We will candidly confess to an unremitting sense of frustration, each time the mundane expression, “It’s a chicken-egg problem,” is used to describe an issue that is conveniently, relegated, by some speaker or writer, to the category of empirically, unanswerable. But, in order not to get ahead of ourselves, we would, initially, furnish our thematic narrative.
At the relevant time, we were young students at Thomas Jefferson High School (East New York, Brooklyn). Although the student body was mixed, it was amply, represented by first-generation offspring of Eastern European immigrants. The latter described students,, coming from homes still embodying an Old World, Eastern European, context, were commonly, desirous of speeding- up the natural, gradual metamorphosis to an acceptably, modern and identifiable, “New World,” persona.
One such described, student, was Izzy Springer (fictitious name), who had boasted, that, in record time, he had, purportedly, attained the goal of fully, mastering the desired, (and, normally, gradual and experiential) journey to societal, Americanization. Izzy was the sort of personality, who, without question, purported to know all there was to be known, which facts were accurate and those which were not, and which matters were knowable and those which were beyond human comprehension; the latter category, designated, by his recent, scholastically, adopted word, as “unfathomable.”
We confess that we would, ordinarily, try, as possible, to avoid the assertively, boastful company of the arrogant and “know-it-all,” Izzy, but there were times, in the circumscribed, high school environment, when encounters were inevitable. Izzy, as it happens, was in our “Advanced Biology” class, and on the eventful morning, (the setting for this brief writing) the classroom subject was on the subject of “Evolution” but with especial emphasis given to the emergence of the sentient, animal, viz., Homo sapiens. The teacher led an enlightening discussion on the subject of humankind’s evolved brain and its consequent ability to problem-solve by the applied use of reason. The day’s homework assignment was to write a 300-word essay on Early Man’s use of reason to solve his problems of survival.
As class let out, Izzy excitedly, approached us, as he, passionately, put it, to discuss the teacher’s morning’s lecture, on Man’s capability of reason. We could not avoid, what, predictably, would be an arrogant critique, from our “Mr. Know it All.” The eminent “sage,” Izzy, seemed to have misconstrued and therefore, criticized, the teacher’s remarks, concerning the utility of Man’s capacity to reason, as (erroneously) declaring that Homo sapiens, thus gifted by Evolution, with an advanced brain, was capable of the solution of “any” presenting problem. We did not share in his erroneous recollection, but rather understood the teacher, instead, to have referred to Man’s capability to solve his daily, existential problems such as food gathering, defense against the elements and his later ability to engage in mutual, societal cooperation. However, in order to confront Izzy, the purported, “sage,” we, tongue-in-cheek, and provokingly, asked him for an example of a problem regarding which Man’s reason is incapable to solve. Izzy, supremely, confident in his forthcoming response, initially, recited, as stakes for the challenge, the otherworldly, munificent prize of two (2) “Chunky Bars.”
Before proceeding further with the subject narrative, we would like to enlighten the contemporary, reader as to the empirical context and esteemed value, of said proposed stakes, in 1954, East New York, Brooklyn, to the young, economically, challenged, denizens of that milieu. The individual “Chunky Bar,” was a chocolate square, approximately, 1.5 inches square, (about 3 to 4, judicious bites) infused with nuts and raisins, and “expensively,” priced at ten cents each (the then contemporary cost of a one-way train or trolley trip or a public phone call) and, with a determined value to the resident, Brooklyn youngster, of an Olympic Gold Medal. This wager, it is to be, especially noted, entailed no less than two (2) of these rarefied, albeit, eatable, trophies, Izzy, smiling and highly confident of easily, winning this magnificent prize, confidently and gleefully, recited the thematic, “unfathomable,” dilemma, viz., “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Recalling the morning’s lesson on the dynamics of Natural Evolution, and, after applying a moment of rudimentary logic, we responded, “The egg.” Izzy, upon hearing such answer, and jubilantly, anticipating the easy acquisition of the invaluable prize, in fact, anticipating the taste responded, with a smirk, demanded, “Oh yeah, well where did the egg come from?” His face, visibly, fell as we responded, “The egg was laid by the immediate, evolutionary predecessor of the chicken; that egg, when hatched, was, thereafter, evolution’s first known, chicken.
Despite the passage of multiple decades, we can still recall the victorious, taste of the magnificent Chunky Bars, but, to this day, frustratingly, continue to ponder two questions, (1) why has no one else logically, solved this so-called enigma? and/or, (2) why we have, at this late date, yet to be accorded historic recognition, for its solution [at 15 years of age]?