As a vegetarian, I’d rather have an egg. But I try to not be too excessive with my consumption either way. Thanks for the offer though.
There’s a relatively simple answer, that is probably the most accurate, and that’s that the egg came first.
There was a thing that wasn’t quite a chicken, that laid an egg that became a chicken. That’s how evolution works. Some not quite a chicken gave birth to something slightly mutated and more definitively chicken.
And even without that somewhat indefinable moment of becoming, there will have been eggs before there was even something like chickens. So eggs definitely came first. They just weren’t chicken eggs.
A chicken is a much more specific thing than an egg, see. So the chicken came later.
The interesting thing is whether it matters or not. Those who’ve heard/read my ranting often enough probably know already.
I have little time for ineffectual philosophising.
I’m all for hard to see truths (multiple, never monolithic) that effect the way we look at the world. I think ethics are really important, and anything with a practical application should be debated constantly and without end. Discussion can expose the nature of things and make life more real.
But some questions are pointless, and they frustrate me endlessly. They are used by people to make people feel stupid, to prove superiority or to waste time.
You can tell which type you’re looking at by looking at the functional result of each possibility. If an answer has no effect on the way you or others live their life, then its irrelevant.
My biggest bugbear is the free will thing. There are two possibilities, either we have free will, or we don’t (because everything is pre-destined, a result of chemical processes over which ‘we’ as ‘conscious beings’ have zero impact. Our consciousness is an illusion). It’s a complex debate with no proveable answer. Which in itself isn’t a problem. The real problem is that it makes NO impact on anything about the way I live my life.
If we have free will, then we go around making choices, and are responsible for our actions. If we don’t, then we still act as if we do. If you decide that life is deterministic, then it doesn’t suddenly free you from morality, because you are not actually choosing to do anything. You continue to act as you would act, no matter which way you go.
From a functional perspective, our actions are exactly the same no matter which understanding is true. The illusion of free will is enough to keep us acting as if we have free will, whether we do or not.
It’s the same with the chicken and the egg. Only that doesn’t even really have the illusion of practical considerations.
It’s about how you define becoming, but definition isn’t necessarily that useful, or change making. Particularly for biological historiography.
Thought experiments may be good exercise, but there’s plenty of real worries to think about first.
Illustration by Andy.