You Cannot Grasp the True Form

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"Words describing it fail. Pages relating it shrivel. Tales recounting it end."


Imagine if some non-human entity, such as, let's say, All The Tropes, became a three-dimensional living entity with self-awareness and consciousness, that wanted to sit down and have a lovely little chat. What would it look like? Like a surprisingly feminine, charming little sprite? Walls and walls of binary code that resolve themselves into a house-like shape? Or perhaps a whole universe, a world, complete in and of itself?

At some point in the conversation, the personification of All The Tropes drops a little Mind Screw in your tea: you are not looking at, or conversing with, all that All The Tropes is. You are not even seeing an illusion that All The Tropes is projecting into your mind. Rather, the sheer awesomeness of All The Tropes, the might and immense hideousness of it, bypass your eyes and occipital lobe entirely, and your mind meekly registers it as the closest, safest, yet still comparable thing on hand. You Cannot Grasp The True Form, or else you will Go Mad from the Revelation.

Related to Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, and sometimes Alien Geometries. Often a property possessed by the Eldritch Abomination.

When someone is in a truly outlandish environment, their brain will just make up stuff for them to see. Usually an excuse for the artist not to have to draw the weird other-dimensional stuff.

See also A Form You Are Comfortable With, Ultimate Evil, Hyperspace Is a Scary Place, and Weirdness Censor.

Examples of You Cannot Grasp the True Form include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Princess Tutu, anybody who isn't directly connected to the story sees the eponymous Magical Girl as a giant white swan wearing a crown.
  • Death Note's 13th volume, How To Read, mentions that the true form of the Shinigami King is unknown and may be incomprehensible to humans.
  • Baccano!'s Ronnie Suchiart reveals his true form in the light novels once. No physical description is given, however, on the basis that the sight was so terrifying and incomprehensible that it was blocked immediately and entirely from the spectator's memory.
  • Implied regarding goddesses and demons Ah! My Goddess; because they exist in a twelve-dimensional state naturally, four-dimensional beings such as humans cannot truly perceive them. This was most openly stated in chapter 268 where a demon purposefully forced Keiichi to witness a bit of her true form and nearly shattered his mind.

Mokkurkalfi: You don't perceive our true appearance. Your existence and ours are different. My form, and what you think you are seeing, are not necessarily the same.


Comic Books

  • It's often said that Galactus doesn't actually look like a gigantic human - it's just your brain that makes it that.
    • Turns out he was a Human Alien in the previous universe before he became Galactus, but now his true form resembles a star.
    • To Beta-Ray Bill's people, he looks like a giant amoeba. Interestingly enough, Bill himself sees him like earthlings do. Spent too much time on Terra, I guess.
    • In one instance when Galactus appears before a large number of species, the page is filled with numerous smaller pictures showing how each species perceives him.
  • In the JLA-Avengers crossover: after flying into space, Superman and Iron Man see the forcible merger of their worlds as two gigantic hands pushing the two Earths together. Tony comments that this can't be real, and Clark says that this is simply how their minds chose to represent the event.
    • Also in this crossover, we see Eternity (the Anthropomorphic Personification of the Marvel Universe) merging with his female counterpart, Kismet of the DC Universe, in what looks like a, uh, very intimate embrace.
      • Left behind in the space where the 'merger' took place is an egg that will explicitly become the center of a new universe someday. Make of this what you will. (At any rate, it certainly gives Big Bang a whole new meaning.)
  • In an early Justice League of America comic, the JLA encountered a Cosmic Horror calling itself The Unimaginable, a creature so far beyond human comprehension that it was effectively invisible.
  • Toyed with in the tale of Orpheus in the Sandman Special, reprinted in Fables And Reflections. Orpheus visits Death and becomes confused and disoriented when he sees her in her house clothes. She quickly cleans up for her visitor.
  • Due to miscommunication at DC, the death of the New Gods in The Death Of The New Gods were completely contradicted by the death of the New Gods in Countdown to Final Crisis. Grant Morrison says they both happened, and are merely different mortal viewpoints of an event completely beyond our grasp.
  • In PS238 #35, a Journey to the Center of the Mind, the Lords of Order and Chaos appear at the start to explain that much of what we're seeing is a metaphor that we can make sense of, starting with themselves.

Order: What that means is that I'm not really a pleasingly-shaped metallic object that can talk.*
Footnote: *The purest form of order found on Earth is usually in the form of math problems where you have to show your work.
Chaos: And my true form isn't a jumble of random threads of what appears to be string.**
Footnote: It's really entropy, which can look like string. However, it's very difficult to tie anything together with it. Chaos itself is usually found in junk drawers and the bottom of closets.

  • In the Superman story Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Lois Lane tries to tell what Mr. Mxyzptlk's true fifth-dimensional form was: "I can’t describe what Mxyzptlk then became. He had height, width, depth, and a couple of other things, too.”
  • The Vishanti, a trio of higher entities who sponsor the office of Sorcerer Supreme, explicitly state that they cannot show their true forms to mortals because it would wreck their minds.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy, it's explained that forces and entities, like the Abstracts, sometimes simplify themselves for mortals in order to get their assistance. In the some issue, it's revealed that the setting, what looks like a giant checkerboard-like world, was actually the cloak of a gigantic Abstract.
  • Dreadstar, when the Twelve Gods whom the Church of Instrumentality served (sort of) finally appeared.

