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Re: Cipher vs Language
I agree that it is well worth including the flora of China in our quest for
the facts concerning the contents of the VMS, especially since there are so many
plants that are indigenous to the region. From what I have seen so far it is my
impression that there are many wonderful and fascinating plants to be found in
China. It is no wonder that there has been such a long history of herbal
medicine in that part of the world.
Jorge Stolfi wrote:
> > [stolfi:] Still, it is strange that people find the Crypto
> > Theory more likely than the Chinese Theory. Scores of
> > professional and amateur cryptographers have tried to crack the
> > "code" for almost 90 years, and have made absolutely *zero*
> > progress. Worse, the crpto camp cannot even explain away the
> > many arguments that point to the VMS *not* being a code.
> > [Glen:] I had an instant "gut reaction" to this, until I
> > realized that this is simply your gut reaction to people poking
> > at Chinese all the time.
> Email is a great tool for making enemies, it seems. I am sure that you
> would have none of that "gut reaction" if you heard me say that in
> person --- say over a pizza and beer. (Not even if you had to pay for
> the pizza. 8-)
> I am still too aware of my own glass roof to poke fun at other
> people's efforts. I wrote that as a statement of fact, and I am
> puzzled indeed.
> No matter whether it is Chinese or code, the VMS text has many
> peculiar properties that have become known over the last 2-3 years:
> the word-length distribution, the word frequency-rank relation (Zipf
> plot), the internal token structure, the similarity between labels and
> text words, and so on. These properties impose certain constraints on
> the encription method (if code) or on the language (if plaintext).
> Those constraints appear to have ruled out all plausible encryption
> systems, except for codebook; just as they appear to have ruled out
> all plausible natural languages, except monosyllabic ones.
> I am aware that many quite reasonable people, like Glen and Philip,
> find a non-European origin so unlikely /a priori/ that they would
> rather believe in impractically complicated codes, Byzantine decoys,
> and secretive communities of herbal conspirators, just to avoid it.
> That's OK. My spiel about "Human Rights and Bayes Theorem" was
> meant to be humorous, but not in the least condescending: I *do*
> believe that /a priori/ probabilities are a matter of faith and
> "gut feelings", not science, and should be respected as such.
> Still, I had expected that the crypto camp would at least take notice
> of those very real constraints, and either try to find holes in them,
> or start discussing the codebook theory in earnest, or start looking
> for other encryption schemes that would meet the constraints. But
> while there were some attempts at the latter (such as Gabriel's "daiin
> daiin" code and Rene's sorted-letter anagrams), they apparently
> weren't followed up. It would seem that the cryptos who are still
> working on the manuscript have simply ignored the existence of those
> constraints, and that some are still pursuing character-based cipher
> schemes that simply *can't* be right. Shouldn't I feel disappointed?
> > I guess to you Crypto is one of your favorites [shooting
> > targets]. Why else would we have "crypto-kooks",
> > "crypto-wierdos", and other slanderous terms that group a
> > certain set of philosophies into a single derisive label?
> Please note that I have NEVER used these terms. Even though I don't
> find criptography a particularly exciting field, I do respect
> "cryppies" (as I believe they like to call themselves) as much as any
> other scientists, and I admire their remarkable successes --- e.g. the
> recent exploits of Jim1 and Jim2.
> > I could easily take your own words and rewrite them briefly thus:
> > "Still, it is strange that people find the Language Theory almost as
> > likely as the Crypto Theory. Scores of professional and amateur
> > Linguists have tried to crack the "language code" for almost 90 years
> > This has every bit the validity of your statement
> Sorry, I disagree. The "scores of linguists" who looked at the
> manuscript in any depth were basically one person --- Jacques Guy.
> IIRC, Friedman's group included a linguist at first, but he dropped
> out quite early. Miguel Carrasquer was around for a few months but
> hasn't been read since. Did I forget anyone else?.
> I am a computer scientist, not a linguist. I have been playing the
> amateur linguist recently because the statistical evidence made me
> believe in the language theory --- not the other way around. And I
> don't seem to have made many converts...
> > and [linguists] have made absolutely *zero* progress.
> Not so: the language camp now has good evidence that the physical
> words (space-delimited strings) are indeed linguistic words (units of
> meaning), and that their internal structure is syllable-like. The
> possible natural languages have been narrowed to a fairly restricted
> set. Many "unnatural" properties of the VMS text have been shown to
> occur in such languages. Finally we now have a questionable but
> definite interpretation for the two symbols on f1r, which points to an
> even smaller subset of those same languages (those which used Chinese
> characters at the time). And, finally, we have a plausible
> who/why/how/when scenario which seems to be at least compatible
> with all the available data.
> > Worse, the Language camp cannot even explain away the many
> > arguments that point to the VMS *not* being language."
> This is not a fair claim. I offer the word structure, Zipf plots, and
> label structure as arguments against character-based ciphers; and the
> size of the text as argument against codebook-based ones.
> How do you get around them?
> The arguments against language seem to be (1) it can't be an European
> language because the statistics don't match, and (2) it can't be a
> non-European language because the text and illustrations have an
> obvious European look. I accept (1), but (2) is a non-sequitur (see
> > It's fair in my mind to say that the VMS has historically been a
> > hot potato no one of any credibility wanted to handle for very
> > long.
> Still, several very good cryptographers worked on it for many years,
> even decades. Those were people who had permanently established their
> credibility by breaking state-of-the-art codes, given much less data,
> in much less time. Some of them gave up when they got convinced that
> it was plain language, and thus there was no code to be broken. Others
> simply gave up in frustration at the complete lack of progress.
> > With every identification of a western plant or astronomical
> > diagram or instrument, the Chinese argument falls further in the
> > hole ... Look at D'Imperio's list of clothing worn by VMS
> > characters ...
