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These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know

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"Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow."
Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein

No, this Description of These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know Here should not be!

Do not read this page. Just click "back", or close this page right now. Your sanity, nay the fate of all mankind, will be in danger.

You didn't listen. Damn you. Don't you know this knowledge is kept secret for a reason? Your feeble, mortal minds cannot comprehend the vast complexity of what you are seeking to learn. Pray that complete madness is the worst consequence of your transgression. Just don't blame us. You Have Been Warned.

It's a pretty safe guess, though don't confirm it, that these things resemble Mind Screw and are a Mind Rape.

Learning this can cause you to Go Mad from the Revelation, and is a standard trope of a Cosmic Horror Story. A major reason on why Curiosity Is a Crapshoot. If you can even read and/or understand these final words, pity the Mad Scientist who seeks out this knowledge, for his experiments will Go Horribly Right. This may be used as an Armor-Piercing Response.

And no, Brain Bleach won't be helpful in this case.

You still wish to go further? The Keeper of Forbidden Knowledge will not keep you at bay? You don't believe that we honestly do this for your own safety? Sigh. Well, don't say we didn't warn you. Here are the tropes that this Super-Trope unleashes upon you!

See? There's no going back now. You'll have to live with it. (Or not...)

Oh, and if you're really unlucky, screwing around with this might have irreversibly damaged the structure of reality. Have fun.

If your mind has become a horrifying alien monstrosity by this point, avoid interacting with humans, they're infectious. And if it hasn't... well you're really something special aren't you?

Even if we never do find out what these things are, that still may not help us, since Nothing Is Scarier.

Not to be confused with You Do NOT Want To Know, the things which you wouldn’t enjoy knowing but won’t destroy you from the revelation. Nor with Women's Mysteries, the things men were not meant to know. Although perhaps that may suggest a clever loophole for No Man of Woman Born.

In-Universe Examples Only

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, performing a forbidden human transmutation will take you to the Gate, where, along with being maimed in some way, you get to look inside and see 'Truth', which, as Izumi stated, looked like hell to her.
    • Almost all alchemists die doing so. It is implied by Izumi that just surviving it is a very serious feat. Alphonse would have died if his brother had not brought him back. By the end of the story, it is revealed that Father was unable to find enough living alchemists who have survived that, as required for his Evil Plan to work.
    • Also, learning that the Philosopher's Stone is created by sacrificing mass numbers of human lives has driven many who have sought its power insane. In Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), Scar's brother was one of the people thusly afflicted.
  • In Nyaruko: Crawling with Love!, Mahiro goes to visit the rooms Nyarko, Cuuko, and Hasuta have set up for themselves using a Bigger on the Inside alien device. In Hasuta's room, he notices that all the corners are covered in putty; when he asks why, Hasuta says very seriously that he's better off not knowing the answer.note 
  • Zeref of Fairy Tail is the living proof of what happens when you delve too deeply into taboo magic. He wanted desperately to bring his younger brother Natsu Back from the Dead, and in the process not only studied various forbidden magics, but also created several magical theories most sane mages would never touch. The price? He was Cursed to kill anybody he could ever care about or even being in the same general area as him, with immortality to boot as well to live long enough to see many of his works be misused. However, this immortality also bought him time to succeed in his original goal of bringing his brother back, and he didn't become evil until much later. After that, his continued studies into the taboo were to find a way to kill himself which he eventually figured out.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative, it was revealed that the Earth Federation was completely shocked by the immense power Banagher Links and the Unicorn Gundam showed off at the end of Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn that they struck a deal with Mineva Lao Zabi to keep the Unicorn and its Banshee Norn brother sealed and the Psychoframe data locked away. Officially, both Unicorns are considered dismantled.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, the 'Chapter Black' videotape contains the worst footage of human atrocities throughout history. It is said to be able to turn any human against their own race upon viewing.
  • Pluto: Invoked. Dr. Tenma warns Abdulah not to uncover the face of the comatose "perfect A.I." robot they created on these grounds, as it's rapidly morphing through 6 billion different personalities and faces at the time.
  • Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water: When Jean asks questions about the launching date of the Nautillus, Electra replies that men crave knowledge but that, sometimes, such thirst has to be reined in. In general, Nemo and his crew want to prevent mankind from learning too much about ancient Atlantean technology before they're morally ready to use them, because he doesn't want humans to die in internecine wars, like the Atlanteans of old.
ELECTRA: Look, Jean. Humans have an insatiable hunger to learn what they don't understand, right?
JEAN: It is just curiosity.
ELECTRA: That's correct. However, there are certain things we are better off not knowing about.
** While agonizing, Fait tells Nadia and Jean that Nemo cannot surrender the knowledge contained within the Nautillus.
  • Secret of Cerulean Sand: Rector Christopher Barsac finally doesn't publicly reveal the existence of azurium, fearing it could be used to make superweapons like Harry Killer tried to do.

