Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?

Chicken and Egg Problem Solved 449

Java Pimp writes "It seems scientists and philosophers now agree which came first. The Egg. From the CNN article: 'Put simply, the reason is down to the fact that genetic material does not change during an animal's life. Therefore the first bird that evolved into what we would call a chicken, probably in prehistoric times, must have first existed as an embryo inside an egg. Professor John Brookfield, a specialist in evolutionary genetics at the University of Nottingham, told the UK Press Association the pecking order was clear.' So, does this mean we can now show P=NP?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Chicken and Egg Problem Solved

Comments Filter:
  • Old News (Score:3, Funny)

    by databyss ( 586137 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @03:36PM (#15411841) Homepage Journal
    I solved that question in a paper for a philosophy class years ago...
    • No he's not a troll, this really isn't news, it was, to quote TFA
      organized by Disney to promote the release of the film "Chicken Little" on DVD.

    • I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that your college paper doesn't pre-date Cecil Adams, who published the same answer in 1984: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? []
      • by Total_Wimp ( 564548 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @04:45PM (#15412407)
        I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that your college paper doesn't pre-date Cecil Adams, who published the same answer in 1984: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

        Cecil Adams' response was only correct for one interpretation of the question. That interpretation is a question of whether eggs of any sort existed before chickens of any sort. His interpretation is only useful if you intend to be a smart-ass by answering the letter of the question rather than the common interpretation. The more common interpretation of this question is whether chicken eggs existed before chickens themselves. That is the question that TFA seeks to answer.

        BTW, I also answered this question years ago (though not before '84). All it got me was dumb stares from the people I told it to. Now that my answer has been "officially confirmed" I expect nothing but head scratching and comments like, "I don't remember you saying anything like that at all."

        The answer is actaully quite obvious from an evolutionary perspective. If evolution happens between generations, then what came before the first chicken egg had to be a non-chicken. Thus the egg came first.

    • Re:Old News (Score:4, Funny)

      by Slur ( 61510 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @05:12PM (#15412617) Homepage Journal
      The interesting part of the question to me is, the fact that it makes you look at the egg as the point of most radical change, a point on the line of evolution. And it nicely illustrates the way our minds think about that continuum of change, and how we decide when an evolving form merits one designation, and not another. The animals that gave birth to the class of beings we now call "chickens" were themselves, not quite chickeny enough to be themselves "chickens."

      Since chickens have been artificially selected by humans for centuries, if not millenia, they have obtained an especially "chicken-like" form, consciously and unconsciously sculpted by the human chicken aesthetic.

      Interesting now is the highly concentrated factory farm method of chicken selection. The chickens are stressed beyond their original design, and so factory farmers are forced to use more forceful methods to predominate over the ailments of overstressed overcrowded fowl. The evolved chicken factory employs de-beaking as the solution to aggression, and antibiotics boosters as the solution to natural death, before conveying them into the slaughtering and plucking machines.

      Which leads to the next axiom: "Never trust an inexpensive chicken."

      Similar conditions exist for the majority of laying hens, and who knows what it does to the eggs? I don't eat inexpensive chickens or eggs any more, but plenty of people will.

      I imagine a science fiction scenario where the factory method of chicken evolution is permitted to continue unrestrained for many centuries. The chickens continue to evolve, selected for their hardiness and calmness under pressure.

      But what will the chicken evolve into?

      Will humans of the future ask, "Which came first, the Xorph or the Cubulex?"

      Could there one day be a chicken equivalent of the Kwisatz Haderach?

      Will chickens become so powerful that they rebel against the factory workers, and massacre the human race?

      Or, will chickens become so overstressed, right down to their genetics, that the species loses its viability?

      Or, could the chicken's natural genetics, in its spontaneous, creative way, evolve antibodies or poisons in their flesh to infect and debilitate humans, in the same way as toads developed poisons to protect them?

      Or, since chickens are descended from dinosaurs, maybe the cumulative effect of generations of genetic pressure could cause latent DNA to awaken, so that chickens develop more dinosaur-like traits, reverting to more primordial forms. Chickens on psilocybin suspended in sensory deprivation tanks - like in "Altered States."

