20. Alchemy Revisited
Alchemy was the main precursor to modern science. It was a study that utilized symbolic representations in an effort to discover truth. Carl Jung studied alchemy extensively and discovered that many of the medieval symbolic representations were expressed in the dreams of his modern-day patients. He eventually became convinced that alchemy provided the bridge between symbolism and psychology or the language of the unconscious mind.
Alchemical writings typically involve complex diagrams that some have titled "gibberish" or unintelligible. The word stems from the name of an Arab alchemist, Jabir ibn Hayyan. In 1912 Wilfrid Voynich, an American book dealer, purchased a rare alchemical text from a Jesuit college near Rome. It was a lavishly illustrated book 230 pages long with text that no one seemed able to decipher. A letter accompanying the book said that it had been purchased by Roman emperor Rudolph II in 1586. The exact origin and nature of the manuscript remain a mystery. No one has yet been able to decipher it. According to one author, the military code breakers of World War II spent some time after the war tackling old encrypted texts to hone their skills. They were able to decipher every one except the Voynich manuscript. Some have concluded that the text only represents an elaborate hoax, but all seem to agree that it is a document of extraordinary complexity. (See http://www.voynich.nu/; Scientific American July, 2004, p. 104)