Recently, I was reading on Slashdot about how Professor John Brookfield has told the UK Press Association that the “pecking order is clear” with regard to the age-old chicken and egg question: “Therefore the first bird that evolved into what we would call a chicken, probably in prehistoric times, must have first existed as an embryo inside an egg.”

In the comments there, the much more important question of Why the chicken crossed the road came up, and one observer noted that:

“The question “Why did the chicken cross the road” is invalid. It is invalid because “why” assumes that the chicken had some reason for taking the action “cross the road”. This, in turn, assumes that the chicken has the concept of “road”; after all, if the chicken doesn’t know that the road is there, then the chicken did not – from the chickens point of view – cross the road, and consequently it is meaningless to ask for its motivations for doing so.

“Since chicken is an animal, it is unlikely that it has the concept of road in the same sense than humans do; since it is a bird, whose ancestors were propably capable of flight in the near past, it is unlikely to have the concept of road in any sense – why would a flying bird need roads ?

“Therefore, the chicken can never have any motivation for crossing the road, since from the chickens point of view, it never does any such thing. It simply moves from one point to another, and these points happen to be on the opposite side of a flat area of ground. No road-crossing has happened.

“Think of it this way: if you walk over a scent trail left by some animal, and you don’t know that the trail is there, it is foolish to ask your motives of crossing that trail. One can ask your motives for walking in the first place, but the crossing was pure coincidence and not something you chose.”

My Reply:

Actually the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” is perfectly valid. While you may be correct that the chicken does not have a ‘reason’ for crossing the road because reasons (used precisely rather than as in common parlance) require intentionality with regard to their object, causes do not require intentionality and yet are at least as commonly if not more commonly the object of the interogative ‘why’ as reasons are.

To put it simply, I may say that the cause of the chicken’s crossing of the road was the action of a particularly strong gust of wind in that direction. This provides an adequate explanation for the phenomenon and answers the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” without imputing sentience or intentionality to the chicken’s actions.

I may further say (if I wish) that the chicken crossed the road to eat the grain on the other side. This both imputes intentionality to the chicken, adequately explains the phenomenon and answers the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” But wait, you may be saying, you just told us that intentionality isn’t necessary to answer the question. I did say that and I stand by it, but that does not mean that intentionality may not be involved in the answer to the question. In this case, however, the intentionality while needed to answer the question, is only tangentially related to the effect under examination. Specifically to answer the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” we are pointing out that the chicken intended to consume a certain pile of grain, and that the road was between the chicken and that pile. We still have not imputed to the chicken any knowledge of the road “as a road”. Rather we have simply explained the conditions and the intentions which led to the action of the chicken crossing the road, whether or not the chicken had a full understanding of those conditions.

Finally we must address the standard answer to the question: “To get to the other side.” Again this answer imputes intentionality to the chicken’s actions (the chicken did it ‘to get’ something) and it seems to imply a knowledge of the road (to understand ‘the other side’ the chicken must have knowledge of some object with two sides, understand that it is on one side of said object and desire to cross the object to reach the other side). Implied in this answer is that there is no further motivation other than getting to “the other side” and hence we cannot suggest that the answer simply left off the fact that there was a pile of grain on the other side which is the ‘real’ reason the chicken crossed the road. No. The chicken must have crossed the road for the sole and ultimate purpose of reaching the other side of “the road”. How are we to reconcile this with the (most unassailable) assumption that the chicken has no knowledge of the road “as a road” and the need to allow this statement as a positive answer to the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” We have specified that the chicken has no knowledge of a road “as a road”. However, we have never suggested that the chicken has no knowledge of the road “as something”. What then is the nature of the road as the chicken perceives it? We would not be unjustified in suggesting that at the very least the chicken has access to its own sensory data. It then must have a knowledge of the road as the “extended-hard-flatspace”. We need go no further in our suppositions. We have here a chicken with an exploratory bent who wishes to discover what lies beyond the “extended-hard-flatspace”. This adequately explains the phenomenon, assigns to the chicken a state of intentionality, relates that state of intentionality to the road, and answers the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” with the statement “To get to the other side” all without in the least requiring that the chicken understand roads in the sense that we as humans understand roads.

Do you have a take on the Chicken Crossing the Road? Post it below. Feel free to post joke variations as well.

Well, maybe you didn’t. You didn’t really ask for unadulterated text. I decided to give it to you. Lost? Me too? Can I get us both out of it? The blind leading the blind? The blind leading the sighted even. Here’s some real live unadulterated text for you:


Somewhere in time, or perhaps I should say somewhen– I loved my grandmother. She was almost a storybook grandmother. She was more than a storybook grandmother. She taught piano lessons for Christ’s sake. How much more grandmotherly can you get? She gave me warm milk when I couldn’t get to sleep. And when that wasn’t quite right, she gave me warm milk and honey. She taught me to love words, and word games. She could calculate the scrabble value of any word without looking at the tiles and what’s more she’d look the word up for you when you were to lazy to figure out what that word (that you knew existed but couldn’t explain) meant. She lived far enough away for the trip to be an adventure, but close enough to be a permanent feature in my life. Blackberries grew in her backyard, and she let you pick as many as you wanted, even when she was trying to make blackberry ‘somthing’ as Christmas presents. She taught me to love music, to hate flats but love sharps, to stay away from the blues, and to stop playing when I was finished. A storybook grandma? No storybook grandma ever did what she did. Who else could make warm milk for a kid in underwear, a t-shirt, and galoshes and not even send him to bed when it was finished, but read stories about people made out of blocks, and foxes who were outsmarted by hens, and Bulls stung by bees? How can I face her? Her unresponsive face glares: I died when you were away in college zithromax pills buy online. I don’t even know you. How could I when you left me while I was alive and didn’t return until I was a zombie: dead to you? How can I tell her goodbye when I never said hello, I’m back, I’ve missed you? How can I cry now when I didn’t cry then. How can I accept this when I couldn’t accept that? How can I lie? I hide my tears in the dark, even as I spread them across the world. Everyone can know my thoughts except my family. Everyone can share my pain except those that I know should. I cannot cry. I cannot scream. I cannot even meet the stranger who has greeted my children every day as wonderful new surprises, come to ease her pain– Every day new surprises– Every day my children. Every day questions about their lineage. Everyday delight in their everyday antics. Even when I am just across the room, watching, even when I am holding her under each arm, scared beyond belief that brittle bones will snap and it will be my fault, as she walks across the living room calling for a husband who died in the world war, asking where she is and who I am, and then calling again for a daughter, my mother, the only one she can trust to tell her that she is still alive and not in hell, even when, when no one except her can hear, I whisper, “I love you.”– Even then– I cannot cry. I can only drift gently, without emotion, into the abyss over which I have been floating these last 9 years. And stoically, carefully, with a face silent and dead, shoulder a pall, bear a pole, march quietly to the grave, and pretend that the future is the past, and the present is merely a nightmare, and there are more piano lessons and stories and adventures, and warm milk with honey to come. And she isn’t even dead. GOD! The nurse says it’s a matter of hours. She’s wrong. It’s a matter of years. It’s a matter of a life.