      Or, in another scenario, chicken chemistry becomes a major factor in selecting human offspring, and as a result over many millenia chicken geist merges with human geist. Chicken chemistry subtly influences the chemistry of the human womb, infants are born early, die young, and the United States eventually has the second-highest infant mortality rate of all industrialized nations.

      In another scenario, it is learned that KFC is not really chicken, that the chain long ago sought out chickens with extra limbs and those born without brains, and began genetically selecting these birds. They turn out to be funding studies into chicken DNA so that they can grow chicken meat in any desired form. Some of the horrors uncovered are described as "large pulsing triple-breasted oysters" and "quivering picushions bearing as many as twenty chicken legs and thighs." When the legal smoke clears nothing happens. KFC stock doubles every month as their patented creations become staggeringly popular worldwide.
  • by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @03:37PM (#15411842) Journal
    Complete details of why the chicken crossed the road... ba dum bum
    • Complete details of why the chicken crossed the road... ba du

      The mean value theorem.

    • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @04:22PM (#15412215)

      Complete details of why the chicken crossed the road... ba dum bum

      The question "Why did the chicken cross the road" is invalid. It is invalid because "why" assumes that the chicken had some reason for taking the action "cross the road". This, in turn, assumes that the chicken has the concept of "road"; after all, if the chicken doesn't know that the road is there, then the chicken did not - from the chickens point of view - cross the road, and consequently it is meaningless to ask for its motivations for doing so.

      Since chicken is an animal, it is unlikely that it has the concept of road in the same sense than humans do; since it is a bird, whose ancestors were propably capable of flight in the near past, it is unlikely to have the concept of road in any sense - why would a flying bird need roads ?

      Therefore, the chicken can never have any motivation for crossing the road, since from the chickens point of view, it never does any such thing. It simply moves from one point to another, and these points happen to be on the opposite side of a flat area of ground. No road-crossing has happened.

      Think of it this way: if you walk over a scent trail left by some animal, and you don't know that the trail is there, it is foolish to ask your motives of crossing that trail. One can ask your motives for walking in the first place, but the crossing was pure coincidence and not something you chose.

  • Which came first, the Scientist or the Philosopher?
  • by Frequency Domain ( 601421 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @03:37PM (#15411846)
    Only for P = 0 or N = 1.
  • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @03:38PM (#15411849) Homepage Journal
    So when did the nuggets and fingers come into play?
  • by paul42w ( 693767 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @03:38PM (#15411850)
    Something that was almost a chicken laid an egg that hatched into a chicken. So, the egg had to have been first.
  • by shiafu ( 220820 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @03:38PM (#15411854)
    So the chicken and the egg are laying in bed together. The egg's smoking a cigarette. The chicken says, "Well, I guess we know the answer to THAT question!"
  • Flawed assumption (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SeanTobin ( 138474 ) * <{byrdhuntr} {at} {}> on Friday May 26, 2006 @03:39PM (#15411863)
    They are basing their argument on a flawed assumption. They assume that the first chicken would have had to come from an egg because its genetic material says that it grows from an egg. It is entirely possible that the first chicken was born of a non-egg and of course without changing its genetic makeup, laid the first egg. There are examples of animals with multiple reproductive paths to the same result. Think of hydras, jellyfish, yeasts, fungi, aphids, slime molds and sea anemones to name a few.

    I still believe that the first chicken was actually born of the very last chicken egg in existence, transported back in time by his noodly appendage [].

    So, what does a mobius chicken taste like?

  • Like any good theory we need evidence. So who is the unlucky sod going back in time to check the info? ;)
  • by Stradenko ( 160417 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @03:41PM (#15411889) Homepage
    Q: Which came first; the chicken or the egg?