Dreadstar: The suckers are nothing but floating eyeballs!?
Syzygy: That is merely how your mind chooses how to conceptualize them.


Fan Works


  • In Dogma, God manifests twice in A Form You Are Comfortable With (most famously as Alanis Morissette), but His/Her voice is a perfect example. Humans' heads and chests explode upon hearing it because we do not have the aural capacity to handle its awesome power, which is why God usually sends an Angel to communicate with humans.

"We went through five Adams before we figured that one out."


John: I think we can assume that these entities are more advanced than us. Why don't they just come right out and tell us what's on their minds?
Leek: You're more advanced than a cockroach. Have you ever tried explaining yourself to one of them?

  • It is said in the film Devil that the devil can take on any form and gender.
  • Sauna in the movie Sauna appears to humans as sauna, while it really is something more. This is most likely because it chooses to appear in a form that people can comprehend.


  • Discussed in Flatland, whose protagonists are two-dimensional polygons for whom the very notion of three-dimensional creatures inspires Cosmic Horror. When a Flatlander is befriended by a 3-dimensional sphere, he literally Cannot Grasp The True Form without touching it. And a cube looks like an Eldritch Abomination, constantly changing shape at various angles.
  • The angels in His Dark Materials are described as being like this - humans and even witches see them as human shaped, being incapable of perceiving their true form which is more like architecture. At least until Baruch and Balthamos come along and really do seem like nothing more than slightly snobby see-through humans.
  • The monster IT from Stephen King's book of the same name. The closest approximation for its physical form that the protagonists could comprehend was a Giant Spider.
    • This also happened with the eponymous character of Stephen King's novel Rose Madder, whose true form was something like a spider...thing. Rosie was warned several times not to look at it.
  • This is a regular feature on Discworld, particularly as it relates to death (and indeed Death!) It's also how the Time Travel antics of the Men In Saffron appear to civilians.

"Time has stopped for everyone but you," said Sweeper patiently. "Actually that sentence is wrong in every particular, but it's quite a useful lie."

    • Death gets this whenever he interacts with humans, who seem confused because someone is talking to them, and it appears to be a skeleton in a cloak, but that's ridiculous, so the mind just rejects it. Children, however, aren't nearly as mentally fixed, so their minds easily wrap around it and they see him as he really is.
      • And there are occasions when Death CAN be seen. Most notably, in Wyrd Sisters, when Death decides to take the place of an actor who is supposed to play him in a Macbeth expy, everyone in the audience is expecting to see death and, therefore, does. Death, not being used to such a large audience, gets stage fright. And it is hilarious.
  • Mostly averted in H.P. Lovecraft's work as his Eldritch Abominations tend to appear in their true form, which tends to lead to madness in those who see them. Sometimes it's played straight, though. Yog-Sothoth is perceived by mortals as congeries of iridescent spheres because his true body transcends the space-time continuum and we only see the small parts of it that happen to intersect with that particular location in time and space. Nyarlathotep tends to appear in a form of a man because it makes manipulating humans easier. He has several less human forms too (1000 to be exact) but all of these are just avatars, or "masks". What his true form looks like is never even hinted, but as he is the soul of the Outer Gods, he might not even have a physical body outside the avatars.
    • Nyarlathotep all but says this in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" when appearing as a human (though a superhumanly charismatic human, with "the fascination of a dark god or fallen archangel") - "pray to all space that you may never meet me in my thousand other forms."
    • Although it's never explicitly mentioned, considering the insignificance of mankind in Lovecraft's cosmology it's very unlikely that the Elder Gods naturally look humanoid. More likely the human-like forms they appear in are used by them in order to not drive humans insane (the Elder Gods oppose the Great Old Ones, and since mankind would be destroyed if the Old Ones awaken, they are the closest thing Lovecraft has for benevolent deities. Not that that's saying much).
    • "Through the Gates of the Silver Key":

Memory and imagination shaped dim half-pictures with uncertain outlines amidst the seething chaos, but Carter knew they were of memory and imagination only. Yet he felt that it was not chance which built these things in his consciousness, but rather some vast reality, ineffable and undimensioned, which surrounded him and strove to translate itself into the only symbols he was capable of grasping. For no mind of Earth may grasp the extensions of shape which interweave in the oblique gulfs outside time and the dimensions we know.

