Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: human nature

What we don't know drives us

To understand why amateur and professional cryptanalysts alike have not given up on the Beale ciphers after hundreds of years, the reader must refer back to a quotation in the beginning of The Code Book. Singh so appropriately referenced John Chadwick in saying, "The urge to discover secrets is deeply ingrained in human nature."

I believe the intrigue behind the Beale Ciphers is not as much motivated by the promise of literal tons of gold, but by the natural desire to discover the unknown. The prospect of an unbreakable code, that has duped some of the brightest minds of the past century, not only challenges, but insults those who feel the inclination towards discovery. It is the push for a higher understanding and a greater knowledge.

I experienced similar feelings at young age. As I was riding the subway in New York City on vacation with my family many years ago, I realized I could not understand anything being said around me. The car was packed with people of different ethnicities and backgrounds and the melting pot of tongues fascinated, as well as frustrated me. I had a desire to listen and understand. While none of what was being said around me were actual secrets, they were to my english only vocabulary.

I believe the reason I choose to study languages in school, is the same driving force behind cryptanalysts pursuit of the elusive Beale Ciphers. To some ignorance is bliss, but to most of us it is a constant nagging of what we lack in understanding.

 

 

 

 

Human Nature versus Cryptography

Do you know how many people think they are smarter than everyone else?
94%. -- Or at least this was the case in 1977, where professors said they were above average in relation to their peers.

When we rate others, we recognize the circumstances and characteristics that govern other people’s actions but when we think of ourselves, we overestimate our ability to do things. This is called the optimism bias and could be the main reason why people still continue to try to break the Beale Ciphers even though thousands of expert cryptanalysts have tried and unsurprisingly, failed to do so. This is because we think we are ‘not like everyone else’ and are somehow unconstrained by the same factors which affect other people’s realities. This is obviously false because we are humans, just like everyone else. Another innately human attribute, as well as the optimism bias, is the quest for everlasting life.

While many people throughout history have not been able to find the special elixir, also known as the fountain of youth, we can live on past our death in other ways. We can do this in the same way that Jesus, MLK or more aptly, Beale did – by changing history. And in effect, we will become immortal. And what better way to become immortal than to break an incredibly difficult, some say impossible, cipher that may have a prize of a cool $42 million?

There are a variety of reasons why we would try to break a seemingly unbreakable cipher, and most of them are due to our very nature as human beings. Whether it be our optimism bias, our longing for immortality, or even our curiosity, these are innate qualities and so, I would not be surprised if 100 years from now people still continue to attempt to solve the Beale Ciphers.

Reference:

LiveScience.com. 2013. Everyone thinks they are above average. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/everyone-thinks-they-are-above-average/. [Accessed 19 September 2017].

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