Do eggs contain the secrets of the universe? | BBC Ideas


This is an egg. But then, you already knew that. You know because eggs have been
central to human existence for thousands of years. In fact, you probably take it for
granted, after all, it’s only an egg. But if you’re prepared
to look closer – to see through its
calcium carbonate shell – you’ll find a microcosm
of the universe. Don’t believe me?
Let’s start at the beginning. The very beginning. Several religions, multiple
traditions, the Ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Incas all have eggs at the heart
of their creation stories. In southern California, the origin
story of the Cahuilla people likens the creation of the entire
universe to the cracking of an egg. A little further east, the Omaha
tribe of Nebraska and Iowa spoke of an egg being dropped
into the world’s oceans. Protected by a bird serpent,
inside this egg lay sleeping all of the mothers and all of the
fathers of everyone yet to be born. But these are stories.
Where’s the science? In 2006, data gathered
by Nasa’s Wilkinson satellite suggested that the Universe itself
may be an ellipsoid – an oval. Egg shaped. The science community remain unable to categorically prove or disprove
this theory but it remains possible we’re all living inside a massive,
ever-expanding egg. Delicious! In 1609, Johannes Kepler confirmed
that the planets, including our own, go around the sun, not in a perfect
circle but in an elliptical orbit. The moon’s elliptical orbit makes it appear to regularly
change size in the night sky. Without this egg-shaped dance our
moon may seem far less interesting. Far from being smooth, an egg’s shell
is more like the surface of the moon. Bumpy and grainy in texture, a single eggshell is covered
in up to 17,000 tiny craters. But it’s also semi-permeable, allowing air and moisture
to pass through it. Oh dear. This remarkable shape, not only is it possibly the shape
of the actual universe, it’s also the pinnacle
of architectural design. Might be able to get
parts by Thursday. Here is a structure
with no internal solid support and yet it’s strong enough to protect
and nurture life itself inside. If one point of the shell
is put under external force, the stress is distributed
evenly across the entire dome. Which is why you can’t crush an egg
with the palm of your hand. But how to replicate nature’s
perfect aerodynamic design? An egg has no obvious beginning
or end so where do you even start? It wasn’t until the 20th Century that human architects
started to get the hang of building egg-like structures
on a grand scale. ‘The Egg’ in Beijing
seats 5,452 people in three halls and is more than
1,000 square metres in size. That’s one seriously big egg. Imagine the size of the egg cup. Eggs have inspired artists
from Dali to Faberge and made memorable movie cameos – Sigourney Weaver’s haunted
12-pack in Ghostbusters, Paul Newman eating 50
in Cool Hand Luke, and John Hurt falling foul of a
particularly nasty one in Alien. In Gulliver’s Travels, when the people of Lilliput
went to war with their neighbours, it was over which way round
to eat a boiled egg. Could somebody please untie me? Uh, we could do it Thursday. On Instagram, we liked this egg, in greater numbers than we’d liked
anything else ever before. Mr Strong ate nothing but eggs,
which actually was not a bad idea. An egg’s protein has the perfect mix
of amino acids required to build human tissue,
second only to our mother’s milk. Eggs have also whisked their
way into our everyday lexicon. I’m not yolking. Let me eggsplain – people can be ‘good eggs’
or ‘bad eggs’. If you’re particularly smart – an eggspert in your
chosen field perhaps – you might be called an ‘egghead’. We send our kids on egg hunts.
We scramble, we poach, we bake. If you want to make an omelette,
we all know what to do. Not knowing how to boil an egg is considered shorthand
for someone who can’t cook. And yet, when searching
‘how to boil an egg’, Google will offer up
more than a billion results. Perhaps it’s not as simple
as we thought. Much like the egg itself. People have been welcoming spring by
decorating eggs with bright colours since the Middle Ages. But John Cadbury didn’t make
his first chocolate egg until 1875. Eighty million chocolate eggs are now
sold every year in the UK alone. The average child eats eight. At Easter, it seems, the egg
will always come first… But then of course,
you already knew that. Thanks for watching.
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Comments

  1. Stupid people got a lot of questions about them. Like online dating… only works if everything is in something’s favour you don’t understand.

    Hans Christian Anderson assorted works in German would leave you with a yeast cake and the fact to crows and ravens birds that are non intelligible are eggs.

  2. The Vedic tradition of South Asia (modern India) talks about hiranyagarbha – the golden cosmic egg, source of the universe.

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