‘The Coldest Game’ begins with this chat in a cab, with a cerebral ‘joke’… Professor: What came first? The chicken or the egg? It’s important to see things as they are. On one hand, you have an awkward feathered thing, and on the other you have the most perfect aerodynamic shape that’s ever evolved. The answer is obvious, right?… Driver: It was the egg, not the chicken, right? Professor: That depends. Driver: On what? Professor: On whether I’m having breakfast or dinner. [Driver laughs.]
The professor spoke of the importance of seeing things as they are, while seemingly casual in his reply on how he saw the question. Yet, his answer is more accurate and nuanced than expected. At first, he seemed to imply that a chicken is a complex and convoluted sentient being, while an egg is a simple and elegant thing. If so, does it mean that the complex arose from the simple, instead of the other way round? However, if we look deeper, the intricate dynamics within an egg are not simple at all.
What the professor meant with his reply is that if he is having a typical western breakfast, the egg would come ‘first’ — since it is in the morning. But if he is having a typical western dinner, the chicken’s meat would come ‘later’ — since it is in the evening. This is a witty answer as it highlights the relativity of sooner or later in the context of a cyclical set of time, in terms of day and night. It is also a functional answer as it does somewhat reply, without giving a definitive answer, which is impossible to give anyway.
What would Buddhists say? There is revolution of evolution and devolution, from the simple to complex, and from the complex to the simple. This was fascinatingly ‘hinted’ by the Buddha’s teachings in the Agganna Sutta: https://thedailyenlightenment.com/?s=agganna+sutta. The question is tricky because its answer is conditionally arisen, dependent upon prior conditions, which in turn depends on prior ones, in a cyclical way. Liberation from the cycle of rebirths and redeaths the relevant focus; not deluded musing on the speculative question!
[Technically, eggs came before chickens, as dinosaurs laid eggs too, before chickens arose. On ‘the chicken or the chicken’s egg first’ specifically, things are still technical. Which chicken and egg are referred to? The modern or ancient versions? Can chicken X hatch from a non-chicken X egg? Can a non-chicken X lay a chicken X egg? It all depends on how you decide a chicken and egg is the chicken and egg enquired about. Actually, two chicken-like birds must have gave rose to the first chicken-ish egg with a chicken-ish bird within, with arbitrary labelling of which being first!]
How Egg-Bearing & Meat Chickens & Chicks Suffer