We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

A Man Among Goats

Tom Thwaites took a vacation from being human to find out what it took to live a goat's life.

May 17, 2016 5:00 AMNov 20, 2019 10:09 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
Photo Credits: Tim Bowditch

Tom Thwaites is the author of The Toaster Project, a book chronicling his attempt to build a toaster using preindustrial means. He went on an international book tour, and made television appearances. But he was in a slump.

His friends were doing adult things. He lived at home with his father. He didn’t have a “real” job. He was feeling the weight of the world, and thought it might be better to be an animal for a while — immune from the frustrations and responsibilities of human existence.

The biomedical charity the Wellcome Trust agreed and provided a grant to fund his transformation. His goal was to become as authentically goat as possible, and cross through the Alps with his herd.

In his new book, GoatMan, Thwaites documents how he took a vacation from being human. His project offers a unique perspective into neuroscience, animal behavior and biomechanics.

Photo Credits: Daniel Alexander

In order to design the most goat-like body, Thwaites teams up with biologists to dissect Venus, a Buttercups goat that passed away as a result of Johne's disease. It was an enlightening experience for the GoatMan, as he explains:

"It hammered home just how mechanically subtle a body is: each bone in Venus's body seems shaped to optimize for multiple criteria, and connected with muscle and sinew to make a range of movements as energetically economical as possible."

The task of engineering a goat exoskeleton seems downright impossible, hey writes, given this complexity.

Photo Credits: Tim Bowditch

Thwaites' first attempt at a goat exoskeleton was constructed with wood, steel rods, elastic bands, cardboard tubes and other found objects. It was, to say the least, in need of improvement.

"Taking a step in this thing was out of the question; it was terrifying just being in it," Thwaites writes.

Photo Credits: Austin Houldsworth

Thwaites practiced becoming a quadruped at a prosthetics clinic. He discovered that there are many subtleties about the human body that you just don't notice until walking on all fours.

Photo Credits: Tim Bowditch

Thwaites' final goat exoskeleton is a far cry from his first prototype. His final version is complete with artificial legs, a chest protector, a raincoat and a prosthetic stomach to digest grass. Will he make it across the Alps?

Photo Credits: Tim Bowditch

This is as close as man can get to becoming a goat.

Photo Credits: Vera Marin

Thwaites wanted to see the world like a goat, so he headed to the Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Boughton Monchelsea, England. Here, Britain's top goat behavior expert Alan McElligott and his PhD students study the animals at the country's only sanctuary for abused goats.

Thwaites (left) chats with the residents at Buttercups.

Photo Credits: Tim Bowditch

While walking through the mountains with his herd, Thwaites chews up grass and spits it into his artificial rumen bag. Although Thwaites actually likes the way grass tastes, he doesn't get much nutrition from his meals.

With the help of a campfire and and pressure cooker, Thwaites breaks down his fibrous mash of chewed grass to extract sugars for energy.

Photo Credits: Tim Bowditch

Eating grass is challenging with a short neck. It came back to haunt him.

Will Thwaites make it across the Alps? Can he change how we define what it means to be human? See how the story ends in GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human by Thomas Thwaites, published by Princeton Architectural Press, May 2016. Images in this gallery were used with permission.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.