    A: The Rooster.
  • Which came first the chicken or the egg? Why the pteradactachickendyl of course.
  • but really; how can they ever know, because evolution is so slow that you couldn't say that one generation was not a chicken and the next generation was... there will have been millions of years of blur...
    • Re:obvious (Score:2, Insightful)

      For this solution to work, you don't need to identify the first individual in the history of bird ancestry that can be rightly called a chicken, you just have to assume that it exists. No matter what reasonable criteria you use to distinguish between "chickens" and "not chickens" (and there's no denying that there's lots of room for argument here), such an individual exists that was the first to meet those criteria. And it hatched from an egg.
    • I had an argument with my friends the other day, mainly about how species differentiate. If a person becomes a different species, they can't mate with the other persons in the population, since that's the definition of a different species.

      My question is, do generations become new species (or lose their reproductive ability with members of the previous species) at once, or gradually over long periods of time? Because at some point that has to happen, and I can't imagine it happening gradually, they either ca
      • I think you are confusing the directions in which the definition of species works. Yes, a posteriori you define that a group of otherwise possibly quite similar animals or plants belong to different species when they can't produce fertile offspring (not "mate", you can very well mate with, well, a lot), because the missing gene exchange leads to increasingly big differences.

        However not being able to produce fertile offspring is not the only one that can lead to the separation of species in the first place.
      • Sorry, I must be stoned. Trying again without the mess:

        I think you are confusing the directions in which the definition of species works. Yes, a posteriori you define that a group of otherwise possibly quite similar animals or plants belong to different species when they can't produce fertile offspring (not "mate", you can very well mate with, well, a lot), because the missing gene exchange leads to increasingly big differences.

        However not being able to produce fertile offspring is not the only mechanism th
  • by mikeisme77 ( 938209 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @03:44PM (#15411916) Homepage Journal
    I always thought this was a question of science vs. religion... If the egg came first, then clearly the chicken came from evolution (an animal like a chicken laid an egg that then became a chicken). However, if the chicken came first (scientifically impossible) then it was because made the chicken suddenly appear on the planet. So just wait for the ID people to refute this claim...
    • f the egg came first, then clearly the chicken came from evolution (an animal like a chicken laid an egg that then became a chicken). However, if the chicken came first (scientifically impossible) then it was because made the chicken suddenly appear on the planet.

      uhm.... no...

      'Put simply, the reason [that the egg must have come first] is down to the fact that genetic material does not change during an animal's life.
      1. God creates chicken.
      2. Chicken lays egg.
      3. The chicken's genetic material does not change.


      • God creates chicken. Chicken lays egg. The chicken's genetic material does not change. Their argument is within the framework of an evolutionary worldview. Except for the whole "God creates chicken" thing then yes, it fits an evolutionary world view. In evolution, the chicken cannot come first--it has to evolve from something else first, and the embryo would have to be formed first and with VERY few exceptions all animals have eggs (although not all animals have eggs external from their body)--I am n
  • The chicken was created on the fifth day you heathens!
  • Crap came first (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SLOGEN ( 165834 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @03:47PM (#15411939) Homepage
    Apparently, crap came first, the argument is plain stupid.

    The egg clearly came first since chickens evolved from species already laying eggs.

    If you ask if a specific chicken came before a specific chicken-egg, then probably yes, depending on the time of the laying/conception/[your preferred existance-deciding moment].

    If you ask if a specific chicken came before it's own egg, then obvously, no, which is well-established by the laws of causality.

    But, that those aside, in the more transcendal (and usual) interpretation the question doesn't make sense since development of a species is continuous and the whole concept of species is trying to break that continuous development into discrete steps. That process is bound to have boundary problems and the system of species should not be applied in those conditions.
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @03:53PM (#15411983) Homepage Journal
    Did anyone happen to notice the last sentence of the article?

    The debate, which may come as a relief to those with argumentative relatives, was organized by Disney to promote the release of the film "Chicken Little" on DVD.

    So CNN and Slashdot are happily giving free advertising to The Mouse these days?

  • That was a chicken in a pre-chicken's egg. The first chicken egg was laid by a chicken, so the chicken came before the chicken egg.

    Of course the easy answer to the question is that the egg came before the chicken, because sea animals were laying eggs before anybody had legs.

