For more than 200 years, this book concealed the arcane rituals of an ancient order. But cracking the code only deepened the mystery.
The master wears an amulet with a blue eye in the center. Before him, a candidate kneels in the candlelit room, surrounded by microscopes and surgical implements. The year is roughly 1746. The initiation has begun.
The master places a piece of paper in front of the candidate and orders him to put on a pair of eyeglasses. “Read,” the master commands. The candidate squints, but it’s an impossible task. The page is blank.
The candidate is told not to panic; there is hope for his vision to improve. The master wipes the candidate’s eyes with a cloth and orders preparation for the surgery to commence. He selects a pair of tweezers from the table. The other members in attendance raise their candles.
The master starts plucking hairs from the candidate’s eyebrow. This is a ritualistic procedure; no flesh is cut. But these are “symbolic actions out of which none are without meaning,” the master assures the candidate. The candidate places his hand on the master’s amulet. Try reading again, the master says, replacing the first page with another. This page is filled with handwritten text. Congratulations, brother, the members say. Now you can see.
For more than 260 years, the contents of that page—and the details of this ritual—remained a secret. They were hidden in a coded manuscript, one of thousands produced by secret societies in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the peak of their power, these clandestine organizations, most notably the Freemasons, had hundreds of thousands of adherents, from colonial New York to imperial St. Petersburg. Dismissed today as fodder for conspiracy theorists and History Channel specials, they once served an important purpose: Their lodges were safe houses where freethinkers could explore everything from the laws of physics to the rights of man to the nature of God, all hidden from the oppressive, authoritarian eyes of church and state. But largely because they were so secretive, little is known about most of these organizations. Membership in all but the biggest died out over a century ago, and many of their encrypted texts have remained uncracked, dismissed by historians as impenetrable novelties.
It was actually an accident that brought to light the symbolic “sight-restoring” ritual. The decoding effort started as a sort of game between two friends that eventually engulfed a team of experts in disciplines ranging from machine translation to intellectual history. Its significance goes far beyond the contents of a single cipher. Hidden within coded manuscripts like these is a secret history of how esoteric, often radical notions of science, politics, and religion spread underground. At least that’s what experts believe. The only way to know for sure is to break the codes.
In this case, as it happens, the cracking began in a restaurant in Germany.
For years, Christiane Schaefer and Wolfgang Hock would meet regularly at an Italian bistro in Berlin. He would order pizza, and she would get the penne all’arrabbiata. The two philologists—experts in ancient writings—would talk for hours about dead languages and obscure manuscripts.
It was the fall of 1998, and Schaefer was about to leave Berlin to take a job in the linguistics department at Uppsala University, north of Stockholm. Hock announced that he had a going-away present for Schaefer.
She was a little surprised—a parting gift seemed an oddly personal gesture for such a reserved colleague. Still more surprising was the present itself: a large brown paper envelope marked with the words top secret and a series of strange symbols.
Schaefer opened it. Inside was a note that read, “Something for those long Swedish winter nights.” It was paper-clipped to 100 or so photocopied pages filled with a handwritten script that made no sense to her whatsoever:
Arrows, shapes, and runes. Mathematical symbols and Roman letters, alternately accented and unadorned. Clearly it was some kind of cipher. Schaefer pelted Hock with questions about the manuscript’s contents. Hock deflected her with laughter, mentioning only that the original text might be Albanian. Other than that, Hock said, she’d have to find her own answers.
A few days later, on the train to Uppsala, Schaefer turned to her present again. The cipher’s complexity was overwhelming: symbols for Saturn and Venus, Greek letters like pi and gamma, oversize ovals and pentagrams. Only two phrases were left unencoded: “Philipp 1866,” written at the start of the manuscript, and “Copiales 3″ at the end. Philipp was traditionally how Germans spelled the name. Copiales looked like a variation of the Latin word for “to copy.” Schaefer had no idea what to make of these clues.
