Thursday, February 11, 2010

Which came first the Chicken or the Causality Dilemma?

The chicken or the egg reference is a metaphor about a subject that has a circular cause and effect. More jobs cause more consumption, which requires more production, which creates more jobs. This is not to be confused with a ‘Catch-22’, which is if you really need something you will only get it if you don’t need it.

Philosophers throughout the ages have been perplexed by this kind of circular reasoning. (I think they enjoy being perplexed, it keeps them in business.) Just as most men should stop and ask for directions, these philosophers should have stopped and asked a scientist for direction. A scientist will show you that there are natural starts to these loops and that there are feedbacks from these loops that will cause them to stop.

Let’s take the jobs example. More jobs don’t come out of thin air. If you are a Democrat, you raise taxes and use the taxes to jumpstart new jobs. If you are a Republican, you start a war. (Yes, I’m generalizing, but Generals just ain’t happy unless they’ve got a war.) Both scenarios create new jobs that in turn increase consumption, which will force an increase in production, creating the need for even more jobs. This cannot go on forever. One natural feedback from the loop is with more consumption come higher demand. Higher demand for limited resources causes inflation. Then the ‘guvmint’ steps in again and raises interest rates, which stops consumption. Done right, things plateau into a steady state. Done wrong and you are back where you started or worse.

You are probably saying, ‘what about the chicken?’ I’m sure Hawking could explain this better, but here goes. The chicken that we all know and love (mmm chicken) hasn’t always been that chicken. From a breeding point of view that chicken used to be living wild in the jungle. From an evolutionary point of view that chicken was a proto-chicken. That chicken before breeding was not Colonel Sanders chicken and the Perdue family wouldn’t give it the time of day. That chicken did lay an egg, out of which hatched a bred chicken one-step closer to what we know. Therefore, here is the order of events; wild chicken, well-bred egg, well-bred chicken. Somebody is going to ask, ‘where did the wild chicken come from?’ Hint: proto-chicken. Now the proto-chicken (imagine heavy eyebrows and an ability to swing through the trees) was distinctly different. Let’s all put on our ‘Mutations Happen’ tee-shirt. Mutations are a regular occurrence; the really nasty mutations don’t survive. The minor mutations, the ones that actually give an organism a leg up in the evolutionary arms race (wings race?) do survive and get passed on to new generations. To recap: proto-chicken, mutant egg, wild chicken, well-bred egg, well-bred chicken. (It doesn’t even begin to start or end there – where do you think chicken fingers come from? {shudder})

The next time you are in a conversation with someone and they pose the rhetorical aforementioned question just cut them off mid sentence and say ‘egg!’ They will be puzzled long enough for you to escape.

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