  • I recently finished reading the Ancestor's Tale, which I found to be an awesome book, minus the occasional Sagan-esque polictical ramblings. Just thinking in terms of how he presented evolution through incremental change and subsequent survival, I wonder if its possible that maybe the first "chickens" did not hatch in "eggs" at all. Maybe (sorry for lack of technical terms here), the material in which the animal was born (live, not incubated in an egg), over time, developed into a harder material. As tim
    • Such a thing would be possible, but chickens would then have to be placental mammals. They're dinosaurs, so no cheese. Dinosaurs come from a long line of oviparous animals.

      So, yes, possible, but it didn't happen.
      • Thats true, I forgot about that *small* detail. But even so, going all the way back, I am more just referring to the concept of small change and subsequent survival of the changed genes. Its time to leave work...when I start forgetting birds are dinosaurs, you know it must be a long weekend :)
  • If a chicken that wasn't born out of an egg is considered a chicken, then the chicken came first. One of those chickens eventually hatched an egg.

    If a chicken that wasn't born out of an egg is not considered a chicken... then only the first egg it produces is a chicken. Then the egg came first.

    It's just semantics...

    • Um, no.

      First, the first chicken hatched from an egg. Eggs were around for some hundreds of millions of years before chickens.

      If we restrict the discussion to chicken eggs, then it's entirely dependent on what you consider a chicken, and then on the argument you mention. But the argument has not been restricted to chicken eggs.
      • If you don't restrict the argument to chicken eggs, then it is... exactly the same argument. What came first, the pre-chicken or the pre-chicken-egg?

        This isn't a question of "When did chickens evolve to their present state?"
  • The underlining assumption implicit to their arguement is evolution is an actual phenomenon responsible for the creation of new species. But, a creationist would still argue that the "Creator" wave his (her?) hand and created the chicken. The chicken then laid the egg. I am more convince by the former but for many the question is still in dispute.
  • the source code or the editor?
  • by hansreiser ( 6963 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @04:05PM (#15412086) Homepage
    The question presupposes that at a certain point there existed something that was suddenly entirely a chicken. We know this to be false. One feature at a time, one generation at a time, lizards gradually became more and more chicken. Both Taoism and evolution contribute to better understanding this question. From Taoism, understand that categories and names are arbitrary and inherently inaccurate. From evolution understand that chickens have gradually shaded into being over millions of years. From this, understand that within the span of one generation, there was no single change that gave the label chicken sudden meaning. The name chicken does not have meaning when distinguishing between two adjacent generations of things with chicken characteristics. It is like using a magnifying glass to look at an atom. The name "chicken" is inappropriate for single generation distinctions, and lacks usable meaning. Similarly, it is likely that eggs came into existence in a single generation, and so egg lacks meaning. Since both egg and chicken lack the semantic power to distinguish generations, the question is wrong as it is intended.

    Of course, if you want to interpret the question not as it was meant, then you can say that lizards and their eggs came before chickens and their eggs, therefor eggs came millions of years before chickens.
  • by the.Ceph ( 863988 )
    Two days ago I was driving for a few hours in my car and started thinking about this and came to the same conclusion.

    I knew they were onto me.... *puts tinfoil hat back on*
  • P = ~P

    For those who haven't had any Philosphy classes relating to logic... P equals NOT P.

    When they prove that, we'll I'm building myself a perpetual motion machine.
  • by buckhead_buddy ( 186384 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @04:08PM (#15412115)
    I never thought this was a real question which people actually even considered debating. The answer was always clear and straight-forward depending on whether you favored evolution or creation as the source of life. If you favored the idea that God created the whole world and its inhabitants as adults you obviously thought the chicken came first. If you favored the Darwinian evolution, then you state that it was the egg and that the chicken came from a pairing, mutation, or other accident of birth in an evolutionary manner. Beyond using this to summarize (and probably short-circuit) debates on evolution vs. creation, I don't think the question would have made it into popular culture.

    A similar question was "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" (to my understanding) wasn't really about angel-packing theory but was a question about whether you believed that there was a spiritual world coexisting with ours or whether spritual ideas came strictly from men and inhabitants of this world. If you believed in a parallel spiritual world the answer was infinite angles. If you thought that angels were butterflies or people or something with mass then the answer was non-infinite. There wasn't any real debate (do hallucinations of angels count?) but it was another question that simply summarized a particular stance of ideas.

