From the “Chicken And Egg” Problem

Last night, my kid brought up the “chicken and egg” problem again: “Which one shows up first? Is it the chicken, or the egg?  If you don’t have the chicken, how can you have the eggs? And if you don’t have the egg, how can you have the chicken?”

To most people, this should not be the first time to hear dilemmas like this. Of course, from the current evolution theory, we knew the term “chicken” is never as simple as what even a 3-year-old would know. Birds came from Reptiles in a very long evolution process. So at some point, there was some species in-between and we don’t know if we should call it as a chicken or not. It all happened in a very slow process, but the riddle or dilemma can never be solved with simple logical thinking – in other words, if you believe chicken is simply “chicken”, and egg is simply “egg”, you can never solve the dilemma.

This shows the limitation of our logical thinking. All our words and concepts are abstractions of the real world. The details have been removed during that abstraction process. Most of the time, we don’t have to worry about those details, and that is the power of logical thinking. However, for those unwary, this limitation could catch you at the moment when you least expect it.

This is why Zen said “everything that can be spoken out is wrong”. That sounds really weird to normal people: if everything we say is wrong, then what is right? The questions like this would actually show how most people are still unaware of the limitations of logical thinking.

When a little kid watch a movie, the most common question he/she would ask is: “is this a good buy or bad buy?” To satisfy their curiosity, you might have to give them an answer, even though you knew it is much more complicated than a simple statement like that.

Our mind is lazy – we tend to avoid confusions, ambiguities and conflicts. For the most part, it is a good thing, as it saves our energy and simplies the tasks. However, if we just deeply believe a simple statement without ever questioning it, we also expose ourselves to huge problems, in a process I would call “self-hypnotization”.

In reality, things are never as simple as we usually believed. For example, I believe most people would believe in “human rights”, which means every human has some basic rights regardless of his/her race, social status, or origin (I pick this example only because this is one of the things that rarely gets challenged).

However, when we think about it, we might find that even defining “human” is difficult, we will encounter questions like:

  • When a baby is not born yet, does it count as a human? If not, why not? Why birth as an event would define a human? Why isn’t a baby breathing inside its mom not counted? If the unborn baby or being-born baby is a human and has equal rights, how can you sacrifice it to save the adult? How can you allow abortion?
  • If a human has very significant mutation, either naturally or human-induced mutation, does that “thing” still counts as a human?
  • If an ape becomes as smart as a human, should it get the same right?
  • Why should human share the same right, but not animals? Is that because animal is in lower class, or not smart enough? If you can discriminate animals by “class”/”race” or IQ, why can’t you use the same standards to discriminate a subgroup of human?

Some may argue that these are just corner cases we don’t have to worry too much about in our daily life. That is certainly true, but my point here is that many of our believes are not based on reasoning (or it is based on deeply flawed reasoning), but on convenience and usefulness. What is most interesting to me is that despite the big flaws in those reasonings, most people never question them, just as most people would not be aware of their day dreams.

In case that you are still not convinced, I will give another example. While giving basic rights and banning discrimination associated with Race, Origin, Gender and Sexual Orientation sounds so right and noble, how many people ever questioned the biggest discrimination of all: Nationality?  How many rights were given to citizens, but not to the immigrants (lawful or unlawful)? If Nationality is something that “should” be used as a basis for discrimination, why not “race” and “origin”?

In fact, in some countries, “race” is more important than nationality (I am not naming those countries here). Of course, people will say, opening up all the rights to every immigrant simply won’t “work”. That is certainly true, but that argument just proved my point: the so-called “justice” is more based on “convenience” than “reasoning”. It certainly had a “reason” to exist, just not the reason you were told to believe in.

In other words, it is not “wrong” to think in terms of “right and wrong”, “black and white”, and “good and bad”. But we have to remember nothing is so true that is not worth challenging. Of course, politicians and religious leaders would never like people to start questioning everything. That would make things really complicated and really hard to control…

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