She tried a few times to catalog the symbols, in hopes of figuring out how often each one appeared. This kind of frequency analysis is one of the most basic techniques for deciphering a coded alphabet. But after 40 or 50 symbols, she’d lose track. After a few months, Schaefer put the cipher on a shelf.
Thirteen years later, in January 2011, Schaefer attended an Uppsala conference on computational linguistics. Ordinarily talks like this gave her a headache. She preferred musty books to new technologies and didn’t even have an Internet connection at home. But this lecture was different. The featured speaker was Kevin Knight, a University of Southern California specialist in machine translation—the use of algorithms to automatically translate one language into another. With his stylish rectangular glasses, mop of prematurely white hair, and wiry surfer’s build, he didn’t look like a typical quant. Knight spoke in a near whisper yet with intensity and passion. His projects were endearingly quirky too. He built an algorithm that would translate Dante’s Inferno based on the user’s choice of meter and rhyme scheme. Soon he hoped to cook up software that could understand the meaning of poems and even generate verses of its own.
Knight was part of an extremely small group of machine-translation researchers who treated foreign languages like ciphers—as if Russian, for example, were just a series of cryptological symbols representing English words. In code-breaking, he explained, the central job is to figure out the set of rules for turning the cipher’s text into plain words: which letters should be swapped, when to turn a phrase on its head, when to ignore a word altogether. Establishing that type of rule set, or “key,” is the main goal of machine translators too. Except that the key for translating Russian into English is far more complex. Words have multiple meanings, depending on context. Grammar varies widely from language to language. And there are billions of possible word combinations.
But there are ways to make all of this more manageable. We know the rules and statistics of English: which words go together, which sounds the language employs, and which pairs of letters appear most often. (Q is usually followed by a u, for example, and “quiet” is rarely followed by “bulldozer.”) There are only so many translation schemes that will work with these grammatical parameters. That narrows the number of possible keys from billions to merely millions.
The next step is to take a whole lot of educated guesses about what the key might be. Knight uses what’s called an expectation-maximization algorithm to do that. Instead of relying on a predefined dictionary, it runs through every possible English translation of those Russian words, no matter how ridiculous; it’ll interpret
as “yes,” “horse,” “to break dance,” and “quiet!” Then, for each one of those possible interpretations, the algorithm invents a key for transforming an entire document into English—what would the text look like if meant “break dancing”? The algorithm’s first few thousand attempts are always way, way off. But with every pass, it figures out a few words. And those isolated answers inch the algorithm closer and closer to the correct key. Eventually the computer finds the most statistically likely set of translation rules, the one that properly interprets
as “yes” and as “quiet.” The algorithm can also help break codes, Knight told the Uppsala conference—generally, the longer the cipher, the better they perform. So he casually told the audience, “If you’ve got a long coded text to share, let me know.”
Funny, Schaefer said to Knight at a reception afterward. I have just the thing.
A blindfold that allows the wearer to see, worn by members of the society who wrote the “Copiale” cipher.
A copy of the cipher arrived at Knight’s office a few weeks later. Despite his comments at the conference, Knight was hesitant to start the project; alleged ciphers often turned out to be hoaxes. But Schaefer’s note stapled to the coded pages was hard to resist. “Here comes the ‘top-secret’ manuscript!!” she wrote. “It seems more suitable for long dark Swedish winter nights than for sunny California days—but then you’ve got your hardworking and patient machines!”
Unfortunately for Knight, there was a lot of human grunt work to do first. For the next two weeks, he went through the cipher, developing a scheme to transcribe the coded script into easy-to-type, machine-readable text. He found 88 symbols and gave them each a unique code:
became “lip,” became “o..,” became “zs.” By early March he had entered the first 16 pages of the cipher into his computer. Next Knight turned to his expectation-maximization algorithm. He asked the program what the manuscript’s symbols had in common. It generated clusters of letters that behaved alike—appearing in similar contexts. For example, letters with circumflexes (
) were usually preceded by or . There were at least 10 identifiable character clusters that repeated throughout the document. The only way groups of letters would look and act largely the same was if this was a genuine cipher—one he could break. “This is not a hoax; this is not random. I can solve this one,” he told himself. A particular cluster caught his eye: the cipher’s unaccented Roman letters used by English, Spanish, and other European languages. Knight did a separate frequency analysis to see which of those letters appeared most often. The results were typical for a Western language. It suggested that this document might be the most basic of ciphers, in which one letter is swapped for another—a kid’s decoder ring, basically. Maybe, Knight thought, the real code was in the Roman alphabet, and all the funny astronomical signs and accented letters were there just to throw the reader off the scent.