    • Indeed, later in the same story Yog-Sothoth explicates what is in fact a major implicit premise behind the whole Cthulhu Mythos: practically everything we experience goes under this trope, including three-dimensional space, change and time, and the individuality of what we ordinarily think of as different creatures.
      • Ramsey Campbell's Cthulhu Mythos Homage "The Render Of Veils" exploits this variation of the trope to very disturbing effect.
  • In the Otherland series by Tad Williams, Felix Jongleur communicates with The Other through simulations so he can avoid interacting with it more directly. Unusual in that he's the one who determines what fake form he's perceiving, though The Other tends to warp the simulation into something a bit more disturbing.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
    • The seven-dimensional Legion, which appeared in both the Virgin New Adventures and the Virgin Missing Adventures, aren't even contiguous in three dimensions.
    • The NA Sky Pirates! features a small pocket universe that is one of these, which is hiding a totally separate species that is also one, and it also heavily implies the Doctor himself falls into this category. Its loose sequel Death and Diplomacy extends this to the TARDIS too.
    • From the television series, it could be possible that the Weeping Angels are something like this. They can't be seen by any living being, and any time they can be observed, they instantly freeze into their trademark stone statue forms. It's implied, however, that they aren't necessarily limited to the form of angels when frozen in stone. We don't know why they freeze into rock beyond it being a defense mechanism, but for this very reason, what they are/look like unfrozen is anyone's guess.
  • The Ellimist always appears in a humanoid form before the Animorphs, while his true form is some techno-organic behemoth made out of countless pods, organs, feathers and the like, built around his original avian body, about half of which is still trapped inside a black hole.
  • Angels are like this in CS Lewis' Space Trilogy. Most of the time they just look like a vague shimmer of light; other attempts have produced wheels rolling on distant hills, a painful impact of colors (described as being like the "true sensation" of being hit in the eye by a rock), and (most successfully) a pair of otherworldly humanoids.
  • There is a sci fi short story about a creature that is not of alien form but of alien color rendering it impossible to see properly.
    • Sounds like "The Colour Out Of Space", one of H.P. Lovecraft's more famous works.
    • Could also be Ambrose Bierce's "The Damned Thing".
  • In "Myhr's Adventure In Hell", Terrin translates everything Myhr "sees" in Hell to something he can grasp without going insane. Mainly, a Sugar Bowl. With naked lesbian demons.
  • In Larry Niven's Known Space series, Hyperspace has this quality: the human brain is completely incapable of perceiving hyperspace, and carefully edits it out of your sight. If you look at a window, you see the frame basically collapsed all around the window, which is slightly less disturbing. And if you look at a 360 degree panorama or hyperspace, you lose sight completely: you don't just go temporarily blind, your completely forget that you ever possessed sight, or what sight even is.
  • A particularly nasty variation happens in Harry Potter, in the Boggart that takes the form of whatever you happen to fear most.
  • In The Dresden Files, there is a semi-divine being known as a Skinwalker, or Naagloshii. Just to look at it resembles a powerful bestial creature (with the ability to shape-shift). Certainly frightening, but by no means incomprehensible. However, when Harry uses his Wizard's Sight on it, even briefly, the effect is almost mind-shattering. The Naagloshii's true form is so inherently wrong that it literally takes hours for Harry to dissemble enough to function normally again (and he has to be careful not to think about it otherwise it reduces him to near unconsciousness). It is also implied that the powerful movers and shakers of the supernatural world have similar (if not so utterly abominable) forms. The Queens of the Sidhe, particularly Mothers Summer and Winter, are beings of such intrinsic power that their true forms are likely to be completely incomprehensible.
  • Played straight and subverted in Dan Abnett's Know No Fear. While fleeing from Chaos Daemons two Guardsmen perceive them as horrific monsters with horns, spikes and forked tongues. However one member of their patty, the seemingly immortal Oll Persson thinks to himself that what they are seeing is not the true form of a Daemon, it is what their minds are perceiving it as by pulling together bits of what they believe monsters look like. He however sees their true forms as shapeless clouds of warp energy and is able to kill them.
  • Percy Jackson and The Olympians: Looking at a god's true form is fatal to humans.
  • The Silmarillion: Ungoliant's Unlight baffles and disorients even the Valar.
  • The various deities in The Elenium and its sequel series The Tamuli are hinted to be this, seeing as Aphrael can appear as a child, a grown woman, and even two people at the same time.

