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This is what happens when a character goes into God mode, or at least experiences it in some way... and then realizes that he can't handle it: The knowledge of the inner workings of the universe overwhelms his mere human brain, the sheer power begins to burn out his mortal shell, he essentially experiences complete sensory overload on a cosmic scale. This can lead to suicide, insanity and sometimes other grisly results.

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Related to but different from Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, as it is more the reaction/effects of said Things. Contrast Possession Burnout, where Demonic Possession inherently damages the body. Compare My Skull Runneth Over, where information overload strains someone's mind beyond its limits.


Examples:

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    Anime 
  • Tetsuo from AKIRA, whose immense power proves to be too much for him to control, causing him to suffer a horrific mutation.
  • Shiki in Tsukihime started seeing the lines of Death Perception after he got in an accident. Pro: He now has the ability to destroy almost anything by simply cutting the lines. Con: It makes him physically and psychologically sick, and being able to perceive death in such a way means his lifespan will be much shorter than a normal human's.
  • Happens to Edward in Fullmetal Alchemist, when he came into direct contact with large quantities of unrefined Philosophers Stone.
  • In Ceres, Celestial Legend, once a ten'nyo/celestial maiden's powers are activated, her (or his) body starts to break down on a cellular level. It goes more quickly for some than for others, but it happens to all of them (save Aya/Ceres, who is the protagonist different).
  • In Beast Saga The Godlot parts will kill anyone not strong enough to handle it's power if they touch it. As proven when a Sea Tribe foot solider touches a part of the Fire Godlot and gets fried. It takes a specially made potion just to be able to carry it.

    Comic Books 
  • In Secret Wars, when Doctor Doom gains the power of The Beyonder. Doom cannot even sleep for fear of accidentally destroying the universe.
    • Doom seized the power of the Silver Surfer for himself, and it drove him mad.
  • In X-Men, this happens when Mastermind is given a glimpse of the universe as Dark Phoenix sees it after awakening her, and is reduced to a drooling, mindless shell.
    • In the original Phoenix arc, Professor X said that when Jean Grey realized that the Phoenix power was too great for her to handle, she created a psionic circuit breaker in her own mind to keep it from overwhelming her.
  • In George Perez's Ares storyline in Wonder Woman, Ares was defeated by Wonder Woman showing him what would happen if he won with the Golden Lasso.
  • Detective Chimp had a reaction like this to the helmet of Doctor Fate.
  • All-Star Superman plays with this. When Lex Luthor gets the power of Superman, he breaks down and sees why Superman is such a good person. Someone with this much power would have to be a good person, because he is constantly aware of all the suffering in the world.
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    Fan Fic 
  • In the Twilight fanfic Luminosity, Addy escapes from imminent execution by telepathically broadcasting her entire lifetime's memories. She's several centuries old, and by using Aro's power has absorbed the memories of dozens of other vampires, some of whom are several millenia old. The escape... succeeds, to say the least.

    Film 
  • Happens to Irina Spalko in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, during the contact with the aliens, where she asks them for ultimate knowledge and her brain is essentially incinerated by the sheer amount.
  • In Forbidden Planet, Dr Ostrow uses the Krell brain-boost machine and it makes him really, really smart but he dies a few minutes later.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Infinity Stones are described as requiring tremendous power — either personally or shared among a group — to handle safely. In Guardians of the Galaxy, a non-super humanoid explodes like a bomb from touching one, and the half-Celestial Peter Quill can only use it for a few seconds with help from three friends. Some artifacts, like Ronan's hammer or the Eye of Agamotto in Doctor Strange, can channel their power safely, and the Mad Titan Thanos can handle multiple Infinity Stones barehanded without any difficulty.

