The Chicken and the Egg
An occult investigation of the age-old philosophical dilemma
As our regular readers will know, our website has its own comprehensive built-in search engine. Readers' searches are logged by the software we use to provide this function. This not only helps us add new content to our Occult Faq but in some cases, new articles too. Most visitors search for subjects you might expect them to look for, esoteric teachings, occult books, reincarnation, magic, etc. Occasionally visitors search for more unusual subjects, and among them was a recent search for "the chicken and the egg." We don't know what prompted this particular search, but as this is such a persistent philosophical dilemma which puzzles many seekers after truth, we have decided to investigate it to the best of our ability, drawing, as usual, on the teachings of occult science and the thoughts of the great philosophers of the past.
In our customary afterword, we briefly discuss the occult symbolism of the egg as a representation of the creation of the Universe. We publish this article on Good Friday, which seems an appropriate day on which to discuss eggs! If you enjoy the chocolate variety at this time of year and have wondered what the origin of this custom is, you will find the answers in John Temple's article on the Esoteric meaning of Easter.
The perennial paradox
The perennial paradox about which came first: the chicken or the egg, is probably as old as man. It was discussed by Plato in the fourth century B.C., in his Parmenides. His most famous student, Aristotle, argued that neither the egg nor the chicken came first, since every chicken comes from an egg and every egg from a chicken, concluding that birds and eggs have always existed. This at least has the virtue of brevity and observed truth, which is more than we can say for the scientific arguments about this dilemma we will come to in a moment. Aristotle went on to say: "if there has been a first man he must have been born without father or mother—which is repugnant to nature. For there could not have been a first egg to give a beginning to birds, or there should have been a first bird which gave a beginning to eggs; for a bird comes from an egg."
Plato's own answer was that the 'idea' of the chicken came before the actual chicken itself. But then, as we have mentioned in several articles, Plato was an initiate, who knew the true origin of all material things and understood the nature of causality. Aristotle, not being initiated, and favouring an overly intellectual approach to the problem, disagreed with his teacher by arguing that the "idea" chicken is just a human concept arising from our familiarity with chickens, in much the same way sophists argue that the 'idea' of God—whatever they may mean by that—is the invention of men. But Plato did not mean what his pupil thought he did, and this is a recurring problem when students begin to analyse their teacher's words, without having the teacher's wisdom! What Plato meant by 'idea' is what occult science calls the 'spiritual prototype' of a thing or being, and he himself called the 'privation of form.'
In his Moralia, the Greek historian Plutarch, writing four centuries after Plato and Aristotle, noted that the "problem about the egg and the hen, which of them came first" is a "difficult problem which gives investigators much trouble." As we have seen, the 'trouble' has lasted more than 2,400 years, probably began long before that, and the original confusion has been multiplied a thousandfold by modern science which, in regarding the question from a purely physical standpoint, has trivialised it without providing any answers to the deep metaphysical truths it contains. We shall see later on that Plato and Aristotle were both right and wrong at the same time, for as we have pointed out in several of our articles, there are many seeming contradictions to be found within the labyrinth of the occult sciences, which can only be reconciled in the light of our higher reason, not through the use of our unaided intellect.
This is where those very clever men and women in white lab coats invariably go astray, in the mistaken belief that intellectual analysis alone is sufficient to solve all the mysteries which confront them. One scientist has neatly sidestepped the question by saying that: "Whether chicken eggs preceded chickens hinges on the nature of chicken eggs." Well——if that isn't hedging one's bets we don't know what is! If one believes in the scientific theory of natural selection formulated by Darwin which still largely informs the thinking of most scientists, the answer is the egg came first, because says science, as genes are passed on only at the time of procreation, a non-chickens zygote would have first had to mutate into chicken DNA, then hatched the first chicken after fertilization and incubation. But this really gets us nowhere, for it still begs the question of where the mutated DNA came from in the first place. Whatever birds science thinks chickens may have evolved from, and however long ago that may have been, they cannot have just magically appeared out of thin air, though many scientists seem to think that is exactly how the universe arose in the so-called 'Big Bang'. So perhaps we should not altogether blame them for applying the same blinkered lower reasoning—if reasoning it can be called—to the paradox of the chicken and the egg.
