’Estries

The 600-year-old book no one can read has been fascinating us for decades, but we’re only recently starting to learn more about it.

Named after the Polish-American bookseller Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912, the Voynich Manuscript is a detailed 240-page book written in a language or script that is completely unknown.

Some folks have labelled the Voynich Manuscript as nothing more than an ancient hoax, including Gordon Rugg of Keele University in the U.K., who has spent more than a decade studying the manuscript. Rugg writes in a 2016 paper that the text would be easy to fake if the author was familiar with simple coding techniques. “We have known for years that the syllables are not random. There are ways of producing gibberish which are not random in a statistical sense,” he told New Scientist. “It’s a bit like rolling loaded dice. If you roll dice that are subtly loaded, they would come up with a six more often than you would expect, but not every time.”

But other researchers don’t necessarily agree. In a 2013 study published in the journal PLoS One, Dr. Diego Amancio, a professor at University of São Paulo’s Institute of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, explained how the book’s beautiful gibberish is likely an actual language.

“We show that it is mostly compatible with natural languages and incompatible with random texts,” he writes. “We also obtain candidates for keywords of the Voynich Manuscript, which could be helpful in the effort of deciphering it.”


Deciphering it with artificial intelligence

More recently, Greg Kondrak, an expert in natural language processing at the University of Alberta, used artificial intelligence to try to crack the code. With the help of his grad student, Bradley Hauer, Kondrak used samples from “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which was written in nearly 400 languages, running algorithms to identify the language of the text. Although they hypothesized it was written in Arabic, it turned out the most likely language was Hebrew.

The researchers hypothesized the manuscript was created using alphagrams, where the letters of a word are replaced in alphabetical order. With that assumption, they tried to create an algorithm to read the text.

“It turned out that over 80 percent of the words were in a Hebrew dictionary, but we didn’t know if they made sense together,” said Kondrak, in a statement.

After being unable to find Hebrew scholars to confirm their findings, the researchers turned to Google Translate. “It came up with a sentence that is grammatical, and you can interpret it,” said Kondrak, “she made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people. It’s a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript but it definitely makes sense.”

Without historians of ancient Hebrew, Kondrak said that the full meaning of the Voynich manuscript will remain a mystery.


The beautifully illustrated plants that fill up the pages of the Voynich Manuscript have never been accurately identified.


Bringing the puzzle to the people

It may seem far-fetched, but this famous manuscript could become a bestseller.

Siloe, a small publishing house in Spain specializing in handcrafted replicas of ancient manuscripts, in 2016 was granted the exclusive rights to create 898 facsimiles of the Voynich.

“It’s a book that has such an aura of mystery that when you see it for the first time, it fills you with an emotion that is very hard to describe,” Juan Jose Garcia, the editor of Siloe, told AFP.

No ordinary scan-and-print project, the Voynich replicas will be meticulously crafted to match every “stain, hole, and sewn-up tear in the parchment,” according to the news agency. The publishing house has even created a secret paste and aging process to make the more than 200 pages of the book appear and feel indistinguishable from the real thing. The process is expected to take a full 18 months to complete.

Siloe had reportedly been petitioning the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale, which took possession of the Voynich in 1969, to publish a replica for the last 10 years. The library finally acquiesced after both an increase in scholarly interest in the Voynich and quality assurances from experts associated with previous rare manuscript copies completed by Siloe.

“We thought that the facsimile would provide the look and feel of the original for those who were interested,” Raymond Clemens, curator at the Beinecke library, told the AFP. “It also enables libraries and museums to have a copy for instructional purposes and we will use the facsimile ourselves to show the manuscript outside of the library to students or others who might be interested.”


A work of curious art

Besides its indecipherable characters, the manuscript is also crammed with illustrations of astronomical charts, human figures, and plants, the latter of which have never been positively identified as anything found on Earth. These puzzles have led to the manuscript being classified as everything from the work of aliens to the musings of an inter-dimensional Medieval sorcerer.

Whatever the true answer, you don’t have to shell out the expected $8,000 to $9,000 cost for an exact replica. In addition to offering high-res digital scans of the Voynich pages online, Yale is selling hardcover copies for $50 that include accompanying research on the manuscript.

You can also view a digital overview of the 250 pages of the Voynich Manuscript in the video below.

https://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/blogs/publisher-replicate-600-year-old-Voynich-manuscript

A woman wearing men’s clothing and claiming to talk directly with God wouldn’t seem to be committing capital crimes.