    Literature 
  • In The Wheel of Time, a Darkfriend once complains that he wants to have the full picture of what's going on, rather than his little piece of the puzzle. The Dark One gives the man a glimpse of the picture and it causes him to blackout from the excess of information he receives.
  • Ursault the All-Seeing from A Little Knowledge by Elaine Cunningham has a great and clean prescience... and all he saw was one infinite maze of possibilities that change everything both for good and ill, depending on other possibilities, that... and so on. Since even his trained mind could keep only a very little part of the picture, this was more annoying than useful. Others considered him a Mad Oracle because if he was asked for a prediction, it habitually dissolved into babble of endless conditional forks.
    • In Elminster's Daughter Caladnei was bold enough to demand from Elminster and Simbul to talk the way everyone can hear instead of a mindlink they obviously used. It turned out that there were more than two participants and when Mystra agreed with this request, Caladnei (and everyone present) learned the hard way why exactly direct contact with deities is rarely used even by priests strong enough to do it every day. They were barely able to move after this fun — and she was nice.
  • In A Hat Full of Sky, this is the Big Bad's entire motive for possessing Tiffany. Possessing people helps the hiver stave off the crushing pain of being simultaneously aware of every blade of grass or speck of dust in the entire universe. Having experienced a similar phenomenon in The Wee Free Men while channeling her full magical strength to defeat the Queen of the elves, Tiffany begins to sympathize with the hiver.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Smallville, normal humans temporarily receiving Kryptonian powers will have long-term negative effects. For example, Jonathan gets heart problems, and Jeremiah goes into a permanent coma.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Parting of the Ways", Rose absorbs the Time Vortex to become the Bad Wolf and can't control its powers effectively.
    • The episode "The Long Game" has a mention of futuristic computers - activated by linking to people's brains - having safeguards to prevent overload.
    • At the end of Series 4, Doctor Donna's brain starts burning out from all of the Doctor's Time Lord experience, leading to a serious Downer Ending.
  • This is what happens in Stargate SG-1 if a mortal gets the knowledge of the Ancients/Ascended, either through an ascended being retaking mortal form without having his mind wiped (see the fate of Orlin after he tried to help contain the Prior Plague), or a mortal being subjected to an Ancient Knowledge Device. His brain literally cannot handle all the information and it starts to degrade his mind.
  • Joan of Arcadia once complained that she was tired of doing the oddball tasks God gave her without knowing the point of it all. God replied that people aren't meant to see the big picture, that they only see their part in it because that's all they can process. Joan insists on getting the full view of where her latest task leads and God obliges. Joan sees a rapid flash of images that showcase the results of her actions and she quickly blacks out from sensory overload.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Karsus' Folly in the Forgotten Realms, named after the man who developed a spell to borrow a god's divinity. His target: Mystryl, the Goddess of Magic. The Weave of magic worldwide almost unraveled completely in his hands, forcing Mystryl to kill herself and reincarnate to preserve it; Karsus was left an immortal vestige, knowing how badly he had failed. Tragically, he had expected the spell to be a Heroic Sacrifice to save his country, but had underestimated what it would demand of him.
    • The Spider Throne of Vecna in 2nd Edition forces a person who sits in it to share the senses of every life-form in his realm, right down to the flies on the walls. Vecna and his elite use the Throne to spy on the citizens; anyone else who sits on it is Mind Raped into catatonia... or into becoming one of his elite.
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    Video Games 
  • The Elder Scrolls series has the titular Elder Scrolls themselves. To note:
    • The Scrolls are Tomes Of Eldritch Lore combined with 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 power of the Elder Scrolls is so great, their truths so irrefutable, that not even the machinations of a Daedric Prince can overcome them; that's how the curse on the Gray Cowl of Nocturnal is broken in the Oblivion Thieves' Guild questline. In Skyrim, you get to read one yourself to gain knowledge of a Thu'um shout lost to time; it turns out you don't read the scroll, you see events happen as if the scroll was a window to another (possibly alternate) time. Trying to read the scroll outside of the Time-Wound temporarily robs you of vision — and the reason you only suffer that much is because you have the soul of a being that exists partially outside of time, not unlike the Elder Scroll itself. Even the dragons like Paarthurnax and Alduin himself fear the Elder Scrolls' power. Turns out that they don't just reveal events, they can alter reality as well; with no recourse left, the ancient Nordic heroes who faced Alduin invoked the power of an Elder Scroll to "cast Alduin out of time", postponing his reckoning until the age where Skyrim (the game, not the province) takes place. The residue from that event created the Time-Wound, mentioned above.
    • As seen in Skyrim, the glyphs on the Elder Scrolls match closely to those seen on the Eye of Magnus, an artifact of great and mysterious power connected to Magnus, the god of magic and "architect" of Mundus. This has led to the theory that the scrolls are related to that event (and their alternative name, "Fragments of Creation", further lends credence).
    • In Skyrim's Dawnguard DLC you undergo the same ritual Moth Priests go through to be able to read an Elder Scroll after the Moth Priest you rescued goes blind after reading one without the necessary precautions. After reading the Scroll you are none the worse for wear, likely because as the Dragonborn, your Aedric soul protected you from the normal side-effects.
  • Utawarerumono: A recurring problem for those who try to use divine powers if they have access to them:
    • In the first game, Hakuowlo completely loses himself whenever he activates his divine powers, transforming into a deific beast of immense power, but in that form he cannot control himself. He ultimately chooses to allow himself to be sealed away before he can accidentally do any more damage with his power.
    • Utawarerumono Mask Of Truth: At the end of the game, Kuon gets this when she tries to activate the full power of her divine blood. She figures that if she can just control it for a second, she can use it to resurrect Haku. Unfortunately, Uistalnemetia's power is far, far beyond anything a mortal can comprehend or control, and Kuon winds up losing herself in the power and getting possessed by it.

    Visual Novels 
  • The peak of existence in Rewrite is a compendium of all knowledge. The Big Bad accessed this in the past and was able to go further than anyone before her because she was just that smart (and also already had Transferable Memory), but came out of it thinking that nothing had meaning and the world deserved to end. The protagonist delves even further than she did, and were it not for his superpower, would have completely lost it.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • The ultimate fate of Dr. Strange in The Batman. He became The Quisling for The Joining in exchange for all of their knowledge. By the time Batman and the Justice League found Strange, he was a vegetable.

    Meta 
  • There are several examples of this on the Evil Overlord List, mostly about using surge protectors or not consuming power sources bigger than one's head.

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