Knowledge that could drive people insane--possible? Real (or fictional) examples?

I’m midway through the first season of Fringe, and please don’t spoil it for me. But it brought to mind a bit of a trope that dates back at least to Lovecraft: the idea that there are things that Man Was Not Meant To Know, and unwise dabbling in forbidden knowledge could drive a person insane. (It also reminds me of one of the creepiest Twilight Zone episodes I ever saw: “Need to Know”.)

Do you think such a thing is possible?

Has such a thing ever occurred?

(And not the main point, but are there other fictional stories like the above? For the sake of a good chill . . .)

the vague knowledge of when and how you’d die.

Fictional examples galore.

Warning: TV Tropes link.

You did that on purpose, didn’t you?

(The link says “FORBIDDEN”)

That’s on your end. Works fine for me.

Oh, and FWIW, there is a “Real Life” folder at the bottom of the linked page. For when, you know, you can get to it.

People have been legitimately influenced by what they’ve read and become obsessed with hidden meanings or a deranged take on reality. I recently listened to a podcast where a man read about the philosophy of ‘reality’ and found it impossible to discern reality from his dreams. He could only trust the things he physically touched at that moment and had to be hospitalized for years to learn to trust that the world was real. The book was a trigger for these thoughts, but I don’t think you could say he was driven insane by the book.

It seems to me that these were people ready to become insane (or were already insane) and a book was a convenient anchor for that insanity. They weren’t driven insane by that single book.

How complicated but fragile we all are - so many anomalies show up in MRIs & CTs, it’s a wonder anyone can live ‘normally’. Especially when learning the interdepenence of the various systems, and all that can go wrong - if it was possible to unlearn, I wish I could. It ain’t like I sit around all day obsessing - but when getting a headache or stomachache, realizing there’s a 99% chance it’s ok - there’s always that 1%. Unless ur a doctor, ignorance is bliss.

Langford’s Basilisks are a fictional example.

Read Stephen King’s The Jaunt for “other fictional story” that provides a good chill. It can be found in Skeleton Crew.

“Longer than you think, Dad! It’s longer than you think!”

The recipe for Soylent Green? :cool:

Not to junior mod, but would people please remember to spoiler box any forbidden, mind destroying secrets so those of us that want to retain their sanity can still participate in the thread. Thanks

I think humans (and many other animals) are remarkably adaptable. Sure there may be some that can’t cope or adapt, but most would be fine in time.

When I was quite young, I read Heinlein’s short story “They.”

Ruined my life!

(Good story… Read it, oh do!)

A friend of mine watched the movie “Alien” at a tender age, and it screwed him up pretty badly. This isn’t a case of “abstract knowledge,” though, but of a pretty gruesome horror movie. Still, it is a form of knowledge…

I’ve heard people argue, seriously, that if the world were to receive a signal from intelligent life in another solar system, that many people here would “go insane” from the knowledge. I just don’t see why. It would be interesting, maybe even disturbing, but crazy-making?

Well look what happened to Cate Blanchett in the latest Indiana Jones movie. If an alien race agrees to share all its secrets, you’d better decline!

H.P. Lovecraft has lots of stories about people being driven mad after glimpsing/realizing supernatural things.
Check out pretty much anything by him. (IMHO At The Mountains Of Madness is a great one.)
Warning, he’s kind of an early 20th century “Anglophile”, which is a nice way of saying “kind of a racist.” Not like: KILL THE STRANGERS!. More along the lines of a disrespectful treatment of those unlike him. Again, IMHO.

Lovecraft is definitely the prime example of this sort of thing…but his stories also loosely imply that there are telepathic effects that augment the insanity. It isn’t just knowing that Nyarlathotep exists, but the waves of mental emanations radiating from Nyarlathotep that fry your brain.

I consider that cheating, frankly. I’d rather go with the knowledge itself being dangerous. Like the Monty Python business about a joke that’s so funny, people laugh themselves to death when they hear it.

Again, I might buy the effect of some highly intense visual stimulus that could harm someone. Like watching some really hideous transformation – people morphing into centaurs or worse – much worse – that could unbalance me. (I’ve never seen “Alien” and damn well never will!) But simply knowing that, say, centaurs exist on Mt. Helicon? Um…cool!

The sound that will break the record player. For you kids it’s the sound that will break you iTunes thingy.

Not every device can make a sound which causes self destruction, and I doubt there’s any evidence that any thought can destroy a human brain. Still, I knew a person who’s son died in car accident, and he was never the same person after that. Total destruction, no. Lifelong damage, it can happen.

There are plenty of things on the internet that cannot be unseen, no matter how much you might wish it could. Do they count?

Depends. Are you now insane?

Example from fiction other than Lovecraft:

Star Trek episode where they are transporting an alien ambassador from somewhere to somewhere. (Sorry, don’t remember the episode title.) The ambassador is a life form so utterly alien to humans that the very sight of him (it?) drives a human instantly deathly insane. (And Spock was not immune either, as it played out.) The audience got some brief glimpses – the ambassador apparently resembled some sort of large glob of slime mold, but very brightly sparkly, and resided in a smallish box with a lid that could be opened, but you dast not!

One defiant crewman dared to peek and went stark raving shrieking mad, and died within a few minutes.

The story line required that, at one point, Spock needed to do a mind meld and become one with the ambassador. He wore special protective goggles, but forgot to put them on again when it came time to un-meld, so he went sort of crazy too.

The ambassador had a mysterious human traveling companion, a mutant natural-born mind reader who was raised as a Vulcan so she could learn to mentally filter out the cacophony of hearing everyone else’s thoughts in her mind. She was also mysteriously able to look at the ambassador safely. Turned out in the end that was because

she was blind. And she was able to do Vulcan mind-meld tricks to cure Spock.Wait a minute, I just remembered the episode title. “Is There, In Truth, No Beauty?”