The Voynich Manuscript

even as a little kid, i was always freaked out by things that don’t make sense. my worst nightmares had nothing to do with monsters under the bed or bad guys chasing me around with a jagged knives. i mean i had those dreams. they just weren’t that scary. i knew my enemy. but the unknown, that was a different story. i can still remember one of my scariest. i was cleaning my room. (i am a neat freak and apparently took this obsession with me to dreamland.) after putting the last thing in place, i step out. i find a sock lying there outside the door. i turn around to put it back, open the door, and freeze frame terror. everything single thing is out of place. dresser drawers are open. clothes are scattered everywhere. furniture is askew. just thinking about it gets my heart pounding because i remember that feeling, that paralyzing fear that this couldn’t be and yet it is. i was afraid to even imagine what could’ve caused it. any answer would be sure to have these awful and profound implications for existence itself. still to this day, questions without answers, things that just plain don’t make sense, nag at me like nothing else. and well, its hard to find something that makes less sense than the voynich manuscript.

the voynich manuscript appears to be a 240 page handwritten herbal, dating to the 15th century. the dating of the paper and ink are pretty sure-fire. nothing else is.

a page from the astrological section

almost every page is illustrated and its these drawings that are suggestive of a european herbal. the manuscript seems to be divided into six different chapters :

  • herbal, with a drawing of one or two plants accompanied by text
  • astronomical, with what appear to be suns, moons, stars, and constellations
  • biological, with dense text and figures
  • cosmological, with more circular drawings
  • pharmaceutical, with roots, stems, and other labeled plant parts
  • recipes, with short paragraphs and bullet points

and now it gets weird…

the herbal chapter? yeah, its got pictures of plants. two have been identified with a fair amount of certainty. the rest don’t look like any existing plants. in fact, a lot of them look like crazy composites of a bunch of different plants. the roots of one, the flower of another, the leaves of a third, all stitched together. the biological chapter is filled with images of small naked women in tubs or bubbles with tubes running out. and while the astronomical section has a few pictures which seem to correlate to the zodiac, none of the other images match up with any astronomical model of the time.

a page from the herbal section

so this is when you’d just take a look at the text and that’d be that…except the text is utterly indecipherable. it resembles european alphabets of the time, but makes sense in none of them. it runs left to right and is broken into paragraphs and bullet points, but has no punctuation. it appears to be written fluidly as though the author was well-versed in the language. and in some ways it mirrors a natural language. certain letters must appear in every word, like vowels. some words appear often in one section but not in another. but in other ways, its puzzling. some words appear up to three times in a row and there are a surprising number of words with just a one letter difference. despite many attempts, no one has been able to crack it, langauge or code.

the theories are endless. some suggest a later date for the manuscript though the dating seems to be pretty solid. some think its a 15th century hoax with nothing meaningful to be gleaned from it at all. but it seems too complex a hoax for the time. (like, for instance, the language displays natural patterns that were not recognized until the 20th century, but would be almost impossible to happen on by chance.) similarly, the theory that it is an encoded document sounds good, except that all attempts to decode it using the cryptography of the day seem destined to fail…and more complex codes don’t seem to fit the historical picture. its been postulated that it is some non-european language, maybe east-asian, written with a european alphabet. but there is nothing solid suggesting asian medicine or imagery. glossolalia has even been suggested. to this day, countless people are trying to figure this thing out and no one has.

and while boring to most and interesting to some, this is the kind of thing that totally sends shivers down my spine. seriously, what the hell is this thing?!


My Kid’s Brain

having a kid changes your life instantly. every day you’re having these profound realizations about your child or yourself or humanity or whatever. i’d say its the best and cheapest therapy out there. and one of the craziest things about watching a kid develop from a single cell to a little person is getting an up-close view at how that little brain develops.

my oldest son is almost 2 1/2 now and he has this odd habit. i dont know if its just my kid. i mean i assume this must actually be the way all brains worked and that its not just my son. out of blue sky he will do something that is miles ahead of where he should be developmentally. just once. on purpose. then he wont do it again for months, which in baby time is like a lifetime. and then he’ll develop the skill on a slow upward path as you would assume any skill would be learned. like, here’s an example. when my son was 10 or 11 months old, he hadn’t said a word…not even the accidental babble that sounded like mama or dada. kid just wasnt a big babbler. which is what made it so obvious when he opened his mouth and said ‘buff’ clear as day right as i was moving his favorite stuffed animal, buffalo, toward him. um, what?! i was psyched. here comes the rush of words, the flood of language, that supposedly comes gushing like a mega-tsunami as soon as they get started. but no. not another word for another three months. seriously. wtf? and then none of those words were buffalo. just your basic mama dada stuff. so really now, what was that ‘buff’ all about?

