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Encyclopedia > The chicken or the egg

The chicken or the egg is a reference to the causality dilemma which arises from the expression "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Since the chicken emerges from an egg, and the egg is laid by a chicken, it is ambiguous which originally gave rise to the other. To ancient philosophers, the question about the first chicken or egg also evoked the questions of how life and the universe began.[1] Cultural references to the chicken and egg intend to point out the futility of identifying the first case of circular cause and consequence. It has been suggested that this article be split into multiple articles accessible from a disambiguation page. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... In most birds and reptiles, an egg (Latin ovum) is the zygote, resulting from fertilization of the ovum. ... Circular cause and consequence is a logical fallacy where the consequence of the phenomenon is claimed to be its root cause. ...


History of the problem

Very early references to the dilemma are found in the writings of ancient Greek philosophers. Ancient Greece is a period in Greek history that lasted for around nine hundred years. ... The philosopher Socrates about to take poison hemlock as ordered by the court. ...

Aristotle (384-322 BC) was puzzled by the idea that there could be a first bird or egg and concluded that both the bird and egg must have always existed: Aristotle (Greek: Aristotélēs) (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. ... Centuries: 5th century BC - 4th century BC - 3rd century BC Decades: 430s BC 420s BC 410s BC 400s BC 390s BC - 380s BC - 370s BC 360s BC 350s BC 340s BC 330s BC Years: 389 BC 388 BC 387 BC 386 BC 385 BC - 384 BC - 383 BC 382 BC... Centuries: 5th century BC - 4th century BC - 3rd century BC Decades: 370s BC 360s BC 350s BC 340s BC 330s BC - 320s BC - 310s BC 300s BC 290s BC 280s BC 270s BC 327 BC 326 BC 325 BC 324 BC 323 BC - 322 BC - 321 BC 320 BC 319... BC or B.C. may stand for: Before Christ or B.C., designation applied to years prior to the current (AD) era Places British Columbia, a Canadian province Baja California, a state of Mexico Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania Colleges Boston College, a university in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts Barnard College, a women...

"If there has been a first man he must have been born without father or mother -- which is repugnant to nature. For there could not have been a first egg to give a beginning to birds, or there should have been a first bird which gave a beginning to eggs; for a bird comes from an egg." The same he held good for all species, believing, with Plato, that everything before it appeared on earth had first its being in spirit."[2]

Plutarch (46-126 AD) referred to a hen rather than simply a bird. His is Moralia in the books titled "Table Talk" discussed a series of arguments based on questions posed in a symposium. Under the section entitled, "Whether the hen or the egg came first," the discussion is introduced in such a way suggesting that the origin of the dilemma was even older: Mestrius Plutarchus (Greek: Πλούταρχος; 46 - 127), better known in English as Plutarch, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist. ... Events Rome The settlement at Celje gets municipal rights and is named municipium Claudia Celeia. ... Events Asia First year of the Yongjian era of the Chinese Han Dynasty. ... Look up AD, ad-, and ad in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... External links The Moralia (loosely translatable as Matters relating to customs and mores) of Plutarch is an eclectic collection of 78 essays and transcribed speeches, which includes On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander the Great — an important adjunct to his Life of the great general — On... Symposium originally referred to a drinking party (the Greek verb sympotein means to drink together) but has since come to refer to any academic conference, whether or not drinking takes place. ...

"...the problem about the egg and the hen, which of them came first, was dragged into our talk, a difficult problem which gives investigators much trouble. And Sulla my comrade said that with a small problem, as with a tool, we were rocking loose a great and heavy one, that of the creation of the world..."[3]

A modern analysis covering all of the major variants was authored by Christopher Langan, published in 2001 at the Mega Foundation website,[4] and subsequently included in his book of essays, The Art of Knowing.[5] It appeared again in The Improper Hamptonian,[6], was included in abbreviated form in a 2001 Long Island Newsday Q&A column featuring Langan[7] and was compactly summarized in Langan's 2001 Popular Science interview.[8] To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... Christopher Michael Langan (born 1957?) is an individual with an estimated IQ of 195, roughly the one-in-a-billion level on the IQ scale. ...

Responses to the dilemma

Shortcut: WP:-( Vandalism is indisputable bad-faith addition, deletion, or change to content, made in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of the encyclopedia. ... Shortcut: WP:-( Vandalism is indisputable bad-faith addition, deletion, or change to content, made in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of the encyclopedia. ...


In this case, the egg is assumed to be a chicken's egg. This is an obvious assumption since the question itself implies a link between the two.

