Created By: PsychoFreaX on February 21, 2013 Last Edited By: NESBoy on February 22, 2013

Selective Butterfly

Changing history only changes a single concept when a lot more should be changed

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Sorry I'm still trying to make the laconic shorter. Can anyone help with that?

Anyway, this is a subtrope of Butterfly of Doom. Theoretically if you were to travel back in time and kill someone famous like say, Thomas Edison(hypothetically!), not only will he have never invented the light bulb(in fact, it's more likely that someone else would eventually figure it out), but many more alterations would be made in the present. For example, people's relationships with others, their career status or if they were ever even born. Not so much in fiction.

If you take the above example then fictional time travel will usually only make alterations to only selectively erase all of Edison's inventions. That is the Selective Butterfly, when changing history through time travel, even from far back in the prehistoric time, only changes one concept, when realistically a whole lot more should be changed as a result, but remain untouched.

Also see In Spite of a Nail for the complete aversion of Butterfly of Doom.


  • Chrono Trigger is probably the biggest offender there is. Somehow, if you don't defeat the reptites in the 65000 BC and they become the dominant species, their civilization will develop in the exact same pattern as humanity and the altered 1000 AD will be almost the exact replica of the original. But with reptites instead of people. There are other examples too that includes NP Cs from different eras.
  • A Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode had a story with Homer and a time traveling toaster that sends him back to the prehistoric age where he mistakenly killed a mosquito. Throughout the episode he goes back and forth in time and killing different creatures in the past ("Don't touch anything? I'll touch whatever I feel like!"). The resulting changes in the present include Ned Flanders ruling the world, everyone has frog tongues, the world gets submerged underwater or no donuts. Somehow though, Homer's family or even the layout of the neighborhood remain untouched.
Community Feedback Replies: 13
  • February 21, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    OK, so this is a variation of In Spite Of A Nail?

    Sounds like a good idea, actually.
  • February 21, 2013
    StarSword
  • February 21, 2013
    m8e
    Can we add "or maybe someone already did" after the Fridge Logic pothole?
  • February 21, 2013
    PsychoFreaX
    I don't see much point in doing so, unless you can explain.
  • February 21, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation Picard dies on the operating table and Q gives him the opportunity to go back and change his past (specifically, to not get stabbed in the heart as a Starfleet cadet, which is what ultimately neccessitates the operation Picard dies during). Q promises Picard that apart from his personal timeline, nothing else in history will change. "Frankly Picard, you're not that important."
  • February 21, 2013
    PaulA
    I'm not really seeing how this is different from In Spite Of A Nail.
  • February 22, 2013
    PsychoFreaX
    In Spite Of A Nail is an aversion of Butterfly Of Doom, this isn't. Downplayed? Maybe though.
  • February 22, 2013
    m8e
    ^^^^ Edison didn't invent/patent the first light bulb, or the the light bulb we use today(or used a few years ago). About eight people made incandescent light bulb before Edison, the light bulbs we use today use tungsten filaments instead of carbon and those bulbs was first patented by Alexander Just and Franjo Hanaman.

    Maybe someone traveled back in time to kill Edison but messed things up...
  • February 22, 2013
    Larkmarn
    This is definitely covered by In Spite Of A Nail.
  • February 22, 2013
    Stratadrake
    I don't see how. In Spite Of A Nail is very comparable to Butterfly Of Doom (which if I recall correctly is described as "In Spite Of A Nail applied to Time Travel"). What I want to see is how this is splittable from Butterfly Of Doom itself (or, for that matter, Butterfly Nets)....
  • February 22, 2013
    Duncan
    If I understand correctly, Butterfly Of Doom is "make one change to the past, get undesired terrible consequences because You Cant Fight Fate", and In Spite Of A Nail is "make one small change and it will eventually have HUGE consequences you didn't intend". This is "make small change to the past and something will happen very specific to that change".

    Is that right?

  • February 22, 2013
    TrueShadow1
    ^No, "make one small change and it will eventually have HUGE consequences you didn't intend" is For Want Of A Nail. In Spite Of A Nail is the opposite.
  • February 22, 2013
    Larkmarn
    In Spite Of A Nail specifically covers things like the fact that if you make a specific change in the past, it won't change as much as it logically should (despite introducing space travel in 1920, for example, you will still be born in 1980 or what have you and live in the same house, just more futuristic).

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

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