A man who transformed himself into a goat and lived with a herd in the Swiss Alps in a bid to escape the rat race will reveal how he fared to audiences at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in April.
Thomas Thwaites, a 36-year-old designer from London, embarked on the project last year after becoming disillusioned with day-today life.
“I was at a bit of a low ebb while I happened to be looking after my niece’s dog,” he said. “I was looking at this very happy animal – no worries, no cares – and the thought occurred to me: you don’t know how lucky you are Noggin, you don’t have these kind of worries that come with being a human being.
“Rather than just dismissing the thoughts I started thinking about it a bit more, and wondering if it would be possible to become a different animal, take a holiday from being a human. That was really the start of the project.”
Thwaites had prosthetic “goat legs” designed and a fake “stomach” strapped to his chest that would allow him to chew grass. But the transformation was more challenging than he had imagined. “My goal was to be able to gallop along. I thought, ‘God, the sense of freedom, just to be able to gallop over the mountains athletically and nimbly, would be amazing’.
“I soon realised it wasn’t going to be as simple as I’d thought. Because we’re related to goats through evolutionary biology I thought it should be quite easy to undo the few modifications that have been made over the past five million years since we shared a common ancestor. I quickly worked out evolution was much more subtle than my limited understanding.”
Thwaites applied for a university grant to study goat psychology and moved to the village of Wolfenschiessen in Switzerland.
And he admits there were a few hairy situations. “One day I found myself surrounded by the herd. Everyone else stopped chewing, there was an atmosphere I could detect and a few goats started tossing their heads around.
“I realised I was going to have to choose whether to step up or back down, try and assert dominance or decide to be submissive. I walked away, shaking. I wasn’t going to get skewered in the neck by a sharp horn.”
The experiment culminated in Thwaites grazing on the slopes and sharing a barn with the goats over three days and nights. He describes the experience as “profound” but is less sure what his four-legged friends made of it all.
“Me and one particular goat seemed to hang out a lot more than some of the rest. Maybe for a moment they accepted me and for a moment I forgot about being human, so perhaps my dream was achieved. I certainly proved the grass is always greener. Dissatisfaction – that is the human condition.”
Amanda Tyndall, creative director of Edinburgh International Science Festival, said: “The 2017 festival is themed around making connections and exploring the ways that technology can help us secure a creative and sustainable future – gaining an understanding of our four-legged Alpine friends through the use of sophisticated prosthetics certainly fits the bill.”
GoatMan: How I Took A Holiday From Being Human, 8pm-9pm, 5 April, Summerhall, Edinburgh