Another group of scientists say the chicken came first. In 2010, researchers at the universities of Sheffield and Warwick used a super computer to apply a computing tool called metadynamics to 'zoom' in on the egg as it forms. According to these scientists, chicken eggs are formed using a protein found in chickens ovaries (ovocledidin-17) which acts as a catalyst speeding up development of the shell, and is vital for shell production. While these scientists agree that there were other types of birds which also laid eggs which pre-dated chickens, they didn't necessarily produce their eggs the same way using the same protein. This is really no better than the previous argument, neither of which answer the question this paradox poses—namely where did the FIRST bird come from, assuming there was a first bird at all? Instead, after endlessly debating the question, most scientists now ignore the inconvenient problem of origin and agree that the egg came first. In declaring in favour of an ever-evolving egg without providing any reason for its evolution, other than blind chance and the theory of 'natural selection' which, whatever its merits, ignores the existence of Spirit and a First Cause, science remains firmly mired in the mud of materialism, which it turns over and over in its fruitless attempts to discover the origins of all things, whether an amoeba, a chicken or the Universe.
Leaving aside the awkward questions of where DNA actually comes from (which science cannot answer) and quite why it should spontaneously 'mutate' to create a chicken, the mechanistic conclusion reached by scientists effectively closes the door on the philosophical enquiries of Plato and Aristotle we referred to earlier. The use of the higher senses of the mind, such as intuition and meditation, are all but forbidden in our institutions of learning. Early on in the modern period, wisdom was reduced to knowledge. In the age of rationalism knowledge was reduced to empirical facts. Now, the myopic lens of scientific materialism has further reduced facts to personal opinion and intellectual speculation. In place of the lofty concept of an orderly Universe ruled by strict justice and a hierarchy of creative beings of all kinds, taught by Plato, science has substituted its dogmas of the 'Big Bang' and mindless matter blindly stumbling along to God knows what end without any plan or purpose, rhyme or reason. This may be good enough for some scientists but it isn't good enough for us, or any thinking person who has a functioning brain and an ounce of common sense. Let us see if OCCULT science can do better.
As we have now learnt, what the chicken and the egg paradox is really concerned with is the question of the ORIGIN of Life itself. Now, the one thing all material and spiritual things and beings have in common is life. We touched on this in several previous articles (see further reading list in sidebar), notably Health and the occult student, in which we said that: "there is one thing and one thing only that is shared by every living being on earth, and that is LIFE itself." And if you ask us what 'life' is in the ultimate, we would have to say we do not know, for it is the secret of the Supreme Deity of our Universe, from whom all life comes, and we do not presume to be on speaking terms with the Author of All! Yet, this does not mean we cannot form some idea of the First Cause, and so gain an understanding—limited though it must be—of the origin of both chickens and men.
Image © Copyright Sheila Rose—'Cosmic Egg', 1976, acrylic on paper
The occult truth
The truth of the matter is that the paradox of the chicken and the egg is too simple for the labyrinthine and prolixious mind of the average scientist, and so its solution eludes him. He is far too busy sorting his 'facts' into properly labelled boxes and formulating theories like a snowball gathering snow (which promptly melt away when they are challenged by other scientists) to bother with such philosophical abstractions as a 'First cause'. Had he a fraction of the wisdom of Plato, he would realise that if a First Cause exists, whether we choose to call it 'God', 'Force', 'Divine Mind' or anything else, as occult science affirms, then of course the chicken came first. Or rather, as Plato taught, the 'idea'—the ideal prototype—of the chicken came first. It is in the nature of the hen to produce eggs, and in order for eggs to be laid there must be a chicken to lay them, regardless of whether our chicken is an actual material creation, or simply the 'idea' of one existing in the mind of its creator. Why this simple fact continues to elude the scientists we leave you to ponder!
