It’s settled: the egg came before the chicken.

I shall make my first post light, and propose a solution to the problem that since time immemorial has plagued people with nothing better to do. I speak (of course) of the what-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg puzzle.

This may be reducing any kind of metaphorical meaning it might have had to zero, but here goes. We know that, if we subscribe to the theory of evolution, all wildlife evolved from something else, which in turn evolved from something else, until eventually we come back to the primordial soup which begat us all. At one point in the evolution of a chicken, one of whatever came before the chicken suffered a mutation which made it into what we now know as a proper chicken. It was almost certainly hatched from an egg. Therefore, if we define a chicken as being the present form of a chicken, the egg must have come first. We can’t really call what came before it a chicken, because then where do we draw the line? The sequence of gradual changes will reach back to the primordial soup, you see, and single-celled organisms certainly aren’t chickens.

However, if we do decide to call what came directly before the chicken a chicken, we can’t know (for now) what came first. This is because the laying of the egg was probably a mutation somewhere along the line, and we don’t know whether that mutation happened to what we define as a chicken (the broad term), or an ancestor of the chicken that is unrecognisable as such. Of course, it may not even be that simple, because the laying of the egg is probably the result of a series of mutations, and therefore we also have to define what we mean by egg—that is, whether it is an egg as we know it now, or a general egg that might have a number of different shapes and sizes.

Which is all very confusing. So it is much better (read, easier) to define the chicken as being the modern chicken, in which case the egg definitely came first. If we define it more vaguely, then we don’t know, and we might never know.


5 responses to “It’s settled: the egg came before the chicken.

  1. I have to disagree because the definition of ‘chicken’ is pretty much arbitrary. The chickenness of that genetic line varies continuously and so a hard cutoff is of necessity probabilistic at best.

    I’d propose instead that the chicken and egg are both merely products of an underlying process, the chicken-egg process. This process cannot arise with spawning both chickens and eggs.

    A physical realization of the concept ‘chicken’ cannot exist without the concept ‘chicken-egg.’ Thus, in a sense, a chicken is an egg, and an egg is a chicken.

  2. A hard cut-off is certainly difficult, I grant you. But the thing is, it’s surely possible at least in theory. We know that somewhere along the line in the evolution of the chicken, it became what we know as the modern chicken: in other words, the “prototype” by which we measure all other chickens. Of course, there are bound to be mutations after this prototype first appears, but since these mutations weren’t successful (because the domestication of chickens means there’s less need to change), they don’t become part of the prototype. We can work out the prototype by checking what features the vast majority of chickens have in common. The previous form of the chicken might be one that had all these features except one. If such a calculation were possible (I’m no expert in evolutionary biology), I think it might be possible to say the egg came first.

    Your own “chicken-egg identity theory” is interesting, however. I take it that the consequence is that it’s impossible to work out which came first? This may of course be true, but perhaps equally difficult to prove.

  3. I think you’re confusing what’s practical to what’s logically justifiable.

    “Vast majority of chickens” presupposes some criteria for selecting chickens. We have to have a working definition already or we can’t separate chickens from non-chickens.

    Also, the features are continuous, not binary. For instance, technology. Clearly, humans have a qualitatively different grasp of technology. But even crows have basic technology. As a result, all the chicken features are probably present in the pre-chicken, but at slightly lower (or higher) levels. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like the story of a non-chicken producing a chicken egg; the difference is practically infinitesimal at this ‘transition.’

    Actually, having written it down I realized that I don’t fully understand my own idea. Supposedly the chicken and egg arises simultaneously, but this is clearly not the case.

    First attempt at repair: It means there is one process – chicken-egg – that arises, once, that has the features of eggs and chickens. Since the possibility of eggs and chickens arises simultaneously, which came first was basically a matter of chance.

    Of course the chicken-egg process is itself just a feature of a larger process, and so on.

  4. I think I’m coming round to your point of view, actually. I was probably a shade forward in saying that I’d definitely found the solution in my post. Perhaps, as you say, it’s basically a matter of chance. In which case, the chicken egg may have come before the chicken, while not excluding the possibility that the eagle came before the eagle egg.

  5. Well, not too forward. It’s solved now. 😛

    Also, “If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?” Is also solvable.

    It just depends on what you mean by ‘sound.’ If you mean the qualia of sound, no, because there’s no ears or brains to create such. If you mean the trigger of the qualia – the soundwaves – then yes it does. And so on.

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