In a world bound by laws of physics, some things are just impossible. Even when magic is involved, there are often limits.
Despite this, somehow there's someone who can do things thought impossible, simply because they do not realize that they should be incapable of the achievement. Any of the characters might occasionally be And You Thought It Was a Game, but it can be a recurring trait for a Genius Ditz or a Bungling Inventor. This trope focuses on the times the character in question achieved what he or she did largely because they had absolutely no idea that it was supposed to be impossible.
In contrast to many cartoons, which consistently (and inconsistently) apply and dismiss physics for the Rule of Funny, this trope is typically meant to occur when the act in question goes against whatever physics are firmly established within The Verse. Generally the best way to tell the difference is whether or not the Achievement in Ignorance can be lampshaded or not.
This can be played either seriously or for laughs. If for comedy, it is often The Ditz who does the undoable deed. If for drama, the character in question may be a genius or prodigy in his particular field.
This happens in Real Life, usually with things like math or physics equations and occasionally with feats of daring that the accidental daredevil hasn't been told are life-threatening. On the more mundane side of things are people learning or successfully trying things their more learned peers were taught couldn't be done.
Compare Magic Feather, which gives people confidence to do things they only think are impossible for themselves. See also Magic A Is Magic A, which the perpetrators of this trope tend to violate. May lead to a How Unscientific! moment. Compare Beyond the Impossible for impossible events or people trying to break the rules.
Related to Clap Your Hands If You Believe, in which this can quite literally be the case. Related to "How Did You Know?" "I Didn't." when the situation is not limited to physics, just a highly improbable lucky guess. Also see Too Dumb to Fool, which can sometimes be the source of this. Occasionally a Snipe Hunt may end this way.
Contrast Power Born of Madness, in which the person does impossible deeds because he no longer cares if they're impossible. Also contrast the Determinator, who tends to do this kind of thing intentionally. Compare Too Dumb to Fool, where a fool immediately sees through a lie or other treachery, and Centipede's Dilemma, where being aware of what you're doing makes it harder to do when it's not literally impossible. Compare Strategy Schmategy.
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Vince the Crash Test Dummy manages to drive - until Larry reminds him he can't - in this 1988 commercial from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Anime & Manga
Shaman King uses this to Hand Wave why it is that a bunch of kids are being sent to stop the reincarnated antagonist who has spent nearly a thousand years training in hell to become more powerful, and recently is on the verge of merging with God/The Great Spirit. Essentially, the adults have hit the barrier where they begin to realize there are limitations. The kids are too young/stupid to realize there are limitations yet.
And then Harsher in Hindsight strikes in the sequel manga, the cast has grown and DOES realize their limitation, unable to change the world in the slightest, which mean Hao wins not only the tournament but also the bet. Rosseau was wrong?
In Dragon Ball, Goku trained for the 22nd Greatest Under the Heavens Martial Arts Tournament by running around the world without using the Kinto'Un (Flying Nimbus cloud) on account of advice from Master Roshi. When asked how he got to the tournament, he said he swam from Yahhoy which turned out to be on the other side of the world from the tournament.
In Super Dimension Fortress Macross/Robotech, this was the trope that enabled the crew of the SDF-1 to perform an extreme low altitude space-fold jump, which the enemy Zentrandi thought was impossible. The humans still barely understood a portion of the alien ship's capabilities and simply didn't know that using that system so close to a planet was considered an insane move. As it is, the human's seriously overshot their intended destination of the moon to just beyond Pluto and the stunned Zentrandi are left wondering if these supposed space warfare amateurs are actually tactical geniuses.
Note that they took a good chunk of the surrounding terrain with them.
And... er, well the space-fold generator literally vanished into thin air during the jump, forcing them to take the long way home.
So, to an extent...deconstructed. There are GOOD REASONS it is thought to be impossible.
At the very beginning of Hajime No Ippo, Takamura challenges Ippo to catch a certain number of leaves falling from a tree. He expects Ippo to use both hands. Except he doesn't tell Ippo that. Ippo works his ass off to achieve the feat the same it was demonstrated by Takamura: one-handed.
Naruto and Sakura both pass the first round of the Chunin Exams by failing to realize that the written part was designed to force them to cheat without getting caught. Sakura works out the answers by hand, and Naruto leaves his test completely blank; neither gets caught cheating, so they pass. The proctor of the exam is rather amused when he sees Naruto's exam paper.
Toya Akira from Hikaru no Go is forced to play a series of blind go games while cleaning a storage room. He succeeds against the more experienced players but cannot follow the logic of the novice because he has no real strategy.
Neil Gaiman's The Sandman meets Hob Gadling, a 14th century peon who believes that people only die because they accept death as inevitable. By choosing to reject death, he believes he can live forever. Now, Hob's premise is completely, horribly wrong, but Death is so amused by his stupidity that she grants his wish. In a roundabout sort of way, this also makes him completely correct, just not for the reason he thinks. Hob ended up becoming one of Dream's few friends.
When Batgirl Cassandra Cain was fighting the Joker, Cassandra was initially losing. Cassandra is able to analyze fighting style and predict an opponent's next move, but the Joker has no fighting style - even he doesn't know his next move!!!
In Seven Psychopaths, this is the in-story rationale for recruiting a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits to assassinate Hitler— all the sane people in the military have long since dismissed the notion of assassinating Hitler as impossible, so the only ones who stand a chance of succeeding are those who are too crazy to realize it's impossible.
Tweedledope is a member of a group of villains called the Crazy Gang who can somehow create Applied Phlebotinum by just tinkering with junk. No doubt the most miraculous piece of machinery he created this way was the sentient portal-creating robot Widget.
In Mass Effect Human Revolution, Conrad Verner, resident incompetent Butt Monkey and fanboy of the main characters, assembles a huge network of freelance mercenaries, repeatedly pulls off dangerous missions, and manages to even infiltrate an enemy frigate, sabotage it from the inside by accident, and then save everyone on board the ship. How does he do this? He found an original copy of a Shadowrun sourcebook and assumed it was a historical document, and then proceeded to follow it almost to the letter, not realizing it was a role-playing game.
Jensen: Wait... give me a moment to process this. Are you telling me Conrad LARP'ed his way throughout the Terminus systems and inadvertently created a network for freelance mercenaries?
In Team 8, while on their first "mission" (cleaning and repairing an injured herbalist's home), Kurenai has a full conversation with (who she thinks is) Naruto. He slips and falls off the roof, and then...he disappears in a cloud of smoke. It was a shadow clone. The strength and self-awareness of each clone is based on how much chakra is put into the technique, which is no problem for the chakra-riddled Naruto. But no one told Naruto that ever.
Often the case with Ditzy "Derpy" Doo Hooves in fan works in general, though it seems more prevalent in fan fiction. She has been known to break the irrefutable laws of the universe, simply because she forgot it was impossible to break them.
On a more 'mundane' level, Wild, Sweet and Cool features Twilight and Rainbow Dash learning tandem racing, with Twilight as Rainbow's jockey. They do barrel rolls fine, but aileron rolls cause issues until they work out a system. Then they find out just what other pegasi think. (Or what they think of non-pegasi riders!)
Inverted in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (as appropriate for a story where clear thinking rather than ignorance is a source of power). Harry lists out all the laws of wizardry describing things you can't do, and looks for restrictions that would sound plausible to wizards ignorant of science, but make no sense from a scientific standpoint. Harry zeroes in on the law saying that you can't Transfigure parts of whole objects - because as a Muggle knows, every whole object is made of individual atoms!
A more standard version of the trope is invoked in Ch. 59, where Harry suddenly realizes that broomsticks run on Aristotelian physics - they just go where you point them, rather than continuing under their prior momentum and accelerating in the new direction pointed - presumably because the witch who invented them had never heard of Newtonian mechanics. (Which is a severe problem if you're an excellent pilot on standard broomsticks, and you've just ignited a powerful rocket, which does run on Newtonian mechanics, attached to your broomstick.)
This Means War has Harry knowing lots of impossible magic due to ignorance.
In Fate Stay/Night fanfic Nerve Damage, Shirou Emiya converted all his nerves into ad-hoc Magic Circuits prior to the story. When Rin finds out, she tells him that even attempting it should have killed him. It might well have, considering Avalon...
Starlight Over Detrot has the Detrot Tenth Librum Publicum, which is bigger on the inside only because nobody told the Architect it couldn't be.
The premise of Forrest Gump is built on this trope. Forrest is so dense that he routinely attempts things other people wouldn't even consider, and so single-minded that he puts his maximum effort into everything he does. As a result, he meets spectacular success while the skeptics are left scratching their heads.
In the movie version of Being There, this is a possible explanation for the final shot in which Chance walks on water.
In Pippi on the Run, the final Pippi Longstocking movie with Inger Nilsson as the eponymous character, this trope becomes a Running Gag. Over the course of the movie, Pippi does several completely impossible things, and then afterwards claims that the reason why she could do them was because she forgot they were impossible. The entire thing is subverted at the very end of the movie, when Pippi rides a broomstick around Tommy and Annika's house, and when Annika once again claims that this is impossible, Pippi cheerfully yells back that it's not impossible to her.