number 9, number 9, ...

another crazier example? ok this time my son was probably a little over a year. i spent every day of his life by his side so i feel pretty damn confident when i say he didn’t really know shapes. not the names of the them and definitely definitely if you had two circles and a square, he couldn’t match the circles together. he  just wasn’t there yet. well one day my husband and i are lounging on the couch and my son totters out carrying a foam piece with the number nine on it. fine. he’s always bringing us random shit. well, then he totters back into his room and comes back out with the nine from his floor mat. i look at my husband like well thats weird. but they were both green and foam so it could have been either of those things. or more likely, a coincidence altogether. i go back to what im doing (let’s ignore that in this story i sound like a totally inattentive parent) only to watch this kid totter back out with a different puzzle piece, this one also having a nine on it but smaller, less obvious, not green, not foam. um what?! this freaked us both out. one of the puzzle pieces came from a set with 20 pieces, the floor mat had like 30, and same with the foam letters and numbers so the odds that he just picked these out without making a connection are kinda astronomical. but i swear to you, he had never shown any signs of being able to do something like this even on the easiest scale and wouldn’t again for another couple months.

big digger, mama...and then continues to scribble aimlessly for another month...

this kinda stuff happens often with my son. and it makes me think a lot about brains. i always assumed those jump-out-of-the-bathtub apple-on-the-head eureka moments were a load of shit. i mean, come on, really? but now, i dont know. i mean how do we learn? when we’re trying to pick up a skill whether its a mental one like algebra or a physical one like playing an instrument, it sure seems like a long, drawn-out, climbing-a-mountain kinda process. and that makes sense. every time we practice, the pathways in our brain are getting strengthened and then we can maybe just do a little more next time until over time the whole neat trick is second nature. so what can explain these sudden leap-frog epiphanies? i mean are all these things i see in my son really coincidence? i’m with this kid 24-7. i probably already have an inflated sense of how crazy smart he is. am i just not giving him enough credit? or is something really suddenly clicking, the right neural path accidentally lining up, only for him to lose it and spend months trying to find it again?

seriously, what is going on in these brains of ours?!


im not really a jump-on-the-bandwagon kinda girl but here i am at home with some time on my hands and a computer. it would be kinda stupid of me NOT to start blogging, right? well im not entirely sold but im giving it a whirl. of course, once i decided to ramble on, i had to decide what type of totally pretentious blogger i would be. i cook so i could go that route; im at home with two young boys so i could do one of those mommy blogs; im an american studies major so im sure i could do something with that…but blogs that i read are not really blogs i wanna write. so here is my just-pulling-outta-the-station post about awkward shit that makes me laugh or crazy weird things that keep me up at night. first stop, bloop, the most recent thing to keep me from drifting to dreamland during that super critical moment when i realize both my husband and my baby are asleep.

and so here’s the deal. the united states navy set up a hydrophone array during the cold war to listen for any soviet subs. since then, the US national oceanic and atmospheric administration (NOAA) has been using these systems to listen to pods of humpback whales play freeze tag or mega-earthquakes or some shit like that. but every once in a while, they hear something really nuts. like bloop, which is this ultra-low frequency, super powerful hiccup. this noise was picked up on sensors 5,000km apart, so that’s pretty crazy loud. way louder than a blue whale. loud like maybe an earthquake or a huge part of antarctica falling off into the ocean or something. and in fact, there’s been a bunch of these unexplained sounds that seem to have environmental answers…like one called slowdown, which reoccurs a few times every year and matches up to sound spectograms of friction. they think that’s probably the sound of shifting ice. but bloop, orignating in the pacific ocean off of the southern tip of south america, doesn’t match up with the audio profiles of man-made sounds like subs or bombs or geological ones either. this one sounds distinctly…animal. some crazy ass undiscovered animal that burps loud enough to be heard half way across the pacific.

Colossal Squid Caught in 2007: Scientists think this guy is a smaller one. No lie.

now seriously since its only been heard during the summer of 1997, im kinda thinking that’s a pretty long vow of silence for the animal kingdom…but we’ve all heard those statistics about how little of the oceans have been studied. and you only have to check out a picture of the humpback anglerfish or a video of a pack of humboldt squid cannabalizing one of their own to know that what we do know is scary as hell. so its certainly not outta the question that some kind of haunt-your-dreams mega kracken is down there just waiting for us to really start exploring.

and i call bananas on that shit.