Live-Action TV

  • In Babylon 5, most people see the Vorlons as whatever equivalent their culture has to "angel," but Londo apparently sees nothing. Whether this was because the Vorlon ignored the Centauri race and focused their ancient genetic manipulation on the now-extinct Xon race that also evolved on Centauri Prime, or because Londo is just a Jerkass, is never explained.
    • JMS claimed somewhere, in response to a fan's question, that Garibaldi (an agnostic) would have seen himself in Kosh. This statement seems to support the idea that it was Londo's having been touched by Shadows that led him to see nothing, rather than any faith-related matters/crises on his part.
  • Parodied somewhat in The Middleman, when MM and Wendy visit the underworld. It appears to Wendy (and the camera) like an office building, but when she mentions this to MM, he claims to see an overgrown field full of feral creatures. He's kidding, he sees an office. "Someone's funny in the underworld."
  • Many portrayals of the Q Continuum, including the episode "Death Wish" of Star Trek: Voyager, indicate that whenever a human enters the Continuum it looks like normal 4D space-time so that the human mind can comprehend it. In that episode, the crew joins the Q Continuum rebels against the Q old guard. Because the humans (and aliens) cannot comprehend Q weapons, they perceive the situation as the American Civil War... even the weapons they're using against the old guard Q. (Tuvok threatens these Q with their own weapons after being insulted.)
    • The novel I, Q goes so far as to say that the human mind does this automatically to stay sane and that Data normally shuts down because his android mind tries to "see" everything and crashes. Q must filter the sensor input so Data can function.
    • In fact, the Q Continuum has never been truly perceived by visitors; they're always shown a representation which they could understand.
    • In one novel, Picard perceives the Continuum as a weird-looking highway with a sign at the on-ramp saying something like "Organians, keep out!"
      • The book also mentions that the Q don't like the Organians for their smugness and the holier-than-thou attitude. Which is like a teapot calling a kettle black. Is there anyone in the galaxy more smug and self-righteous than Q?
  • In Supernatural, angels cannot be comprehended except by their true vessel. Anyone else who glimpses their true form has their eyes melted out of their head, and anyone else (or anything around anyone else) that is around their true voice experiences what basically amounts to tornado conditions. To even be comprehended, they must first take a vessel. Any improper vessel, even the next closest thing, will eventually explode under the power.
    • Archangels are even worse. The very presence of their true form is capable of doing all of the above, but with massive earthquakes, and instant death for anyone who's around.
      • And this can even remain true when they're in a vessel. Raphael simply manifesting himself created a thunderstorm that knocked out all power to the Eastern Seaboard. In a later episode, he similarly created another thunderstorm when he manifested again. And when he showed up to protect a prophet, the growing light was tearing the room apart.
    • According to Zachariah, his true form has 6 wings and 4 faces, one of which is a lion. This is actually in line with how The Bible describes angels.

Religion and Mythology

  • The Bible, in the Old Testament, God has mentioned that if anyone unprepared saw His face, they would die. Even Moses, his most obedient follower, could only see His back.
    • Which then rubbed off on Moses a bit, since when he came back to everybody else his face blinded them into making him wear a veil.
    • All which is rather odd, since Abraham had no trouble with having God visit his tent and chat with him, face to face.
    • In another incident (Exodus chapter 24 for those who care) God appeared in full glory for seventy-four leaders of Israel total. The fun part? It mentions that they all ate and drank together (don't ask what happens when God gets drunk). And it says that God stood on a sapphire pavement. And absolutely nothing else.
    • Also applies to the Seraphs, God's personal throne guards. They keep themselves hidden with their wings (they have six, by the way), as any mortal who looks at them directly bursts into flames.
    • All this stuff is technically moot if you think about it, since you only get to meet God and the seraphs after you're already dead and in Heaven.
    • Averted with Jesus generally, although revealing Himself to Paul later on (after the Ascension), is likened to a lightning strike and knocks Paul off his horse, temporarily blinding him.
      • Some forms of Gnosticism play this straighter, teaching that Jesus never was physically incarnated, and had no tangible form.
    • The New Testament condenses all of its incomprehensibility in the book of Revelation. Okay, so the four horsemen and great seven-headed beast are all probably metaphorical... and maybe angels in their native environment really are humanoids, some with six wings and using four of them to cover their faces and feet, or have four wings and four faces... but then John talks about things like how "the sky rolled up like a scroll," and you start to get an inkling of how everything this poor man's mind was experiencing utterly defied all human comprehension.
  • Older Than Feudalism: In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna actually shows Arjuna his (God's) true form, which is basically a more extreme combination of Eldritch Abomination and Purity Personified. Krishna even mentions that Arjuna's mortal mind cannot comprehend all that he is, so Krishna briefly gives Arjuna divine sight so that Arjuna can comprehend. Arjuna still can't handle it, and begs Krishna to retake human form. But he then goes on to slaughter hundreds of his cousins because that's his job and they were going to die anyway.
  • Played straight in Judaic and Talmudic literature, which says that God is incomprehensible. Oddly enough, some Kabbalistic poems describe him as though he were a human king, though the rabbis dismiss this as an elaborate metaphor.
  • In Greek and Roman myth, mortals that look upon a God/Goddess's true form instantly burst into flames and die, because the gods are that awesome.
  • In The Quran Moses asks to see God, who replies that the sight of Him to a living mortal would be too much... but He will reveal Himself to that mountain over there—which immediately crumbles to dust.
  • In the theological theory of Pandeism, it is proposed that those who are somehow able to contact the mind of our Creator as it unconsciously underlies our Universe find that experience so incomprehensible that their tiny human minds automatically defend themselves by interpreting such encounters as conscious communications from culturally familiar conceptions of gods, thereby explaining all revelation and scripture.