Of course, a substitution cipher was only simple if you knew what language it was in. The German Philipp, the Latin copiales, and Hock’s allusion to Albanian all hinted at different tongues.
Knight asked his algorithm to guess the manuscript’s original language. Five times, it compared the entire cryptotext to 80 languages. The results were slow in coming—the algorithm is so computationally intense that each language comparison took five hours. Finally the computer gave the slightest preference for German. Given the spelling of Philipp, that seemed as good an assumption as any. Knight didn’t speak a word of German, but he didn’t need to. As long as he could learn some basic rules about the language—which letters appeared in what frequency—the machine would do the rest.
Eventually we turned to the last items in the Oculist trove: nine copies of a four-page document written in a mixture of old German, Latin, and the Copiale’s coded script. The message was more or less identical in every set. “Die Algebra,” it said at the top of page one, a primer on the “old way of calculating.” Rows of cipher letters lay beneath. The document seemed to add them up as if they were numbers. The third page mentioned the Jewish Cabala—the mystical system in which meaning is derived from the numerical value of letters.
It would appear that the Copiale symbols don’t represent just words and letters, they stand for numbers too. But if they do, Knight, Megyesi, and Schaefer haven’t been able to tease out the meaning. The Oculist master apparently understood these coded documents in a way that today’s interpreters do not. Despite years’ worth of attacks on their cipher, the Oculists’ secrets have not been pried loose, at least not fully. What they saw in their initiation chambers may never again be seen.
The Language Mysteries – Unsolved
Throughout time, language has been the best method of communication between one or more individuals. The exchange of words and information has given us a great deal of understanding of the past, present and the future events of mankind. Our insight into society’s culture, ways of life, history, and evolution all came to us through the beauty of verbal communication. One of the reasons why we humans are still evolving is because of the advancement in the dialects we have.
However, language as comprehensive as it may be has not liberated many of the mysteries of our past. There are certain texts, manuscripts, and books from different civilizations that have hindered our attempts in understanding the truth as they are written. Many riddles in speech or words were devised intentionally by authors or dead writings that scholars have no means of deciphering.
From murky religious texts, unbreakable codes, mystic books and incomprehensible manuscripts, the following are the most notable language mysteries that remain unsolved up to this day.
The Liber Linteus or the Linen Book of Zagreb has the only surviving written example of the Etruscans, a civilization that prospered in Italy before the rise of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century BEC. The Liber Linteus is considered the world’s longest and oldest Etruscan document.
It is also the only known text in linen. According to experts, most of the Liber Linteus writings were removed from female Egyptian mummies. The linen writings were later made into a book in the 19th century.
The Liber Linteus has 230 texts and 1200 words, which remain mostly unsolved due to the uncertainties that shrouded the Etruscan language. Scholars believe that some of the writings are of an Etruscans religious ritual. However, most of the riddles of manuscript are unexplained.
The Voynich Manuscript is one of the most controversial and mysterious books of all with a strange and unknown language. The texts written within her pages are in a tongue nowhere to be found in any other part of the world. Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia bought the document in the 17th century for 600 gold ducats in the in the 17th century, a tremendous sum. The reason of his extravagant purchase is yet another mystery!
According to carbon dating of the book, it could be dated to Italy during the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century, between 1404 and 1438. The book has 235 pages however 240 additional pages are missing. It is full of unknown plants, strange astrological charts, nude women and living cells that looked as if they were observed under a microscope.
