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Treebeard's Stumper Answer
26 September 2003

Chicken and Egg Problem

We're studying eggs in my Dunn Middle School science classes. Several students have raised the inevitable question, and I can't resist passing it on. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? This is a classic riddle, but I pose it here with a straight face as a stumper. I expect real answers with reasons! Possible answers include [a] the chicken; [b] the egg; [c] neither or something else; [d] we don't know yet; [e] there's something wrong with the question; and [f] to get to the other side. (Sorry, I couldn't resist!) Be careful, they don't call this a "chicken and egg problem" for nothing!

Part of the answer is that there's something elegant about an egg. It takes two chickens to make an egg, and they are very "earthy" animals. But there's something complete and perfect about an egg. The cosmic egg, the Orphean egg, and Yggdrasil are part of our collective mythology. (Can you find more links in world mythology and folklore?) The cosmic chicken sounds scary!

This is a chicken egg we managed to stand on end on the day of the autumnal equinox on September 23, 2003 this week. No big deal. We stood more eggs on end a week before. See my previous stumper for the details.

I'm more interested in the question whether the chicken or egg came first than the answer. It's been discussed at least since Plutarch in the First Century. About half of DMS students sided with the egg, and the rest were split between the chicken and "something wrong with the question." I reckon I agree with the majority. Like Popeye, every living thing is what it is, but critters can fail to breed true. An "ugly duckling" chicken might peck its way out of an egg laid by a not-quite-chicken Jungle Fowl. Keep reading for more details.


This is only my third stumper of the year and I'm already behind! I think most possible responses to this question are in my student's answers. I'll get back to this stumper as soon as I can sort through them.

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