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons has the Obyriths, the primordial race of demons spawned by the Abyss eons before life arose on the Material Plane. Their bizarre, horrifyingly-alien appearances grant the Obyriths an ability called "Form of Madness," which causes anyone who so much as glances at them to be afflicted by an oftentimes permanent type of insanity (phobias, feelings of being consumed by insects, etc).
    • Pale Night, the so-called Mother of Demons, is one of the oldest Obyriths but lacks the "Form of Madness" rule - instead she appears as a feminine figure wrapped in a white shroud blowing on a spectral breeze, which occasionally shifts to almost reveal what's underneath. Her true form is so utterly alien and horrific that anyone unlucky enough to see it (and possibly gods) drops dead instantly (This occurs when someone deliberately tries to see her true form or when she suppresses the shroud, which she can do once per day). She doesn't choose to wear the veil, Reality itself imposes it upon her. Think about that, she's so alien that REALITY, existence itself, can't bear to look at her. Even if something sees Pale Night and makes the (nearly impossible) saving throw, all that means is that whoever saw her's mind refuses to comprehend the terrible thing it has just seen. That's right, the only way to prevent dying is to comprehend her true form even less. If a character who succumbs to the Truth Behind the Veil (yes, that's the actual name of the attack) is later revived, they have absolutely no recollection of what Pale Night's true form is aside from a feeling of sheer horror.
  • Predators, a book for Werewolf: The Forsaken by White Wolf, introduces a being known only as the Unseen, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. It's said that its form is so blasphemous that reality itself refuses to show it (just like Pale Night). The Unseen is uncannily good at hunting werewolf packs, to the point that some suggest it's a weapon created by a werewolf-hating Eldritch Abomination. About the only way you learn of its presence is when your guts spill out of a seemingly spontaneous slice in your flesh.
    • Also Hell, as presented in World of Darkness: Inferno: a place comprised of so much depravity, so much sin, that the human (and supernatural) mind is unable to cope with it, and tries to resolve it into a Hell it can comprehend. Hell's corruption is so pervasive, even looking at it triggers a check on the Karma Meter, as it worms its way into your soul.

Video Games

  • The Trope Namer is EarthBound. "You cannot grasp the true form of Giygas' attack!" It's a tradition of the series's final bosses.
  • The power of Houjuu Nue from Touhou is this minus the Go Mad from the Revelation part. She can also imbue other things with the same characteristic by placing a "Seed of Non-Identification" on them, although knowing what the actual object is prevents it from working.
    • An example of Truth in Television, but here because it's caused by one: as said in the Bullet Hell page, in Touhou's Imperishable Night, some parts are so complex that your brain will actually stop interpreting data on some parts of the screen, and you can feel it happening.
    • When the time gets really low, some patterns are made to get very hectic; some spellcards aren't designed to be timed-out, which is what happens when they aren't beaten before the timer zeros. These final forms in the last few seconds are so intricate that they defy comprehension at times.
  • Team Fortress 2's Mildly Disturbing Halloween Mask "appears as a moldering, eldritch veil of such manifold depravity, the human eye will not process the sheer enormity of its malevolence, and out of self-preservation will merely show you a brown paper bag with a team colored face painted on it."
  • In The World Ends With You, it's impossible to make out the Composer's exact features, even though you can clearly tell who it is. He appears in a shroud of white light, and the artwork is sketchy and hard to focus on.
  • The Patriots, when they finally speak, claim this status in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. In fact, they say they're the embodiment of the collective will of the United States itself. They're a pretty Unreliable Narrator, though, and this was debunked in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.
  • The Wave Existence from Xenogears is a fourth-dimensional being that humans are unable to comprehend, and he appears as a vaguely star-like... thing from which waves emanate similarly to the ripples on a pond's surface.
  • The dragons of Rift aren't dragons at all...
  • The attacks of the Orochi in The King of Fighters involve a lot of whole-screen flashes and invisible hits—but more mysteriously, the special moves are unnamed. (... as long as Orochi's clone Mizuchi doesn't count).
  • In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, all demons are Invisible Monsters to regular humans. When a third (and not entirely benevolent) third party grants the Investigation Team the Demon Summoning Program, they can "see" the demons... as blobs of unidentifiable static who speak only gibberish. You must fight and defeat these foes in order to identify them and be able to translate their speech.
    • And even then, the master, creator, and lord of the Schwarzwelt, as well as the mother of all life on the planet, radiates such immense power that it's utterly impossible to recognize its form. Only by receiving the "brilliance" of a traveler of the Schwarzwelt can you get a glimpse at its true form.
    • "Thou canst not comprehend what I have done"—Yggdrasil
  • Tohno Shiki of Tsukihime can see the 'death' of anything that has a flaw, but since human brains can't truly comprehend death as it applies to nonliving things, Shiki has to struggle to kill inanimate objects. He can even kill conceptual things like time or disease, although this places so much stress on his brain it nearly kills him. There are also beings who simply have no 'death', and thus cannot be killed, such as Arcueid during the night (which Shiki finds out to his chagrin during Ciel's route.)
  • Word of God says that this holds true for the night sky in The Elder Scrolls. Mortals can't comprehend an infinite plane of existence enclosed in another infinite plane of existence which itself is enclosed in another infinite plane of existence so it all appears as a solar system.
    • This also applies to the eponymous scrolls, as what little you can see of the one you find before it blinds you for a few seconds is a set of strange runes and writing, when they're supposed to hold the world's entire history.
  • Devil May Cry 4 has Pandora's box, a Morph Weapon with 666 forms (not all useable), despite turning into a throwing glaive, a rocket launcher, or amissile platform its most damaging attack is simply letting the box drop open, revealing the contents inside to everything in front of Dante.

