How to tame a grice and build a grice.
There was a review in today’s NYT of “How to tame a fox (and build a dog)”, by
It may relate to our recent exchange with L. Helm. So I will provide some
excerpts with running commentary. The reviewer notes:
“This essay sets out to answer a simple-seeming question:
i. What makes a dog a dog?”
For Grice this is analytic. Or is it? What is the conceptual analysis of ‘dog’?
The reviewer goes on:
“Put another way, how did an animal that started out as a bloodthirsty predator
become one that now wants nothing more than a nice belly rub and the chance to
gaze adoringly at a member of another species?”
The reviewer goes on:
“Dmitri Belyaev decides to address this puzzle by taking the unheard-of tack of
replicating the domestication process in real time. He took silver foxes,
widely bred in vast farms for their luxurious pelts, and made them into
friendly house pets.”
“It was a deceptively simple process.”
“Take the puppies from only the friendliest foxes, breed them and repeat.”
“The experiment is still ongoing, with 56 generations of foxes bred to date — a
far cry from the snarling creatures that used to snap at the hands of their
caretakers when the research began. The new foxes run toward people, jump on
the bed and nuzzle one another as well as their human caretakers. Such a
behavioral transformation was to some degree expected, since they were bred
from the tamest members of their groups.”
“Perhaps more intriguing, they also look more doglike,”
There is for Grice an implicature here. His example:
ii. This pillar box seems red to me. (The implicature is that
“with floppy ears, wagging tails and piebald fur.”
“The work uses modern genomics to understand the genetics behind the foxes’
changes in personality and appearance. The results are not nearly as widely
known among scientists, not to mention the public, as they deserve to be.”
“The essay, however, is not only about dogs, or foxes. is an exploration of how
genes, evolution and then environment shape behaviour, and in a way that puts
paid simplistic arguments about nature versus nurture. It may serve —
particularly now — as a parable of the lessons that can emerge from unfettered
science, if we have the courage to let it unfold.”
Which brings us back to grices.
Accounts from the early 19th century suggest the grice was an aggressive animal
with small tusks, an arched back, and a coat of stiff dark bristles over a
fleece of wool. Highland examples were described as "a small, thin-formed
animal, with bristles standing up from nose to tail...". Like other livestock
in these areas, the grice was small and hardy, able to survive the harsh
environmental conditions. Highland grice foraged for berries on moorland.
Most Shetland crofts would have at least one grice kept on grazing lands, but
they would often roam across adjacent farmland, rooting up crops and
occasionally killing and eating newborn lambs. According to geologist Samuel
Hibbert, who wrote an account of the islands in 1822, although the grice was
"small and scrawny", its meat made "excellent hams" when cured. Islanders also
made footballs from the grice's bladders, and even windowpanes from their
intestines, by stretching the membrane over a wooden frame until it was
sufficiently thin to allow light to pass through. The animal's bristles were
used as thread for sewing leather and for making ropes. However, useful as the
animals no doubt were, neighbours were constantly grumbling about the behaviour
of their neighbour's grice, and the courts were empowered to confiscate
particularly troublesome pigs, and to impose "hefty fines" on their owners.
In the nineteenth century, landowners discouraged the keeping of these swine
(one agricultural writer commented "it is voracious in the extreme, and
excessively difficult to confine in pasture or to fatten: it is also
destructive and mischievous, and therefore ought gradually to be extirpated").
This, combined with the increasing import of other breeds from the Scottish
mainland, resulted in a dwindling grice population, and by the 1930s the breed
was extinct. The legacy of grice remains, however. The wild bulb squill is
known locally as "grice's onions" because it was a favourite food of the swine.
In 2006 curators at the Shetland Museum and Archives commissioned a taxidermist
to re-create a grice from the stuffed body of an immature wild boar. As no one
alive had seen a grice, the accuracy of the model relied on descriptions in
"published sources ... investigated artefact and archaeological findings".The
model grice went on public display in spring 2007.
For the Grice Club.