But in the 15th century, she certainly would have been.

These offenses play a part in the legendary history of Joan of Arc, the teenage heroine who led giant armies to fight against the English during the Hundred Years’ War. She was eventually captured, tried for her crimes, and burned at the stake at the age of 19.

But in modern times, would she be convicted of her crimes on the basis of an insanity plea?

According to a jury of about 200 physicians, forensic psychologists, lawyers, judges, and medical students, the future saint would have been acquitted.

Apparently, having visions of other saints is a sign of mental instability, not heresy.

“She was not mentally responsible for what she had done, as in she was delusional,” Dr. Philip A. Mackowiak, a Carolyn Frenkil and Selvin Passen History of Medicine Scholar-in-Residence at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Mackowiak founded the Historical Clinicopathological Conference, held this year at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Davidge Hall, the oldest medical facility in the country continuously used for medical education. While similar groups meet to discuss current cases at the university, every year they choose one historic case to dig into.

In 24 years, they’ve covered cases including Beethoven (syphilis), Florence Nightingale (bipolar disorder with psychotic features), Christopher Columbus (HLA-B27-related reactive arthritis), and Charles Darwin (cyclic vomiting syndrome).

At this year’s conference, held last week, they dug into a case memorialized in tempera paint and currently hanging in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

What Disease Shaped ‘Christina’s World?’

In Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 painting “Christina’s World,” a woman lies in an open field looking toward a house in the distance.

The woman depicted in the painting, Anna Christina Olson, was a friend of Wyeth. She suffered from a mysterious disorder that slowly degraded her ability to walk, so she’d make her way around the grounds by pulling herself along with her hands.

She was later confined to a wheelchair and died in 1968 at the age of 74.

What exactly was the cause of her symptoms?

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), according to Mayo Clinic neurologist Marc Patterson.

CMT, named after the doctors who discovered it, is a group of inherited disorders that affect the peripheral nerves, causing symptoms that include loss of muscle and fine motor skills. It remains incurable and one of the most common inherited neurological disorders.

To reach his diagnosis, Patterson reviewed not only the painting but also what was available of Olson’s medical records from what little biographical information her nieces wrote about her.

“This was a fascinating case,” Patterson said in a press release. “This painting has long been a favorite of mine, and the question of Christina’s ailment was an intriguing medical mystery. I think her case best fits the profile of this disease.”

Piecing Together Historical Health Records

Besides Patterson and the rest of the conference’s expertise, the symptoms were checked using a super computer located at Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, which confirmed the diagnosis.

It also affirmed the previous year’s case, Oliver Cromwell, the English monarch who died in 1658. His undoing was a combination of malaria and typhoid fever caused by a salmonella infection.

Mackowiak takes pride in selecting the case and keeping it under an air of mystery before each year’s conference. The cases are often given vague titles, yet he says most people figure it out before they convene.

Beethoven was “The Sound That Failed,” and Alexander the Great was “Death of a Deity.”

Who was “The Greatest Tragedy in the History of Music?”

No, not Prince, David Bowie, or even John Lennon. It was Mozart, who died of acute rheumatic fever.

Another part of the mystery is that these historical House M.D.s rarely have full autopsy reports or even a single medical record for their subjects, so there is quite a bit of detective work. That only adds to the fun.

In the case of Booker T. Washington, researchers found his great-grandson, who is a physician and helped find Washington’s great-granddaughter. She gave them access to his medical records.

While syphilis was first suspected as a potential cause of death, a blood test done at Rockefeller Hospital in New York City tested negative.

In 2006, the clinicopathological conference determined the slave-turned-advisor to the president died of nephrosclerosis and hypertensive cardiomyopathy. In other words, the man worked his heart to death.

Other cases had to be decided on what was written in the legends.

In the case of Pericles, dubbed “the first citizen of Athens,” researchers went off of descriptions of what happened during the plague that also claimed his sons and first wife.

“To say we provide shocking new information would be an exaggeration,” Mackowiak said.

Mackowiak provides more information on these cases in his two books, “Post-Mortem: Solving History’s Great Medical Mysteries” and “Diagnosing Giants: Solving the Medical Mysteries of Thirteen Patients Who Changed the World.”

For him, every case, every conference meeting highlights how although doctors believe what they’re doing right now is correct, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will look back and see how wrong they were.

“There is no perfect knowledge,” Mackowiak said. “You do the best with what you have.”

http://www.healthline.com/health-news/medical-researchers-solve-historic-deaths#6