Web Originals

  • Orion's Arm takes a slightly different approach. Understanding the mind of the archailects is impossible for a normal human. And actually understanding their physical form is pretty difficult too because they exist as multiple planet sized objects.
  • A good many SCPs are likely to qualify, although most are written as mundane things with strange properties, rather than strange things appearing as mundane things.
  • The Narrator in Shell tries to describe the Eldritch Abomination, but cannot grasp its true form when drawing it.
  • In Homestuck, the Horrorterrors are psychically percieved by humans as adorable squid creatures (about whom a cartoon is made) due to this effect.
  • It is implied in The Slender Man Mythos that this is one of Slendy's characteristics, given that he has been know to grow Combat Tentacles, his use of both On- and Offscreen Teleportation, and taking into account the lack of distinguising (read: ANY) facial features.
  • Sam from Freefall has a certificate confirming he exist only in old good 3D space. Which is sometimes necessary, because natural camouflage of his species makes this fact less than obvious (when he isn't covered with clothes, that is).

Western Animation

  • Robin from Teen Titans sees the entrance to the afterlife as a regular wooden door with LIFE AND DEATH written on it.
    • Which is taken directly out of one of the comics when Beast Boy and Raven venture there. They even make a remark about it;

Beast Boy: "I can't believe the afterlife has a sense of humor."
Raven: "Yes, it disturbs me as well."

  • In one episode of I Am Weasel, Weasel and Baboon use a bike so fast it exceeds the speed of light in which they find in Another Dimension where the living beings look like ham. I. R. Baboon tries to eat one even after the beings saying that their small minds can only grasp them as ham.
  • One episode of Invader Zim parodies this with the Meekrob, who fly into Dib's room in the form of strange, glowing aliens, and then inexplicably transform into giant floating sneakers.

Dib: Who...what are you, and---why did you transform into giant shoes?
Meekrob: We are beings of pure energy. This is merely a form that your human brain can understand.
Dib: But---you just looked like aliens before you turned into shoes.
Meekrob: Hmm...yes. But you couldn't comprehend that.
Dib: Yes I could.

    • Of course, this was all fake anyway.
  • After getting crap for using A Form You Are Comfortable With, an alien on The Venture Bros got mad enough to show them his real form. All the audience got to see was that it revealed itself by ripping its "face" open down the middle, had flashing lights, tentacles, and was enough to make a (mentally handicapped) character crap his pants.
  • The alien Vok in Beast Wars:Transformers capture Optimus Primal and communicate with him. But to do so, they first scan his memory banks for what he would consider a figure of authority—they choose to manifest as the disembodied head of Unicron. They're actually creepy glowing energy skull things that do very little.