Many have tried to decipher Voynich Manuscript since World War I and II, but no one was successful in decoding the true meaning of the hidden alphabets. Some say that the book is entirely a hoax, but this notion has not been confirmed.
448 paper pages with almost 42 letters, 200 different symbols, and 87 illustrations are comprise the intriguing Rohonc Codex from Hungary. Prime Minister, Count Battyany presented it to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1852 for review.
According to many paleography scholars and experts, the Rohonc Codex is somewhat religious in nature due to the illustrations depicted uniquely for Christians, Hindu, and Islam. However, most of the book is still unresolved because of the oddity of the texts that were written from right to left, with a mix of runes and old Hungarian characters.
Language is often more than texts, illustrations, and symbols or a combination of these things. Pure pictographic writings are also part of our language history. One great example is the hieroglyphics of Egypt, which is similar to our next linguistic mystery, the Rongorongo pictographic tablet.
The Rongorongo was found in the island nation of Rapa Nui or also known as Easter Island. It appears the outside world did not influence the pictographic writings on the wood and stone tablets due to the isolation of the Easter Island. With this assumption, researchers believe that the Rongorongo offers a untouched and unique conception as to the origin of languages. Remarkably, scientists have not translated any of the glyphs and symbols of the Rongorongo. Some theorize that the glyphs are simply ornamental decorations, but the discovery of a lunar calendar tablet of Rongorongo forced investigators into contradicted this claim.
Dead Sea Scrolls
Religious manuscripts are part of the great language mysteries of the world, and arguably the best example would be the Dead Sea Scrolls. From 1956 to 1946 the discovery of 981 ancient writings with the eleven Qumran caves near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea shocked the modern world.
Studies suggest that the manuscripts date from three centuries BCE until the 11th century CE. The texts are significant to Jewish religion, and some have been included in the Hebrew Bible canon. However, the origin of the scroll is still under debate. Some scholars believe that the scriptures came from a Jewish religious sect called Essenes; others repute that the Dead Sea scrolls were from Sadducees, Pharisees, or Zealots.
These are just a few of the many language mysteries in the world. Thousands of texts, manuscripts, and books are out there that remain unsolved to this day. Scholars, experts, historians are still doing their best to decipher every linguistic mystery that might be our only way to unveil the written secretes of the past.
Mystery of three-fingered skeletal remains discovered
They have largely been dismissed as a hoax by the scientific community,
And yet, it seems, conspiracy theorists are still fascinated by the ‘three fingered mummies’ with elongated heads that were found in Peru last year.
Now, one Russian ‘expert’ claims he has done DNA tests to prove they are not human.
Dr Konstantin Korotkov, a professor of Computer Science and Biophysics at Saint-Petersburg Federal University believes the mummies are ‘aliens’.
Dr Korotkov is no stranger to controversy. He was widely criticised in 2008 when he claimed to have created a camera that could photograph the human soul.
One of the mummies, known as Maria, was found by a team led by controversial Mexican journalist Jamie Maussan in early 2017.
The conspiracy group drew attention to the body’s deformed head and elongated fingers in a short documentary on the discovery.
Dr Korotkov of Saint-Petersburg University said at the time the features were not a deformity and that the find was ‘another creature, another humanoid.’
Now Dr Korotkov his team claim to have undertaken genetic tests on tissue samples taken from the mummy, as well as a second individual found nearby named Vavita, Sputnik News reports.
They said the bodies date back to about the 5th century AD and could be extraterrestrials or cyborgs.
But British alien expert Nigel Watson, author of the UFO Investigations Manual, said the finds are most likely a hoax.
He told MailOnline: ‘I think the whole saga of finding these mummies is laughable and they are very probably fakes.
‘The new evidence does indicate the Maria is human, the only strange thing is that she has an unusual rib structure. This is probably because she is a so-called bone montage made by fakers.
‘If you think about it how would humanoid aliens with three long fingers survive? They would be incredibly clumsy and it seems doubtful they would be capable of making a cup of tea let alone a flying saucer.