"You don't know my son, you tell him he can do something and he's going to believe you."
In Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series, the city folk say that the people on the frontier have such strong magic because they don't know they shouldn't be.
More precisely, the frontier-dwellers tend to have "Furies" that are strong, but partially-independent and hard to control; the inhabitants of the central provinces have much better control, most at the cost of raw power (The nobility are the major exception). Achievements in Ignorance is theorized as the reason for this but it's never definite; it could also be that wild untamed furies on the frontier are naturally stronger, or living on the frontier hones people's skills in ways that soft city life does not.
It's also specifically stated that doubt and uncertainty and frustration can inhibit furycrafting. At one point, a character across the ocean from Alera has a minor panic attack on suddenly remembering that theorists have asserted that furycraft is impossible on foreign shores, only to be reassured that another character has just accomplished several feats of furycraft (partly due to being too hard-pressed to remember it was theoretically impossible), and gets ordered to forget the theory.
This is the explanation given for why younger wizards in Diane Duane's Young Wizards series have more power than older, more experienced wizards — they don't know, or necessarily care about what qualifies as 'impossible'.
In Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, Milo is told, in the end, that The Quest he accomplished was, in fact, impossible. This is, in fact, the Aesop of The Phantom Tollbooth that anything is possible, provided you don't know it's impossible.
Tiffany Aching reading the dictionary cover to cover because nobody ever told her she shouldn't and Susan Sto-Helit successfully teaching seven-year-olds algebra and, when told it's too hard for them, replies that so far they haven't figured that out. It needs to be said that examples of children learning something before adults would think they're ready to learn it are probably Truth in Television. A bright child may be reading books meant for adults by the age of eight or ten, though they probably won't understand everything they read.
Bergholt Stuttley "Bloody Stupid" Johnson is such an incompetent architect and inventor that he ends up creating buildings that are Bigger on the Inside, and circles with the pi equal to exactly 3. Three of the national projects that he undertook can fit in a normal pocket. The full list is here.
In Equal Rites Esk teleports something without a counterweight and was able to do it because she didn't know it was impossible, because she hadn't been formally taught. It does, however, have consequences later.
Discussed in The Last Hero, when Leonard asks for journeymen craftsmen, rather than masters, because he has no use for "people who have learned the limits of the possible".
Susan also uses this trope when she travels back through time to ask Death a few questions about her job. The Raven uses this trope as an example of why education is actually a bad thing.
An interesting example is Lord Rust, Ankh Morpork's foremost military leader by dint of heritage; the man is a total incompetent with absolutely no tactical ability or military knowledge whatever, and does not seem to comprehend the utter futility of attacking a vastly superior force on their home ground with virtually no provisions. Whilst this has the obvious result of killing almost every man under his command, Rust is completely unharmed, even though he leads every suicidal charge from the front. By all laws of probability, he should be dead long ago. However, Rust has the unusual ability of being able to completely and subconsciously ignore anything that contradicts or is outside his extraordinarily unrealistic worldview; assuming that it simply cannot exist; including physical danger. He has been reported as charging directly at enemy lines surrounded by projectiles without being scratched, arrows have apparently changed direction to avoid him (and hitting his men). On the Discworld, sufficiently powerful belief can alter physical reality, and magic has been described as more or less ignoring the laws of physics.
Hodgesaaargh finds the newly-hatched phoenix because nobody told him that nobody had ever found one.
Cohen and his Silver Horde slaughter the Agatean ninjas because nobody told them that Ninjas were invincible. They have a history of doing stuff like this. As Barbarian Heroes they regularly do impossible things, kill impossible things, survive impossible things, and in general, are impossible. There is a reason they have all lived to be very, very, very old and still haven't retired. In fact, that last one counts as the biggest impossibility they regularly pull off. Even after they died, they didn't think they were dead and went on like it didn't happen.
In Hogfather, HEX, the UU's thinking machine, becomes a Talkative Loon after prolonged exposure to the Bursar. Mustrum Ridcully's answer is to type D-R-Y-D-F-R-O-R-G-1/2-P-I-L-L-S note Dried frog pills are used as medication for the mentally unstable into it, under the grounds that "if he can get the idea of being ill, he can get the idea of being cured." It works.
Ridcully: Seems to me that this thing believes what it's told, right? Ponder: Well, it's true that HEX has, if you want to put it that way, no idea of an untruth. Ridcully: Right. Well, I've just told the thing it's had a lot of dried frog pills. It's not going to call me a liar, is it?
In Going Postal, at the end of the initiation trial that the old postmen run for Moist, they sic several massive dogs upon him, whom he recognizes from their bark as Lipwigzer dogs — which his grandfather raised. He handles the challenge with perfect confidence by using the commands that all purebred Lipwigzers are trained ... only to learn afterwards that they were not Lipwigzers at all, but Ankh-Morpork junkyard dogs, with no Lipwig training whatsoever.
This is played seriously in The Belgariad when Garion tries to resurrect the dead colt and succeeds, something Belgarath (the first and most powerful human sorcerer) can't do. In this case, it's primarily used to show just how much sorcery depends on the sorcerer believing a feat is possible. In particular the adolescent Garion sees things as simpler than they actually are, which lets him do things that his learned elders think are too complex to be done. Belgarath notes at one point that this is also puts Garion at risk, as this sometimes results in Garion attempting things that more experienced sorcerers would know are too dangerous to try. This is also Foreshadowing, as Errand, a complete innocent, convinces the gods to bring Durnik back to life in the last book largely by not comprehending he's dead...largely.
Also subverted in the fifth book, Enchanter's Endgame, by Queen Islena of Cherek when ruling in her husband's stead. Following suggestions of a fellow queen-slash-Magnificent Bastard, she orders a priest trying to usurp power to go to the front lines or be sent to the dungeons. Such an ultimatum would be completely unacceptable behavior for the monarch, except Islena isn't well known for her intellect and is assumed to be ignorant of her apparent faux pas. Unable to counter the queen's order, his take-over not yet ready, and with no actual legal grounds to protest, the priest is sent to war.
And once the priest is there with the rest of the army, he really can't come up with a compelling reason why he should be sent home again. Especially since members of his radical sect claim to be fearsome warriors who aren't afraid of battle.
Her husband King Anheg later admits that he could never have done this because he is expected to know better.
Also, in Polgara the Sorceress, Polgara comments on Belgarath's ability to continue at any given task unrelentingly, and supposes he may be able to "store up sleep" during his long periods of rest, something she knows/believes to be impossible. Just afterwards, she decides it might be interesting to test the capacity of a human to do what seems impossible - when one doesn't know it - by convincing Mandorallen to pick himself up by the scruff of his neck.
The key to flying is "throwing yourself at the ground and missing", being interrupted mid-fall and forgetting to hit, and then — and this is vital — not thinking very hard about how you should be falling. Otherwise gravity will glance sharply in your direction and demand to know what the hell you think you're doing.
This was the method behind the invention of the Infinite Improbability Drive. By way of explanation, the theory behind finite improbability generators was well-understood by that point, and largely consisted of ensuring that probability was twisted just right to ensure an otherwise improbable result. For example, ensuring that, at parties, every particle in the hostess's undergarments simultaneously quantum-leaped two feet to the left. The INFINITE Improbability Drive was considered something of a Holy Grail for scientists, but after centuries of trying they gave up and declared that it was next to impossible to create one. An underclassman, cleaning up after one of those previously mentioned parties, realized that if it was ALMOST impossible, there must be some real possibility of it, and decided to find out what would happen if he worked out how improbable such a drive was, fed the result into a finite improbability generator, gave it a really hot cup of tea, and turned it on. Moments later, a fully functional Infinite Improbability Drive was created. Not long after that, the underclassman was lynched by the now-thoroughly-annoyed scientists.
This was a theme of Douglas Adams's works. For instance, in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, a major part of the plot revolves around a computer programmer attempting to understand why there is a sofa lodged in his staircase, which was moved up there by a pair of removal men, twisted around in every possible angle, and declared irrevocably stuck. The programmer creates a computer simulation, which determines that it isn't possible for the sofa to have been stuck up there in the first place at all. He assumes his program is wrong, but begins to wonder if he may have discovered a whole new branch of physics. (This was based on an exaggeration of a real thing that happened to Douglas Adams while he was at university.)
The Blieder Drive of Eric Frank Russell's The Great Explosion was invented in this manner. Blieder was trying to invent a magic trick, but he had no idea what he was doing, and ended up launching a penny through the roof of his house at what later turned out to be many times the speed of light.
Used seriously in the Heralds of Valdemar series with the Valdemarans, who not only are able to come up with magical solutions no one has tried before because they aren't familiar with the cultures and traditions surrounding magic, but are also able to analyze it according to logical rules because no one has told them that magic doesn't follow rules, leading to one of the Hawkbrothers' bewildered muttering "But magic doesn't work that way!"
Said Hawkbrother eventually buckles in and starts learning Magic A Is Magic A, though he struggles with it. Going from perceiving himself as a master artist with magic to a bridgebuilder with math and calculations isn't easy for him.
In Rogue Sorcerer, Aiden manages to kill six master Sorcerers as well as unintentionally put a death curse on every other Sorcerer in existence in a gambit which he had been certain would end in his failure and death.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation Q Continuum trilogy, the evil omnipotent being is more powerful than Q because he's insane and can ignore/doesn't know the limits of omnipotence.
In one of the Myst novelizations The Book of Atrus, Katherine has been secretly learning how to write Ages, and when she shows one of her books to Atrus, he patronizes her by saying something like "Good idea, but it couldn't work in practice." She just tells him to flip to the last page, where a link exists to a fully stable, torus-shaped world with one side always facing the sun, and viable life on both sides. Not only does this impress Atrus's socks off, but it fully drives home the fallacy of Gehn's way of thinking: In an infinite universe, anything that can exist, must exist somewhere.
The Graysons in the Honor Harrington novels had to work out on their own how to use most Manticoran technology. They ended up making some revolutionary discoveries from this, since part of the process included doing things no one already knowledgeable about the technology would have thought to try.
Honor herself remarks in The Honor of the Queen that the world's greatest swordsman doesn't fear the second greatest, but rather the worst swordsman because he has no idea what the idiot will do.
Graysons also are the known galaxy's experts in nuclear fission power. While everyone else had switched to fusion for safety and environmental reasons, Grayson had a very low tech base and a lot of heavy metals, including radioactives. After several centuries, this resulted in safe, reliable, cheap, and powerful fission powerplants, so effective that the Manticoran navy adopted them for their small combat ships/"fighters".
In Mickey Zucker Reichert's Bifrost Guardians series, there is a magical fortress that is so well protected by various traps that, as everyone knows, it is impossible to break into. When the main characters need to do just that, one of them leaps to the challenge, saying that he's been doing "impossible" things all his life and he's not about to stop now. As it turns out, the magic protecting the fortress gets stronger the more you believe in its effectiveness - all you have to do to get in is to believe that you really can do the impossible.
Joes World gives us Wolfgang Laebmauntsforscynneweëld, and his twin powers of lunacy and amnesia. He's, for instance, crazy enough to cover several weeks' walk by foot in mere days.
Hugh Hoyland, the protagonist of Orphans of the Sky, on learning his people's world is actually a space ship, decides to teach himself how to pilot the ship. According to all common sense of astrogation, no single person can learn the necessary skills to fly a ship by himself, especially one of the size Hoyland was on. However, because all knowledge of this common sense was never printed in text, he never realized this and thus taught himself all the skills. This was repeated later in the novel when Hoyland, not realizing the difficulty of managing a landing and the sheer danger his life is in, successfully lands his craft on a planet.
The Circle of Magic books run on this trope, particularly the four main characters weaving their powers together in the first book, and lampshaded when Niko informs Tris that the magic-seeing spell should have worn off a week after it was placed.
Niko: There's an advantage to instructing young mages: suggestion counts for so much with you four.
At the same time though, it is noted by various characters that magic (much like science in the real world) has many things still unknown about it. You just don't realize this is so until the so-called impossible happens.
In The Wheel of Time Nynaeve instinctively reinvents a form of Healing which uses all Powers instead of just Air, Water and Spirit. The Aes Sedai of the Third Age are all adamant that this is dangerous and are shocked it even works, never mind that it actually works better.
This actually seems to be a running theme in regards to the Aes Sedai, that much of what they can and can't do is limited largely by tradition. That and a massive lack of initiative and imagination. The veil of general secrecy inherent within the White Tower is to blame for much of what was lost, with certain Aes Sedai not finding students they could trust to pass their skills on to and consequently taking their knowledge with them.
In Riddle of the Seven Realms by Lyndon Hardy, the protagonists fly suspended beneath a balloon made out of lead. Astron, a demon to whom the human world's physics is new and fascinating, had simply improvised a substitute when the conveyance's original balloon was punctured by arrows, unaware that a "lead balloon" was considered preposterous by humans.
In German, an achievement made in ignorance of the inherent dangers is frequently called a "Ritt über den Bodensee" (a ride across Lake Constance). This is based on a folk legend that was turned into a ballad by Gustav Schwab, Der Reiter und der Bodensee (The Rider and Lake Constance): In a cold winter, a rider loses his way in a snowstorm and without realizing it rides across the frozen-over Lake Constance. This is something a sane person would normally not attempt because due to the size of the lake (Germany's largest) and the Rhine running through it you could not be sure that it would be safe for a rider and horse to cross all the way. It does not end well though — when he is told that he has arrived in a village on the other shore, the shock of realization of the danger he unwittingly had gone through kills him.
In the Nick Polotta book Illegal Aliens, humans are told of a (non-existent) material on their ships called "deflector plating" that is immune to all weapon fire. While the aliens are busy snickering behind their hands at the gullible humans, we go and invent deflector plating.
In David Weber and Steven White's Starfire series, the war with the Bugs results in this happening when the newest members of the Grand Alliance, just getting introduced to the more advanced tech now available to them, innocently ask why the man-portable kinetic weapons that fire projectiles at 10% light speed, carried by infantry and ground vehicles for a century and half, haven't been adapted to allow for bombardment from orbit, giving the equivalent of tactical nuclear strikes without the radiation and fallout. Alliance military researchers promptly smack themselves on the forehead and begin producing the weapon system from off-the-shelf equipment.
Foxface's death in The Hunger Games occurs thanks to this. One of the more clever tributes, she survives the Games by stealth and caution, stealing food from the other tributes in small amounts that they're not likely to notice. This backfires on her when she steals berries collected by Peeta, who isn't wilderness-savvy enough to realize that they're extremely poisonous. Katniss notes after the fact that a deliberate trap would have never worked, but Foxface had no reason to think twice about eating something that another tribute had collected for his own consumption.
In The Saint short story "The Newdick Helicopter", a Con Man sells a mark plans for a 'helicopter' (actually a gyrocopter). When the mark assembles the helicopter, he discovers it cannot take off vertically as he expected it to. Assuming he had put it together wrong, he starts tinkering with it and ends up inventing a fully functioning helicopter. (Note that this story was published in 1933, several years before the first fully functioning helicopter was built.)
"A Tall Tail" by Charles Stross tells the story of how American intelligence officials and engineers dreamed up the most ridiculously dangerous and impossible rocket system imaginablenote it ran on dioxygen difluoride and dimethylmercury and fed it to foreign agents (minus the "top secret component" that wasn't carefully leaked) in the hopes they'd actually try and build it, resulting in disastrous accidents that would affect their rocket/missile programs. The Soviets make it work.
Everfound gives us an odd variation combined with Reality Warper. The ruler of the City of Souls is sometimes known as "The Unremembering King" due to his ability to "unremember things". How this works is if the king says he does not remember something, then it ceases to exist. For example, he doesn't remember that Afterlights with red hair aren't parrots, so they sprout red parrot wings. He doesn't remember not being a powerful Mayan king, so he becomes one. As he fell toward the center of the earth he tried to save himself by not remembering there ever being a direction such as "down"—so he was teleported instantly to the only place where there is, in effect, no "down"—the center of the earth.
In The Clan of the Cave Bear, the narration states almost verbatim that Ayla could only come up with her two-stone trick because no one told her it was impossible to rapid-fire two stones from a sling.
"The best swordsman in the world doesn't need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn't do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn't prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot."
Aylee Smedry in Alcatraz Vs The Shattered Lens has the Smedry power of being extraordinarily bad at math, so that she can, for example, believe that if you have one each of the three basic types of exploding teddy bear (It Makes Sense in Context), then that's six teddy bears total. However, since she's a Smedry, there really will be six exploding teddy bears. It's implied that she uses this trope to optimize her chances of helping the team, as when the calculates that they have 5479 purple teddy bear grenades (which are the only weapon capable of killing the enemy's giant robots).
The Tamuli has a god do this: the explanation given for why the trollish method of invisibility (involving hacking up time into smaller fragments) allows you to see and hear doesn't make sense. This is realized (or noted, for people who had already heard it before) by most people discussing it, but the troll god responsible doesn't, so it still works.
Done in Dinoverse with the help of a Sentient Cosmic Force. Bertram builds a machine for the Science Fair which has a simple function - play different randomized videos on screens while hooked up to suction cups on someone's head - but he wants people to think it's showing their dreams, so he builds something massive out of junk salvaged from tech shops. Somehow it turns into a Time Machine. Later it's shown that throughout the multiverse people have been building devices that do the same thing, and Betram must repair a broken one without tools while in the body of a Dilophosaur.
At the end of Quarterdeck, Kydd earns his place in high society by inviting Thérèse Bernardine-Mongenet to a banquet hosted by Prince Edward. What Kydd doesn't (and the rest of Canada does) know is that his lady is the Prince's mistress, who isn't allowed to be with him at occasions such as the banquet.
Live Action TV
Parodied in Arrested Development when Rita walks across a pool after suggesting that Michael visit her in England by walking across the ocean, "if it's not too deep". As it turns out it's one of Gob's magic tricks illusions.