If one assumes the egg to be a chicken egg then one must define what a chicken egg is:

  • If: A chicken egg will hatch a chicken

Then a bypass is allowed: An animal that was not a chicken laid the chicken egg which contained the first chicken. In this case the egg came first. Hatch may refer to: Common nickname for gentlemen named Prachet Hatch, Utah Hatch, New Mexico Orrin Hatch Richard Hatch A hatch (door) is a door in a floor or ceiling. ...

  • If: A chicken egg is the egg that a chicken lays

Then a bypass is allowed: A chicken (that hatched from a non-chicken egg) laid an egg (a chicken egg).

  • If: A chicken egg will hatch a chicken and was laid by a chicken

Then there may be an error of definition. If the definition of "chicken" used does not refer to "chicken eggs," then the chicken must come first, because without chickens there cannot be any chicken eggs. Fallacies of definition refer to the various ways in which definitions can fail to have merit. ...

  • If: The question didn't specify that the egg had to be a chicken egg

Then we could easily say that the egg came first, because fish had been laying eggs long before chickens were around.


The Judeo-Christian story of creation literally says God created birds, not eggs.[9] However, a theistic evolution standpoint says that chicken eggs are how God created chickens.[10] Creation of birds (and other life forms) by God through superhuman beings is stated in Purāṇas[11] and Dharmaśāstras.[12] Judeo-Christian (or Judaeo-Christian) is a term used to describe the body of concepts and values which are thought to be held in common by Judaism and Christianity, and typically considered (sometimes along with classical Greco-Roman civilization) a fundamental basis for Western legal codes and moral values. ... Theistic evolution, less commonly known as evolutionary creationism, is the general opinion that some or all classical religious teachings about God and creation are compatible with some or all of the modern scientific understanding about biological evolution. ... This article discusses the term God in the context of monotheism and henotheism. ... The word Purana (Sanskrit पुराण, purāṇá) means ancient or old. It designates a corpus of texts dealing with history, tradition and religious matters. ... Dharmaśāstra is a genre of Sanskrit texts and refers to the śāstra, or Hindu branch of learning, pertaining to dharma, religious and legal duty. ...


As species change over time, in the process of evolution, the first modern chicken was the offspring of the last direct ancestor of domestic chickens to not share that classification (likely the Red Junglefowl). Therefore, a non-chicken did, in fact, lay the first egg.[13] This article is about evolution in biology. ... Binomial name Gallus gallus Linnaeus, 1758 Red Junglefowl range The Red Junglefowl, Gallus gallus is a tropical member of the Pheasant family and the direct ancestor of the domestic chicken. ...

However, the problem may not even be relevant from this perspective, as evolution is a slow and gradual process. The birds and their eggs evolved from an ancestor species into the species we have today over millennia, a time frame that vastly obscures the reproductive cycle between chicken and egg. At no point was a "chicken egg" created from a distinct "non-chicken" species.

This lack of distinction characterizes the blurry boundaries scientists erect between species and sub-species, whose differences are only apparent when referencing mutually isolated points along the time line (or between concurrently diverging species of a common ancestor) that show significantly dissimilar genetic information. Tiny genetic perturbations are being made each generation, and it should be clarified that these differences are between the generations themselves; the egg and the chicken it becomes are identical. Therefore, one may say for semantical purposes that the egg possesses the new genetic information before the chicken, simply because the egg precedes the chicken. But again, what makes this egg the first "chicken-to-be", and not its parents?

What was referred to as a chicken two thousand years ago is not exactly what a chicken is today, and the human classification of a species must evolve with the species until it becomes necessary to begin a new classification. If a specific generation possesses the genetic signature of what humans would technically classify as a chicken for the first time, then the egg has come first. However, this would be a vain effort, as the requirements would be arbitrary, and would be no different than declaring the next generation of domestic chicken the beginnings of a new species. Classification may refer to: Taxonomic classification See also class (philosophy) Statistical classification Security classification Hint: Language use may refer to a taxonomic classification that is used for statistical purposes also as a statistical classification (like International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems). ...

The nature of species classification is inherently macroscopic in time and is not compatible with the distinction between an organism and its offspring. The question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, is ill defined, with no logical answer. Macroscopic is commonly used to describe physical objects that are measurable and observable by the naked eye. ... In mathematics, the term well-defined is used to specify that a certain concept (a function, a property, a relation, etc. ...