    All that comes to mind right now is that horrible song on Sesame Street or the Electric Company or something where they show chickens and eggs and chickens hatching from eggs and a country singer fiddling away singing "Which came first the Chicken or the Egg? The chicken or the Egg? The Chicken or the Egg? Which came first the Chicken or the Egg?" ad smeging infinitum. Grrr. There's going to be an infinite number of angels hunting down whoever posted this and reawakened that memory for me.
  • Clearly this is just further "christian science" meddling to try to get us to believe an individual is born at conception.

    No matter how much of a mutant freak they really are.
    Identify mutants. For your protection.
  • Chickens came from plants. We all know that plants have demonstrated the amazing ability to undergo genetic changes in response to stressful factors within the environment. It's clear to me that one such plant evolved instantaneously into what we now call chicken. So did many other animals; that's why everything tastes like chicken.
  • by MBCook ( 132727 )
    Nope, it depends on exactly how you define things.

    If you mean "the chicken or any kind of egg", the answer is any kind of egg. Obviously, dinosaurs had eggs before chickens existed.

    If you mean "the chicken or the chicken's egg", the answer is the chicken. Only a chicken can lay a chicken's egg.

    If you mean "the chicken or the egg containing a chicken", then the answer is the egg, because as the article points out the first chicken had to exist in an egg before it laid eggs of its own.

    So... what kind of e

  • Chickeness (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AlpineR ( 32307 ) <> on Friday May 26, 2006 @04:24PM (#15412232) Homepage
    Three points:

    1) Do we eat chicken eggs? Their resolution of the argument seems based on the fact that the first genetic chicken was assembled as an egg before growing into a pecking, clucking creature capable of reproduction. But aren't the eggs that we eat unfertilized and unable to grow into chickens? If their definition of "chicken egg" is that which can grow into a chicken, then we apparently eat omelet eggs, cake eggs, and key lime pie eggs.

    2) What was the first entity in the adult/egg cycle? Before the first chicken egg, there were ever-so-chickenlike adults with mutated strands of DNA in their unfertilized egg or sperm. It's hard to say that their offspring was 100% chicken while they were 0% chicken. So chickeness gradually evolved from the first entity capable of adult/egg reproduction, and that entity was certainly not very chickenlike at all. But it did start the cycle rolling. Since the creatures before this entity did not lay eggs, I posit that the egg-laying gene mutated within an adult creature. Therefore the chicken, metaphorically, came first.

    3) I always read Slashdot comments nested.


    • Well here is a tiny newsflash for you. The reason we eat unfertilized chicken embryos is because that is easier. There is absolutly no reason you can't eat fertilized eggs. In fact that is what you do when you eat "wild" eggs.

      The only difference between a fertilized egg and an unfertilized egg is that the fertilized one if incubated will eventually produce a chick. The unfertilized will not.

      If you come from a more rural background you will have seen the occasional egg on the breakfast table that was a bit

  • I assumed that the first chicken would have originated as an egg of a creature that was very similar, but not quite a chicken.

    Apparently, the eggheads agree.
  • by TechTracker ( 920095 ) on Friday May 26, 2006 @05:42PM (#15412814)
    The Bible says that birds and animals were created on the fifth and sixth day. That would mean that the chicken was made before an egg came into existence. It's so sad that people disregard the Bible (special creation) and rely on theories like evolution. The Bible has been proven the most historically accurate book ever, while evolution is full of contradictory ideas which do not work out. It contradicts both the first and second law of thermodynamics, and much more which I will not go in to right now. Sure, it may seam fine now to not believe in God, but what do you think is on the other side after you die? You are dead a lot longer than you are alive. Are you 100% sure where you are going? Jesus came down to earth as the ultimate sacrifice. All you need to do to be assured you will go to heaven is believe what God did for you (sent Jesus to die for our sins), ask for forgiveness and repent (choose to turn around and follow God). No matter how many or how big of a sin you did, it can be forgiven without you having to "make up for it." So next time someone asks you which came first, the chicken or the egg, I pray that you proudly say "The chicken did" and tell them why.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!