Real Life

  • The color magenta does not exist in the human visible spectrum, and is instead made up by the brain to bridge the gap between red and violet. Explanation.
    • Also to a lesser extent green. The wavelengths that trigger the "green" receptors on your retina also elicit a slight reaction from the "red" receptors. So in order to see true green, you would first need to be incapable of seeing red.
    • It's even worse than that. We have three kinds of color sensors, each of which picks up a variety of wavelengths, divisible into three pairs, Red and Green, Blue and Yellow, and Black and White. What 'color' we see is calculated as an average of all three inputs. Most colors are thus seen by all our photoreceptors and made up by the brain.
    • Try to imagine a completely new colour. Just try it. You can't.
    • To a limited extent it also depends on cultural values. If a language and culture has a bigger difference between colors, people in that society are better able to distinguish colors. This goes the other way too, as people who lack distinctions for colors are unable to recognize differences between them.
    • Even worse, try to describe colour as you see it to a blind person.
      • This is actually pretty simple to do, simply equate light to sound, and then equate different colors to different pitches (Volume corresponds to brightness).
    • Probably related are images taken by telescopes (or other instruments, for the case) designed to work with wavelengths that do not correspond with visible light, like Spitzer (infrared) or Chandra (X-Ray). The images we see that have been taken by them are actually processed false-color images, so we can see them with our eyes and if they were sensible to those wavelengths while we'd see something more or less with the same aspect (ie: an infrared-bright region of star formation or an X-ray emitting gas cloud) , etc, their colors (to give that a name) would be quite different. It's worth to remember that colors do not actually exist and that they're just the way the brain represents the different wavelenghts of light when they hit the retina and has to process them.
  • Human sight can only register tridimensional objects. Go ahead and try to draw a point in a fourth-dimensional coordinate system. You can't, since no one has figured out how to draw the coordinate system to begin with. There are certain workarounds, for example, if we use a tridimensional coordinate system, we can "simulate" the fourth dimension with a visual identifier other than position, for example, coloring the points with their according "value" in the fourth dimension.
    • Note that this is the 4th dimension in the mathematical sense , not the 4th dimension in relation to physics. Heck, some theories outright discredit time as being a dimensional factor at all... We'll see where those theories lead.
    • These brain warpers are four-dimensional polytopes. Even if you can get a grasp on them, we can mathematically conceive n-topes of any number of dimensions.
    • We can, however, project it into three-dimensional (and even two-dimensional) space, just like we can draw a cube on a piece of paper. That may not make it easier to understand, though. (See also Flatland.)
    • This is because fourth dimensional space allows for the overlap of three dimensional spaces. To put it in easier terms, a 2D plane is filled up with infinite lines in any which direction. A 3D space is filled with 2D planes in any which direction. A 4D space is filled with 3D spaces in any which way.
  • Blind spots. Scary.
    • And optical illusions reveal just how much of what you see is manufactured by your brain to make up for a lack of comprehensible visual info in the "real" world.
      • There is actually a way to "see" your blind spot: cover one eye and look at a page of text (this page, for example). The text that falls within your blind spot will register as a blurry spot of grey.
    • Not to mention that everything visible is manufactured in your mind. Reality is actually 99.9999999% empty space filled with billions of entities incomprehensible to the human mind.
    • It goes further. The left hemisphere of your brain, which is responsible for things like language, is also responsible for "making sense" of the world. This can sometimes lead to fairly bizarre illusions when it goes wrong. For example, left side paralysis caused by brain damage, not direct nerve damage, leads to the common illusion that the non-functioning body parts belong to somebody else. The reason is that since the damage originates from the brain, there is no feedback from the limbs to signal that something is wrong with them, since they are technically totally functional. Therefore, the brain invents the idea that the limbs must belong to somebody else. In cognitive science, this is referred to as confabulation.
      • It is actually rather scary that a person under such an illusion is more or less incapable of understanding that they ARE, in fact, not right. They will acknowledge any arguments made by people trying to convince them, but they will not change their mind. When the brain no longer needs to delude itself, people are confused how they could have ever believed something so ridiculous. In some cases, the same defensive mental mechanism reoccurs, and people conveniently forget their previous puzzlement. And it should be noted, this happens in people who are otherwise perfectly reasonable, sane and rational, as far as it is possible for a human to be rational. So the next time you think you perceive and analyze reality in an "objective" manner, try being a little more skeptical.
  • As our grasp on the reality around us is generated by our brain, which in turn relies on our existing sensory organs for input, anything that our sensory organs cannot percept is this trope. Be it electromagnetic waves outside the visible spectrum, sound frequencies beyond our hearable range, or whatever else.
    • Consequently, when one of our senses gets damaged or fails to develop normally, we cannot even grasp the true form of things that other people with intact senses take for granted.
    • And it goes further. Apart from our "raw" sensory input, there are a lot of functions inside our brains which tie together particular pieces of information to simplify our all-day life. For example, there are brain areas responsible for automatically recognizing faces by a combination of visual cues. In individuals with prosopagnosia, these don't work normally, causing them difficulty in distinguishing faces and reading facial expressions, although their visual perception is generally intact.
    • Aphasias are conditions where an individual's ability to use language is impaired. There are different types of aphasia, depending on the point at which the process of language understanding and usage is interrupted. Affected individuals may either talk non-stop gibberish while being unable to understand the meaning of others' (and their own) words, or have an intact understanding while being only able to speak a small number of words, or be unable to repeat others' words, or lose their ability to speak completely.
    • On the positive side, there is synesthesia. Affected individuals have difficulty explaining their unusual condition to others, because unaffected people cannot really imagine what it is like. Even two synesthetes tend to have difficulty explaining their sensory experience to each other, since each one of them has a unique form of it.
    • People with autism spectrum disorders also tend to have an abnormal sensory processing system that results in a different sensory perception. Like synesthetes, each autistic individual has his/her own unique sensory experience which can include both over- und under-sensitivity to various stimuli. They also have a characteristic deficiency in mind-reading which causes them difficulty in recognizing others' feelings and intentions. Again, the degree of mind-blindness varies from one individual to another, as does the nature and effectiveness of the workaround strategies which they develop over time. As a result, even highly intelligent autistic individuals often have problems explaining their experience to neurotypicals.
  • As implied above, there are many spots in the realm of mathematics in which things that can be conceived via a system of axioms or functions cannot be conceived in a pure representative form.