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man:
    • When Doctor Strange meets the Living Tribunal (the most powerful being in the Marvel Universe who isn't God), he shows Strange how the Universe was created. Strange quickly averts his eyes, paraphrasing this trope.
    • When Spider-Man helps Doctor Strange fight off an attempt by Doctor Doom and Dormammu to bring about an event called the Bend Sinister, Spider-Man asks Strange what a Bend Sinister is, only for Strange to say, "There are things that man was not meant to know." Spider-Man doesn't take it too well.
    • In Ultimate Spider-Man, Spidey has something of an existential crisis after a brief brush with the supernatural, saying later that he's "Seeing things he shouldn't." The inciting incident was actually a relatively tame (by reader standards) vampire story, but his seemingly outsize reaction reminds us of how mentally devastating commonplace fictional tropes would be if ever actually encountered.
  • Fantastic Four:
    • John Byrne's "Trial of Galactus" arc in ended this way when Byrne wrote himself into the final issue. The Watcher snatched him from his home and brought him to the cosmic tribunal, stating that he was the "chronicler" of the Fantastic Four's adventures and thus needed to be there to witness as Reed Richards was brought to trial for the destruction of the Skrull throneworld; he was accused of genocide because he saved the life of Galactus some time before. Various cosmic beings, including Galactus himself and Odin, arrived to testify on Reed's behalf. In the end, Eternity showed everyone assembled the True Purpose of Galactus. The last page had the Watcher warning Byrne that as he wrote this story, many of the details would escape his memory, as the human mind wasn't meant to hold such knowledge.
    • This happened to the Human Torch in the original Lee/Kirby three-parter "The Coming of Galactus". During the climax, Uatu The Watcher guides him to Galactus vessel, which exists in more than one level of reality, to retrieve the Ultimate Nullifier, the only weapon that can threaten Galactus. We're not shown exactly what the Torch experiences, but it's implied it is so overwhelming it almost renders him catatonic and his mind blocks most of it out.
      Torch: We are ants... we are ants!!
  • In The DCU, the Anti-Life Equation is a mathematical proof that life, hope and freedom are all pointless. Any sentient being who's forced to comprehend the Equation instantly becomes a mindless drone. Darkseid's ultimate goal is to rule the Omniverse with this.
  • Arguably, this is what drove Teen Titans' Jericho to insanity/death/resurrection/insanity — having Body Surf as one's superpower, and then trying to possess an Eldritch Abomination like Trigon? Yeah, Joey... your dad is evil, but Raven's is worse.
  • In War World, Superman once had to catch Supergirl, who at the end of the previous adventure had been hurtling unconscious through the dimensions. The Spectre tried to stop him from pursuing; naturally he fights back; and naturally he can't even budge the Spectre physically or otherwise. Eventually the Spectre convinces Superman that following Supergirl would lead him into realms that no mortal should witness (implied to be Heaven. Supergirl was unconscious, so it wasn't a problem for her.) When Superman asks for the Spectre's help, he responds "Of course; you only had to ask," and simply teleports Supergirl to them.
  • Wonder Woman: Starting in Volume 2 if a human, or even a god, spends too long wrapped in the Lasso of Truth the thing will in almost all cases drive them mad. While the truths it reveals can at the first stages be painful, if uplifting, truths such as impressing on the one wearing it the true value of life, the truth stripped bare is painful and the way it scours the mind is not excellent for one's sanity.
  • In the final issue of Immortal Hulk, Samuel Sterns, AKA The Leader, becomes the vessel for The One Below All after spending years researching it and its domain. When the Hulks defeat his mutated form in the Below-Place, he's returned to being "just Sam from the plant", and promptly has a mental breakdown from the sheer weight of everything he's learned. After the heroes return to the Baxter Building, Banner leaves while no one's looking, and Jackie asks Sam if he saw him leave. Sam says he doesn't know, before smiling and remarking on just how good it feels to not know something for once.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): In this MonsterVerse fanfiction, Ghidorah's biological capabilities even when reduced to a decapitated head basically make it this trope given flesh. Even just a head can induce Brown Note effects in humans who spend too much time around it and cause Sanity Slippage, and humans experimenting on Ghidorah's tissue ends up creating the Many whilst attempts to make fertility treatment derived from Ghidorah's tissue results in Fetus Terrible.
  • Coby's Choice:
    • Chopper once tried to examine how Luffy eats and was comatose for three days afterwards.
    • There is apparently a supernatural element to Zoro's ability to get lost that most mortal minds reject to maintain their sanity. Luffy and Nami's son Ace, being a toddler, is able to see what happens as he is not able to comprehend that it should be impossible.
  • In Equestria: A History Revealed, it is hinted that the normal science-loving King Sombra may have discovered something pertaining to dark magic that caused him to go mad. Either that, or according to the Lemony Narrator, he simply got too annoyed with living with the crystal ponies and having to deal with their inane requests.
  • Harry Potter and the Power of the Nargles Part 1:
    Luna: Nargles are fey creatures from beyond space and time. They cannot directly interact with us except in certain magical places. They know things and do things to try to move us onto or off of certain paths we are on. Why they do this is not known nor how they do it. The past, present and future are all interchangeable to them as they exist in all times simultaneously. They are not entirely omniscient though. They are capable of making mistakes and they are not perfect. Most people go their entire lives without encountering them. I have known them since I was 9 years old. Mother died trying to open a gateway to their realm to gain their wisdom. It overwhelmed her mind. She couldn't handle the direct unfiltered perception of the universe. No mortal can.
  • In Intelligence Factor, even pictures of Mimikyu's true body will kill anyone who looks at them. For good reason, Dr. Bashir doesn't want this to become public knowledge.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: Olympian Journey: When Ratso questions Promethus' statement that multiple pantheons all claim to have created the universe, Hestia tells him not to ask about it or his brain will implode.
  • The Night Unfurls: The Eldritch Truth. Any person, organisation, or region who attempts to harness it merely paves the way for their destruction and/or loss of sanity. Eostia would repeat the history of Yharnam should Shamuhaza's handiwork is left unchecked, and Kyril is dead set on averting another Beast Plague or any kind of Apocalypse How that would ensue. Speaking of Shamuhaza and Kyril, both have seen it: the former ended up being transformed into an arthropod without much to do; the latter ended up being put through the ringer, being Conditioned to Accept Horror, and ascending to become an Eldritch Abomination with the mind battered, but functional.
  • In the Pony POV Series:
    • The true nature of the Shadows Who Watch, Make, and Rule, beings beyond even the Elders, is this, as Celestia refuses to divulge what they are because it'd likely drive a normal pony insane. Nyarlathotrot and his twin Fillimon are the Anthropomorphic Personification of their dark side and light side respectively. They're the Readers, Writers, and Hasbro. It's implied Celestia, Luna, Discord, and the other gods are all aware of a lot of these, being deities who helped make the universe.
    • The Outer Concepts literally are this. Their entire purpose for existing is to give mortals a healthy fear of the unknown so they don't accidentally tamper beyond their death for the good of themselves and existence.
    • The heroes have some of these shared with them, either of their own request of necessity, throughout the series. They're only shared with them because Celestia and Luna know they've grown enough they can handle it. The biggest of these is likely the fate of the Lost Age.
  • Referenced in a fanfic called "Remus Lupin, P.I.". Someone's death is put down to "Meddling with that which wizards were not meant to know." It's noted as being the third-most-common cause of accidental death in the wizarding community.
  • The Sanctuary Telepath: the "how it could have been" projection and the time machine.
    Janine: I saw the apocalypse and I felt like it was worth it because we were together. This is not right. Humanity was never supposed to have this kind of power.
    • She also considers the original experiment to fall in this category.
    Janine: We messed with nature and we thought we could get away with it. We payed the price.
  • In This Bites!, however the hell Luffy can eat so much in the blink of an eye is considered this. An attempt to use Foxy's Slow-Slow powers on Luffy to see exactly how he did it forces B.R.O.B. to erase that piece of time from existence.
  • In A Vampire in Love, Danny asks Ms. Grimwood what exactly she is, since she looks human but does things no normal human could do. Ms. Grimwood replies that Danny might not be able to comprehend the answer, which makes Danny drop the subject.
  • In The Vow, the destructive potential of fireworks that Lord Shen starts researching obsessively is regarded as this by his parents and the Soothsayer. It is for that reason Shen's parents haven't researched fireworks further as they are dangerous already when used to entertain people.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In π, the protagonist Max is on the verge of unlocking the pattern of the universe using a 216-digit number. A group of Orthodox Jews believes that the number is the true name of God, while a stock broker wants it to predict the stock market. However, the number overwhelms anyone or anything that tries to compute it. Max, who already stared too long at the sun and did permanent damage to his brain, begins to completely break down as he studies the number. His computer breaks down and starts creating organic goo. Ultimately Max abandons his quest and chooses to simply live life in ignorance, possibly drilling out his mathematical genius to escape the number's curse.
  • After seeing the title creature in The Abominable Snowman, the native guide exclaims that he has seen "what man was not meant to see!" and flees back to his village. This is ultimately subverted, as the yeti are actually peaceful beings who just scare people off to protect themselves.
  • In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, when Lex Luthor begins to use the crashed Kryptonian ship to create a "Kryptonian Deformity" out of Zod's corpse and his own blood, the ship's A.I. is quick to warn him that such an act was considered this on Krypton. Luthor being Luthor, he goes ahead with it anyway.
    Kryptonian AI: Advising — action forbidden. It has been decreed by the Council of Krypton that none shall ever again give life to a deformity so hateful to sight and memory — the desecration without name.
    Lex: And where is the Council of Krypton?
    A.I.: Destroyed, sir.
    Lex: Then proceed.
  • In The Devil Commands, the other scientists regard Dr. Blair's attempts to communicate with the dead as this. His fellow scientists don’t mock him, being too respectful of his previous brain wave research, but they argue that to use science to bridge the gap between life and death is irresponsible: “We don’t know what evil may be lurking beyond that veil,” one declares. The dread here is less about death than about opening a telecommunications bridge to the afterlife, and what wickedness might seep through.
  • One segment in Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask is about a giant breast that breaks loose from the lab of a Mad Scientist. At the end, Woody Allen's character says, "There are some things about sex man was never meant to know. And with my luck, never will."
  • In Grizzly Man, there's a recording that captured Treadwell and his partner's last moment, and that recording is in the hands of Treadwell's ex, Palovak. Palovak never listened to the recording herself, but gave it to Werner Herzog to listen to. Werner did so, for a somber few minutes, before telling Palovak to turn it off. He then adds that she should never, ever listen to the recording, and it's best to destroy it as soon as possible. To put into perspective, this is Werner Herzog we are talking about, the man who jumped onto a cactus patch, ate his shoes, and other insanities. And he's freaked out. The recording apparently still exists, unreleased to the public, and considering the documentary nature of the movie, this may also count as a Real Life example. It probably won't turn you into a gibbering lunatic, but very likely to traumatize you.
  • The Indiana Jones movies seem to like this trope:
  • In Interstellar, this phrase is said almost verbatim by one of the astronauts, when talking about the interior of a black hole's event horizon, but to all appearances he's just being over-dramatic about astrophysics. He's wrong, but not for the obvious reasons: there is something in there, and man was meant to know...
  • In Martyrs, the antagonists are an organization whose entire goal is to achieve this by creating "martyrs" through Cold-Blooded Torture, who would then impart the secrets of the afterlife. They manage to achieve this, but the main villain blows her own brains out after hearing those secrets. It's left ambiguous as to whether she couldn't live with herself, or just wanted to see those secrets first-hand.
  • The Mothman Prophecies
    John: Didn't you need to know?
    Leek: [Beat] We're not allowed to know.
  • In Parking (1985), Hades laments that Orpheus accidentally discovered the Great Secret—what happens after death—and only agrees to send him back on the condition he not tell anyone.
  • In Transformers: Age of Extinction, Optimus Prime said in the end:
    Optimus Prime: There are mysteries to the universe we were never meant to solve, but who we are and why we are here are not among them. Those answers we carry inside. I am Optimus Prime, and this message is to my Creators. Leave planet Earth alone. 'Cause I'm coming... for you.