Gilligan's Island: Gilligan once flew by attaching a pair of artificial wings to his arms and flapping them until the Skipper told him it was impossible.
Discussed in an episode of My Favorite Martian, when Uncle Martin explains to Tim why he's so concerned about their landlady's new private detective hobby:
"An amateur is infinitely more dangerous than a professional. If Alexander Graham Bell had been a professional electrician, he would never have invented the telephone - he would have known it was impossible!"
In the Smart Guy episode TJ Versus the Machine, TJ beats the unbeatable chess computer Socrates by taking a lead from Mo. Mo doesn't have a clue what he's doing, and TJ realises that a computer designed to compete against expert players won't be able to formulate a strategy against random, unpredictable play.
NewsRadio has a Flowers for Algernon Syndrome episode where Matthew (a very stupid person) drinks what he thinks is an intelligence-boosting formula, and because he is so stupid and gullible he believes it works and therefore it actually does.
Quantum Leap. Children under five can see Al and the real Sam. So can animals. This was probably a case of Real Life Writes the Plot, since a director couldn't tell small children or animals to pretend that Dean Stockwell wasn't there.
Rimmer in Red Dwarf is advised to invoke this trope in the episode "Cassandra", being told that if he doesn't know enough to know that he doesn't know enough, there's no fear holding him back.
Kochanski: He's got the power of ignorance. Kryten: And with the ignorance he's got, that makes him one of the most powerful men who ever lived!
At the beginning of that season, Rimmer mentioned that anyone who couldn't fix the drive plate had to have a brain the size of a newt's testicle. Apparently, it's really, really hard to botch the job.
Married... with Children's Kelly Bundy will do this on occasion. One episode had Bud distracting her by giving her a Where's Waldo? book. She runs all over town trying to find Waldo and, at the end of the episode, he is sitting next to Kelly at the dinner table.
On Scrubs, the Todd once revived a flatlined patient... with a high-five.
Dr. Cox: Great moment, there, dumbass. It starts out with a profound misunderstanding of how the human body works, and winds up with you shattering some old man's hand.
Some winners of Sweet Genius have been primarily self-taught, and have won largely because they didn't cook by the same rules the trained professionals did, resulting in unusually creative desserts.
One chef in the infamous bone marrow challenge decorated her plate with the bone the marrow came in, not realizing Chef Ron has a thing about inedible decorations. However, the way she used it was creative enough to actually earn his praise, and she won the episode.
Basically the premise of Eureka, in a town full of the world's top geniuses the average intelligence-having sheriff often saves the day by not knowing enough about science.
Which is sometimes invoked after awhile, especially by Sheriff Carter's friend Henry Deacon since he has seen how many Eureka Moments have come from it. Henry is one of the few that doesn't immediately dismiss Carter's intelligence and treats his "dumb" questions more as teaching moments.
In one episode of Corner Gas, someone mentions Oscar's incompetence at cooking. It cuts to a scene where Oscar is standing in front of a bowl of salad, and the salad spontaneously blows up.
In the sketch "Poker Face" by Studio C, Matt somehow got to the final four of a poker tournament despite having no clue how to play the game. Or what "call" even means.
The development of X Japan and by extension much of the Visual Kei scene happened as a direct result of this trope: Yoshiki, hide, Taiji, Toshi, and Pata didn't know and didn't care that Glam Rock and Glam Metal were generally thought to be incompatible with Speed Metal and Thrash Metal, how to promote within the Japanese record label and media system of The Eighties without upsetting the applecart of the industry, and much more about how to do metal music "right," and almost all of them aside from Toshi were drunk much of the time. Somehow, this only helped them start the country's most successful and biggest-selling rock/metal band and become the Trope Namer, Trope Maker, and defining band of Visual Kei.
This is the topic of the Collin Raye song "What They Don't Know," where the narrator sees boys fishing in a tiny puddle and decides not to tell them they're not going to catch anything.
Lee Murdock wrote the song "Just Five Minutes" about a man who fell overboard from a vessel on the Great Lakes and successfully swam to shore; he commented in the liner notes that the guy was young and didn't know that you can only survive five minutes in the ice-cold waters of the lakes.
Parodied in Dilbert: A CEO with no experience is hired because "someone who doesn't know anything doesn't know what can't be done." When he goes to shake hands with the Pointy Haired Boss (who is right handed), he extends his left...
This happened in Dilbert again with Ratbert, who was told he was so stupid that he had telekinetic power.
"I have the power to watch television!"
In another series of strips, Ratbert decides to fly simply by flapping his arms. Dilbert insists it can't be done. Bob the Dinosaur gives Ratbert some advice that turns out to work, resulting in him flying near an annoyed Dilbert and remarking "This must be so embarrassing for you."
One time Dilbert tells someone from Marketing that he reprogrammed his DNA into that of a weasel's. The poor dope is so gullible that he actually starts changing!
In Garfield, Odie chases Garfield up a tree resulting in both of them sitting on a high branch. Jon immediately tells Odie that "dogs can't climb trees". Garfield's response? "It's amazing what one can accomplish when one doesn't know what one can't do."
In fact, in one of the early comics, this is how Garfield himself learned to walk on his hind legs.
And until it stuck, he'd promptly faceplant when Jon tells him it's not possible.
Schroeder can play extremely difficult piano pieces on a toy piano where the black keys are simply painted on (or are they...).
Similar to the above-example in Garfield, there was one week-long series where Snoopy and Linus climbed a very large tree to investigate a "strange creature" in Woodstock's nest which turned out to be an egg.. Eventually, Lucy came along, and Charlie Brown explained what was going on. Lucy shouted to them that dogs can't climb trees; Snoopy replied, "You're right!" before falling out with a crash.
Dino Attack RPG plays this for laughs constantly with Enter and Return. Where to begin, they firmly believe that sharks, trees, and umbrellas are appropriate equipment for surgery, successfully used a shark to revive a patient after conventional CPR and a defibrillator already failed, and in one instance after being sent on a Snipe Hunt, they managed to leave a hospital, buy a fishing pole, go to the harbor, catch a shark and get back in roughly 30 seconds.
From a Sarah Silverman routine: "Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it's a mistake. Not because they can't, but because it never would have occurred to them that they couldn't."
Steve Jackson Games' role-playing system Toon, which takes place in a cartoon universe, gives appropriately cartoony reasons for being able to do this sort of thing. If a character wants to walk off a cliff and on thin air, or breathe underwater or whatever, he can roll to intentionally try to fail an intelligence roll. If he fails, it's considered that he's too dumb to realize it's impossible. This is a reference to all the times cartoon characters do just that. It's actually considered a law of Toon Physics that gravity does not affect a character until they realize it's supposed to. This is demonstrated in an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures.
There is one instance where an ork manages to steal a spaceship and go for a joyride around the system, despite the fact the ship had no fuel. It worked simply because he didn't realize that he was running on empty.
Not only does the WAAAGH! work because they don't know the things it causes are impossible, they don't know the WAAAGH! exists, simply believing things happen the way they expect them to because they have great insight and know how things work. Trying to convince them of the truth will probably get your head bitten. This is a double-layered achievement in willful super-ignorance.
There's also the fact that this is what the Mechanicumwants the Imperium to be, at least when it comes to raw technology. Anything more sophisticated than turning a door handle or turning on a light switch is considered sacred and "beyond the mien of normal men," and that you must have faith in the Machine Spirits to do the work for you. Yes that includes the operation of career/mission/SURVIVAL critical equipment.
The Imperium does not think very highly of human lives. Those few individuals that they do decide to keep for more than a few years tend to get equipment which are on par with relics, with many of them closely studied and monitored whenever not in use.
Indeed, one of the defining conflicts of the game is between "normal" Geniuses (who know it isn't possible and do it anyway) and Unmada: Geniuses who truly believe science works according to their paradigm. Around an Unmada, it does...
Clever mages can get around disbelief by convincing sleepers that there is a logical explanation and it's not magic they're seeing. A true mage posing as a stage magician could get away with separating their lovely assistant in half for real so long as the audience stays convinced that there's a hidden trick for them to try guessing, or giving a scientific sounding technobabble handwave for an impossible device.
It works even better to play on the staggering ignorance of the general population. Things that should only work in action movies are a great way to disguise magic that static reality would otherwise reject, mainly because most people aren't bright enough to know it isn't possible. A can of hairspray and a lighter is enough to make basic fire effects coincidental, even if the resultant stream of fire outclasses any actual flamethrower in power. It is suggested that the unrealistic aspects of popular fiction are deliberate attempts to subvert the dominant paradigm.
Creating new vampiric powers in Vampire: The Masquerade is supposed to be something only very old and powerful vampires can manage. However, the weak 14th and 15th generation vampires seem to be able to do it with ease. They grew up on stories that said, for example, that vampires could fly; therefore, they managed to find the magic that let them do it, simply because they were too unimportant for elder vampires to explain to them that it was impossible.
The Jedi Knights customizable card game (which features fewer Jedi knights than you might think) has the following flavor text on Han's Modified Heavy Blaster: "In theory, you can't modify a DL-44 Heavy Blaster. No one told Han that."
Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder have Shadow Conjuration spells which summon things that function as real if the defender fails to disbelieve in them. Normally, they are used offensively, but when used defensively, the recipient has has to choose to ignore knowing that he knows it's not real in order for it to be real enough to give him or her the full benefit.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater — OK, so Snake collects various plants and animals, which he can call Para-Medic to identify. At the same time, he carries around night-vision goggles and other various things which require battery power. When he collects a species of bio-luminescent mushrooms, he assumes that because they glow, that eating them will "recharge [his] batteries." This works even though Para-Medic specifically told him it was impossible. Snake's ignorance is just that good.
In Portal 2, it's revealed that the man behind Aperture Science, Cave Johnson, was not only insane with mercury poisoning, but didn't know anything about how science actually works. It's because he didn't know the limitations of technology that his corporation created physics-breaking inventions like the Portal Gun. Considering the invention of portals was for "possible shower curtain applications", and the he said they were going to "throw science at the wall and see what sticks", this is actually quite likely. Most of the gameplay involves this exactly: finding which walls you can stick portals on!
It helped that the man didn't think his science should "stand on the shoulders of giants" and instead did everything from the ground up. Problem is this also meant his test subjects suffered a variety of known hazards.
Humans in the Disgaeaverse are already pretty damn tough in order to keep up with the various demonic invaders and/or Overlords, but most of the reasons are pretty damn rational (Cpt. Gordon is military trained, as is Jennifer, while Almaz is a guard and Sapphire a berserker). And then there's Fuka Kazamatsuri. While humans can tap into 30% of their potential without risking self-injury, she manages to tap into the full 100% when her back's against the wall... all by believing that she's in the midst of a soon-to-end nightmare despite being stone dead and a Prinny to boot! And unlike the previous humans, she has no training. She's just an Ordinary Middle School Student with a lot of ambition!
Some Pokémon, such as Bidoof, have the ability Unaware, which allows the user to ignore the opponent's offensive and defensive boosts. For example, Bidoof can inflict normal damage on an opponent that raised its defense with Harden or Iron Defense. Just through sheer ignorance.
The move Amnesia, which boosts Special Defense, seems to work this way. Explicitly stated in Pokémon Special, where Lorelei says it works by allowing a Pokemon to ignore damage by forgetting that it took damage. She implies, however, that this is a temporary thing, and eventually all this "forgotten" damage will catch up and overwhelm the Pokemon, which is a facet of the move that doesn't exist in the games.
The 15 Keys Rising has an awesome moment when Brett stopped a train by headbutting it, and walked away unscathed. He revealed he wasn't aware it hurt people, and didn't feel a thing.
One of the most amusing moments in Fallout: New Vegas has you perform successful brain surgery on Caesar with low medical skill but a Luck stat of 9 or higher.
In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Dragonborn can admit to the leader of the Greybeards that they have no idea how they are able to use the Thu'um, they just do. Arngeir explains that Dragonborn are unique in that they can instantly learn new Words of Power, which would take normal people years or decades to master, if they can even do so at all. It's around that point in the game that you stop gaining new Thu'um words easily and have to actually work for them.
Shirou in Fate/stay night was told that Projection magic was useless, so he stopped pursuing it as his primary magic and simply uses it as a warmup before he tries other types of magic. This is roughly equivalent to performing surgery on someone as a warmup to fixing a radio: Painful, dangerous, has little to do with what you're gearing up to do and something that a non expert should never do. And no one is an expert in Projection because it's seen as incredibly difficult and incredibly useless. However Shirou doesn't know this, so he basically creates matter from nothing, which is supposed to be an impossible feat even in this universe. At best, most people can only keep their projections around for a few minutes and they're of shoddy quality, but Shirou shows the ability to replicate items that never seem to disappear as well as legendary weapons. And he doesn't even realize this is amazing.
To his credit, this isn't entirely an achievement in ignorance so much as it is no one realizing how Shirou's magic actually works, or recognizing that he's doing something other than what it looks like. He has internalized a Reality Marble - basically a cheat in otherwise consistent natural law - that specializes in the knowledge and tracing of swords and sword-like weapons, though he can't properly utilize it due to his poor magecraft skills. Archer calls it Unlimited Blade Works.
8-Bit Theater's Fighter and Black Belt do this constantly. Black Belt has No Sense of Direction to the extent that he can ignore gravity, warp the Space-Time-Continuum, and duplicate himself. Fighter meanwhile, has done things such as fold portable holes into themselves and split himself into multiple Fighters in order to even out conflicting teams. Although this may be more of an achievement in poor organization than stupidity, Red Mage once survived having his skeleton pushed out his mouth because he lost his pencil and was unable to record the damage on his character sheet. Besides, as he claimed, everyone knows that skeletons are vestigial organs.
Red Mage frequently tries to invoke this trope, with various degrees of success. His approach is probably best summed up with "I know that and you know that, but I don't know that".
Vilbert (who claims to be a vampire, but is also a LARPer and probably just making it up) explains that he able to survive in the sunlight because he feels it would be an uninteresting death.
Vilbert is definitely some sort of supernatural being: after all he did survive having a bunch of organs pierced by a falling armoire.
Black Belt once held up a rope for the others to walk across over a lava pit. He then followed. When asked how, he replies, "Simple. I held up the rope and walked across, like you guys."
Thief: But... we took the rope down on this side. Black Mage: Yes, but I don't think he knows that.
Fighter survived a fall at terminal velocity by blocking the ground.
Thief: You blocked the Earth. Fighter: Why not? I can block magic, and fire, and all kinds of stuff. Thief: I hate it when the things he says that don't make sense make sense.
This trope was explicitly used by Red Mage when he told Fighter to use "make [his] swords as things unto chainsaws", the logic being that Fighter is too stupid to realize he doesn't know how to do that. It works.
Black Mage, naturally, has mixed feelings about this trope.
"What I hate about my life... Part of what I hate about my life is that it is working..."
Or the time Fighter started flying because he though they had slain gravity. After surviving an airship crash, he assumed that since falling didn't kill them, that they must have killed falling instead.
That was actually Sarda jackassing them to his cave.
In Bob and George, on at least two occasions Mega Man has undergone violence that should have killed him, and survived because he's too dumb to realize he should be dead. For example:
Ran: Mega Man?! You're still alive?! You were at ground zero of a nuclear explosion! Mega Man: Oh, that. I just regenerated like you're always doing. Ran: Mega Man, you don't have a regeneration chamber like I do. Mega Man: Well it's a little late to tell me that now.
Dave does this every time he fixes a machine in Narbonic. This turns out to be because he's a latent Mad Scientist.
In Tales of the Questor, Quentyn and his friends put together an absolutely unique magic item using techniques no-one has ever seen before. Subverted in that they're not stupid, but three sheets to the wind (in other words: drunk).
Not only were they responsible for creating perhaps the most powerful magical sword in existence from what should have been the most magically worthless enchantment training sword (think about recording over a cassette tape hundreds of times), they invented new runes to tie all the latent enchantments together, essentially revolutionizing the field.
Collar 6: No one told Laura that she shouldn't be able to reach subspace at her level without physical stimulation.
Elan has fallen into this a time or two, to the point that Daigo has theorised that Elan is of more use in a given situation the less he understands what is going on. On one particular occasion, Elan managed to invoke this trope. When face to face with his Evil Twin Nale, Nale is surprised that Elan thought he was dead. As a Genre Savvy bard, he should've known that a villain is never dead if they Never Found the Body, and half the time not even then. Elan counters that the hero alwaysthinksthe villain is dead until he shows up again.
Nale: Gah! I think I'm giving myself a migraine trying to understand the level of willful ignorance that requires! Elan: First blood: ELAN!
A rogue once managed to land a sneak attack against Haley, because he didn't realise that she had Improved Uncanny Dodge, which makes her immune to sneak attacks by characters with less levels than her. When this was pointed out, she was instantly healed of the damage inflicted.
Inverted in this strip; Durkon's attacks initially miss the goblin, but when Roy points out that Durkon calculated the attack and damage rolls improperly, the attacks and their damage are applied subsequently.
Drowbabe is able to shrug off wounds because she's under the effects of a Mage Armour spell, and has convinced herself that the spell provides damage resistance (it actually makes it easier to dodge blows).
Big Ears: Mage Armour doesn't offer damage resistance. Drowbabe: Seriously? Oh Crap. That means I actually should have taken more damage from your hit to my leg earlier. Well, that would put my hitpoints way past negative... *dies*
Minmax manages to create a sword made of Oblivion, the concept of nothingness, by toying around with a magic sword and a hole in reality. Kin theorises that the sword only continues to exist because Minmax can't comprehend the concept of Oblivion, and his ignorance might even fuel the sword and make it more powerful.
Forgath: By Herbert's dice! In Minmax's hands, that sword is insanely powerful. Minmax: Huh? I don't get it. Forgath: That's perfect! Keep thinking that way!
