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Old 05 November 2007, 02:20 AM
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Richard W Richard W is offline
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 25,881

I think this is a good example of overanalysis. It would be far easier to make something like this - with no inherent meaning - than to extract a definitive meaning from it. If you made it with no inherent meaning, then it would be extremely unlikely (not to say impossible) that somebody could extract a convincing definitive meaning from it.

From the article:

One problem with the earlier hoax theory is that, as will be shown, certain word statistics (Zipf's laws) found in the manuscript are characteristic of natural languages. In other words, it is unlikely that any forgery from 16th century would "by chance" produce a text that follows Zipf's laws (first postulated in 1935).
That's not a problem with the "hoax" theory - it's a misunderstanding of the idea of "laws" and "statistics". If this guy Zipf managed to analyse language statistically and show up certain patterns on a formal basis, then anybody who was paying attention could have noticed similar patterns on a less formal basis, and built them into the imagined script. They wouldn't even have necessarily had to be consciously thinking about it - just literate and intuitive. Formalizing these things is far harder than making an "intuitive" approximation to them. Laziness really pays off sometimes.

(eta) I'm using a lot of inverted commas - the "hoax" part was probably the most relevant, though. To me, a hoax implies something that's set up deliberately to fool people for some sort of (financial or otherwise) gain. I can see somebody making this just for fun; it doesn't have to be a hoax to be meaningless. Although I'm sure it would be tempting to take the piss out of all the people who would seize on it as something significant.

(eta again) I think that the Scientific American article was where I previously read about it, Silas - a friend gave me a copy when I showed him the Codex Seraphinianus.

Last edited by Richard W; 05 November 2007 at 02:29 AM.
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