    • Douglas Adams pointed out that infinity is flat and uninteresting, since it doesn't present magnitude or scale, ergo, really big things are necessary to show just how big it is. A basic example is the Googolplex, a number so large that it cannot be represented longhand, even if we filled the known universe with protons and wrote a zero on each one.
    • An even bigger number is Graham's number which cannot be expressed with any standard system of numerical representation including such things as exponent stacks (e.g. a^b^c^d^e...).
      • Go bigger. The Wikipedia article states that Graham's number is not the biggest number to be used in a serious mathematical proof. That's right, there's a number bigger than the number that cannot be expressed in this universe.
      • It can be expressed, as it is on that page, with recursive stacks of exponents, which are themselves used recursively 64 times, all the better to make your head explode with, my dear. Even the first of these 64 terms is incomprehensibly huge; far, far bigger than the number of atoms the Universe could hold if they were packed together as tightly as physically possible, let alone the much smaller number of atoms it actually contains. And that number is subjected to the same ludicrously fast increasing process sixty-three more times. And, heck, you could just continue past 64 cycles up to, say, a Googolplex of cycles, and then...actually, let's not go there.
      • Fun fact: Graham's number is the maximum limit of the number of unique variations of a particular problem. The minimal limit, at the time, was thought to be 6. (It has since been increased to 13.)
  • Those numbers also can't be constructed physically or computationally. Meaning they can't exist physically or even in simulation.
    • And now remember that all the numbers mentioned above are as far from infinity as the number 1.
    • As if infinity wasn't hard enough to grasp as it is, the infinity mentioned above is only the first, and smallest, infinity (generally denoted aleph-null). There are even larger infinite numbers; in fact, there are so many larger infinities that the question "how many" does not apply to the totality of them. This is because the total collection of infinities is too large to correspond to any infinite quantity. Isn't set theory fun?
      • Mathematicians have explained that infinity is more of a process than a value, because you can't define infinity's value other than "really large".
      • Related to this is infinitesimal, which is a something that can only be described as a value that is infinitely small, but still reasonably significant. It's probably first heard when taking a physics class or learning about integrals.
    • We don't even need to resort to very large numbers for indescribably. The amount of numbers between, say, 0 and 1 is a greater infinity than the amount of possible permutations of words in any language. This means that the total amount of numbers between 0 and 1 is more—significantly more—than the total amount of possible ways to describe numbers; therefore there must be many numbers between 0 and 1 that cannot be described.
      • And then keep in mind that this is true for decimal numbers between every single pair of whole numbers you can think of. And then invert that, because the same is true for negative numbers.
  • Still about mathematics, there are fractals. Their number of dimensions varies whether it's topological or not, and their "true" (Hausdorff) number of dimensions is often non-integer. The Menger sponge, for example, is an object which has zero volume and an infinite surface area. Which means that any Menger sponge you'll see is only an approximation.
    • For another example, look at Sierpinski's Triangles (imagine a Triforce where you replace every triangle with another Triforce ad infinitum). It has roughly 1.585 dimensions (more precisely, log(3)/log(2).
  • Singularities are points within mathematical functions where the given function is not well-defined. For example, f(x)=1/x has a singularity at x=0 for obvious reasons. Worst of all are essential singularities, where things get really weird - such as f(x)=sin(1/x) at x=0. You can't even plot that properly, no matter which scaling you use.
  • What's beyond the edge of the universe?
    • Apparently, a restaurant.
    • A restaurant with poor service. The worst.
    • Funny, I thought it was another universe where everyone wears cowboy hats.
    • The thing that isn't the universe.
    • Unless you believe that there is NO EDGE
    • Modern physics has settled on two basic alternatives: The universe either wraps around on itself (like the surface of a sphere) or is infinite. What came before the universe, is still a big question.
      • Bonus mind breaking: If the universe wraps into itself and thus has no edges, what is outside the universe when there is no outside to begin with?
  • Despite the fact that imaginary numbers are Exactly What It Says on the Tin, they actually have, more or less, practical and perhaps physical applications. That Other Wiki has plenty of examples.
    • It starts earlier. While a standard calculator is already unable to correctly display periodic numbers like ⅔, irrational numbers like π are really mind-boggling. You just can't express them precisely as decimal numbers, or - in case of π - even as a sum of roots, which themselves are no more expressible as decimal numbers.
    • And then, there is quaternions, octonions, sedenions and so on...
  • Higher order tensors. First rank tensors can be written as vectors, second rank tensors as matrices... and then it starts getting difficult. And these mathematical constructions have real life applications: For example, the material constant C in Hooke's law F = C*x becomes a forth rank tensor in its most generalized form. And this is the case when a linear relationship is assumed. Needless to say, it gets worse when you assume non-linear elasticity... Yes, reality is complicated.
  • Quantum mechanics, anyone?
  • Animal consciousness. We can test an animal's intelligence by means of its ability to solve a defined task, but we will (most likely) never find out how it really feels to be a cat, dog, rhesus monkey, parrot, octopus or whatever. We can't even say which animals have a consciousness and which don't - we usually assume that a monkey has it but an ant doesn't, for example, but we don't really know, we just assume that based on the complexity of their nervous systems.
    • The problem is that we don't really have a concept about what consciousness in general is (see In theory, there might even be humans walking around without a consciousness. Or alternatively, every unicellular organism might already have its own consciousness, making it a universal feature of all life forms.
      • Experiments conducted as of 2020 have revealed that some "lower" animals (including, oddly, crows) have a sense of self -- usually regarded as an element, if not the element, key to consciousness. But whether they are conscious in the sense that (most) humans are is still unknown -- and may never be truly determined.
    • By the way, where does "life" actually start? Are viruses a form of life or not?
  • What will happen to you when you die. No matter what exactly follows death, thinking about it is always a good way to make your brain hurt.
    • Just take the simplest concept: The Nothing After Death. Try to imagine that you no longer exist. No body, no mind, no consciousness, no time and space, no sensory perception, no thoughts and feelings... it's just impossible.
    • The 'lite version' of the former example: What does it feel like to be in a state of deep coma? Does it 'feel' at all? And how does it feel to awaken from it after months or years? (Concerning the last question, at least a few people could state how it felt to them, however these are likely not to have an accurate memory about the time span they spent in coma itself, so don't expect a satisfying answer to the first question.)
  • Swiss writer Robert Walser said this about his mental illness (which is thought by many psychologists to be a rare form of schizophrenia).
    • "Meine Krankheit ist eine Kopfkrankheit, die schwer zu definieren ist." ("My disease is one of the mind and difficult to define.")