While not stupid by any means, Sollux from Homestuck still managed to walk out of a dream bubble and come back to life simply because he didn't realize you weren't supposed to do that. Later turns out to be an aversion as he was never fully dead to begin with, and it was perfectly within the rules to leave
Tedd's recent attempt to investigate the scientific underpinnings of magic in El Goonish Shive have revealed that this is one of the rules, at least when it comes to magical enchantments put on people. If you put a 1-hour enchantment on someone and tell them it'll last a week, it WILL last a week, simply because they don't know it's supposed to have worn off already. But it cuts both ways - tell them the magic'll wear off shortly, and it WILL, even if it wasn't supposed to. As long as they trust your word, anyway. That essentially means that being very naive and completely uninformed about magic has the potential of turning you into a magic-powered supersoldier...
Done in Melonpool when Sam, an alien dog, is writing a letter when Roberta comes along and asks how he's doing it with no thumbs. His handwriting promptly turns to scribbles before he glares at Roberta.
An octopus in Gunnerkrigg Court somehow learned to levitate because he didn't realize he was supposed to be in the ocean. Upon learning that octopuses normally live in water, he flies to the ocean, dives in, and decides that "this makes a lot more sense." But he appears to be doing dolphin-kicks with his tentacles.
Aficionados Chris he uses a toaster labeled "Retro Duo" that he bought from a hobo as a game console in his Godzilla Games review. Despite not being plugged in or have the function to play games, he can play them flawlessly.
On The Guild, it turns out that Kwan is a champion-level competitive gamer in Korea. The guildees probably wouldn't stand a chance against him, but Mr. Wiggly defeats him by using spells an experienced player would never use. Kwan didn't bother defending against them.
In Dragon Ball Abridged, Goku is able to obtain a blueberry muffin during a space voyage because of his deluded belief that there's a button which makes muffins on-board the spaceship (despite being repeatedly told earlier there wasn't one).
In the 21st episode, the power of the muffin button allows him to read minds.
It's implied later that the Muffin Button may have been actually real, since Goku finds a muffin button on Freeza's ship when Namek is exploding. The Muffin Button in Goku's pod was a leftover bit of technology from when it was one of Freeza's.
In the web series Homestar Runner, this may explain the title character's use of the "telekinetic powers/invisible arms" that the fans are still debating over. Homestar may not realize that he should be unable to manipulate objects or coat sleeves or stay airborne between two shackles in Trogdor's Dungeon in 8-Bit is Enough. However, suggesting the same of Marzipan might be pushing it.
Quite a few characters have Invisible Anatomy. It could be that the characters grew up with it, and so don't think it's unusual (or impossible).
According to the Strong Bad Email "4 branches", Strong Bad has classified a whole list of "So Stupid It's Smart-ities" Homestar has accomplished, like accidentally reciting Coulomb's Law when asked "What's two plus two?"
In Code Ment Lelouche is able to corner Clover in his G1 base and has absolutely no idea how he managed it (which he tells Clover when asked).
When engaging in a Game Grumps Vs. match, Jon often does better going in blind, which frustrates Arin to no end.
When the guys played Trine 2 on Steam Train, Ross attempted to solve any and all problems by conjuring boxes, and in so doing actually bypassed several puzzles that would otherwise have required actual problem solving. In response, the developers sent him some swag, including a certificate of excellence in the art of boxing from Amadeus the wizard.
For half of the play through of Punch-Out!!, Danny did not know that he could duck or regain health. Instead, he developed ridiculous timing skills that allowed him to exploit brief moments of vulnerability before his opponents could hit him with moves he thought were unblockable.
SF Debris: Parody Janeway is capable of solving any kind of Negative Space Wedgie by shooting it, mostly by failing to realise that they should not be susceptible to phaser blasts. This includes resolving time paradoxes with gunfire and even breaking the event horizon of a black hole, a procedure which, scientifically speaking, is about as plausible as becoming able to fly by hunting down gravity and stabbing it through the heart with a tuning fork.
Anyway Meatwad, of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, develops some rather astonishing abilities (telekinesis, teleportation, etc...) when he is told he has a new brain and loses them when he finds it is his toy rubber brain with cosmetic alterations.
Megas XLR: Coop lives by this trope; he even lampshades it in "S-Force SOS"
Zerak:Impossible! No can escape the force of the Infinity Zone!
Coop: Hey, good thing no one ever told me that.
An early episode of Xiaolin Showdown has three of the four heroes trapped in an invisible box by an evil mime. Raimundo is able to make noise sliding the Mantis Flip Coin against the "invisible" bars, while it was previously established that the walls were solid, and there were no bars. They use this to escape when they realize the box acts like whatever they think it does. This raises the question of how they got trapped in the box in the first place, considering they didn't believe that it was there until they walked into it.
The Mime was there when they walked into it and he believed in the box. So perhaps his belief was stronger than the others, or the others could have believed there is something there, they just didn't know what.
The reason Wile E. Coyote and other cartoon characters (especially from Looney Tunes) can do things like run off a cliff and not fall until they look down.
An early Daffy Duck cartoon had Daffy riding an invisible bicycle, with the remark "I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible!"
Another one had Wile E. and Road Runner run off the cliff. Wile E. looks down and holds up a sign that says roughly "This defies the law of gravity." Road Runner, who is still floating, holds up a sign that says "I never studied law."
Similarly, Bugs Bunny accomplished some impossible feat, proclaiming he never studied law either.
There is at least one instance of a character running off of the cliff, realizing it without looking down, and try to continue without looking down. Obviously, they look down (usually getting lured by their enemy).
There was a Tiny Toon Adventures episode which explained the phenomenon. Elmer, teaching the young toons, said that as long as the toon didn't look down it wouldn't fall.
Which in itself is a shout out to an earlier Disney work where Walt himself explained this as the Plausible Impossible effect.
In the I Am Weasel episode "Law of Gravity", I.R. Baboon was actually able to defy gravity up until the point that he actually gets to read the actual Law of Gravity. Later on, Baboon destroys the Law... and every lawyer on Earth starts floating helplessly in mid-air. Weasel explains it only affects lawyers because they're the only ones who understand the law.
This is likely a Shout-Out to the numerous times Bugs Bunny and Road Runner claimed, in response to doing some gravity-defying action, that they never studied law.
There is a variation with Elmer and Bugs as children, where Elmer says they didn't study gravity yet. Bugs slipped him a book...
Professor Utonium from The Powerpuff Girls kind of is this Trope. Every time he invents something useful, he does so by accident. (This includes the Girls, by the way, as described in the show's opening sequence.) He can't seem to do anything useful on purpose, however. (It's probably not a good idea to mention the Dynamo, something he did invent on purpose. It was a disaster.)
Billy's Dad: Now my son! Let us go forth and conquer all!! (starts flapping his arms and cackling madly, flying into the air) Billy: Wow Dad! I didn't know you could fly!! Billy's Dad:(suprised expression)Fly?! (crashes into the stage)
In Duckman, the title character gets a new adrenal gland from who he THINKS is a world-famous stuntman who recently died in a freak accident. This leads to him believing he can do all sorts of monumental stunts and acts of derring-do. And it works...until his partner informs him that the gland came from a dyslexic accountant (and a new adrenal gland wouldn't give one increased strength, balance or flexibility, either). He calls off his latest daring stunt and everything is back to normal.
On the episode "It's About Time", a time machine creates a hole in the space-time continuum that threatens to destroy the universe. Rico then tosses the machine into the hole, and it closes. When Kowalski states the impossibility of it, Skipper responds, "That's why Rico's a maverick. He makes his own rules."
In an opening of Arthur, Francine flaps her arms and flies. Arthur shouts out that kids can't fly, right when she's floating 10 feet above him. Once Francine's bubble is burst, she plummets to the ground.
In one episode, Kyle's parents tell him he can go to a Raging Pussies concert if he brings democracy to Cuba. He does just that, unaware that his parents thought this task impossible. They still don't let him go.
In Wakko's Wish, Buttons runs straight up a tree to save Mindy, only to fall when she tells him "Puppies can't climb trees."
In the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, Presto rarely managed to pull what he needed out of his hat, but somehow, he and the other heroes often managed to solve the crisis with what he did conjure up. For example, in one episode, the heroes were up against a group of giant iron statues, and he managed to produce a cannon - but when he tried to come up with ammunition for it, all he managed were ball bearings. Fortunately, all but one of the statues slipped on them and fell, while Bobby managed to use his club to catapult the cannon itself into the last one, smashing it to pieces.
In a mainstream Animaniacs episode, Stinkbomb B. Basset Hound pursues Slappy, and when she climbs a tree to get away from him, he scales the tree after her. When he reaches her, however, she tells him that dogs can't climb trees, at which point he plummets to the ground. (He gets a good idea in the next scene and tries to use climbing gear to do it, but doesn't fare much better.)
An episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes had Jimmy in an animal jail. When Jimmy begs that he's not an animal, the other animals join in. When Molotov reminds them that they don't know how to speak, they go back to making animal noises.
Homer Simpson of The Simpsons achieved an Epic Fail so massive that he managed to cause an actual nuclear meltdown in a nuclear plant simulation truck with no fissionable materials.