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: For the man of the 19th century, reaching the South Pole would be something man was not meant to achieve. In this novel, is lampshaded by Ned Land's opinion about the beauty of the South Pole's icebergs (and those words are said just before the Nautilus is trapped by them and the crew is soon Almost Out of Oxygen).
    "It's a wonderful sight! Isn't it, Ned?"
    "Oh damnation, yes!" Ned Land shot back. "It's superb! I'm furious that I have to admit it. Nobody has ever seen the like. But this sight could cost us dearly. And in all honesty, I think we're looking at things God never intended for human eyes."
  • The protagonist of the Boojumverse story "The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward" had previously dabbled in so-called forbidden science, unafraid of the consequences. After what she witnesses aboard the Charles Dexter Ward, however, she decides that there are indeed certain areas of knowledge that man was never meant to meddle in.
  • In A Brother's Price, the fact that male babies are often stillborn is somewhat treated like this, with women saying "Not in front of the menfolk" when someone tries to discuss it with men nearby. While it doesn't drive anyone crazy to know about it, hearing a woman talk about how her stillborn son was perfect right down to his beautiful little blue toes, just, you know, dead, is quite creepy.
  • Bruce Coville's Book of... Aliens II: The alien in Behind the Curtain has a transportation method that he reluctantly shares with Tanner. Tanner regrets learning it in the end, because now that he knows the answer, there are no more questions.
  • In "By His Bootstraps", Bob Wilson sees one of the High Ones through a time viewer and almost loses his mind. It was the emotions the High One was feeling that caused his discomfort — an overwhelming mixture of sadness, tragedy, grief and weariness.
  • In The Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling, perpetual motion is apparently one of these things.
  • Chrysalis (RinoZ): The cults of the Ancients have only been able to gather fragmentary information about the monsters they worship, from dreams granted to the faithful — many of whom suffered serious side effects from those brief glimpses. From those who view Zothoth and Go Mad from the Revelation, to having one's eyes burned out by seeing Carriflare, to one poor soul who glimpsed the realm of Tarriflyx the Hunger and chewed off his own arm in his sleep. Piecing together the snippets has been a work of centuries.
    Only when networked together did we arrive at the realisation that these may be more than just figments conjured by imagination, but rather glimpses at a reality we should never see.
  • Discworld had Things Man Was Not Meant to Wot Of.note 
    Wayzygoose had, in his younger days, sought power in strange places; he'd wrestled with demons in blazing octagrams, stared into dimensions that men were not meant to wot of, and even outfaced the Unseen University grants committee... - Sourcery
    • The Igors of Discworld's Thief of Time, strictly speaking don't believe that there are TMWNMTK, but even they find some obvious stuff that they'd rather not know, such as how it feels to have every single particle of your body sucked through a small hole.
    • In general, Terry Pratchett likes to have fun with this trope. For example, The Unseen University library has books that no man can read without dying or going mad, but the Librarian is an orangutan, so he's perfectly safe. Although even he reads the most potent of these, the Necrotelicomnicon, from behind a smoked-glass visor, just to be on the safe side.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • In Turn Coat, Harry uses his Wizard's Sightnote  to figure out what exactly is following him. He glimpses the Skinwalker...and comes back to himself about three minutes later, having almost crashed his car, gibbering uncontrollably. He gets himself under control, tries to remember what he saw...and comes back to himself five minutes later, incoherent and barely in control of himself. He realizes that driving is a bad idea, gets out of his car and starts walking to get help when his thoughts just barely brush against the idea of what he saw... and he comes back to himself, curled into a fetal position on the sidewalk, crying and in physical pain.
    • In a more traditional example, the Seven Laws of Magic define the types of addictive Black Magic that can corrupt a spellcaster into a downward cycle of psychosis. There's one against killing people with magic, one against raising the dead, and one against Mind Control, for example. The Seventh Law puts even trying to learn about Outsiders on par with all of the above.
    • The entire concept of the Oblivion War is to erase humanity's knowledge of certain particularly awful beings. The reason is, without mortals knowing they exist, their access to humanity is cut off.
  • Fire & Blood: After the ludicrously horrific death of Princess Aerea, Septon Barth is ordered by King Jaehaerys I to never speak of it again. But he does write down about it, and states that while he possesses a general curiosity for things, in this case he figures he really doesn't want to know what caused it.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy:
    • According to the Guide, there's a theory that if any one person ends up knowing both the Ultimate Answer and the Ultimate Question, the universe will end and be replaced by something even more bizarre and incomprehensible. There are other theories that state that this has already happened several times. (There is also another theory that the two previous theories were made up to sell more copies of the Guide... but it doesn't mean they're wrong.)
    • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe introduces the Total Perspective Vortex, the most horrifying torture device in the known Universe, which works by plowing through the victim's cognitive filters and allowing them to see, in total clarity, the entire Universe and their relative place in it. No soul has been known to survive it — except Zaphod, who unwittingly activated a parallel universe designed especially for him, and which tricked the Vortex into showing Zaphod as the single most important entity in the Universe (which didn't tell him anything he didn't already know).
    • Life, The Universe, and Everything features a poor guy who was a trial witness who was accidentally overdosed on Truth Serum — so when they told him to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," he told all of it. And drove pretty much everyone in the courtroom mad in the process, but oddly didn't seem bothered by it himself. By the time Arthur and company show up, he's already finished, commenting that there's not as much of it as people think. (And apparently most of the good bits are about frogs.) He even references the above theory about the Ultimate Answer and Ultimate Question canceling each other out.
  • E. Nesbit's short story Hurst of Hurstcote uses the trope name almost verbatim. Two characters are discussing a sort of mesmerism, and ponder the difference between "things man was not meant to know" and "things man was meant not to know".
  • The magic of Naming in The Kingkiller Chronicle requires the Namer to gain an intuitive understanding of the target, grasping everything in its history that shaped it into what it is. This is explicitly impossible for the conscious mind to handle. Namers slip into a passive state of Hyper-Awareness to manage it, but the powerful ones tend to live a bit at odds with what most people consider real, and the University has a sizable asylum for the people who get too close to the subject material.
  • A book by Mike Kurland explains the protagonist's attitude: "He had long ago decided that there were no Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. He was quite willing to concede, however, that there were Things Man Was Too Dumb To Figure Out."
  • H. P. Lovecraft's work tends to be full of things that should not be named or known to man. Some variant of the line "there are things in the world man was never meant to know" is frequently said near the end of his stories, just as the protagonist has some (literally) mind-blowing revelation about the nature of the universe and our place in it, or at the beginning when he starts to recount his story that ends like that.

