Follow TV Tropes


Runs on Ignorance

Go To

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.



    open/close all folders 

     Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • In one Fantastic Four arc, Reed Richards was helpless against Doctor Doom's magical prowess, so he had to learn magic from Doctor Strange, however he kept trying to analyze it scientifically and logically, making his results less than impressive. He only managed to use his magical skills to defeat Doom once he admitted that he had no idea what he was doing.

     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.

  • 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, 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. Lampshade Hanging this trope.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: