Some people will go to any length to read a book. Kevin Knight, a senior research scientist and fellow at the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California (USC), was intrigued by an 18th century document known as The Copiale Cipher. He was curious about it because no one can read it.
Named for one of just two non-coded inscriptions in the document, this mysterious manuscript is 105 pages long and is bound in gold and green brocade paper. The manuscript consists of roughly 75,000 characters. These characters are handwritten very neatly but consist of a perplexing mix of upper- and lower-case Roman letters, along with a large assortment of more abstract symbols (see sample pages). In total, the Cipher contains 90 distinct characters, including 26 unaccented Roman letters. Adding to the confusion is the lack of spacing between words.
Dr Knight, who primarily conducts research in computational linguistics and machine translation, doesn’t have much experience in cryptography. But undeterred, he began collaborating this year with two Swedish linguists, Beata Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer of Uppsala University, with the goal to decipher The Copiale Cipher.
After a few dead-ends, the team realised that the Roman characters designated spaces between words whilst the abstract symbols contained the actual information. They also discovered that a colon indicated that the previous consonant is duplicated. After they predicted that the Cipher was an encryption of the German language and then subjected the Cipher to a word-frequency analysis, things quickly fell into place. The team could finally read the text of the Cipher.
Dr Knight and his colleagues found that The Copiale Cipher describes the rituals and some of the political ideals of a German secret society from the 1730s. They also learned that this society was fascinated by eye surgery and ophthalmology, although none of its members were practitioners.
But why should we care about a dusty old book that no one could read that was written by members of a German secret society?
"This opens up a window for people who study the history of ideas and the history of secret societies", says Dr Knight. He cites several modern examples of challenging ciphers, such as the communications from the still-unidentified Zodiac Killer to the California police in the 1960s and 1970s, and the Kryptos sculpture, located on grounds of the C.I.A. headquarters in the United States, which has been only partly decoded.
Dr Knight also points out that there are other such ancient enciphered texts, particularly the famous Voynich Manuscript, a 240-page volume that has confounded cryptographers for centuries. This document was recently dated back to the early 1400s.
"There are these books and ancient languages of real historical value that contain historical information that we just can’t get out yet, and that’s of interest to a lot of people," Dr Knight explains in the video interview embedded below. For example, historians think that secret societies played a role in revolutions, but their importance is not known at this time because so many documents are enciphered.
Sweden Recognizes Palestinian State; Israel Upset 2014 10 31
Sweden on Thursday became the biggest Western European country to recognize a Palestinian state, prompting a strong protest from Israel, which swiftly withdrew its ambassador from Stockholm.
The move by Sweden’s new left-leaning government reflects growing international impatience with Israel’s nearly half-century control of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and its blockade of the Gaza Strip. It also comes during increased ...
Fed-Backed Study: How to Brainwash Public into Fearing “Climate Change” Like Ebola 2014 10 31
$84K study seeks ways to make public fear "climate change and overpopulation"
The National Science Foundation is funding a study to determine how to brainwash the public into fearing “climate change and overpopulation” as if they were Ebola.
The NSF awarded an $84,000 grant to researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo yesterday to figure out how to make ...
Brain decoder can eavesdrop on your inner voice 2014 10 31
As you read this, your neurons are firing – that brain activity can now be decoded to reveal the silent words in your head
TALKING to yourself used to be a strictly private pastime. That’s no longer the case – researchers have eavesdropped on our internal monologue for the first time. The achievement is a step towards helping people who cannot ...
6 Million Lies 2014 10 30
“If you do not specify and confront real issues, what you say will surely obscure them. If you do not alarm anyone morally, you yourself remain morally asleep. If you do not embody controversy, what you say will be an acceptance of the drift of the coming hell.” C Wright Mills.
I need to share information I have discovered ...
Google’s New Computer With Human-Like Learning Abilities Will Program Itself 2014 10 30
In college, it wasn’t rare to hear a verbal battle regarding artificial intelligence erupt between my friends studying neuroscience and my friends studying computer science.
One rather outrageous fellow would mention the possibility of a computer takeover, and off they went. The neuroscience-savvy would awe at the potential of such hybrid technology as the CS majors argued we have nothing to ...