    Ironically, while the "forbidden" knowledge in Lovecraft's tales is often at least disturbing and at times outright dangerous (especially when there are forces at work that actively go out of their way to eliminate people who might know too much), upon closer reading ignorance affords his characters no protection either — quite a few come to bad ends precisely because they don't know enough about what they're dealing with. Damned if you do...
  • In the Cthulhu Mythos short story A Colder War, by Charles Stross, a Senate inquiry postulates that the reason why there are Absent Aliens is because most races are killed off trying to resurrect the Lost Technology of the Old Ones. Shortly after this, humanity goes the same way.
  • In "Macroscope" by Piers Anthony, use of the title machine accesses a mathematical sequence which is shown to whomever uses the device. It destroys the intelligence of anyone above a certain IQ who hasn't evolved beyond violent tendencies.
  • In Algernon Blackwood's "The Man Who Found Out", an explorer discovers the long-lost Tablets of the Gods, reputed to explain the true purpose of human existence. Reading their translation causes him to lose the will to live, and the friend who inherits the Tablets destroys the text and has his own memory of reading it erased via hypnosis.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's novel Methuselah's Children, Slayton Ford goes mad when he meets the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. Interestingly, after Ford goes mad, Lazarus Long mentions he is afraid that if he met them he wouldn't go mad.
  • "The Nine Billion Names of God". A group of monks use a computer to write down every name of God, reducing the time it would take to do so from 15,000 years to 1,000 days. When every name is finally recorded, humanity's purpose is fulfilled, and God unmakes the universe.
  • In Revival, the antagonist is obsessed with seeing what happens after death before he dies himself. It turns out you don't want to do that, because a) you won't like it, and b) something will look back at you. Besides, the special electricity he uses to do this also isn't good for you at all because it's connected to that other side. He avoids using it on himself, sending someone else in his place, but it doesn't really help when you're going that far.
  • In So I'm a Spider, So What?, the skill Taboo explicitly warns that its level must never be increased and only does so if the bearer commits horrendous acts such as eating their own blood relatives. Reaching Level 10 allows access to a maliciously edited history of the world, otherwise inaccessible details about the Skill System, and memories of past lives. Using the skill induces extreme feelings of nausea and guilt, sufficient to drive most mortals insane. D specifically designed to skill to have just that effect.
  • "The Subject Is Closed", a Larry Niven short story set in The Draco Tavern, involves a priest asking one of the ubiquitous Chirpsithtra (who seem to know everything about anything) about the existence of God. The Chirp responds with a story of a race of beings who set about to prove the non/existence of an afterlife. The Chirps lost contact with them and the next time a trade ship visited, they found the entire race had calmly and orderly committed suicide. Whatever they had discovered, it was something that had convinced the entire race they were better off dead, and something the Chirps were not particularly interested in knowing. Rick later explained relating this particular story was the Chirp's way of politely saying "none of your business."
  • Nowhere Stars: Aisling Waite has the magical ability to ask any question, once per day, and get a true answer. Naturally, one of her first questions was "where does magic come from?" She spent several weeks delirious and suffering horrific migraines before abruptly recovering, with absolutely no memory of what answer she got beyond "the flitting sounds of a great swarm of butterflies’ wingbeats." Asking her power why that happened got a less severe version of the same result. She dropped that line of enquiry afterwards.
  • Paradise Lost: The angel Raphael answers all of Adam's questions about the War in Heaven, the creation of the world, and the laws of the cosmos (although he doesn't find knowledge of the latter at all practical or useful for humans), but when Adam asks him if angels express love, like humans, Raphael blushes "celestial rosie red" and quickly explains that yes, angels "love," too. How? Whoah, look at the sun, time to go! Live long and prosper!
  • Robot Series:
    • "Jokester": One man, with access to a super computer that can tell you anything if you know the right questions to ask, tries to discover the source of humor. He tries because he himself is a wonderful, though nonprofessional, comedian. Eventually it turns out the sense of humor was an alien experiment that would be halted as soon as anyone figured out that it was so, meaning he destroyed everyone's sense of humor. Plus, the aliens will now replace humor with something else. Who knows what?
    • The Rest of the Robots: In the introduction, Isaac Asimov discusses how fiction often showed how trying to do something godlike (such as creating artificial life) was something hubristic that needed to be punished. His decision to have robots as tools was an attempt to defy that literary tradition.
  • In the Skeleton Crew short story "The Jaunt", teleportation is possible... but you'd better be unconscious when you do it. Anyone who goes through the process awake is driven completely insane and often dies. The man they tested it on managed to croak out "it's eternity in there" before dying. The story follows a family who is about to Jaunt to Mars. Their father tells them the history of the Jaunt process to kill the time before it is their turn, and when they go through, the young son holds his breath when the knockout gas is administered. A split second later, on the other side, his hair has gone completely white and the boy is quite mad, cackling that the Jaunt was much longer than anyone thinks before he rips his own eyes out.
  • Played with in the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Metamorphosis. Watching Geordi's frustration at being unable to determine how an alien artifact works, Data suggests that they were not meant to know. After Geordi both rejects the idea and expresses disgust at Data of all people proposing a mystical explanation for something, Data explains that he means the artifact's creators may have designed it so that its inner workings could not be analyzed.
  • The second of Henry Spencer's "Ten Commandments for C Programmers" is, "Thou shalt not follow the NULL pointer, for chaos and madness await thee at the end." (Reading data from a null pointer is a very common programming error in C, and was particularly notorious at the time because it had predictable and harmless results on certain platforms but caused others to immediately crash.)
  • In Warrior Cats, the existence of SkyClan, an exiled fifth Clan, is kept secret from all cats ( Well, at least until the sixth story arc.) until they die and join StarClan, since StarClan feels too guilty about how SkyClan was driven out. Upon learning of SkyClan, Firestar is so shocked he nearly loses faith in StarClan altogether.
  • In "A Witch Shall Be Born", Salome was turned out by the magician who raised her for not being sufficiently interested in this for its own sake.
    "He drove me from him at last, saying that I was but a common witch in spite of his teachings, and not fit to command the mighty sorcery he would have taught me. He would have made me queen of the world and ruled the nations through me, he said, but I was only a harlot of darkness. But what of it? I could never endure to seclude myself in a golden tower, and spend the long hours staring into a crystal globe, mumbling over incantations written on serpent's skin in the blood of virgins, poring over musty volumes in forgotten languages.
    "He said I was but an earthly sprite, knowing naught of the deeper gulfs of cosmic sorcery. Well, this world contains all I desire—power, and pomp, and glittering pageantry, handsome men and soft women for my paramours and my slaves."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • A Dilgar war criminal buys her way out of prosecution by offering the formula for an immortality serum. The catch is that the formula's ingredients must be fatally extracted from sentient beings, making it a surefire trigger for mass murder and a thing Sentient Beings Were Not Meant to Know. The Vorlons, fortunately, agreed.
    • Apparently nearly every sentient race has developed a dish almost identical to Swedish meatballs. When G'Kar comments on this, his response is.
      G'Kar: It is one of the great mysteries of the universe, that we will either never know the answer to, or which would drive you quite mad if you did.
    • Another one from G'Kar: "There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They're vast, timeless, and if they're aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants, and we have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know, we've tried, and we've learned that we can either stay out from underfoot or be stepped on. [...] they are a mystery. And I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the universe, that we have not yet explained everything."
  • In Battlestar Galactica, the Final Five are treated like things Cylons are not meant to know. D'Anna Biers grows an obsession with them, repeatedly committing suicide to glimpse into the place between life and death in a quest to find out about them. When she finally does get a glimpse, it results with her suffering from Psychic Nosebleed, followed by death.
    • Possibly subverted though. The Final Five were rendered things-Cylons-are-not-meant-to-know because Model One/Cavil made them so. Their origins are far more mundane than the Cylons think.
  • In Being Human, there is a secret only the dead know. When Annie tells this secret to Owen, her murderer, it torments him, driving him to confess his crimes.
  • Beyond: Arthur believes journeying into the Realm (in the belief it's the afterlife, which living people can visit) is a very bad idea. He appears to be right, as it's not only unclear if the Realm really is the afterlife, but there are dangerous things there which do not want people of our world visiting.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Journey's End": Donna gets caught in the Meta-Crisis which creates a second Doctor, who as a result becomes part-Human, while she gained a Time Lord mind. Unfortunately, it's a Brown Note, as over 900 years of Time Lord knowledge and experience shoved into her human brain almost kills her. To save her life, the Doctor has to permanently lock away all memory of him from her conscious mind.
    • The Silence are a religious order, who believe that if the Doctor's true name is ever spoken, it will lead to the end of the universe. Knowing that he will be asked "The Question" on the Fields of Trenzalore, where he must answer truthfully, they plan to kill him before he ever ends up there.
    • "Extremis": The Vatican has in its possession a Tome of Eldritch Lore called The Veritas, Latin for "truth". The truth revealed in the book is so horrible everyone who reads it is Driven to Suicide. What is that truth? The world is a computer simulation created by hostile aliens in preparation for their invasion of Earth.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus had "The Funniest Joke In The World" sketch; about a man who wrote a joke so hilarious, everyone who read or heard it died. It goes without saying that it was played for (fortunately non-lethal) laughs.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: After seeing Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster, the line "He tampered in God's domain" became almost a catchphrase for Crow T. Robot.
  • In Stargate SG-1 the Ancients' Repository of Knowledge devices (Jack referred to them as Ancient head suckers because of the way they latch onto the user's head) can download the entire knowledge bank of the Ancients into the mind of the user. However, said information is too vast for the human mind to comprehend at our current evolutionary level. Therefore anyone exposed to the knowledge bank will have their minds completely taken over by it, causing them to degrade and eventually shut down (die). Jack had his head sucked twice, and while he is able to build many advanced technologies, he is eventually unable to speak or comprehend anything other than the Ancient language and he nearly dies from the strain on his brain — the second time he has to go into stasis to escape death. And only the fact that O'Neill bears the Ancient gene allows him to last as long as he did both times — it's implied by the Asgards that humans without the gene would degrade much faster.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985) episode "Need to Know" concerns a phrase which passes from person to person like a disease, explains the meaning of existence and drives a small town mad.

    Multiple Media 
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Captain America: The First Avenger: The religious order hide the Tesseract because they feel it's "not for the eyes of ordinary men". Unfortunately for everyone else, the Red Skull doesn't apply as "ordinary".
    • Avengers: Age of Ultron: Tony creates Ultron in secret because he thinks the others would have reminded him of this.
    • Doctor Strange (2016): Played with. Wong says there is "no forbidden knowledge in Kamar-Taj, only certain practices".
    • The whole point of having Aida read the Darkhold was to avert this trope as it was assumed as an android she could read the book and not be negatively affected. It didn't work — it gave Aida sapience beyond her programming which gave her a desire to be human and resent her artificial status.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • A few instances in The Bible:
    • In the Book of Genesis, God warned Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the Tree Of Knowledge or they will die. Satan deceives them into eating of the tree anyway, telling them that it would make them like God, to know both good and evil. It does, but it still introduces death and it also corrupts mankind from that point on into thinking that they could be gods in and of themselves.
    • In the book of Acts, Jesus' disciples ask Him before His ascension into heaven if then was the time He would be restoring the kingdom to Israel, and Jesus told them it is not for them to know the dates or seasons which God the Father had set in His own authority.
    • In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul the apostle writes that he "knew a man" (whether he was referring to himself or somebody else, nobody knows) who was caught up to Paradise and heard things that it was not lawful for a man to utter.
    • In the Book of Revelation, when the "seven thunders" spoke, John the Apostle was about to write down what they have spoken when a voice tells him, "Seal up the things that have been spoken, and do not write them".
  • Buddhism has what are considered the 'unthinkable' or 'unponderable' questions - basically questions and reflections that completely defy human logic and observation and act as distractions to reaching true enlightenment; such questions include the exact workings of karma, if the world is eternal or non-eternal, if the world is spatially infinite or not, if the self is identical with the body or not, if the Buddha exists after death or doesn't (or does both, or neither),pondering over the exact origin of reality and the universe as we know it (Buddhism is notably one of the few religions without a creation myth) and even what Nirvana actually is in concrete words. When asked about these questions, the Buddha essentially gave an enlightened shrug and said to not think about it too hard or else it'll just make you despair and distracts you from what is important. It's less that the knowledge drives to madness as the fruitless pursuit of an answer to a question that is impossible to reach with logic and reasoning.
    • To a lesser extent, the Buddha also advises against thinking questions like 'What am I?', 'Am I?', 'Did I exist in the past?' 'Will I exist in the future?' and similiar, otherwise one would become "enmeshed in views, a jungle of views, a wilderness of views; scuffling in views, the agitation (struggle) of views, the fetter of views." Essentially less about advising pondering about the eldritch mysteries of reality and more about not becoming enmeshed in existential despair and depression.
  • The Talmud: In the "Pardes"note  legend, four rabbis entered the Garden of Eden — Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Elisha ben Abuyah, and Rabbi Akiva. Ben Azzai died from looking at the Divine Presence; Ben Zoma looked and was Driven Mad from the Revelation; Elisha ben Abuyah became The Heretic; only Akiva entered in peace and departed in peace.note 

