[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
Re: VMs: Viola tricolor
Polite as always.
Nick Pelling wrote:
At 11:07 25/05/2004 +0100, William Edmondson wrote:
Ignotum per ignotius
AKA "the unknown explained by the still more unknown" (i.e. "sorry,
but your supposed explanation didn't move me forward one jot").
Actually I meant precisely what the phrase means. We really don't know
what the VMS is, why, where, how, who, when....???? and we do know that
some of the images are reminiscent of things we do know, but not good
representations of those things. So, to explain these ignorances on the
basis of conjectured possibilities like steganographic images is indeed
to explain the unknown on the basis of the still more unknown.
Mysterianism, snake oil and pixie dust are all not far behind. :-)
Short digression: here in VMsLand we discuss neither *episteme* ("that
which can be known with certainty"), nor *the unknown* ("that which is
not known at all") but instead *uncertain knowledge* ("unreliable [but
possibly correct] knowledge").
Assuming that the plant pictures are there solely for identification
purposes doesn't make that assumption true - it remains one of a large
number of actively-backed VMs-related hypotheses and conjectures, none
of which (despite strenuous efforts) has yet been confirmed or
refuted. All of which is a bit of a pain, but there you go. :-o
Yes - but the conjectures have varying degrees of plausibility in terms
of human behaviour - and we are forced, lacking other evidence, to take
that sort of 'if it were me' perespective - not as license to be
freely imaginative, but simply to attempt to recover the possible
contexts of the creation and purpose of the artefact. Occam is
valuable, as ever, to keep plausibility as a filter for conjecture.
Incidentally, I never suggested the images were FOR identification,
merely that they were bad enough to be misleading and that could be
dangerous. The simplest assumption is that they do represent stuff
(plants, as that is where we were focussed, but no doubt other things in
the other sections). We don't know anything about for whom they are
putative representations - a minimal conjecture is 'for the originator'
(there is plenty of evidence that in the 16th/17th C, for example,
people wrote aides memoires, personal notebooks, experimental records,
accounts of meetings.... not with any obvious 'audience' in mind other
However, the quality as represenations is so poor (this we can assert)
that even the originator might get confused. The images are
unrecognisable - so perhaps that is what they are meant to be? Not
because they are crafted contortions with hidden meaning but simply
because the are meaningless. So, if that works, then the purpose must
be to be suggestive of meaning, and of possibly privileged knowledge,
but actually to be content free.
Even to conclude the VMS is a hoax is not to understand it. THAT is a
challenge (how done, why, where, who, when...... ???).
But take care - I'm not saying it IS a hoax, merely that that is the
most probable. To my mind the least difficult ( :-) ) place to start
to try to find meanings might be the labels - isolated 'words' for
images. A compilation of all possible names (various languages) for
each of all the possible interpretations of the labelled items would be
a sensible way to start to look for meanings in the text, if there are
any. Why? simply because this exploits what little we think we might
know of meanings (possible identifications of plants).
So, to get specific, take f9v and the 'viola' and construct a list of
all names for such a plant and its relatives in various parts of Europe.
Strictly speaking viola tricolor is not southern european in
distribution - but one could include some names.... but this is only
useful if somewhere in VMS there is a label for such a plant (I'm not
sure there is for that particular plant - but you get the idea). Any
language you think is likely then get the name in that language, formal
names, familiar names, etc.
Surely someone did all this already?
So, what do we do with the 'sunflower' (I forget the folio - but it's
recoverable) when it is known that this didn't reach Europe until
somewhat more recently than the supposed likely period for the VMS?
Finding terms/words won't get you anywhere. So, ignore it and try
others (going the route which says, for example, that the Ming dynasty
naval explorations might have brought knowledge of sunflowers to some
parts of Europe in 1421 or thereabouts is fun, but ultimately so
unconstrained that you can't keep focussed on the artefact).
And the artefact - there again there is a serious problem. How many
people on the VMS list have actually been to the Beinecke and
seen/handled the VMS? a few no doubt, but not many. We have poor
copies of copies of........ sufficiently distorting of the artefact
that some of what we discuss is fanciful. We end up piling conjecture
on wish on dream on fancy on rumour .....
The VMs has two main aspects - a cryptographic side and a historical
side. I contend that we will have to understand both of them in order
to resolve its mysteries - but this means we must integrate both
certain and uncertain knowledges into our repertoires.
We don't actually know it has a cryptographic side, actually. We know
that we cannot find meaning. We suppose there is meaning and this leads
to a cryptographic quest. It could be that there is no meaning. The
historical side is relevant to both options.
The "Ionian Enchantment" is Gerald Holton's term for the idea that
everything is reducible to (the logic of) science: yet this only
posits one type of knowledge - episteme, certain knowledge. Is it
really the case that we can, for example, "do history" (where evidence
is often fragmentary and deceptive), but relying only on certain
knowledge? I think not.
Absolutely - but historians are trained/schooled in techniques of
interpretation which are founded in understanding of the human
condition, and which permit/license interpretations which have strong
plausibilities. To be sure, biases get worked in (and out by the next
generation) but the process is not uncomfortable or problematic. My
concern with VMS is that we can indeed use some logic/science to ensure
that we don't multiply explanations beyond the data given. We can also
borrow modes of thought from anthropology and psychology and distributed
cognition and wherever if they yield less elaborated (more plausible)
accounts of processes, artefacts... Certainty is not part of it,
really, in any true/false sense; we are concerned about something
involving more judgement and skill.
You seem to be an expert at solving problems using cognitivist
thinking and methodologies, and have decided to apply that skill to an
intriguing historical mystery. Good for you - but please understand
(a) that the kind of certainties this kind of mindset typically relies
upon are in desperately short supply here (we're not even sure what
the alphabet is, nor if our transcriptions capture all the nuances
we'd need); and
I too have pointed out that the alphabet poses problems. But think - if
we are unsure of the alphabet then start with small units plausibly
self-contained in meaning (labels). Taking longer units leads to an
explosion of possible alternatives (witness attempted solutions and the
recent discussion about the significance of spaces).
(b) that we are swimming in a sea of overlapping (ie, not all mutually
Not sure about this. There are more certainties than might appear, I think.
But - we can surely agree on one thing. When the colour images become
available the speculations will start up all over again, but more
Cheers, .....Nick Pelling.....
To unsubscribe, send mail to majordomo@xxxxxxxxxxx with a body saying:
Dr William H Edmondson
School of Computer Science
University of Birmingham
Edgbaston B15 2TT
Voice - +44-121-414-4763
email - w.h.edmondson@xxxxxxxxxx
To unsubscribe, send mail to majordomo@xxxxxxxxxxx with a body saying: