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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 ;-)

Roberto Alsina / 2006-04-04 16:20:

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