He also managed to light a bowl of cereal on fire by pouring milk on it.
And Grandpa Simpson once managed to take off his underpants without taking off his pants first. When asked how he did that, he is as confused as everyone else.
This is how Ed of Ed, Edd n Eddy is able to warp reality and do things no normal kid should do-such as lifting a house. Actually lampshaded once: Edd and Eddy come to a screeching halt at the edge of a cliff, Ed slams into them and knocks them off. Eddy starts yelling at him, before Double D looks down and announces: "Uh, gentlemen? IMPROBABLE ALERT!" While Ed contemplates that he can "make it" (jump to the other side of the ravine while already standing on air) the others scramble back to safety.
Danger Mouse and Penfold accidentally get themselves and their flying car whisked back in time to Robin Hood days. Penfold points out that they didn't have cars in the middle ages. D.M. sighs and says he had hoped Penfold wouldn't say that until they'd landed. Penfold asks why. The flying car disappears and they plummet.
In one episode of Rocket Power, Sam's skateboarding simulation program comes across a move that it has deemed physically impossible, but Otto doesn't believe it. He spends the episode practicing the move and eventually pulls it off...with a little help from a tennis ball shot out of the Stimpletons' lawn mower. Convinced that he can do it, Otto tries it at a competition and wipes out.
Goofy refers to this phenomenon on an episode of Goof Troop. Pete wants to steal Goofy's cat, Waffles, as part of some scheme. So he convinces Goofy that Waffles is allergic to the color of Goofy's house. When Max's encyclopedia declares that cats are color-blind, Goofy shrugs it off: "Maybe Waffles hasn't read that book."
One episode of Sealab 2021 ends with Marco singing a duet in Portuguese... while thinking he's singing in Spanish.
During an episode of The Venture Bros., The Monarchs Henchmen wake from a wild night of partying to find they actually managed to capture Brock and the Venture family. Blind stinking drunk.
24: Oh shit! I thought we dreamed that part!
In the first season episode of Code Lyoko "Cruel Dilemma", after Jeremie again fails to make Aelita's virtualization program work, Odd snoops around in Jeremie's room, takes some of Jeremie's candy, and when Jeremie surprises him, drops the candy on the keyboard of the computer... Accidentally rebooting the virtualization program and completely by accident, inputting an unknown command that makes it work. (Unfortunately, because Jeremie didn't see what Odd did and can't save the program for some reason, he can only use it once, and when Yumi falls into the Digital Sea at the end, he has to use it to save her from a Fate Worse than Death, meaning Aelita has to wait.)
From the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode Twilights Kingdom Part 1; "I don't think it works that way, Pinkie." While interrogating an inanimate rubber chicken won't get the Key of Laughter, throwing it at the Harmony Box actually does transform Boneless (the rubber chicken) into the Key of Laughter.
Futurama has a two for one deal of this in the episode The Deep South. Dr. Zoidberg's house burns down...underwater. How did this happen? Because Bender left the cigar he was smoking next to it. Did I mention this was underwater? That's kind of important.
A popular contemporary legend tells the story of a college math student who oversleeps and arrives late for a major test. Upon arrival he sees three equations on the blackboard and successfully solves all three. Later, his professor informs him the class was only supposed to do the first two and the third was meant as an example of an equation mathematicians since Einstein have been trying to solve without success. This is a somewhat embellished telling of an actual event that happened during mathematician George Dantzig's graduate studies: Dantzig had arrived late in class (not an exam) and copied what he thought was homework written on the blackboard. After taking longer than usual to solve the problems, he apologized to his professor for his lateness and turned them in. Sure enough, that wasn't homework but two unsolved statistics theorems, the proofs of which he published. To this day, colleges and professors will sometimes place previously unsolved problems like these in with other more mundane problems on "entrance exams" or other evaluative tests just to see if some brilliant young student who hasn't heard about the problem not being solved yet can find a solution nobody else thought to try.
This happens fairly often with accomplished self-taught musicians:
John Bonham learned to play a bass drum triplet with one foot after listening to a Vanilla Fudge record and mistakenly thinking that Carmine Appice was doing the same — Carmine was an early user of a double bass drum kit.
Virgil Donati developed fantastic bass drum technique by practising until he could play Deep Purple's "Fireball" with one bass drum, not realising Ian Paice used a double bass to pull it off when he recorded it.
The cornerstone of impressionist André Phillipe Gagnon's act is his spot-on imitation of a saxophone (using only his voice!) perfected as a child when he imitated Henry Mancini's The Pink Panther theme. Why? He didn't understand that it wasn't a person making that noise!
New Age guitarist Michael Hedges taught himself to play The Beatles' "Yesterday" in its recorded key of F, a very difficult key to play in using standard guitar tuning. He only much later learned that Paul McCartney had tuned his guitar down a whole step and played the song as if it were in the much easier key of G.
Harpo Marx was dismayed to hear that classically trained harpists did not use their little fingers, because he did. He paid a tutor to teach him the classical style, but eventually fired the tutor when it became evident that the tutor was more interested in learning Harpo's style than in teaching Harpo the classical style.
Chet Atkins was a guitarist with a unique and extremely difficult four finger picking style. It took him years to develop that style. He did it because he was convinced that it was impossible to play like Merle Travis with only the thumb and forefinger. He was wrong; that was exactly how Merle Travis played.
Some left-handed guitarists like Dick Dale and Albert King play their guitars upside-down, with the strings upside down as well. This makes for some special chord structures and a special way of bending the strings (downwards, instead of upwards).
A lot of The Beatles' groundbreaking achievements come from them not being too familiar with the way music's 'meant' to work from a traditional way. On 'A Day in the Life', Paul McCartney said he wanted all the instruments in the orchestra to start off on their lowest note, and then finish off on their highest, as loud as possible, after 24 bars. It was left to George Martin to transcribe that to music notation. Another case involves 'Strawberry Fields Forever': when the producer and engineers showed John Lennon the two versions, he said he wanted to mix the first half of one and the second half of the other; when they pointed out that they were in different keys and tempo, he just shrugged it off and said 'I don't care, make it work'. As a result, they had to spend painstakingly long hours varispeeding and editing, but they did! Had John (or Paul on the 'Day in the Life' example) been classically trained or had a more 'academic' approach to music, they'd probably have never come up with such original ideas.
This is apparently part of the premise of Blue Man Group's act, the eponymous Blue Men have re-created alt-rock and contemporary pop music by tapping PVC pipes and beating up pianos without realizing they shouldn't be able to create those sounds without synthesizers and digital studio equipment.
When teaching young children how to play their instruments, a good teacher never tells their students that anything is "easy" or "hard." As a result, those children learn to play well much more quickly.
There is also an urban legend about a French immigrant who made a huge business in the USA during the Great Depression. When questioned about the achievement, he stated that his English was so bad back then he could read no newspapers - and therefore, knew nothing about the depression.
Money in general works like this; as soon as you have an economy that's no longer based on the most primitive level of trade, you need to have a mutual agreement to ignore the logical problems of your system. Especially prevalent with banks; they work fine as long as everyone acts as if their money will be safe in the vaults, but if too many people think it might be safer if they withdraw it, the whole thing falls apart (though this is only actually a problem with fractional reserve banking).
Every recession is an aversion of this trope (even if it looks like it's not at first): the economy does well, people become optimistic and start living above their means, debt skyrockets, the future returns are no longer capable to carry that amount of debt let alone new debts, people panic, everything comes crashing down. Sure it may be tempting to think that if everyone went on spending future money and nobody panicked everything would be dandy- but people forget that they panicked for a reason and that debt is a very real thing. Some basic economic principles can't be ignored with just a fearless attitude any more than you can ignore the laws of physics. Money may be more flexible and complicated than a barter economy but it is still needed for very real things. This trope is however what makes recessions possible in the early "hey that's a problem for future me and by then I'll be super rich" phase- not to mention that money depends on being certain that it will be worth something in the future. So yeah, this trope is a very mixed bag when it comes to the economy: It's both a boon and a curse.
There is a story of a viral video that went around depicting a man playing baseball with nun-chucks. A martial arts master repeated this apparently unaware that the videos were faked and it was thought impossible.
The placebo effect can be considered an example of this phenomenon. Someone who has been given a sugar pill for their health problems and thinks it's actual medicine will usually feel better, at least the first few times they take the "medicine". It's a case of Your Mind Makes It Real. However, this only improves subjective conditions like pain, or ones with a mental or stress-related component, like insomnia. Diseases which are uninfluenced by mood or emotion will not be affected by the placebo effect (people will temporarily feel better but not be better), which can be dangerous if a pseudoscience such as homeopathy tries to claim that it can cure or treat an actual, dangerous disease or condition.
The placebo effect can cause subjects to experience the supposed side effects of the drug. In one notable example, almost half of the men in one study reported total hair loss after taking a placebo that they were told was a "cancer drug" - even though they hadn't been directly told that the drug had any side effects.