Moreover, there is not a single thing we may behold with our senses in this world (or in the higher and lower non-physical dimensions known as the 'astral world'), which did not first exist in the mind of a creator of some kind. Before you moved into your 'desirable residence' whether it is a suburban semi, a modest flat, or a luxury town house in South Kensington, it first existed in the mind of its creator, whether he was an architect, a builder or any other creative being. The same is true of the car you drive, the shoes you wear and even this article!
Where then, you may well ask, do such ideas or prototypes come from in the first place and before they enter the mind of a maker of houses, cars, shoes or chickens? This takes us full circle back to where we began. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Let us look at the problem another way by asking ourselves a few more questions. Which came first: the mind or the thought? Is thought created by mind or mind by thought? The first thing we need to remember is that matter has no thinking mind, and cannot think at all, for matter, as we learnt in our article about 'why mater matters' is the result of the imaginative thinking of the Creator. But once matter has been set 'alight' by the thinking of the Creator, it becomes a living being, more or less conscious of itself. But even the lowest form of thought or consciousness cannot enter into matter unless it is placed within it by a thinking, conscious being. Whilst stage magicians produce rabbits out of hats, we all know that someone or something must have put them there first, though some scientists seem to think they know better!
You might then ask, where did that being receive its consciousness, and how was it placed within him? Occult science states it was placed within him by one who was before his time, and who had the power to transfer a portion of his own consciousness to him, as you may read in The Secret Doctrine, The Golden Star, and the Bible, in which book we find: "And God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). But, this still leaves unanswered the question of who was FIRST to have consciousness and life. You see, we're back to the chicken and the egg again; no wonder this question has perplexed so many wise men and women for so very long! Yet the answer is so simple and obvious we are astonished that no one seems to have discovered it. Have you? Let us tell you.
Without life there can be no consciousness and though one may be alive and yet unconscious, this is only an appearance, a condition of the body itself, and that consciousness may have been withdrawn for a time, being elsewhere for the moment. But consciousness is part of life, and life part of consciousness, and neither can ever 'die', though it does change from one condition to another. If life and consciousness could ever die, then there would in time be an end of the whole Universe, and, what is more: neither life nor consciousness, mind or thought, could ever have come into being, for where there is an entire and absolute absence of life and consciousness, of thought and mind, there is NOTHING at all, and out of nothing, nothing can ever come forth, material or spiritual, as we discussed in our article on gravitational waves.
It would be against all reason to accept such a thing. Nor can we call the entire absence of life and consciousness, of thought and mind, of matter and spirit: 'death'; for death can only follow life, and not the other way around, though we must remember that what humans call death is but change. But change again presupposes existence, and as existence cannot spring from nothing, there must always have been 'something', and THIS is the First Cause from which both chicken and egg came. It is nothing more nor less than Life Eternal, which though subject to many changes, has always existed and will always exist. And if you wish to call it God then you would be right too, for God is life and life is God.
So the next time you hear of someone asking: "is my life a mess because I am unhappy, or am I unhappy because my life is a mess?" you now know the answer, which is both and neither! If that still confuses you, then consider that where there is no mind there is no thought, just as where there is no moisture there is no wetness. And would you ask anyone what came first: water or wetness? Fire or heat? As wetness is a quality of water, and heat of fire, so is thought a quality of the mind, and egg a quality of the chicken, for neither can be without the other.
NOTE: the illustrations accompanying this article are taken from a painting by Sheila Rose entitled 'Cosmic Egg', reproduced in a little-known book which featured the work of several Californian visionary artists from the 1970's. That book is Visions by Walter Hopps. It was published by Pomegranate Publications in the USA in 1977 and is now both scarce and expensive. However, it is still obtainable second hand from on and offline booksellers.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 30 March 2018. Updated 12 February 2023.