One could leapfrog from chicken all the way back to the beginnings of life in search of an origin, but eventually what constitutes an egg becomes unclear, as life originally reproduced through metabolic division. Whatever the case, the classical question becomes complicated, and serves to show that such a narrow, black-and-white attitude is not useful in philosophical analysis of life.

Essentially, all organisms began evolution as microscopic egg-shaped creatures whose descendants evolved into multitudes of complex species. Therefore the short answer is the egg came before everybody, generating eggs and sperm who combined and evolved with each generation into a more complex creature.


One can consider the question inside the framework of experience, making the question concrete instead of abstract: "The chicken or the egg - which came first?" "The chicken" came first - in the sentence of the question. If the question is phrased differently, the answer is different. In logic and linguistics, a metalanguage is a language used to make statements about other languages (object languages). ...

Cyclical response

One can also argue that neither came first, since the chicken is the egg and the egg is the chicken. Paradoxically this argument also proves that indeed both came first.

Circular cause and consequence

There are many real world examples of cyclical cause-and-effect, in which the chicken-or-egg question helps identify the analytical problem: Circular cause and consequence is a logical fallacy where the consequence of the phenomenon is claimed to be its root cause. ...

  • Fear of economic downturn cause people to spend less, which reduces demand, causing economic downturn
  • Fear of violence/war can make people more defensive/violent, the resulting tension/violence will cause more fear.
  • More jobs cause more consumption, which requires more production, and thus more jobs.

In popular culture

  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007), J. K. Rowling presents a new version of the riddle: "Which came first, the Phoenix or the Flame?" in the case that either a Phoenix must have first burst into flames then be reborn, or that flames erupted from nowhere and the Phoenix appeared. Luna Lovegood responds to this question, "A circle has no beginning," suggesting that nither came first, they were just always there.

“HP7” redirects here. ... Joanne Jo Murray née Rowling OBE (born 31 July 1965[2]), who writes under the pen name J. K. Rowling,[3] is an English writer and author of the Harry Potter fantasy series. ... The phoenix from the Aberdeen Bestiary. ... Luna Lovegood is a fictional character in the Harry Potter book series written by J. K. Rowling. ...

See also

Circular cause and consequence is a logical fallacy where the consequence of the phenomenon is claimed to be its root cause. ... This article or section does not cite any references or sources. ... Charles Darwins Origin of Species (publ. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... The grandfather paradox is a paradox of time travel, first described by the science fiction writer René Barjavel in his 1943 book Le Voyageur Imprudent (The Imprudent Traveller).[1] The paradox is this: Suppose a man traveled back in time and killed his biological grandfather before the latter met the... A predestination paradox, also called either a causal loop, or a causality loop and (less frequently) either a closed loop or closed time loop, is a paradox of time travel that is often used as a convention in science fiction. ...


  1. ^ http://www.wisdomworld.org/additional/ancientlandmarks/PlatoAndAristotle.html
  2. ^ Isis Unveiled I, 428 http://www.sacred-texts.com/the/iu/iu011.htm
  3. ^ Goodwin, W W (1878) Plutarch's Morals. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co.
  4. ^ Langan, C M (2001) Which came first?
  5. ^ Langan, C M (2002) The Art of Knowing:Expositions on Free Will and Selected Essays, Eastport: Mega Press
  6. ^ Langan, C M (2001). HiQ: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Improper Hamptonian, June, 2001. Westhampton Beach, NY
  7. ^ Langan, C M (2001), Chris Langan answers your questions. New York Newsday, September 4, 2001, Melville, NY
  8. ^ Quain, John R. (October 14, 2001). Wise Guy
  9. ^ Genesis 1:20-22
  10. ^ The Creation/Evolution Continuum by Eugenie Scott, National Center for Science Education
  11. ^ Bhāgavata Purāṇa 2.10.39, 6.4.1, 6.6.21-22, 7.14.37, 11.9.28, 12.12.17
  12. ^ Manu smṛti 1.34-41
  13. ^ CNN (2006) Chicken and egg debate unscrambled.

  Results from FactBites:
the chicken or the egg: Information from Answers.com (1498 words)
The chicken or the egg is a reference to the causality dilemma which arises from the expression "which came first, the chicken or the egg?".
Since both the chicken and the egg create the other in certain circumstances (a chicken emerges from an egg; an egg is laid by a chicken) it is ambiguous which originally gave rise to the other.
What qualifies as “chicken” (ignoring the many diverse modern types of chicken) involves a wide range of genetic traits (alleles) that are not encompassed in a single individual and continue to be modified from generation to generation.
  More results at FactBites »



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