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.
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.
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.
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.
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.