  • Welcome to Night Vale: There's quite a few things within Night Vale which, if you value your soul, life and/or sanity, you should probably leave well enough alone. This means that while the community radio will mention things like the Dog Park and the Shape in Grove Park That No One Acknowledges or Speaks About, Cecil will finish his report by reminding listeners that they should not think or know about these things. Or else.
  • On the Threshold: Zoey Evans's goal in her VR environment the Catheral of Bar Shachath is intended to cause its viewers to experience something like this which she calls "the inversion of religious ecstasy", the effect of which is unclear, but either leaves them broken mentally or shunned if they try to express it to others or maybe both.

  • Invoked in Friedrich Schiller's ballad "The Diver" (Der Taucher, 1797): A king who wishes to know the secrets of the deep sea throws a precious cup into a whirlpool from a sea cliff, challenging the knights of his retinue to retrieve it. The only volunteer, a young squire, manages to find the cup, but only narrowly avoids being sucked into a deep abyss. Gazing down into the deep sea—which he refers to as a "Hell-maw"—he sees many sea-creatures, which he describes as "dragons", "monsters", and "phantoms" (such as cods, rays, and sharks), at the sight of which he is overcome by horror and feelings of existential loneliness. The diver is then attacked by a nameless creature which he only describes as "crawling" and "moving a hundred joints at once", lets go of his grip from terror and is carried to the surface by luck. Relating this experience to the king and his court, he opines that the depths of the sea are just not meant for mankind to explore, being altogether too dreadful, and that man should duly stay away from there; besides man should be thankful that the abominable creatures of the deep sea are concealed by eternal darkness ("[...] man must not try the gods, / and must never desire to see / that which they mercifully covered with darkness"). The king however has not satisfied his curiosity and persuades the squire to try and bring back tales of what is at the very bottom of the sea. Disregarding his own advice, the squire dives another time, and never comes up again.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The true form of the ancient demon lord Pale Night is a thing that nobody, man, woman, or genderless being was meant to know. She's a Brown Note Being for reality, catching a glimpse of her true form by peeling back the "veil" that she wears (actually an effect of reality itself trying to block her off) forces a saving throw to avoid understanding what you're looking at or die. That's right, her true appearance is so horrific that the only way you can withstand seeing it is by not comprehending it.
  • The Illuminati: New World Order card game has a card called "Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know". There was a gag card appropriately titled "Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know In the Biblical Sense".
  • GURPS Illuminati University has a class in the Thaumaturgy department called "Things Men Were Not Meant to Know". There's also a class in "Men Things Were Not Meant to Know". Also, what the O in IOU stands for is a closely guarded secret.
  • Munchkin:
    • Munchkin Cthulhu has a card called "Learn Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Go Up a Level."
    • Star Munchkin has the monster card "Thing Man Was Not Meant to Know". It wants to "know" women.
  • The Truth, upon which the World of Progress in SLA Industries is precariously balanced, can be used to grant incredible power to anyone who knows it and understands how to manipulate it. Most people — upon discovering it — are driven infinitely insane and/or die horribly. It's been stated that if enough people discovered The Truth, the entire universe would disappear in a puff of logic and cease to exist...
  • Mage: The Awakening's Guardians of the Veil justify many of their actions with the idea that there are plenty of things that man was not meant to know (and not quite as many things which even mages shouldn't). They are often at odds with the Mysterium, who believe man is supposed to know everything, and both orders are at odds with the Free Council, who believe man should know everything right now.
    • There's a Legacy, the Logophages, devoted entirely to this idea — it's their job to not only track down the things man must not know, but to make sure they remain unknown, even to themselves. Needless to say, they're masters of memory alteration and occasionally give their own brain a good scrubbing just in case.
    • As for specific things not to know, well... there's the Nemesis Continuum, a set of Abyssal mathematical proofs. Once you grasp one, it's easier to know the others, and as you learn them, the physical laws they represent begin to overwrite the real world. By the time you realize that the color green has become searing-hot or that gravity now functions the way Aristotle described it as opposed to the way it's supposed to, it may be too late to correct that...
    • The most active greater Abyssal power, the Prince of Ten Thousand Leaves, is a self-aware Alternate History that inserts snippets of itself into texts and becomes more real where those texts are brought together. A cult in Massachusetts has made a collection into a Tome of Eldritch Lore, which has started to warp their town into an Eldritch Location and mutate the townsfolk who memorize too much. If the entire Prince is assembled, it Cosmic Retcons itself into having always been real.
  • Call of Cthulhu. Everything in the game is full of things man (and woman) was not meant to know, and so you are eventually either incredibly ignorant or incredibly insane. Maybe both simultaneously.
    • Maybe the most common CoC joke is just the single sentence "I read the book".
  • In Exalted a demon exists called Orabilis; his title is The End of All Wisdom. He builds libraries, and it is his will that demons and men read in them and grow wise...but not too wise. Sometimes people take two and two, though, and learn a thing mean only for the Yozis; at that point, he's free to pursue you out of Hell, drag you back, and cast you into the sky where you spend a thousand years as a dying star. Deconstructed, in that the Things Man Was Not Meant to Know were pretty arbitrarily decided by the Abusive Precursors, and they're actually scared of their secrets getting out. They're only Not Meant To Know because the Yozis Don't Want You To Know Them.
  • The Works by Phil Foglio features Agatha Heterodyne reading a book titled "Things Man Was Not Meant To Know"... and looking less than impressed, since she is a woman.
  • Cthulhu 500, a racing car cardgame, has this in spades. (It is Cthulhu, after all.) You can drive The Car Man Was Not Meant To Drive, equipped with The Wheels Man Was Not Meant To Mount and The Mudflaps Man Was Not Meant To Ogle, all paid for by The Sponsor That Must Not Be Named.
  • The core premise of In Dark Alleys. Everything you know about the world is a lie, and only in the shadows of the world can you find the truth. The truth will destroy you mind, body and soul, but how can you return to ignorance.
  • A lot about the world in KULT. OTOH, you have to learn this if you want to break free from it.
  • In the World Of Warcraft tabletop RPG, the ability to speak and write in the demonic language will slowly eat away at the sanity of mortals who dare to learn it. Characters who possess this forbidden knowledge must make a saving throw every year, with each failure resulting in the permanent loss of a wisdom point. Meaning that unless you have consistently good rolls your character will eventually go insane and die.
  • In the Rifts Atlantis Sourcebook, there is a permanently open Rift in the pyramid at the Asylum, which leads to a dimension of pure light. No one knows what is on the other side, anyone who looks directly into the Rift goes insane (hence the Asylum), changes Character Alignment, and gains Psychic Powers.
  • This mindset is enforced by Imperial law in Warhammer 40,000. The Ecclesiarchy and the Adeptus Terra work to actively suppress knowledge of Chaos and the other forces in the galaxy that pose the most serious threats to the Imperium from the general populace, on the grounds that if everyone beyond the Imperium's armies really knew how badly everything in the galaxy was out to get them, the resulting panic and despair would tear the Imperium asunder. The Imperium being the sort of regime that it is, and the 41st millennium being the sort of setting that it is, the real reasons for knowledge being forbidden can vary wildly. Sometimes, it's directly or indirectly physically or psychically dangerous to the reader, the planet they're on, or even the galaxy they're inhabiting. Sometimes, it's simply extremely useful, and is fiercely monopolised by the Imperium's (corrupt, selfish) power structures to maintain their position. Sometimes, it's A bit too revealing about the malice and/or incompetence of Imperial society and/or the people running it. Sometimes, it's completely harmless and unimportant, and was classed as forbidden knowledge out of ignorance, paranoia, or simple bureaucratic error. Since the Imperium is a grotesquely extreme example of Fascist, but Inefficient, though, the one thing you can usually count on is that the genuinely nasty stuff will leak out more often than it should, while the benign and harmless stuff will be defended with fanatical vigour more often than it should.
  • Pathfinder: This gets worked into Cthulhu's stat block when facing him. Since he's not entirely of the materal plane, 3rd dimension or even Euclidian space for that matter, his fight gets slapped with a couple of nasty quirks...the first being all attacks having a 50% chance to miss Cthulhu, since he isn't quite where the player characters perceive him to be, and the other being his attacks hitting in a 10-foot cube around where he actually strikes. Now, you could beat this by using the True Sight Spell, but then this Trope REALLY comes into play by forcing any character who DOES to take an immediate Will save...with the penalty for failing it being instant and permanent insanity from glimpsing Cthulhu's actual form.