> The Chinese Party barks back that modern professional botanists
> could not identify any strictly "western" plants (if there is such
> thing) with certainty. Neither could Georg Baresh's doctor friends ---
> even though they were presumably quite familiar with those same
> western plants AND with western herbal drawing conventions of the
> Moreover, considering *why* the modern experts failed, it is clear
> that most of the claimed "identifications" are merely "best matches":
> "ASSUMING that this is a piture of a western medical plant, which one
> would it be?" If you call that an "identification", then I demand the
> same privilege for my reading of the big f1r weirdos --- and the case
> is thereby closed.
> As for people's faces, hairdos, clothes, buildings, etc.: there are
> many examples out there proving that such details were often supplied
> by copists/translators according to their own background, rather than
> reproduced from the original book. (Consider for example all those
> European pictures of Christ as blond and blue-eyed, or the
> black-skinned statuette of Mary which is Brazil's "patron saint".)
> As for astronomical instruments: before claiming them as "western",
> you must show that they were not known in East Asia too. Which is a
> rather difficult task, considering that Chinese astronomy is old and
> vast, and much European medieval astronomy was imported from the
> Arabs, who had extensive contacts with East Asia.
> Finally, about the astronomical diagrams: I note that almost all of
> them are still without recognizable European models. Even the European
> Zodiac symbols and month names are inserted in diagrams that do not
> match the European sign/month lengths.
> On the other hand, they seem to match the Chinese agricultural year
> with 360 degrees (not 365 days), divided into "months" of 15 degrees
> (not 28/30/31 days), and starting in February.
> I would very much like to see a copy of that "Transit Star Catalogue for
> Time Determination by the Ming Dynasty scholar Zhou Silian", for
> > Okay, so it was somebody exposed to Chinese that chose to use
> > Chinese in a western herbal, without including Chinese plants or
> > characters.
> Has anyone seriously looked for Chinese plants in the VMS?
> > The system is written left to right, and the Zodiac is western.
> > Certainly Bayes gives you the right to arbitrarily ignore a
> > certain amount of opposing evidence, but I submit that this
> > information is the first evidence, the most crucial, and not to
> > be arbitrarily dismissed. ... in order to pursue a Chinese
> > connection, you must first arbitrarily ignore all the
> > pictographic and character information available that
> > unanimously suggests a western source and intellect.
> Please, the Chinese theory does *not* ignore this information, quite
> the opposite. It specifically claims that the VMS author was either an
> European, or a native who embraced European culture and set out to
> produce an European-style book. (Again, history records plenty of
> examples of this sort thing.)
> In fact, the assumption of a western or westernizing author is not
> only a trivial explanation for the western look of the VMS, but also
> provides a good explanation for why the VMS was written in the Chinese
> language but not in Chinese characters. See my recent message on that.
> > Instead he chose to base his character set primarily on mirrored
> > Latin and astrological shorthand.
> And why not? See above...
> But there are better explanations for the symbol shapes (see my
> previous reply to Nick Pelling).
> > If it were meant for a Chinese audience, shouldn't at least one
> > of the annotating decipherers have used a familiar character,
> > such as the oladaba on f116v?
> I did't get this one.
> In the Chinese theory, the VMS was most likely taken or sent to Europe
> by the author himself. Attempts at "decipherment" would have started
> only later, in Europe, after its origin had been forgotten. If the
> author was a native, the "oladabas" text may have been his
> (pathetically failed) attempt to write a "cover letter" or dedication in
> some western tongue. If the author was a westerner, <insert your
> favorite oladabas explanation here>.
> > No language I know of including Chinese requires the systematic
> > exercise of a specific mathematical rule to render it
> > intelligible.
> I suggest that you look at Gwoyeu Romatzyh (GR), an alternative system
> for spelling Chinese with Roman letters that was standardized by China
> in 1928. GR tries to encode tones without using numbers or diacritics;
> instead it uses spelling changes, as shown in these tables:
> Note that GR is different from the "old" (Wade-Giles) Chinese
> romanization system used in the West, which had "Mao Tse Tung" instead
> of pinyin's "Mao Zedong".
> If you think GR is not bad enough, please check the native spelling
> rules and the Romanization proposals for Tibetan, Burmese, Thai,
> Cambodian, ...
> Even a few hours of reading about Chinese romanization should convince
> you that (a) there are pretty good reasons to forget Roman letters and
> invent a special-purpose phonetic alphabet (as Taiwan did); (b) there
> are a zillion and one possible ways to encode syllable tone in
> writing, all of them fundametally wrong; and (c) even if we know which
> East Asian language we are dealing with, unraveling the author's
> spelling system may be harder than cracking your average medieveal
> > That you and I are discussing this subject gives question to our
> > credentials.
> One of the few - very few - advantages of being a professor at a
> second-rate third-world university is that I don't have to worry about
> preserving my scientific reputation.
> Just to give you an example, not long ago a professor at the
> Mathematical Physics department across the street found a way to send
> signals faster than light -- by a "scissor wave" method that is
> dismissed in one sentence of Feynman's textbook. He was featured on
> the cover of the university's official newspaper as "the man who
> proved Einstein wrong", and was eventually elected Dean of the Maths
> As for me, I just got a full professorship here, in spite of, or
> perhaps thanks to, the Chinese theory. (One board member *did* ask
> about that "mysterious manuscript stuff" at my examination.) Had I
> embraced the Martian Theory instead, I may have been University
> president by now... 8-)
> > I just want you to know up front why I'm going to be the one to eat
> > your pizza, so there won't be any hard feelings when I don't offer you
> > a slice. In appreciation I will do my best to learn the word "no" in
> > Chinese. :-)
> OK. I already know the word in Latin and English. 8-)
> All the best,