When Being Human Got His Goat, This Designer Became One To be human is to worry, but "you look at a goat," says Thomas Thwaites, "and it's just ... free." In GoatMan, Thwaites explains how he learned to walk, eat and think like the ruminant.

When Being Human Got His Goat, This Designer Became One

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/477964010/478040533" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


I'm quite sure I've never asked this question of anyone. Why did you want to become a goat?

THOMAS THWAITES: Because human life can just be so difficult.

SIMON: That's Thomas Thwaites from the studios of the BBC in London. He's a designer who studied at the Royal College of Art. His book, "The Toaster Project," about his attempt to build a toaster from scratch - and, boy, do I mean scratch - was a huge success. But he found the whole business of being a public celebrity thinker a hard act to follow.

To be human is to worry about getting by, doing better, finding love and accepting the march of mortality. He decided to try to escape, not just leave his life in London for a while but the whole burden of being a human being. He describes those six days in "GoatMan: How I Took A Holiday From Being Human." The idea didn't come from a goat at all.

THWAITES: I was actually kind of dog-sitting my niece's dog and feeling at a bit of a low ebb job-wise, kind of moneywise, relationship-wise. And this dog - this kind of happy mutt was just, you know, oblivious to all the pain and suffering that I was feeling. And then I had that thought, you know, you are so lucky.

SIMON: How do you - how did you physically try to become a goat, or at least goat-like in appearance?

THWAITES: I made a few kind of prototypes myself of this kind of walking frame but found it actually to be much more difficult to get any kind of vaguely comfortable sort of quadruped walking exoskeleton. You know, when you're on kind of all fours essentially at the same, you know, eye level as a goat, then the world takes on a very different hue. And there's a lot of kind of green there and you...

SIMON: And not all grass tastes the same, you learned, right?

THWAITES: I quite quickly learned to kind of distinguish between the sort of patches of sweet-tasting grass and this kind of sour, sort of unpleasant stuff. Yeah, so I guess I became a bit of a grass connoisseur, yeah.

SIMON: Good for you. You wanted to get away from language.

THWAITES: Yeah, because the whole point of the project - it wasn't ever to kind of make a costume which made me look like a goat. It was to - you know, it was like a reverse costume. It was to make a thing that kind of made me feel like a goat. And we think that goats don't understand language, obviously, and we also think that they don't have episodic memory. So they can't project themselves into the future, you know, and build scenarios or kind of remember specific kind of stories from their past.

So that was my goal to switch off those parts of my brain. And to do that, I had read about this technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation. They get basically a huge, very powerful electric magnet and put it next to your skull. The magnetic field disrupts the functioning of the synapses in that kind of bit of the brain.

SIMON: Did it work?

THWAITES: So there's this particular patch of your cortex which is very important in your ability to speak. And, you know, I was reciting this nursery rhyme which I know very well - in fact, "Three Billy Goats Gruff" - and, yeah, and he switched on this magnet. And then all of a sudden, I just couldn't kind of get the words out.

SIMON: Mr. Thwaites, there's a photo toward the end of the book - I hope this isn't too personal - but there you are on all fours in a white bicycle helmet, trying to fit in with the herd. And there is a goat that is either kissing or licking you.

THWAITES: Yeah, yeah. I think it's neither of those. I think it's smelling my beard. One of the things about billy goats is their kind of beard. And that's - they actually try and make their beard as smelly as possible because that's the kind of attractive thing to female goats. And so I think this goat was sort of trying to work out what type of goat was I. I think...

SIMON: Well, forgive me, but, I mean, did it go anywhere?

THWAITES: Weirdly, I think we became friends, in a - you know, in the platonic sense. I mean, it's kind of impossible as a human to not tell stories about things. Everything becomes a story, I think, if you're a human. So maybe it's just kind of putting my own vision, my own slant on it. But I did think that, yeah, you know, I've got this connection with this goat.

SIMON: Well, I hope you're very happy together.

THWAITES: (Laughter).

SIMON: Thomas Thwaites. His new book is "GoatMan: How I Took A Holiday From Being Human." Thanks so much.

THWAITES: Thank you.



Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.