People can get sick if told they have been poisoned or that a dummy pill has possible side effects. This is called the Nocebo effect. As with the placebo effect, there is nothing external to the body causing it. This phenomenon was responsible for propagating the erroneous belief that tomatoes are poisonous. Similarly, people can get "drunk" when drinking non-alcoholic beverages just by thinking they are alcoholic.
Charles Babbage, credited as the inventor of the mechanical computing machine. When he first drew up the concept he believed that the first such machine was the 'Mechanical Turk' (a chess machine which had played Napoleon, among others). The Turk was however exposed as a very clever hoax, designed to accommodate a concealed human operator, around the time he got started on building the first actual mechanical computer prototype.
Observed by Alan W. Pollack, a musicologist who analysed every song by The Beatles, in order. He frequently points out when songs either use, or better improve on techniques used in classical music, and just as frequently points out that none of the Beatles could or would have possibly done it on purpose.
An occasional concept in military thought; for an attack from which there is no possibility of retreat, such as an amphibious landing, green soldiers often perform better than veterans. This is because they are unfamiliar with the dangers of what they are attempting, and will therefore try things that veterans know carry a high risk of ending in death.
An adage from Murphy's Laws of Combat:
Professional soldiers are predictable; the world is full of dangerous amateurs.
Martial arts of any kind show a similar strange pattern. A rank amateur with no training is often a greater threat to a master than a beginner, since the completely untrained individual will be unpredictable. They may land a lucky shot or series of shots. It's Confusion Fu due to ignorance. This can become very funny in fencing. A martial artist who takes up the sport often has trouble adapting at first and is easy prey to an experienced fencer. A raw beginner will sometimes score hits by accident, especially in epee, where there are no rules about priority or target area. They're just waggling their weapon unpredictably and getting lucky.
In a case of Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking, when Channel Four hosted a poker tournament between pro and amateur players, the pros said they struggled with the amateur players, having got so used to the tells of their fellow pros. This is likely why so many "amateur" players can have success in big poker tournaments with seasoned pros: both their tells and betting patterns are foreign to the pros, leaving them far more unpredictable. (A word of warning to anyone hoping to replicate this feat: there are several poker strategies that are very good at taking money from poor players but have serious weaknesses. Expert players wouldn't bother trying them against other experts, but if they have reason to believe that their opponent wouldn't know the appropriate counter-strategy, they can and will use one of these to win easily.)
This can even come up in chess matches - trying to figure out what the amateur is doing can confound the professional, because the amateur doesn't know what they're doing, and so can't be predicted. Also, amateurs will perform the most ridiculous, foolish moves that no competent player would make, and thus a pro might leave themselves open to something resulting from such a move, or find it difficult to realize that it is even being attempted.
For years, physicists knew you could not suspend one magnet over the other without some sort of additional support. The top magnet would either flip due to the attractive forces, or slide off. This had been given a beautiful mathematical proof, and anyone caught illicitly trying to disprove it would be the subject of some teasing. However, eventually someone came along who had the good fortune of not knowing that floating one magnet over the other had long been proved impossible, and promptly solved the problem: just spin the free floating magnet like a top. The original proof had been right as far as it went, but spinning the magnet was a loophole no one had accounted for, (save, in a broad sense superconductors which work on similar principles, but aren't magnets).
It's actually pretty easy to make a triangle with three right angles as long as you aren't restricted to Euclidean geometry. For example, you can make a (big) right-angled-triangle on the surface of the Earth: put one corner at the North Pole and the other two on the equator, ninety degrees apart. This is not a case of Terry Pratchett not doing the research, though: the Discworld isn't a sphere.
Evolutionary computer design is based on this principle: you set the end goals you want the program to achieve, but don't give it specific instructions on how to get there, allowing the program try some solutions, test them, then mutate and combine the best of them to try again. The end result is often something no human would ever design but would perform at least as well if not better. One example was designing a structural "backbone" for a space station. Human designs involved a standard radio-tower style beam, while the computer produced an organic design that looked like an actual bone, massed less, and was structurally stronger. Perhaps one of the strangest examples was when a piece of programmable hardware ran a genetic algorithm to try to create an oscillator and ended up creating a radio receiver and parasite at the same time. Another experiment ran on a programmable logic array to distinguish between sounds resulted in a circuit where part of it wasn't even connected to any inputs, outputs or the rest of the circuit, but if removed resulted in the circuit failing. It also didn't work when copied to another chip of the same kind which means it used subtle manufacturing defects of the chip as integral parts of the circuit! And there's this antenna, which manages better coverage, less energy spent, and skipping some steps of the production process. And also looks like a spider with a bad seizure.
The reason martial arts expert Tony Jaa can pull off his amazing stunts without wires is that he grew up watching martial arts movies without knowing there was such thing as Wire Fu. Nobody thought to tell him he couldn't do what he eventually managed to do.
Many of the innovative visuals and special effects seen in Citizen Kane are the result of first-time film director Orson Welles simply refusing to believe that certain things couldn't be done on screen.
A literal case of this with gamers who earn Xbox 360 Achievements (or PS3 Trophies) without looking up the requirements on what is needed to get them. Specifically, when you're near the end of a No Damage Run and are aware of it, you might start locking up or playing too conservatively for your own good. No such problem if it hasn't occurred to you that you haven't taken damage, or don't realize there's a reward at stake. Particularly prevalent in Rhythm games, where players can enter an almost trance-like state of mind when they're doing good, only to be sucked out of it when they realize how good they're doing, usually resulting in them screwing up.
This interview with Ken Levine reveals that if he'd known how difficult and borderline impossible it should have been to create System Shock 2 with the resources and technology he had at the time, he probably would have failed to deliver what is now a classic.
The illustrator Franklin Booth learned to draw by copying from wood engravings, thinking they were pen and ink drawings. This gave him his distinctly complicated and precise style.
The game "Fold It" is a free game about figuring out how proteins fold. Player's results go to researchers over the Internet to see how if the result works. This game helps in a few ways. The first is you can have more people trying to figure out how the proteins fold with almost no training. The other is that many players, due to lack of training, do not have preconceived notions of how proteins should fold. For 15 years, scientists were trying to figure out how a protein in a type of AIDS-causing virus folds. They released the protein as a puzzle in Fold It. Players submitted a solution to how the protein actually folds in 10 days.
Rachel Maddow deliberately invoked this: while her show was under construction, Rachel deliberately avoided any advice on how to run the program. She now averages around 1.1 million viewers nightly.
Which is roughly on par with, or slightly above, the other cable news channels during her time slot. It's not exceptional by any means, but it's not too shabby for someone who previously had no experience in TV production.
Of course, this might also indicate that TV producers simply have no idea what they're doing in the first place, if a random person with no knowledge of their techniques can do as well as they do. Indeed, this is often an indication of a lack of expertise; it is frequently noted that the majority of mutual funds perform more poorly than the S&P 500, and speculated that those which do better are not the result of people having exceptional skill, but simply the people who got lucky.
In one of the most Badass running spectacles in history, an old man named Cliff Young showed up at the start of one of the world's most hellish and mind-numbingly long ultramarathon, totalling at 875km between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, in denim overalls and wellies. He never had the slightest chance at finishing the course, as everybody could see, but days spent rounding up sheep on his family farm had convinced him that he could make it through. Five days and fifteen hours later, he crossed the finish line a victor. Apparently, nobody had told him competitors in this race were supposed to stop for sleep breaks, so instead he just kept going and broke the course record by more than two days. Not realizing that there was a prize for winning, he split the $10,000 reward equally between all of the competitors. His running style, dubbed "The Young Shuffle", was deemed by athletic trainers to be one of the most efficient ways to travel while conserving the most energy... Three other athletes copied his technique to win the race later on.
There's a popular saying that bumblebees go on flying even though science has supposedly concluded that they shouldn't be able to.note In fact somebody tried their proportions in the equations for *fixed wing* flight and it unsurprisingly didn't compute. (They didn't even expect it to.) Captain Obvious fell asleep on the job and later re-tellings of the story missed the key detail that bees move their wings a whole lot in flight. This trope is part of the "don't believe the naysayers" Aesop underlying that story.
Burmese pythons are natural climbers when young. In the wild however, as they grow to over 12 foot long and 100-150 lbs, the trees they used to climb no longer support them and after falling a few times and hurting themselves, they learn to stop climbing and hunt along the ground. People who own burmese pythons as pets keep them from hurting themselves, usually by catching them if they're going to fall. So they never learn they shouldn't climb any more, and amusing pictures can be found of giant snakes on top of cat trees and bookcases and the like.
When Isaac Asimov was studying chemistry, he detested the subject and did poorly on lab work, continuing only out of inertia. Unexpectedly, one of his least favorite teachers began to fiercely advocate for him in his second year of undergraduate studies, and was a large part of the reason he was allowed to stay in school to get his Ph.d. Why? The year he'd had the teacher, the man had deliberately given him problems above his level to try and make him drop out, but he hadn't realized that he was being tricked and had stolidly worked through everything he was given without asking for extra help. As Asimov later wrote, "I stubbornly worked through them, however, and did so without complaint because I was too stupid to suspect conspiracy."