  • Happens to Lariska when Tren Krom Mind Rapes her in BIONICLE, as his search for information in her mind also causes her to get glimpses into his mind. A similar experience happened to Makuta Mutran thousands of years prior when Teridax sent him to find Tren Krom to gain vital information for his plan to usurp Mata Nui. He succeeded...but didn't come out quite the same.

    Video Games 
  • Diablo II plays this one straight when Marius witnesses Diablo's transformation. He even says it "was not meant for mortal eyes."
  • Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem plays on this trope with one of the characters going insane (well he wasn't really but he sure sounded like it) after seeing "beyond the veil".
    Oh...oh gibbering insanity wrought in flesh as though an artist sculpted it! Created from nothing by their mistress Xel'lotath, a canvas as grotesque as any!! Their bodies made no sense - no heads, no organs - an empty husk devoid of the trappings of nature... But it shrieked!!! A mockery of reason, both natural and mental!! A blasphemy from beyond the Veil!! The veil has opened!! And we should not see beyond!! We...we weren't meant to...never...ever...meant to!! Oh, give us the blessing of ignorance, the happiness of oblivion... Innocence can only be tainted, never returned!
  • In La-Mulana, the Skimpy Swimsuit—and a nice screen-sized shot of Lemeza wearing it—is your final reward for beating Hell Temple. Duracuets warns you on multiple occasions that the reward was not meant to be seen and that you may regret obtaining it.
  • Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc features a weaponized thing Man (or rather, a cute little fairy-like species) was not meant to know. There is a secret so horrible that it corrupts anyone who hears it. A single member of the species somehow learned it, and he captures others and whispers it to them, then lets them whisper it to others, like an intellectual Zombie Apocalypse. It'd be horrific if the entire game weren't Played for Laughs.
  • Persona 3:
    • Invoked by Elizabeth — and Theo in the PSP re-release — who refuses to tell the player what was in the takoyaki they just ate.
      Elizabeth/Theo: "There are things your kind is better off not knowing." So I've been taught, which means... I mustn't... But using THAT for cooking...
    • Also invoked by Mitsuru when asked about the punishment for Mr. Ekoda. She simply states, "There are things in life you are better off not knowing" with a completely straight face.
  • The Bureau's interrogation and torturing techniques in Escape Velocity: Nova are alluded to but never explained. All that other characters will say of them is that they are "sickening" and too horrible to describe. In one plot line, the player is captured and suffers it first-hand: The game dialogue will only tell you that what you experienced is too awful to remember, and that for the rest of your life whenever you even attempt to recall what you have been through, you will lapse into incoherent, terrified screaming.
  • Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth has the main character, a private detective, progressively learn more and more of these until he discovers he has been time-switched by the Great Race of Yith (a la A Resection of Time) which contributes to his suicide.
  • There exists... something... in Star Control II that causes horrible death to anyone who learns about it... maybe. This happened to the Androsynth, and to one scientist in your landing party, who read their science notes leading up to the event (except you don't lose a crew member). It is repeatedly stated by those in the know that ignorance is the best defense against this thing, as it cannot affect anyone who doesn't know about it. A race of Eldritch Abomination aliens — the "fingers" of something else's "hand" — mysteriously appeared nearby around the same time. But they don't like it if you ask too much about what happened.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • The eponymous Elder Scrolls themselves are this, combined with being Tomes of Prophecy and Fate. Referred to as "Fragments of Creation," the scrolls are of unknown origin and number which simultaneously record past, present, and future events irrefutably; what did happen, what could have happened, what might yet happen. Even the falsehoods in them are true. (Especially the falsehoods, as is pointed out several times in the series.) To the untrained eye, the scrolls will yield an odd chart that looks like it has constellations on it with odd glyphs printed over or under it. A knowledgeable reader will be able to interpret the scrolls to a degree, but incompletely, and will be irrevocably struck blind. A well-trained reader, such as a member of the Cult of the Ancestor Moth, will glean much more from the scroll and will even recover their eyesight... for a finite number of times before their sight is permanently lost. In all of these cases, reading the scrolls tends to lead to madness for the user. Even those who merely study the scrolls, never actually using or even handling them, are driven to complete madness with alarming regularity.
    • The Daedric Prince Hermaeus Mora has this trope within his sphere. Appropriately, he is also the only Daedric Prince to actually take the form of an Eldritch Abomination, being an endless mass of tentacles and eyes. If there exists some bit of information in all of existence which he does not know, he will mercilessly acquire it by whatever means necessary. One in-game book describes a mage who tried to explore the realms of Oblivion. When he entered Hermaeus Mora's realm of Apocrypha, an endless library, he became enamored with the knowledge and never left. His voice still whispers to the writer, each time more and more alien. Further, according to Mora himself, he is/arose from knowledge that cannot exist (detritus concepts ejected from reality), rendering him not only the keeper of things man was not meant to know, but also making him something man cannot know.
    • The Hist are a race of ancient, sentient, and possibly Omniscient trees native to the Black Marsh where they are worshiped by the Argonians. They are said to possess "unfathomable" knowledge from the Dawn Era, the earliest days of creation before linear time existed as a concept.
    • In Morrowind, reclusive Tribunal deity Sotha Sil devotes much of his time to studying the "hidden world," they very underpinnings of reality that mortal minds can barely conceive of, much less alter. He also gives this as his reason for refusing to allow Divayth Fyr to study the Tools of Kagrenac in Sotha Sil's Last Words...
      Sotha Sil: The Tools of Kagrenac in your possession? I think not. Were you to have them, I would fear for your life. They are not tools for mortals, Fyr, as you well know.
    • Oblivion: "I have seen the Gates of Oblivion, beyond which no waking eye may see."
    • Skyrim goes in depth about how the Dwemer used to build giant magical computers powered by Elder Scrolls and starlight. They catalogued what they could interpret from the Elder Scrolls into cube-shaped storage devices and simply touching one of those devices can drive a person to insanity. The Dwemer themselves, in the series Backstory, attempted to use this information to Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence. Whatever happened, success or failure, caused their entire race to disappear from the face of Nirn in an instant.
    • The entire Elder Scrolls Universe is considered a Thing That Should Not Be by many, with the most accepted theory being that Nirn, the "planet" of the games' setting, exists within the dream of one of The Old Gods. Being able to fully comprehend this can allow one to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence and become a Physical God themselves, but the slightest mistake will result in Cessation of Existence instead (which is believed to be the reason behind the aforementioned disappearance of the Dwemer). The universe frequently experiences stability issues, often resulting in absolute breakages of the fabric of reality, known as "Dragon Breaks" where reality steps outside for a cigarette break. The largest Dragon Break in history is known as the Middle Dawn, a period weird that even the Elder Scrolls, which themselves are Things That Should Not Be, either adamantly refuse to show what happened, or are absolutely stumped themselves. And the kicker is that this was set off by an ill-timed ritual and lasted for a total of 1008 years.
  • Penumbra: "There are things I need of you. Things you may not understand, and may not wish to do, but please, do not make the same mistakes I did [...] Human nature sealed my downfall. My name is Philip. If we are lucky, then by the time you receive this, I will be dead. If fate frowns, we all perish."
  • In The Reconstruction, Falitza allegedly destroyed her mind by "peering into the unknown". Subverted, though — it's Obfuscating Insanity. She was so sick of being "little miss perfect" that she staged the whole thing to get thrown into Sanctifel.
  • In Dark Souls, the final part of Big Hat Logan's storyline if you rescue him and learn all of his sorceries has him going insane while trying to decipher and duplicate the spells of Seath the Scaleless, the dragon progenitor of sorcery.
    • Of course, given that this very study was what drove Seath the Scaleless mad, it was more or less a foregone conclusion.
    • The Downloadable Content adds the populace of Oolacile, who, according to an merchant, got conned by a "toothy serpent" into awakening Manus, Father of the Abyss, and they got turned into mindless monsters for their troubles.
  • Dark Souls II has the Darklurker, an enigmatic being which possesses power over various elements and resides in the deepest reaches of an Eldritch Location only accessible through a portal. Its flavour text outright states that some things would better be left unilluminated.
  • In Dark Souls III, Seath's legacy continues to drive people to madness. Oceiros, the former king of Lothric, went mad trying to decipher the Seath's knowledge. He went even further than Logan, actually mutating into a grotesque dragon-like abomination.
  • In the first Dark Fall game, the Dowerton Hotel appears on the surface to be haunted by the ghosts of the people who mysteriously disappeared there, which Polly White and Nigel Danvers were sent to investigate. But back in 1947, the hotel owner, George Crabtree made a discovery that started it all. It turns out that the ghosts were caused by the titular monster, which killed everyone and fed on their souls for eternity, and the way to defeat it requires piecing together an incantation scattered by George in case he failed.