‘It also doesn’t look good that this Earth shattering news was originally fed to us via a website you have to subscribe to, rather than through officially recognised scientific channels.’
Nick Pope, who used to investigate UFOs and other mysteries for the Ministry of Defence, and is a leading expert on conspiracy theories, told MailOnline he also doubted the validity of the find.
‘All these stories of mummified aliens – or mummified human/alien hybrids – are either fake news, or misunderstandings of normal human variation, perhaps where something has been lost in translation,’ he said.
‘In this case, I suspect a hoax, and the ‘mummy’ looks more like a plaster model than anything else.
‘If this was real, we’d be seeing peer-reviewed articles in magazines such as Science or Nature.’
The group claimed that Vavita was nine months old when she died and Maria was an adult woman, leading them to believe they were mother and child.
Dr Korotkov said: ‘Tomographic scans reveal their skeletons. The tissue has biological nature and their chemical composition indicates that they are humans.
Their DNA features 23 pairs of chromosomes, just like we have. They appear human but they are not. Their anatomic structure is different.’
The paranormal researcher added that the individuals’ rib structure is different to that of humans as the bones are keel-shaped in the upper part and the rib cage consists of semicircular ribs.
Dr Korotkov has previously stirred controversy when he claimed in 2009 that he had invented a camera that can photograph the soul.
Continue reading: http://www.dailymail.co.uk
Will Science Ever Be Able to Solve the Deepest Mysteries of Our Existence?
If you’ve been following us for awhile now you probably already know that this topic is somewhat of an obsession. The sad part is as time goes by it becomes more apparent (just as this article eludes to) that ALL the answers will likely never be revealed to us, but since we cannot be certain that this is true, we carry on… and perhaps that is where ‘hope’ was born.
via Daily Galaxy:
“What are we, really? For most of our history, religion has given us the answer. We are immortal souls, children of a loving god, striving to reach heaven or nirvana. Most modern scientists reject these religious explanations, but they cannot agree on an alternative. They have proposed a bewildering variety of answers to the question of what we really are. We are clusters of neurons awash in chemicals, genes shaped by natural selection, egos keeping a lid on ids, software programs, nodes of information in a cosmic web, quantum wave functions.”
Is science infinite? Can it keep giving us profound insights into the world forever? (writes John Horgan in Scientific American) Or is it already bumping into limits, as I argued in The End of Science? In his 2011 book ‘The Beginning of Infinity’ physicist David Deutsch made the case for boundlessness –tha nothing worth understanding will always remain a mystery.
At a meeting I just attended in Switzerland, “The Enigma of Human Consciousness,” another eminent British physicist, Martin Rees, challenged Deutsch’s optimism. At the meeting scientists, philosophers and journalists (including me) chatted about animal consciousness, machine consciousness, psychedelics, Buddhism, meditation and other mind-body puzzles.
Rees, speaking via Skype from Cambridge, reiterated points he made last month in “Is There a Limit to Scientific Understanding?” In that essay Rees calls Beginning of Infinity “provocative and excellent” but disputes Deutsch’s central claim that science is boundless. Science “will hit the buffers at some point,” Rees warns. He continues:
There are two reasons why this might happen. The optimistic one is that we clean up and codify certain areas (such as atomic physics) to the point that there’s no more to say. A second, more worrying possibility is that we’ll reach the limits of what our brains can grasp. There might be concepts, crucial to a full understanding of physical reality, that we aren’t aware of, any more than a monkey comprehends Darwinism or meteorology… Efforts to understand very complex systems, such as our own brains, might well be the first to hit such limits. Perhaps complex aggregates of atoms, whether brains or electronic machines, can never know all there is to know about themselves.
Rees’s view resembles mine. In The End of Science I asserted that scientists are running into cognitive and physical limits and will never solve the deepest mysteries of nature, notably why there is something rather than nothing. I predicted that if we create super-intelligent machines, they too will be baffled by the enigma of their own existence.
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