2003-09-16 14:01

What was first, the chicken or the egg?


Ok, so this is a personal pet peeve of mine, but I have trouble with figures of speech.

Specifically, it bothers me when people use a figure of speech that makes no sense. Like "head over heels". You know what? You are head over heels most of the time. Look at your head. Look at your heels. Get it?

In fact, the oracle of knowledge says that originally it was "heels over head" and somehow it turned nonsensical over time.

Well, one specific branch of figures of speech that gets my attention are paradoxes. Or rather clichéd paradoxes. For example, when someone is in a situation where A depends on B and viceversa, he may say it's like "the chicken and the egg".

The long version is of course, the allegedly difficult question "What was first, the egg or the chicken?".

Well, I don't know the age of that question, but I know when it got answered: about 100 years ago.

The answer

Now, if we stipulate the following:

  • Evolution theory is correct in general
  • Chickens are a product of evolution
  • The question really is "what kind of thing existed first, chickens or eggs?"

Then the obvious answer is eggs.

After all, fish are born from eggs. Fish of many kinds have existed before anything that could be called a chicken existed (no, chicken of the sea is not chicken).

If, instead, the question is "what kind of thing existed first, chickens or chicken eggs", it is a bit more difficult.

If the definition of "chicken egg" is "an egg that contains a chicken", then the answer is eggs. By definition of egg, a chicken comes from a chicken egg. The chicken that mutated and crossed the speciation threshold (ie: became a chicken) was born out of a chicken egg, that was not laid by a chicken.

If the definition of "chicken egg" is "an egg laid by a chicken", then the answer is chickens. The primordial chicken was born of an egg, but not a chicken egg, and proceeded to lay the first chicken egg.

In short, the answer to the question is: it depends.

If you don't agree, define both terms, write the question properly, and ask. I know the answer.

Important links

The really interesting thing here is that rational, well informed opinions do differ on the answer. To that, all I have to say is you who disagree with me... you are wroooooooooong. Just kidding ;-)


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