  • Bloodborne: This is a gameplay mechanic. Instead of Humanity, your character gains Insight on the way Otherworldly beings see Yharnam. By observing them with your Insight, new enemies appear and old enemies gain advanced attacks, in addition to all the tentacled monsters that lounge in the background. It's... disturbing. Especially the constant wailing of a lost baby in the night... knowing now that you have to kill it before it achieves its true form. Ew.
  • In Mass Effect 3, the Leviathan DLC has the Leviathan admonish Shepard for not turning back when they warned them, managing to uncover the location they've spent over a billion years trying to hide, but even worse, having the sheer audacity to decide to venture into the depths of an ocean on an alien world, simply to confront them face-to-face!
    Leviathan: You have come too far...
  • Played hilariously in the second Professor Layton game. One of the failed tea recipes leads to a startled Luke informing us that there is smoke rising from the cup, to which Layton responds, 'This is clearly a tea that should not have been.'
  • Fallen London has a particularly horrific variation in the "Seeking the Name" quest. Rather than the knowledge itself harming you, it's the process of seeking it, trying to find it, getting to the next scrap in a gigantic, endless trail of misery that destroys you and everything you have. The various things you have to do in order to advance will have you destroying your moral and social standing, your sanity, your body, your soul, among others, in possibly the most epic example of Press X to Die in videogames.
    • The Correspondence is this to a T. Not only is one glyph from it described as "punctuation. Protection. A legal token. An illegal weapon. A punchline. It's an odd language." But once your character has learned enough of it the glyph's will occasionally force themselves to the front of your characters mind and make them contemplate what they mean in full. Think that doesn't sound so bad? Several of the glyph's will spontaneously set the area around them (read: you) on fire. These are some of the tamer ones.
    • It gets better. The Correspondence's nasty effects are caused by writing them improperly, IE bad grammar. When used correctly it is a reality warping LANGUAGE. This is because it is the language of the Judgements, AKA the stars. They decide what is and what is not in their domains. In the Neath there is no Judgement keeping things normal. Which is why so many crazy things exist down there, why so many people are crazy and why death is on extended leave.
    • And if you thought the Correspondence was bad, it has an opposite language called the Discordance. Where the Correspondence is fire, the Discordance is ice. Writing it drops the temperature dramatically and knowing it can literally freeze your thoughts. It's really not helped by the fact that it doesn't exist due to being expunged from reality, making it something man literally should not be able to know.
    • Zig-zagged in Sunless Sea. The Name is still a foolish, haunted journey to the center of madness. The Name is still something humanity was never intended to know. However, this is a different Name than the above, and your ex-Dawn-Machine navigator knows what this particular Name is really good for - if you bring it to one of the very few not-totally-evil gods in the universe, they will reward you with Exaltation. The key here is that it's treated as a glorious journey undertaken for its own sake, even though the player must willingly and literally abandon everything that makes them human.
    • Double Subverted in Sunless Skies with "The Courtsey", a cosmic secret. Nobody who has pursued this knowledge has stayed in the public eye and lived. When you learn it, the information is horrifying but it doesn't damage your mind. But it does put a tracking beacon in your brain, at which point the guardian of the secret creates a sentient mini-sun made of the Correspondence itself that proceeds to hunt you down and make itself the thing your mind (and flammable body) cannot handle. There's only two ways to escape your fate: flee to the Neath, or throw your best friend to the wolves and wage one last war against the god of death itself.
  • In Thaumcraft (a magic-themed Game Mod for Minecraft), certain research is classified as "forbidden knowledge", some knowledge being more forbidden than other knowledge. Researching this knowledge will give you "Warp", which sticks to you for the rest of the game. (And considering what game it's a mod for, that could be a while.) Having warp gives you effects of varying severity depending on how much you have, ranging from harmless paranoia-inducing messages ("Something is following you...") to being hunted by Eldritch Abominations.
  • Darkest Dungeon: Aside from the horrible bioengineered Eldritch Abominations that threaten the town in ways that defy creation, you end up discovering THE TRUTH: humanity was created by a cosmic horror known as the Heart of Darkness, possibly as an incubation regulator, or possibly by accident, and it nests in the hollow core of Earth so that their millions of children may one day be born by blowing up the planet. Half your party dies to kill ONE of them. ONE. A SINGLE BABY Heart of Darkness was enough to fuel, command, and control EVERYTHING wrong with your estate. The sheer horror of this truth drives the player character to suicide.
  • Halfway through Phantom Dust, the protagonist and the leaders of a group called the Visions learn that all of humanity that remains on Earth are nothing more than memory constructs created by the final human being before dying. Though the Protagonist, who was based on said human's best friend, had much more detail put into his creation, the others were rushed constructs who shatter and cease to exist upon witnessing the memory realizing their lives were essentially that of illusions.
  • Nasuverse:
    • The Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, a special ability which allows people to "see" death, in the form of lines across everything that can be cut through in order to instantly kill or break apart the object. However, not only is the human mind not meant to comprehend actually seeing the concept of death, the fact that the lines are literally everywhere constantly reminds the user of the fragility of everything that exists. The comprehension is enough that Shiki Ryougi, who was already borderline psychopathic before she got the eyes, immediately tried clawing out her eyes when she realized just what her eyes were seeing. Meanwhile, Shiki Tohno doesn't freak out nearly as badly initially, but continual use throughout the story degrades his health and strains his brain as his eyes get more powerful and start showing him the death of things he shouldn't normally be able to comprehend (like buildings and concepts).
    • In Fate/Grand Order, Sherlock Holmes's special side story brings up the question: if Holmes is a Servant, does that mean he was a real person, despite the complete lack of physical evidence that he was anything other than a character made up by Arthur Conan Doyle? But if he wasn't ever real, then how can he exist as a Heroic Spirit? At the end of the story, Holmes says that the true answer would involve explaining cosmological concepts like the Theoretical Pruning Phenomenon and the underpinnings of the Human Order, and he decides in his capacity as a Ruler-class Servant that the details of these things are knowledge no living human should ever be burdened with knowing.
  • A more mundane example in We Happy Few with the Very Bad Thing that the people of Wellington Wells did to defeat their German occupiers. Whatever it was, the moral guilt from enacting it drove the citizens so mad that they began taking Joy to forget. By the time the game starts, the entire town is out of their minds on Joy, and even the Wellies who have been taking it their whole lives will become Downers if they learn what the Very Bad Thing was. For those who want to know (SPOILERS!)
  • Crazy Pete, one of your potential party members in West of Loathing, is a miner who is crazy and can tell an Awful Truth to deal Spooky Damage against enemies, effectively weaponizing this trope.
  • Asking to know the true nature of a certain entity known as Gaunter O'Dimm in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will have them warn Geralt that he shouldn't pore into such matters.
    Do you really wish to know? (Yes) No, Geralt, you don't. This one time I shall spare you and not grant your wish. All who have learned my true name are now either dead or have met an even worse fate.
  • Control: The FBC is very well aware that there is something seriously screwy going on with Ahti, the Finnish janitor but no-one is quite sure what. An enterprising researcher tried pointing a video camera at the entity for a bit to see what it did. The resulting recording mesmerized everyone who watched it to the point that they stopped doing anything except watch it. The recording also looped seamlessly without rewinding the tape, played even when the VCR and TV it was connected to didn't have power, and somehow compelled people who came too close to it to look at it. The FBC hid the tape away and has since declined to kick that particular hornet's nest again, especially since the entity in question is seems benevolent and supportive of the FBC and is implied but never outright stated to be the Finnish pre-Christian sea god of the same name.
  • Genshin Impact: In the Sumeru Archon Quest, its eventually revealed that Irminsul, the World Tree of Teyvat that records all knowledge in the world, was contaminated with Forbidden Knowledge by the Scarlet King in his search for immortality. In order to purge the Forbidden Knowledge, the Scarlet King sacrificed himself, along with Rukkhadevata depowering herself, in order to purge Forbidden Knowledge from Irminsul in order to stop the spread of the withering and Eleazor. However, during the Cataclysm 500 years prior, another contamination of Forbidden Knowledge occurred, and Rukkhadevata had to create a new God of Wisdom, Nahida/Kusanali, and needed her to remove her from Irminsul due to the fact that she was also contaminated with Forbidden Knowledge. When asked what Forbidden Knowledge is, Nahida explains that its a "truth" from the bottom of the Abyss that no-one, not even gods can comprehend.
  • In Path of Exile the Order of the Djinn investigates strange threats and frequently discovers these. The final snippet of lore for each investigation is always ominous, and often reveals either that information that should have been kept secret has escaped, or that it was concealed so thoroughly they are now unprepared for the threat.
    The books were burned, and the scribes set themselves aflame. What secret so terrible could they have discovered? Though centuries have passed, we must investigate this for ourselves.

