Thomas Thwaites, an unemployed 35-year-old man, decided to escape his stressful life in London to experience the simple and carefree life of a goat in the Swiss Alps.
To fulfill the dream of becoming a member of a herd of grazing goats in the Swiss Alps, he consulted prosthetics experts at a clinic in Manchester who spent a year designing for his use prosthetic goat’s arms and legs, according to Motherboard. They also designed a helmet to disguise his human features to enhance his chances of fooling the goats and making them believe he was one of them.
The prosthetic arms and legs allowed him to walk on all fours. But being very anxious to blend in with the herd and become accepted as one of them, he was not content with merely walking on all fours like a goat. He also had to eat grass like goats, the Daily Mail reports.
So Thwaites consulted experts at the Aberystwyth University in Aberystwyth, Wales, who created an artificial rumen to help him digest grass.
The rumen is a special compartment of the digestive tract of goats and other ruminants.
The artificial rumen was able to pre-digest grass using bacteria present in goats’ gut. It was designed as a bag he could strap to his body and into which he could discretely spit grass he pulled with his teeth from the pasture.
Explaining how his artificial goat’s stomach works, Thwaites said, “I could then strap this bag to my torso and spit chewed up grass into one opening and suck the cultured microbes and volatile fatty acids out another opening like a milkshake, so I can digest them in my true stomach and live off grass in the Alps like a goat.”
Thwaites also consulted an expert in goat psychology and attended sessions during which goats were dissected so that he could become intimately familiar with what it means, internally, to be a goat.
He explained that the idea first occurred to him one day when he was walking a friend’s dog. He noted how relaxed and carefree the dog appeared to be, without any worries. He found himself envying the dog’s simple, carefree existence and thought it would be great to be a dog.
“One day I was walking with the dog of a friend and I noticed that the dog just seemed really happy about life, without any worries, and I thought to myself it would be really great to be you for a day,” he said.
But he chose not to become a dog because there were things about a dog’s life that he disapproved of, such as eating meat.
According to Thwaites, when he told friends and relatives about his dream to live as a goat, everyone thought he was crazy. But he desperately needed a break from his life as a jobless Londoner with the attendant pressures of being permanently insolvent.
He had considered becoming an elephant. But it seemed to him that elephants with their big brains were also susceptible to the same psychological pressures as humans, such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.
So after considering his options carefully, he chose the life of a goat.
Having made up his mind to escape the crushing pressures of his human life in the city of London, he applied for a research grant with the Wellcome Trust. His stated goal was to experience the “non-human” condition and to live a “calmer and simpler [life]… immune to the worries and frustrations — the existential terror — of everyday life.”
He found a goatherd in Wolfenschiessen, rural Switzerland, and asked for permission to become a member of his herd of goats.
He left the city of London for the Swiss Alps in September 2014 after he had managed to convince the puzzled goatherd to allow him become a member of his small herd of Alpine goats.
He found himself relishing the opportunity to experience what he believed to be the simple, uncluttered existence of vegetarian goats.
But after living as a goat for three days in the Alps, and another three days roaming alone in the Alps as a goat, Thwaites realized that a goat’s life in the Swiss Alps was not as simple and free of worries as he had thought. A goat’s life in the Alps exposed him to the elements, and because of the sloppy terrain, he kept falling over and hurting himself while trying to balance on his prosthetic limbs.
He also experienced difficulties adjusting to living on grass exclusively.
“I suffered quite a lot as a goat, because of the slope I was constantly falling over, and of course I had to eat grass,” he said.
Despite trying his best to ingratiate himself with his new friends, they remained wary of the suspiciously odd-looking newcomer and convinced them that he was one of their kind proved challenging.
“Also the goats didn’t seem to like me very much, sometimes I thought they were really going to try and attack me,” Thwaites said.
He recalled a moment while grazing with the herd and standing alone on the summit of a small hill, he looked back and realized that the entire herd had stopped chewing and were staring at him puzzled.
“I hadn’t been scared at all before, but I suddenly became aware of their quite sharp and pointed horns,” he said.
But his perseverance finally paid off when one of the goats took a liking to him and followed him everywhere. The goat appeared to enjoy being close to him, despite his odd appearance.
“The best moment was when one of the goats suddenly decided she was going to be my friend, and she just followed me everywhere.”
He finally managed to gain some acceptance as the goatherd admitted.
He was also able to overcome the mistaken impression that a goat’s life was simple and carefree. But he could appreciate the fact that goats, unlike humans, do not waste time worrying about what might happen in the future.
“I learned something important, and that is that even goats have a hard life and need to fight for their existence,” he said. “Every day was tough, and that is something that just is part of being alive.”
“[Goats] live much more in the moment than we do, and show us that we really do need to learn to be a bit more relaxed about life,” he added.
According to Motherboard, Thwaites is a conceptual designer with interest in technology and science from the perspective of posthumanism and transhumanism.
In his view, the transhumanist assumption that everyone wants to evolve to superhuman status should be challenged because “not everyone will want to be a cyborg. Some might prefer not to evolve, but to de-evolve instead.”
Thwaites has written a book about his experience living among goats, titled, GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human.
[Image via Fir0002/Flagstaffotos/Wikimedia Commons]