FromQuarkstoQuasars

Which came First: The Chicken or the Egg?

Jolene CreightonNovember 29th 2013
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The chicken or the egg — one of life’s greatest mysteries. At least, it was one of life’s greatest mysteries; it’s not anymore. On a basic level, this question deals with issues of causality (with cause and effect). The question is used to highlight instances where it is impossible to say which of two things existed first (which is the “cause” and which is the “effect”). In essence, the question goes: Chickens are hatched from eggs, so how can you have a chicken without first having an egg? But a chicken is needed in order to lay an egg that hatches into a chicken, so how can you have an egg without having a chicken?

Does your brain hurt yet? Because mine kind of does.

Many people still use this phrase to refer to instances in which problems with causality arise. For example: You need relevant experience to get a good job; you need a good job to get relevant experience. How can you get one without first having the other? Unfortunately, it seems that you can’t. You’re stuck — it’s the chicken and the egg. However, this phrase is problematic because we do know which came first. Darwin gave us the answer decades ago.

First, you need to know that, in nature, living things evolve through changes in DNA. Second, you need to know that, in a chicken, DNA from a male sperm cell and a female ovum meet and combine to form a zygote (the first cell of a new baby chicken). This means that two non-chickens mated and the DNA in their new zygote contained the mutation(s) that produced the first true chicken.

So the egg must have come first. Prior to that first true chicken egg, there were only non-chicken eggs and non-chicken animals. I also feel compelled to note that a “chicken egg” is not actually a “chicken,” so we cannot say that the two arrived at the same time.

This seems logical and straightforward. However, some scientists disagree, and argue that the chicken must have come first. The scientists found that a protein found only in a chicken’s ovaries is necessary for the formation of the chicken egg. So there was the standard non-chicken egg that was produced by a non-chicken animal. And then came the chicken, which had a mutation that enabled it to produce the standard chicken. The mutation involved a protein that speeds up the development of the hard shell, which is essential in protecting the delicate yolk and fluids while the chick grows inside the egg, the research says.

In essence, there are a few different ways to interpret the question:
1. Which came first, the chicken or (just any old) egg?
2. Which came first, the chicken or an egg laid by a chicken (a chicken egg)?
3. Which came first, the chicken or an egg containing a chicken?

The answers are:
1. The egg (species that lay eggs have been around a lot longer than chickens).
2. The chicken. That is, if a chicken egg must be laid by a chicken, then before a chicken egg can exist, there must *by definition* be a chicken around to lay it.
3. The egg, as obviously an egg containing a chicken had to come before the first chicken.

To delve more into this, and get some other interpretations, watch the video below.

So, since the issue with the chicken and the egg is solved, now we just need to adopt a new phrase that will indicate when there is an issue with causality. If you come up with one, please be sure to send it our way : )

A great video explaining how the egg came first.

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