    Visual Novels 
  • Doki Doki Literature Club! contains a reference to such a thing: "a horrific reality — a reality that our world is not designed to comprehend ... hellish epiphany." This refers to Monika's realization that she's in a game. Turns out that's not a fun thing to realise, nor one that's good for your sanity.
  • Tsukihime: Shiki Tohno possesses the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, which means he can see "the lines of death" on everything, which, if traced by a sharp object, can destroy that object from existence. This was caused by him being revived from the dead — due to being close to death, he retained part of his dead state in the form of his eyesight. As a downside, however, he needs his magical glasses (made by the Aozaki sisters) to suppress his magical vision, as his power deteriorates his mind faster than it deteriorates his body. In one of the endings, he starts using a blindfold once it grows too powerful to be suppressed by his glasses.


    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe:
    • The book "Incongruity" by best-selling horror author Michael Waite. You're fine reading it, unless you happen to know that it is really the First Scroll of the Kellith, who is prophesied to wipe mankind off the face of the earth and re-populate the planet with the seed of the Great Old Ones. It also helps not to know that Michael Waite will become the Kellith.
    • Pretty much anything to do with the GOO. At least one person has marveled at the fact that Hekate's brain hasn't melted out of her head yet.
    • This appears to have been the downfall of the Isokist, who accidentally opened the first gateway to the Great Old Ones' home dimension and paid the ultimate price for their curiosity.
    • Played for Laughs with Josie (nee Josh) Gillman: A Family Curse dooms most men of the Gillman line to succumb to Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. So a helpful Cosmic Horror changes Josie into a girl because, as in so many examples throughout this page, apparently woman can know them. Josie's as much confused as grateful.
  • SCP Foundation:

    Web Videos 
  • The GREYLOCK Tapes: The preacher in to the mountain insists that there are things man is not meant to explore and learn of, or else they will invite the devil into their soul. So far, the series is proving him completely right.
  • One of the many theories connected to the Slender Man is that the more you know about him, the more likely it is that you'll be next...
  • The shortest distance that can be meaningfully measured is the Planck Length. In "Metric Paper," CGP Grey describes it as "a sort of reality pixel, that it's best not to think about."

    Western Animation 
  • The Nightmare Realm of Gravity Falls is one of these. Fiddleford McGucket accidentally got sucked into it for a few seconds, and when he came out, he was so horrifically traumatized that he deliberately and repeatedly wiped his own memory to the point of permanent brain damage, reducing him to "local kook" Old Man McGucket.
  • An episode of Justice League Unlimited that featured time travel, "Time Warped" revealed that the Green Lantern Corps' greatest taboo is witnessing the creation of the universe, and it's implied that this view is widely-held among other alien races as well. The closest we come to seeing it is a ball of light emanating from an enormous hand within a dark void, and since all those other gods exist...
    • In the comics, a Guardian of the Universe (specifically Krona) found out (with severe and unpleasant consequences) and so the rest of the Guardians wanted/needed to make sure it never happened again. (Details vary depending on when the specific telling of the story was written.)
  • In the My Little Pony (G3) film The Runaway Rainbow, when Rainbow Dash admits that she doesn't know how rainbows are made she says "Well, darlings, there are things we're not supposed to know."
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Twilight Sparkle tries to figure out how Pinkie Pie's Pinkie Sense works. In the end, the lesson of the week is that there are things that are impossible to explain.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls (2016) Fuzzy Lumpkins gets sucked through a portal via an evil tiara. After the tiara is destroyed he returns and says that he's seen things no man should ever see.
  • Invoked by Ray Stanz in The Real Ghostbusters episode "Who're You Calling Two-Dimensional?" After Egon runs a test to find out what's inside Slimer, Slimer gets really hot and suddenly popcorn starts popping out of Slimer and filling the room, bursting a door open in the process.
    Janine: Oh my gosh! Is everybody okay?
    Egon: Don't Ask.
    Janine: What happened?
    Ray: We made an important discovery. We discovered there are some things that Man was not meant to know.
  • In Rick and Morty, the main reason Rick is so mentally disturbed is that humanity was clearly never meant to have access to The Multiverse, encounter the horrors therein, and most importantly, face the existential nightmares of knowing of your infinite alternate selves. He (barely) copes by being an alcoholic hedonistic sociopath. Morty took his first steps along this path by blocking out these thoughts with the noise of mindless television and advises his sister to do the same.
    • In the episode "The Jerrick Trap", Rick does a "Freaky Friday" Flip with his son-in-law Jerry. However, trying to work with everything he knew using a normal human brain was simply too much, and he immediately has a nervous breakdown and tries to kill himself.
  • The Simpsons: In "Lisa the Simpson", Apu briefly converts the Kwik-E-Mart into a freakshow exhibit, and one of the items on display is a can where the label has fallen off, rendering it's contents a total mystery. Otto says a line almost exactly the same as the trope title when he comes across it.
  • Also parodied in the Spongebob Squarepants episode, "Plankton's Army", in a different way:
    Mr. Krabs: (stuck in a toilet, while Plankton is about to read the secret Krabby Patty formula) Plankton, wait! You can't look at the formula!
    Plankton: Begging won't help.
    Mr. Krabs: I'm telling you! You won't be able to handle the truth! There are some things in this world that weren't meant for mortal eyes!
    Plankton: Eye.
    Mr. Krabs: Eye.
    Plankton: I don't care! Drum roll, please! (rolls a drum himself) Finally, after all these years, I'm about to find out what makes a Krabby Patty taste so good! The secret recipe for one Krabby Patty is: a pinch of salt...
    Mr. Krabs: Plankton! Wait!
    Plankton: Three teaspoons of chopped onions...
    Mr. Krabs: I'm warning ya!
    Plankton: A cup of love...
    Mr. Krabs: Don't do it!
    Plankton: Mixed together with the most important ingredient of all: four heaping pounds of freshly ground... (turns page, sees picture of himself) plankton!?
    Mr. Krabs: I warned ya.
    (Plankton screams and runs back to the Chum Bucket)
  • In a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode, this line is spoken almost word for word by a panicked Mad Scientist working for the Foot Clan in a video journal that the Turtles find, describing the Shredder's horrid genetic experiment that turned human victims into mutants. (More than likely, the scientist and all other members of the Foot are dead by now.) Michelangelo, who early on was watching a cheesy 50's sci-fi film earlier that used the same quote, is immediately convinced from that that they should get out ASAP.
    There are some things man was never meant to tamper with.
  • Parodied in The Tick: "Let us not forget the lesson that we can learn from this, Arthur, that man was not meant to tamper with the four basic food groups."
  • An episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, "Secret Decoder Ring," parodied this trope. As the title suggests, Billy finds a secret decoder ring in a box of Blast-O Bits Cereal and uses it to translate a message on the back of the package. A disembodied voice tells him (and every other kid who bought a box) that they should come to Gutterball Hill, where the secret of the universe is hidden at the bottom of a giant mine shaft. Grim desperately warns the children that mankind was never meant to learn that mysterious secret—not because it will drive people mad or destroy them, but rather because humanity "would probably do something stupid with it." Subverted when it's revealed that the rings were sent out by the guardian of the secret to trick someone else into becoming their replacement to look after the secret
  • In one episode of Xiaolin Showdown, Jack Spicer is playing around with the Rio Reverso, a Shen Gong Wu that can turn something back into its original state. After turning a football into a pig, Jack decides to answer "The ultimate question: Which came first!?" and zaps a chicken. It turns into an egg, and then back to a chicken, then egg, and back and forth infinitely. Watching this, Jack notes, "There are some things man was not meant to know."
  • In Star Trek: Lower Decks, when Rutherford learns that Shaxs is Back from the Dead, he decides he must know how. When he finds out, he's horrified by it. Apparently, it happens to all of the bridge crew from time to time.

May God help you.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, Man Was Not Meant To Know, Thing Man Was Not Meant To Know


Four Heaping Pounds...

When Plankton finally gets a hold of (what he thinks is) the Krabby Patty formula, Mr. Krabs warns him not to look at it, but Plankton brushes him off. He really should've listened.

How well does it match the trope?

4.8 (25 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheSecretOfLongPorkPies

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