Are zebras black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

This is a chapter from my fourth book called When hunger yearns

Did you get the letter z as the answer for the last question of the last chapter? Then you are correct which leads me to the question of this chapter. My friend Gemini tells me that there are references to this debate even in the medieval era, highlighting our long standing fascination with zebra stripes. There is a scientific answer but before I get to that let me tell you what I think. I think most people will think black stripes. We are so used to writing on white pages. Painting on white canvases. Black on white is our default. This is a good example of default bias. The figure-ground effect may also help explain why we say black on white stripes by default. This is a neat example of how different psychological concepts can interact and influence our perception. Scientifically we are told that zebras are actually black with white stripes. The zebra's skin beneath the fur is dark and the white stripes are the fur without melanin when normally the fur has melanin that makes it black.

As I thought about this question I remembered a youtube video I watched some time ago called "The mathematical code hidden in nature". It talks about the patterns we observe in nature like zebra stripes, Turing patterns, morphogenesis, reaction-diffusion equations and an interview with a Mathematical Biologist. Many years after Turing saw the Maths in the patterns of nature, scientists have discovered the morphogens that create these patterns as Turing described it. Research is still being done but this gives us another perspective for this question. Genes also play a role and the genes of the zebra would control the properties of the proteins which act like chemicals in the reaction-diffusion process. Why do zebras have stripes? Some theories include thermoregulation, camouflage and protection from biting flies.

If you want something that really challenges your intelligence then there is the zebra puzzle or Einstein's riddle. There are several variations but essentially there are five houses in a row and you are given clues about each resident, and you have to use logic to figure out who lives in which house, who owns which pet, and so on. Then answer the question, who owns the zebra? Legend has it that Einstein created the puzzle when he was young and said that only two percent of the world could solve it. In my research I also learnt about The Zebra Question poem. A man asks a zebra the same question we are answering about its stripes and the zebra responds with similar questions. Questions like : Are you good with bad habits? Or are you bad with good habits? Are you happy with some sad days? Or are you sad with some happy days? The zebra goes on and on and on. From that day the man decides never to ask zebras that question again.

In my thinking the poem is telling us to look at things from different perspectives. Not everything is as simple as black or white. Don't be quick to label and judge and categorize people. Question ourselves before we question others. One opinion piece in one newspaper analyses the poem by stating "Exceptions don't define you". My friend ChatGPT helped me understand the poem further as explained: Through the lens of dichotomies, the poem may be seen to examine how humans tend to categorize and simplify the world into binary distinctions, such as black and white, good and bad, or happy and sad. However, the ambiguity of the zebra's coloration challenges these rigid dichotomies, encouraging a deeper reflection on the interconnectedness and fluidity of opposites. According to analysis on the website we are told that the poem challenges conventional notions of duality by presenting a series of paradoxical questions. Maybe if the legendary Michael Jackson was alive today to answer the question he would answer the question simply with, "It don't matter if you're black or white."


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