Skip to main content

The Chicken and the Egg - An Inductive Analysis

In a slight departure from my usual computer science focused musings, I'm going to analyze another logical conundrum that has raged for centuries. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

One of my many online debates clued me into the fact that there is a widespread belief that the egg came first. I even found a "paper" providing an in-depth analysis concluding the same. Unfortunately, the analysis appears flawed. An e-mail to the author bounced, so I figured I might as well post my brief analysis here.

A simple inductive analysis suffices to conclusively determine the causal chain.

Base case: single celled organism, asexual reproduction via mitosis (given our current knowledge)
n implies n+1: species n produces, by its own reproduction mechanism Rn, an offspring n+1 with a slightly different reproduction mechanism, Rn+1.
Conclusion: the "chicken" came first.

In this case, our "chickens" were not hatched from "chicken eggs", but were instead hatched from the "chicken's" progenitor's egg type. The authors of the paper attempted to disregard this semantic interpretation under "Chicken Precision", but as this is a metaphor, a "chicken" is merely a stand-in for a particular species to be substituted at will.

Thus, the only universally quantifiable proposition is that the "chicken" came first, since the first egg-bearing species, Sn+1 and Rn+1, was produced from some non-egg-based reproduction mechanism, Rn. The contrary proposition that the egg came first contradicts the base case of the above inductive argument where we know reproduction was based on asexual mitosis.

Unless our understanding of early biology changes radically, metaphorically and literally speaking, "chickens" came first.

[Edit: I posted an update to elaborate on why I believe my interpretation is more faithful to the original intent of the question, as first formulated in ancient Greece.]


Brian said…
I guess it depends on your definition of chicken egg then. Reading your analysis I still get the chicken egg coming first. If you define a chicken egg as an egg containing a chicken then chicken -1 lays an egg containing the first chicken therefore chicken egg comes before chicken. If you define a chicken egg as an egg laid by a chicken then the chicken comes first.
Sandro Magi said…
Defining a "chicken egg" as an egg containing a chicken is invalid.

Here's another way to think about it. We have two universally quantified propositions:

1. The egg came before the "chicken"
2. The "chicken" came before the egg

They are mutually exclusive, such that 2 = not 1. I disproved proposition #1, thus, proposition #2 must be true.

The proof is by counter-example. I argued that the first egg-bearing species was not produced from an egg given our knowledge of biology, but was produced from the reproductive system of its progenitor, be it mitosis, birthing, etc. This is a *direct* counter-example to proposition #1, thus proposition #1 is false. Thus, proposition #2 is true and the chicken came first.

You can think of it another way if it helps: and egg from each species has a certain chemical composition. The chemical composition of the egg is determined by the parent species, as the parent produces the egg, not the embryo. Thus, a chicken would have been hatched from an egg produced by the chicken's progenitor with a checmical composition different from an egg produced by a chicken. Thus, it is not a chicken egg, and the chicken came first.
Unknown said…
"I argued that the first egg-bearing species was not produced from an egg given our knowledge of biology, but was produced from the reproductive system of its progenitor, be it mitosis, birthing, etc."

This doesn't seem to be really explicit, but you seem to be assuming that the first egg-bearing species was a chicken. Why would you make that assumption? Wouldn't you think there would be millions of years of proto-birds laying eggs before something that could be defined as a chicken?
Sandro Magi said…
This doesn't seem to be really explicit, but you seem to be assuming that the first egg-bearing species was a chicken.

I'm not making that assumption. Not sure where you got that actually. The first egg-bearing species was probably some microscopic multicellular organism in fact, so definitely not a chicken.

Popular posts from this blog

async.h - asynchronous, stackless subroutines in C

The async/await idiom is becoming increasingly popular. The first widely used language to include it was C#, and it has now spread into JavaScript and Rust. Now C/C++ programmers don't have to feel left out, because async.h is a header-only library that brings async/await to C! Features: It's 100% portable C. It requires very little state (2 bytes). It's not dependent on an OS. It's a bit simpler to understand than protothreads because the async state is caller-saved rather than callee-saved. #include "async.h" struct async pt; struct timer timer; async example(struct async *pt) { async_begin(pt); while(1) { if(initiate_io()) { timer_start(&timer); await(io_completed() || timer_expired(&timer)); read_data(); } } async_end; } This library is basically a modified version of the idioms found in the Protothreads library by Adam Dunkels, so it's not truly ground bre

Building a Query DSL in C#

I recently built a REST API prototype where one of the endpoints accepted a string representing a filter to apply to a set of results. For instance, for entities with named properties "Foo" and "Bar", a string like "(Foo = 'some string') or (Bar > 99)" would filter out the results where either Bar is less than or equal to 99, or Foo is not "some string". This would translate pretty straightforwardly into a SQL query, but as a masochist I was set on using Google Datastore as the backend, which unfortunately has a limited filtering API : It does not support disjunctions, ie. "OR" clauses. It does not support filtering using inequalities on more than one property. It does not support a not-equal operation. So in this post, I will describe the design which achieves the following goals: A backend-agnostic querying API supporting arbitrary clauses, conjunctions ("AND"), and disjunctions ("OR"). Implemen

Simple, Extensible IoC in C#

I just committed the core of a simple dependency injection container to a standalone assembly, Sasa.IoC . The interface is pretty straightforward: public static class Dependency { // static, type-indexed operations public static T Resolve<T>(); public static void Register<T>(Func<T> create) public static void Register<TInterface, TRegistrant>() where TRegistrant : TInterface, new() // dynamic, runtime type operations public static object Resolve(Type registrant); public static void Register(Type publicInterface, Type registrant, params Type[] dependencies) } If you were ever curious about IoC, the Dependency class is only about 100 lines of code. You can even skip the dynamic operations and it's only ~50 lines of code. The dynamic operations then just use reflection to invoke the typed operations. Dependency uses static generic fields, so resolution is pretty much just a field access + invoking a