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Runs on Ignorance

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Forgath: Are you telling me that this sword is powered by Minmax's stupidity?
Kin: Well, more accurately, his ignorance, but yes.
Forgath: By Herbert's Dice! In Minmax's hand that sword is insanely powerful.
Minmax: Huh? I don't get it.
Forgath: That's perfect! Keep thinking that way!
Goblins regarding Minmax's sword Oblivious

One character works on a device of some kind, and no matter what she does, it doesn't work. She tells her struggle to another character who tries to use it himself, without her telling him how it works. Because of this, it works perfectly for him, because he doesn't know how it works.

Related to Achievements in Ignorance, except that this is a device that requires Achievements in Ignorance in order to work. Also related is Centipede's Dilemma when thinking about how you do something suddenly makes you incompetent at it.

Compare It Runs on Nonsensoleum (for when the audience is happy to accept that it works because it does) and Black Box (for when no one knows how it works, not just the users). See also Magic-Powered Pseudoscience and Magic from Technology for when it runs on magic.


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    Comic Books 
  • Fantastic Four: In Fantastic Four (1998), during the "Unthinkable" arc, Reed Richards was helpless against Doctor Doom's magical prowess, and he couldn't learn magic from Doctor Strange in time because he kept trying to analyze it scientifically and logically. Eventually, Stephen just gave him an artifact to use that was activated by humility, which entailed regularly expressing that he had no idea how it worked as he fought against Doom.
  • Tank Vixens: The "Credulity Drive" only works if the people using it don't know how it works. That is, it's just a VCR that shows you a video of the destination and your gullibility is what makes it go.

    Fan Works 
  • Implied in Diamond and Silver's Excellent Adventure. Twilight Sparkle needs to combine her magic with that of all the other protagonists in order to prevent an impending Time Crash. To explain how it works, Twilight launches into an incomprehensible, contradictory metaphor. As soon as she confirms that everyone is more confused than before, Twilight casts the spell, and it works perfectly. (Word of God confirms that her spell is powered by confusion.)
  • In Broken Spirit, Cyborg is trying to reverse engineer Control Freak's remote in order to bring BeastBoy back from dimensional limbo, and he has the following to say when Robin is surprised that he can't figure out how it works:
    Cyborg: I can't figure out WHY it works. Rational and logically designed technology I can take apart and put back together with my eyes closed. Technically, mechanically, and theoretically speaking this remote is the granddaddy of every shot in the dark that ever was. This thing violates most rudimentary laws of electronics, fundamental engineering, and even a law or two of physics I think. So far, I found a circuit board from an old VCR, repurposed calculator parts, soldered components from a few outdated portable video game units, and foil wrappers used for conductors. And I'm pretty sure if I keep lookin' I'll find a wad of bubble gum and a paperclip.
  • Legendarily Popular: When Mew is teaching Levitate to Misty's Goldeen, Heracross becomes confused, because Levitate is an ability, not a move. Mew hushes him and tells him that Goldeen doesn't know that. It works, and Goldeen still doesn't know that it shouldn't.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Looney Tunes: Back in Action, a falling Flying Car stops just short of the ground, and Bugs notes that it had run out of gas. Then somebody breaks the cartoon logic...
    Kate: It doesn't work like that!
    Bugs: Thanks, toots.
  • In Bedtime Stories (2008), the stories that the protagonist and the kids tell become reality, but when the protagonist realizes this, he loses the ability to control the stories, but the (still oblivious) kids still can. Hilarity Ensues.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This applies to how Arthur Dent flies, or how flying works in general. He basically ignores the fact that it should be impossible, and ignores everyone else telling him it should not be happening.
  • In the Xanth novels, this is how Princess Ida's Talent works. Her Talent can make any stated idea come true, but the idea has to come from someone who doesn't know about Ida's power. Once Ida figures it out, she stops being able to generate the ideas herself, but becomes a handy Deus ex Machina for protagonists in later novels.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the Gilligan's Island episode where Mr Howell's double has been found, spending his money, the real Howell offers the castaways a reward to get him back to the mainland. Gilligan invents a set of bird wings, for Howell to use. When he demonstrates:
    Skipper: That's impossible. You can't fly!
    Gilligan:(who was hovering about 10 feet up) I can't?
    Skipper: No!
    Gilligan: Oh. (drops like a rock)
    Gilligan: Why'd you have to say that?

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40k
    • It is explained that ork technology works only because orks aren't bright enough to realize that it should not work. They also believe that of all the vehicles, The Red Ones Go Faster. In fact, they believe it strongly enough for it to be true. note 
    • There is one instance where an ork manages to steal a spaceship and go for a joyride around the system, even though the ship had no fuel. It worked simply because he didn't realize that he was running on empty.
    • This is also why there is an absurdly large amount of censoring of knowledge in The Imperium of Man, specifically around the concept of Chaos. If you know that Chaos exists, it can corrupt you. If you know about a daemon, it knows you as well. Ignorance of the workings of Chaos is how The Imperium of Man attempts to shield itself from Chaos, but even then, Chaos attempts to spread knowledge (whether through direct daemon actions, or through corrupted human proxies) to subvert planets of the Imperium. Only a select few amount of people and organizations, such as the Inquisition or Grey Knights are allowed to know large amounts about Chaos it, with anyone else silenced.
  • Genius: The Transgression: This is part of how Wonders work. After all, if a Genius could explain exactly what they did and how they didn't, they wouldn't be mad scientists, just regular ones. If someone who knows exactly how Wonders really shouldn't work starts poking around one, bad things happen.

  • Goblins features Minmax's sword Oblivious, which took on the attributes of absolute nothingness, and technically does not exist. Minmax's incomprehension of how the sword works actually makes it stronger, since the less definite a concept it is, the more powerful it becomes.
    • A deathtrap has the escape door open if someone present exhibits a sufficient amount of confusion, although it doesn't have to be confusion about how the trap works.
  • In Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, it's an explicit rule that the Time Travel technology works better the less you think about it. The first trip runs smoothly because Commander Badass distracts Jones immediately beforehand, so she thinks about the nonsense he said instead of about time travel. On the return journey, Commander Badass forgets, and Jones wonders how people can use Facebook to communicate across time, and disaster strikes.
  • El Goonish Shive: In order to provide a human perspective, the Will of Magic calls on those Seers who have used magic to advise it whenever it is considering a magic change. However, to prevent gaming of the system, only those Seers who don't know about this function are eligible to contribute.

    Real Life 
  • Surprisingly, money generally 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 bankingnote ).
    • Recessions are usually due to this trope failing: 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.